We have been on 4 camping trips this summer. Two 1-night trips, two 2-night trips. We had planned for at least one trip, but since camping has been shown to be very low Covid risk, and parks opened, we jumped on it. It’s been a great antidote to online learning. The kids bring no screens to the campsite and we all look at our phones rarely.
We did our first family camping trip last summer, and then we did one in Brazil. We’ve learned a lot and have found a camping groove. We keep saying we need to make a list of all the things we need to bring so that we can consult it before heading out.
What to pack for the kids:
- twice as many socks as days camping
- old sneakers, water shoes, flipflops or crocs (You want something that they can wear in a river or lake to protect their feet, you want something easy on and off for going in and out of the tent
- Walking poles or sticks
- Water bottles
- Sleeping bag and pillow
- Hoodie for cold mornings/nights
- Pants for hiking or cold mornings/nights (if the weather is generally colder, more pants, but I find 1 pair enough for a summer camping trip)
- Pajamas: if the temp goes below 65, consider long sleeve or fleece pajamas. But I recommend bringing some shorts jammies and some warmer jammies in case of any kind of weather.
What to bring in general for camping:
- First aid kit
- Tent (we bought our Suisse Sport Wyoming 8-person tent on Sierra for $90. It was a closeout, so it’s gone now, but we like it. In Brazil we have the Coleman Evanston tent. Love that too and you can buy at Target and Walmart.)
- Tarp for underneath the tent
- Sleeping bags (or just a blanket, depending on weather and your desires.)
- Sleeping pads (we have these Klymit pads. They inflate with about 15 breaths, and roll up into an 8×4 inch bag.)
- Pillows (regular or inflatable.)
- Toiletries in an easy to carry caddy or bag
- Towels (we bring beach towels)
- Sunscreen and bug spray
- Citronella candles
- Camp chairs (or some kind of folding chair)
- A multi-tool
- Rain jackets for everyone
- Optional: Hammock. You can hang it between 2 trees. The kids love them!
- Flashlights and lanterns. I like a bunch of handheld flashlights, and then a lantern or two for on the picnic table or to hang in the tent. I also like a headlamp or two. Better than having to clench a flashlight in your teeth to cook in the dark!
- If you are camping at an electric site: an extension cord and power strip.
- If you are not at an electric site, battery packs, power banks, or other things like that are good to charge your phone.
- Table cloth. I had a plastic one that ended up getting gross quickly, and if you rested your arms on it with sunscreen or bugspray on, it dissolved the color into your arm. So, I got 2 yards of marine vinyl from Joann for 70% off. $12 total! It’s nice and heavy, meant to withstand water and weather, and we will be able to reuse it for a long time.
- 2 gallon expandable water carrier (We got this one at Cabela’s)
- Dish basin
A quick note on dishes at a campsite. It took until our last 2 trips for me to develop a system I like. We use the expandable water carrier to bring 2 gallons back from the water spigot (there’s usually one every 3 campsites in state/national campgrounds.) I set the water carrier on the picnic table bench, and put the dish basin beneath it. I put a little Dawn in the basin and an inch of water. As people bring dishes over, I have them drop them in the soapy water. Then, when it’s time to wash dishses, I turn on the tap of the water carrier and start scrubbing, the water falls into the basin and keeps filling it. I set the clean dishes to dry on the table as I go. By the time I’ve gotten to the bottom of the stack of dishes, the water is about full. I dump it out and voila! I kept joking that I invented the sink and running water. Here is Everett demonstrating.
You can see our marine vinyl tablecloth in that picture and the clear plastic bins we use to transport all of our cookware, flashlights, tools etc.
What to bring for cooking and building a fire
- A stove (we have this classic one from Coleman.)
- Camp stove propane cannisters (2 cannisters got us through 6-8 days of camping)
- Lighters (at least 2)
- A set of pots and pans (we have this set from Kelty)
- Plates, bowls, cups, silverware (Our Kelty set came with everything but the cups)
- A cast iron skillet or 2 (we have a 12 inch and an 8 inch)
- Cutting knives and cutting board (we have those thin ones)
- Foil and a container for leftovers
- A cooler
- We have a Coleman water jug that we put ice water in. That way the kids can get cups of water at will. (Otherwise, they drive you crazy asking for drinks)
- Dish washing liquid and sponge or scrub brush (my vote is a scrub brush because sponges tend to get nasty and stinky. The scrub brush we’re using came from my Dad’s camp set and it may 20 years old. Still works!)
