Throw out all those extensive camping checklists! It doesn’t have to take you three days to pack for a two day camping trip.
I’ll tell you a secret: your kids don’t care if you bring the foldable kitchen or if there’s a table cloth on your picnic table. They don’t need clean clothes every day, complicated toys, or fancy meals. Your kids will have just as much fun playing with rocks and climbing tress as they will playing with bean bag toss games and organized campsite scavenger hunts.
Don’t get me wrong, though. If you want to pack those extras and enjoy the planning, then by all means, go ahead and bring along all the extras.
I just want to make the point that quick and simple family camping is possible. And, to help make it quick and simple for you, you can grab this simple printable camping checklists for your next family camping trip!
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Our camping realization:
Kids just wanna have fun! It didn’t take long for my husband and I to realize that our kids enjoyed car camping 10 minutes from our house as much as they enjoyed 8 hours away from our house. We also realized that they’d entertain themselves all day long with a bucket, a few sticks, and their bikes.. and Voila! Lazy-mom camping was born!
Also, if your kids are like ours, they prefer to eat cereal, watermelon, hotdogs, and marshmallows every day and don’t care for fancy campfire meals.
I’ll admit that sometimes my perfectionist personality gets the better of me and I start over-organizing, but I’m quickly reminded how simple it can be when I start asking kids questions like: what do you want to eat, to wear, to bring?
If you’re a family that’s into camping, go ahead and print out the simple camping checklists. Use these while you’re planning and packing to remind yourself that really, all you really need are the essentials…
Just the essentials family camping
What will you camp in?
You’ll need somewhere to sleep. Unless you’re lucky enough to find a cabin to rent, you’ll need a camper, RV, or a tent… unless you’re really adventurous and plan to sleep under the stars!
If we’re talking ‘just the essentials camping” … and not “glamping”, then make sure you get something just big enough to fit your family. Remember, kids don’t care about luxury.
Yes, do make sure you’ll be comfortable, but don’t over stress about your child’s comfort. Kids are surprisingly tough and as long as they’re safe, they’re fine on the floor of a camper, sharing a mattress, or squeezed into a tent.
Our camper doesn’t sleep 5 people, so one or two kids will sleep on the floor. When they get older, they’ll sleep outside in a tent. Generally, the fancier your trailer, the more time, energy, and money you’ll use in setting it up, keeping it clean and organized.
(And, if you’re spending time cleaning and organizing, you’re not enjoying simple lazy-mom camping!)
If tenting works for your family and climate, I suggest getting a tent that you can stand up in with a vestibule (the little covered area outside the tent door). The vestibule area is good for storing clothes and shoes and helps keep the inside of the tent clean.
You’ll often see tent repair kit listed on camping packing lists. Instead of worrying about it, just go ahead and tuck that into your tent bag and then you’ll always have it with your tent.
In all our years of tenting and hiking (my husband even lived out of a tent for 3 months), we’ve never used a tent repair kit. The one time our tent did break, we didn’t have the kit and managed the repair with some duct tape from our emergency tin!
What should you pack for sleeping gear?
Again, make sure that you’ll be comfortable sleeping in whatever you choose to pack. Sleeping bags are simplest. But, many people find them uncomfortable and confining.
I prefer to sleep in regular bedding (sheets and a comforter). The kids use sleeping bags. We bring extra blankets if needed and pillows from our beds. Simple as that. If tenting, get some air mattresses for comfort.
If you do plan to use air mattresses, consider how you’ll fill them with air at the campsite: an electric pump (will you have electricity) or a hand pump (how long will that take)? My husband and kids are just fine sleeping on Therm-a-Rests (thin, air-filled pads) and your kids might be too.
The camping sleeping essentials:
- your camping tent, trailer, camper, etc
- sleeping bags, bedding, blankets, pillows
- air mattresses or pads
- air pump
- special sleep snugglies and blankies
- tarp and ropes for shelter if needed
- camp chairs
- mosquito tent if it’s really buggy
What should you pack for camping cooking and eating
For a lot of families, this is where camping can get overwhelming.
But, this is simple camping… you’re trying to make camping simple and easy…
You should start by creating a meal plan and choose easy foods that the kids will enjoy eating. Once you have a plan with ideas in place, then decide which camping kitchen essentials you’ll need.
Do you need a small camp stove? Can you just use the campfire or the stove in your camper – if you have one? (If you do plan to cook over the campfire, I suggest you confirm there isn’t a fire ban in place and that the campground does in fact allow campfires.)
As for all the other tools, try to stick to the bare minimum. Remember that you can wash dishes and re-use them instead of packing more.
If you plan to do a few camping trips each summer consider filling a ‘kitchen camping tub’ with all the kitchen stuff. Then forget about it until you go camping. If you are able to round up enough supplies to keep as camping extras, this will save quite a bit of time when it comes to packing for a camping trip because you can just grab the tub and know you already have all the essentials gathered. These expandable roasting sticks will even fit into your camping tubs – super handy!
