Our tried and tested family camping checklist for first-time campers: all you need on your first family camping trip.
Camping with kids can be a lot of fun but it requires a bit of preparation.
We go camping with the children pretty often but I would be lying if I was to say to you it was always a success: the first time, it was all but!
Despite our best efforts and the choice of an excellent camping location (Mont Tremblant in Quebec, Canada) we simply underestimated what we would neet camping with the children and fond ourselves freezing and with our breakfast eaten by a chipmunk!
Despite this family camping disaster, the children and us both had enough fun camping that time that we tried again and again and again and now we have regular camping trips both in pre-organized shelters such as bungalows and cabins (this is how we visited Yosemite with the children) and bringing our own tents.
These are our top tips for going camping with kids and our family camping checklist with all you need to pack for camping with kids and little extras and nice to have that will make your family camping trip more comfortable and fun!
Good to know! We have a complete list of camping gear for kids here: if you use it is combination with the essentials on this page, you will be well equipped for a super fun family camping trip!
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Top tips for camping with kids
Packing for camping looks different depending on the type of camping experience you are after.
if you are just starting out in your campaign adventures as a family, there are a few things wort considering.
Choose your camping style
Camping can take many forms, some more labor-intensive than others.
For a first camping adventure, a cabin or a bungalow is a great choice: with this type of camping, you can tip your toes into campsite cooking and entertainment but you don’t have to go all out with gear as usually mattresses, blankets, pillows and often chairs and other gear is provided.
We had a lovely experience of this type of camping in Cork, Ireland
Standard tent camping is our favorite type of family camping: you need all your gear but being in a campsite guarantees the support of others if needed and some facilities such as running water and restrooms.
In Ireland, out first tent camping experience was at the Silver Strand campsite.
Wild camping is something we have not attempted with kids and that is often harder to plan as a family.
It is the type of camping that relies the least on external supplies and that usually requires the most planning, including the possible need for camping permits, often needed to make sure you pick a suitable location that is not dangerous for you or the environment around you.
Practice in the garden
If you opt for tent camping, it is a good idea to have a dry run in the garden or even in the house, if space allows.
This will help you make sure you have all you need and you can immediately spot major must-have. You do not need to actually sleep out but setting up tent is a good idea and can be great fun for the kids too.
Use a camping checklist
Camping comfort is all about the gear: use our camping checklist on this page to make sure you have all you need!
Research activities in the campsite and nearby
Like any other type of family vacation, a camping vacation with the kids relies heavily for its success on the entertainment available.
When picking a campsite, make sure there is enough to do for the kids in and outside the camp and double-check the age requirement for the activities: some more adventurous locations may not allow younger siblings to participate in the fun. Worth checking in advance!
As organized as you can ever be when camping, dirt will be a fact! The best way to tackle family camping is embracing it and deciding it is part of the fun.
If this is too much for you, you can (and probably should) set some ground rules such as no outdoor shoes in the tent, no piles of wet clothes and regular laundry.
Bring layers and changes of clothes
Dirt, but also water activities and changes in temperature mnay require changes of clothes. As much as I love to travel light, when we pack for camping we always have extra layers for the evening and the night and several changes of clothes each.
As basic as you want to be with your packing, do not skip safety gear. Always make sure you have your first aid kit, fire blankets, proper gear and emergency number with you.
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Family Camping Checklist
When we go camping, we stay in our tent so this list is heavily biased towards tent camping.
Setting up and sleeping essentials
- Family Tent
- Camping mallet/hammer
- Tent pegs
- Mattress – camping mattresses come in all shapes and sizes but we find the best ones are the self-inflatable mats. They are super easy to use, comfortable and take up very little space when deflated.
- Mats for under the beds
- Sleeping bags: we use a very warm one, even in summer and it made all the difference between miserable nights and cozy ones. I highly recommend a high tog sleeping bag in Ireland!
- Pillows and pillow covers
- Warm socks
- Booklight or kindle for reading without disturbing others
Family camping packing list: cooking and eating
- Gas camping stove
- Potholder – we have a really cool camping cooking set with pots and pans with a removable handle/potholder. It works great as you can use the same handle for all the pots and pans in the set and you can store it away nicely with them when you are done/
- Coffee maker
- Water bottle
- Salt and condiments
- Cooler bag
- Sealed containers to protect from ants, mice etc and/ or pegs to close oper packets of pasta etc
- Bottle opener/cork screwer
- Cutting boards and knife
- A bowl to wash dishes once done
- Tin opener
- Scourers and cloths to wash dishes
- Dishwasher soap
- Tea towel
- Garbage bags
Comfort and nice to have
- Camping table
- BBQ fire
- Lamps / lanters
- Insect repellent
- Camping entertainment (board games, printable games, outdoor toys)
- Guitar or another instrument for nights around the fire
For the tent
- Tent shoes (or socks)
- Wet bags
- Laundry bag
- Mini hoover (cordless handheld vacuum cleaner)– a lifesaver for the car too, especially if you go to the beach!
- Repair kit / sewing kit
- Air pump
- Pocket knife /Swiss knife multi tool
- Extra batteries
- First aid kit (click to read what we carry in ours )
- Fire extinguisher/Blanket
- Safety pins
- Safety pins
Personal items/ essentials
- Shower shoes/flip flops – you can find my selection of the best water shoes and water sandals for kids here
- Underwear and socks
- Sun hat
- Rain gear
- Swimming trunks/ swimsuit
- Towels/face cloth
- Soap/shampoo/shower gel
- Toilet paper
- Personal medications
- Baby wipes
- Hanging toiletry bag
Family camping packing list: laundry essentials
- Washing powder
- Clothes Pegs
- Collapsible clothes drying rack
- Laundry bag
- Wet / dry bags
Baby gear for camping
If you are camping with baby, then you will be glad to have some extra gear.
- Baby travel cot (perfect not just for sleeping but for naps and playtime outdoors
- Changing bag
- Baby toiletries and insect repellent
- All terrains stroller / baby carrier
I hope you found this family camping checklist useful and it helped you get planning your first family camping adventure!