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Pot holders
- Spatula, slotted spoon, ladle
- Can opener
- fire starters
- newspaper for fire starting
- coffee cone and filters
- insulated mugs for hot and cold bevvies
- Marshmallow/hotdog roasting forks
What do we cook?
- Breakfast: Oatmeal, eggs and bacon, cereal. My sister in law made breakfast burritos that were already assembled and we warmed them in the coals of the fire. Super good! You could also just make cereal.
- Lunch or dinner: Grilled sandwiches, hot dogs, charcuterie (crackers, cheeses, meats, hummus, veggies), Camp chili (we made this on our last trip and it was delicious. We added ground beef), 3 ingredient mac n cheese with peas added, brats or hotdogs on the grill, grilled baby peppers or nectarines, burgers or steak, baked beans, grilled corn, there are lot of options!
We’ve also worked on our food box of items that aren’t really for any particular recipe, but are good to have:
- Olive oil
- Cooking spray
- Brown sugar
- Shelf stable milks (preferably little ones so you only need to open what you need, like the Horizon kids’ milk boxes)
- Hot sauce
- Snacks for the kids (goldfish, fruit snacks, fruit cups, fruit strips, granola bars)
- Mustard, ketchup (or a handful of ketchup packets)
- Honey and/or maple syrup
- A little mixed spice holder (Walmart sells this one)
- Raisins, cranberries or other dried fruit
- Walnuts, almonds, pecans
What we pack in our cooler:
- Beers, small wine bottles or boxes, tequila in a mason jar (or the liquor of your choice)
- Lacroix, cokes, etc.
- Yogurt pouches for the kids, maybe also yogurt drinks
- A variety of hand fruits
- Carrot sticks
- Cheese slices
- Deli meats
You have to buy firewood from an authorized dealer or from within 10 miles of the park, so we do that on the way into the park or at a nearby gas station. If the park has an office that is open, they usually sell ice. We usually have to add a bag of ice to the cooler once a day. We have two coolers, one 40 qt one for drinks and a 52 qt one for food.
For the funs:
- We bring everyone’s bikes. At least in Minnesota, there are awesome bike trails. The kids are often told to take off on their bikes around the campsite whenever they say they’re bored. Everett has a trailer that we bring and we go on family rides as well.
- If your park is flat, roller skates/blades are as well
- If you have room for them, lawn Jenga or lawn Farkle are really fun, and games of their ilk.
- Sand toys or dirt play toys
- Squirt guns
- Friendship bracelet materials
- Guitar or mandolin or other sing along instrument. Despite being a mandolin player, I haven’t brought mine on any trips. Mostly just tired and overwhelmed or busy. Ugh. Maybe next year.
We also had my sister-in-law’s mom make us a campsite sign!
You will also notice our car top carrier. That came out of my parents’ attic this summer and it was on our minivan in the 80’s! Super vintage and works great. We will keep that sucker going for as long as it will last.
Tip: Look for second hand camping equipment. You can get some from family or friends, or at Goodwill or Facebook marketplace. 3 of our camp chairs, 2 of our sleeping bags, one of our coolers and our Coleman water jug came from a thrift store. Then, go to Sierra Trading Post. We bought our Suisse Sport Wyoming 8 person tent there. Originally $150, we got it for $90. They get closeouts and old seasons’ stuff for a great discount. Our Klymit pads and Kelty camp kitchen set came from them too at a great discount. After that, I recommend Walmart first (shocking, I know) and Target second. Walmart has a larger camping section. Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops also have some good stuff, but also guns, so decide on your comfort level. Of course there’s Amazon and the internet and stuff.
Tip: Before you pitch your tent, especially if you are doing it with a spouse or partner, each of you should do a shot of tequila. A little liquid sense of humor is always called for when pitching a tent.
Tip: your kids won’t fall asleep until the sun goes down. So, that’s their camping bedtime! But, I find that in the darkness of the woods, they fall asleep fast.
Okay, I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. And I don’t want to pass myself off as some kind of pro camper. We forget stuff and we lose our cool sometimes and make dumb decisions. But camping is fun and you can dive in and have fun.