Before we acquired our 45 year old camper (yep, quite vintage), I used plastic stacking drawer units to store my camping kitchen and essentials. I found it was easier to locate items at the campsite than if everything were tossed into one large bin.
As well as the kitchen basics, you’ll need food. Don’t forget to figure out how you’ll pack your food and keep it cool. You might want to use one large tub for all non-cooler foods, then pack cold foods into a cooler or fridge.
Also, think about how you’ll keep the cooler cold. Try freezing water, juice boxes, and pre-prepared meals as a way to help keep other items cold longer instead of just relying on ice.
Packing the kitchen basics:
- good quality cutting knife, forks, spoons, butter knives
- large serving spoon, bbq tongues, spatuala
- can opener, cork screw/bottle opener, scissors
- salt, pepper, sugar, tea, coffee, hot chocolate
- tin foil, plastic wrap
- plates, bowls, mugs
- 1-2 cooking pots, 1 frypan
- water bottles, coffee thermos
- kettle or coffee maker
- dish tub, scrubbie, soap, dish towel, wash rag
- cooking stove and fuel
- paper towels
What about all that other camping stuff?
Throw all the other random camping essentials into your camping tubs too. You know, the bug spray, flashlights, matches, and first aid kit. The less items you need to gather for each camping trip, the easier packing for camping is and the less stressful too.
If you use a simple camping checklist, you may want to mark the ‘already packed’ items on your list so you know when it comes to your next trip what you have… believe me, having to empty all the camping tubs to find out if you kept the toothbrushes in or took them out is a pain in the butt!
Another suggestion is to put a note right on top of your tub of anything that got taken out so you remember to replace it when you camp again.
The extra camping essentials:
- plastic bags for garbage and recycling
- toilet paper in a zip lock baggie
- bug spray, bear spray
- matches, fire starter materials, axe or hatchet
- cash in small denominations
- first aid kit
- roasting sticks
Can kids pack their own clothing?
Camping is dirty. Your clothes can be reused and get dirty too.
It is expected that our children wear clothing more than once when camping. They are each allowed to bring one bag for their stuff. Their clothes and all extras they want to bring (stuffies, books, toys, etc) all have to fit in that same bag.
Before the trip each child will be given their own camping packing checklist. I read it over it with them, send them to pack, and then have them show me their choices before everything gets stuffed into their bags. This process saves me time and gives them some responsibility in camping preparations.
As the kids get older, I have stopped re-checking their packing (I might sneak a peak if I’m really concerned). However, letting them arrive at the campsite without a few items was a great learning experience and they tend to take better care when packing the next time.
Grab the kid’s camping checklists here… they’re included in the simple packing checklist sheet!
As for what type of clothing you should all bring, well, that depends on the weather and your destination. Remember swim clothes, hats, sleep clothes, and extras if the nights are cool. Also, keep in mind that littles will get their clothes too dirty to reuse more so than older kids.
What personal and toiletry items should you bring for simple camping?
This category can get a little tricky because you’ll probably not have extras of many of these things and you’ll need to grab them for each trip… meaning, you can’t just leave them in the camping tubs for easy grab and go type packing.
Specifically, these items might be medications, the book you’re reading, baby stuff like diapers and soothers, sunscreen and extra toiletries, sunglasses, bear spray, pet care items, your ID and money.
The essential personal care and extra stuff:
- toothbrushes, soap, hairbrush, elastics
- sunglasses, sunscreen
- bath towel, facecloths
- hats, coats, rain boots
- wallet, phone
- baby care items (diapers, wipes, soothers, sippy cups, potties, etc)
- pet care items (leash, food and water dishes, etc)
Use a camping checklist!
Print this simple camping packing list or make your own.
There’s no way around it, preparing and packing for a family camping trip will take some time.
If camping is something you and your family plan to do frequently, I strongly suggest acquiring separate camping gear and keeping it all stowed and ready to go. To really be organized, go one step further and list everything in each tub on a label fastened to the lid of that tub with a separate list of all the items you need for grab-and-go.
However, if camping is a once-and-a-while thing, then make it as easy as possible for yourself: Use these simple printable camping checklists and remember that kids just want to play outside, get dirty, eat treats, and stay up late…. That’s what camping is all about. Make it a lazy-mom trip by keeping it simple and easy!
What should you do now?
- Go download and print the simple camping checklists
- If camping is your thing, you also need to grab these campsite scavenger hunts for your next family trip
- Check out this Camping with Kids Pinterest board full of camping with kids tips, hacks, recipes, activities, and advice!
Other camping reads you’ll want to check out:
- Top 5 tips for camping with toddlers
- The best kid friendly snacks for hiking and outdoor adventure
- Hiking with kids: How to keep them happy and moving on the trail