Getting Started with Camping: A Family Camping Checklist

Regular contributor, Debi Huang of Go Explore Nature, shares a handy camping checklist of essentials for families just getting started  out with camping.

If you’ve never been camping before – or at least not with kids – the prospect of gearing up for the experience can be a little daunting. What items are essential and which can you do without? Is there any way to help reign in your costs? The beginning family camping checklist below is a great start. But before you take a peek at the list, ask yourself the following four questions – your answers will help you determine which gear best meets your family’s needs.

1. Do you have time for a “trial run” at camping in the backyard?
Backyard camping can help you test out your gear to see what might be missing. Plus, it’s a great way for kids to get a sense of what “real” camping will be like.

2. Can you borrow anything from friends?
Before we purchased our tent, we borrowed two different ones from friends to find out which would be best for our family. It’s also how I learned that unless I wanted to wake up with severe back pain, I’d need to purchase an air mattress.

3. What is your camping style?
Do you prefer car camping, RV’ing or backpacking? Do you intend to camp during warm weather, cold or both?

4. Can you recycle any of your pre-kid camping gear?
If you’ve camped before, you might be able to put your former gear to use (think: sleeping bags, sleeping pads and camp kitchen equipment). Simply adding a couple more items here and there is less expensive than buying all new.

Beginning Family Camping Checklist

This is our family’s fairly basic family camping checklist. Pick and choose from (and add to) the list to meet your family’s specific needs.

The Basics
These items are your “must-have’s” – and usually your big ticket items as well. Borrow or invest as needed.

  • Tent
  • Ground cover/tarp
  • Sleeping bags (or sheets & blankets)
  • Sleeping pads or air mattresses
  • Portable crib for younger kids
  • Pillows & kids’ favorite items for sleep time

Clothing & Helpful Equipment

Family Camping Checklist: A List of Camping Essentials

This list will obviously differ depending on when you camp, the resources available on-site (bathrooms, water, etc.) and how long you go.

  • Clothing (plus plenty of extras for the kids!)
  • Pajamas
  • Jackets, hats & gloves (it gets cold at night)
  • Diapers/nappies (if applicable)
  • Camp chairs
  • Beach blanket
  • Baby wipes (they’re good for just about everything)
  • Basic first aid kit
  • Toiletries (for each member of the family)
  • Toilet paper
  • Camp towels (one per person)
  • Flashlights/headlamps (one per person) Fire starting tinder, kindling & firewood for the fire pit
  • Matches or lighter
  • Insect repellant

Camp Kitchen

Family Camping Checklist: A List of Camping Essentials

We prefer to keep our camp meals simple, so our camp kitchen is pretty minimal. You can add on as needed.

  • Camp stove & propane/butane
  • Plates, cups & utensils (plastic utensils help to keep it simple)
  • Cooking utensils, pots & pans
  • Cooler with ice
  • Reusable water bottles for everyone
  • Portable high chair or booster seat for younger kids
  • Food items for meals, plus plenty of snacks
  • S’mores supplies (graham crackers, marshmallows & chocolate)
  • Water & other drinks of choice
  • Formula or baby food for infants as needed
  • Paper towel
  • Trash bags

Fun & Games

Family Camping Checklist: A List of Camping Essentials

Most kids don’t need much in the way of entertainment. Being active and outdoors is usually plenty enough excitement but these items may come in handy:

  • Bubbles
  • Glow sticks
  • Scavenger hunt list or camping bingo
  • Play tent
  • Favorite games, coloring books & crayons
  • Field journal and writing/drawing implements
  • Books for bed time
  • Camera
  • Binoculars (for stargazing & wildlife spotting)

What’s on your family camping checklist?

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  1. This is so timely for us as we are heading off in a few days to go camping – our first time in over three years and since having our second child. I was about to google a camping checklist and this turned up in my inbox – perfect! I especially love the idea of glow sticks and I know my little girl will do too. Thanks!

  2. Thank you for this awesome list! Definitely a lot of help for first time campers, seems really daunting but with your list it might just be manageable. Thanks!

  3. This is a pretty through list, our kids love their glow sticks at night they are also perfect for marking out tent strings so you don’t trip over them at night, as a seasoned camper with 3 children (now 2, 6 and 10), we also include
    a small blow up swimming pool to use as a pool, bath, or a little play arena
    pop up washing baskets for washing, dishes etc


  1. […] on Childhood 101, Debi Huang offers up a Family Camping Checklist. Okay, sure, the timing is off, but she lives in California, so it works for her, and if I wait […]

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