Camping With Kids Checklist (The Essentials Tips & Tricks)

by Ian Standard
Last Updated: September 27, 2021
Close-up on intermediate climber tying her shoelace

Sometimes going to the store with your kids can feel like a massive task, and this makes a camping trip appear terrifying. What we can tend to forget is, the forest can be the world’s best babysitter. Just being out there will take a load off your plate. 

Whatever your camping style, you often need to bring the right things. To still get yourself fully prepared, here is the complete camping with kids checklist that will get you and your family camping in no time, with no stress. 

The Basics

If you are going to look at this camping with kids checklist and choose only a few things to bring, here it is. Family camping trips can quickly become a total junk show with gear, but this isn’t how it needs to be. Getting by with very little gear will make everyone’s lives that much more enjoyable. Narrow down your camping checklist to the camping essentials that you absolutely need for your camping trips so you don’t run out of room for your kids in the car. 

Clothes

Clothes are debatably the most important piece of camping gear. The clothes that your kids wear while on a camping trip can make or break it. Clothes mean comfort, and comfort means happiness. The right clothes will help you to beat the cold or be able to lounge in the sun. 

  • T-shirts- Bring a couple more shirts than you think you’ll need. Clothes on kids tend to get dirtier faster than we once thought possible. 
  • Layers- The key to staying warm while camping is having a successful layering system. Bring along synthetic or wool layers that will still work well even if you get wet clothes. Add layers when you get cold, take them off as it heats up. 
  • Sweatshirt- A nice thick outer layer like a cozy sweater or hoodie on a fall day can make a big difference. This will let you lounge around in a camp chair without experiencing hypothermia, or just let you sleep comfortably. 
  • Hiking pants- A good pair of hiking pants are made of anything that isn’t cotton. You want them to dry quickly and be comfortable, all while being durable. Your kids will put these to the extreme test. 
  • Sleep pants- Slipping into a pair of pajamas in the tent can turn any rainy or tough day right around. 
  • Underwear- Switching underwear is a big part of camping hygiene that you need to teach your kids from day one. 
  • More socks than you think- Socks get wet and the woods will eat more socks than your dryer ever has. Bring extra pairs, and be sure to bring some wool socks if the winter is here. Plan ahead and assume that you'll need more socks. If you're a camping newbie, keep this on your camping list for every trip ever. It is the true camping essential.
  • Beanie- Even on warm summer days, the cold will come quickly and it’s nice to have something to keep your ears warm. 
  • Baseball cap- If you’re going to be hiking, having a ball cap will be a great move to protect your kids from both the sun and ticks. 
  • Proper footwear- Waterproof boots and a pair of sandals make the perfect camping combo when talking about footwear. Bring a pair of shoes that can protect your feet during the day, then a pair that will let your feet relax at the end. 
  • Winter Clothing (if you are braving the cold)- If you’re heading out into the snow or bitter cold, make sure you bring enough warm clothing. This means scarves, buffs, balaclavas, mittens, beanies, long johns, and tons of extra layers. 

Sleeping Gear

Just like clothes, the right sleeping gear can change your entire experience. A good night’s rest will help your kids show up ready to take on the next day. If you are doing a multi-day and multi-night trip, make sure you put a big emphasis on sleep gear. Camping with kids becomes that much better when you get them to sleep through the night.

  • Tent-Tent camping is my personal favorite form of family camping. Maybe you have a big ten-person tent, or you are all sleeping in individual spaces. Either way, a tent doesn’t do you any good if it’s left behind in the garage. Bring along a tent repair kit and extra tent stakes, just in case anything breaks.
  • Sleeping bags- The right sleeping bags can sometimes feel even better than your bed at home. Make sure to bring the sleeping bag that is rated appropriately for the season you are camping in. 
  • Air mattress- Inflatable sleeping pads have essentially turned into full-blown air mattresses at this point. This gives you the ultimate comfort level for sleeping outdoors. If you’re really roughing it, grab a foam sleeping pad and head on out. 
  • Extra blankets- Extra blankets can be great for late evenings around the fire or as an extra buffer between you and the cold while sleeping in the tent. 

Light

Once the night hits, you don’t want to have your kids stumbling around the dark. Without a good source of light, injuries can stack up quickly from the silliest mistakes. Make sure you have this on your family camping checklist, and your experience camping with kids will be much smoother.

  • Headlamp- Cheap headlamps are great to keep next to you in the tent, or in your pocket all day long. They let you keep your hands free, which is hugely important on camping trips. 
  • Lantern- A powerful lantern will let you provide light to the whole group. Whether it stays on the picnic table or moves around with you, it will be a blessing to see what you are working with.
  • Firestarter- A roaring fire will give off even more light than most lanterns. Bringing some form of firestarter will help you to get this going quickly once at camp. 
  • Glow sticks- If you have spent a lot of time camping, you know that batteries die quickly. On your next trip, try bringing some glow sticks out with you. Kids love them and they can make for some happy camping when batteries die.

First Aid

Unfortunately, things can go wrong at home or while camping. It’s best to come prepared for any level of an incident while out there because it may take a few extra minutes to get to a hospital. That's why this is one of the most important things to have on your camping checklist, even if it is a very simple first aid kit.

I recommend taking a basic First Aid course and getting a good understanding of just what you need to treat simple injuries. This way, your next camping trip with younger kids or older kids will feel much safer.

  • Basic First Aid Kit- You can get a pre-packaged first aid kit easily these days. These tend to have all the basics in them, which is a great start for a family camping trip. If you are more experienced with medicine, you may want to pack your own kit. 
  • Medication- Forgetting personal medications is a quick way to trouble. Make sure you have everything along with you, even if it’s a simple allergy medicine.

Personal Care Items

Health and hygiene become even more important when you are running around the woods every day. These can be tricky for kids to take care of on their own, so you really need to be on top of the hygiene aspect of your entire trip. 

  • Soap- Washing your hands regularly helps to keep everyone healthy. A biodegradable camp soap is the best for this so you can continue to take care of the world as you take care of yourself. Bring a multi-purpose soap so you can use it washing dishes as well.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste- Camping is not a free pass to get out of brushing your teeth! 
  • Hand sanitizer- Hand sanitizer can be a quick solution when you don’t have a lot of water available for washing your hands. Just don’t rely on this method.
  • Sunscreen- Getting sunburnt while camping can be uncomfortable as well as dangerous. Make sure to find shade and always wear sunscreen.
  • Bug repellent- Depending on the time of year, bugs can be such a nuisance that your entire family camping trip can be ruined. This is a key to making any successful family camping checklist. 

Camp Kitchen

Good camp meals are the key to making kids love camping. This should be at the top of your camping checklist in order to make it the best family camping packing list possible.

A camp kitchen can be broken down into the basics, or it can be expanded upon to make a full five-course meal enjoyed by all. Picnic tables in the right camping area make this job so much easier. You can even bring an extra tarp to protect your kitchen from rain. If you are car camping, bring whatever you may want. If you are backpacking, make sure you reconsider every item. This family camping checklist falls somewhere right in the middle. 

  • Camp stove- Coleman camp stoves are perfect for your family camping checklist. They allow you to use multiple burners and have great temperature control.
  • Pots and pans- Be sure to bring enough cookware to make what you’re wanting!
  • Knife- Just like any kitchen, a camp kitchen requires a sharp knife that will help make dicing up vegetables or filleting a fish, a breeze.
  • Cooking utensils
  • Bowls- As long as everyone has something to eat out of, everyone will be happy.
  • Eating utensils- Don’t forget something to eat with!
  • Water treatment- Depending on your destination, you may need to treat your water before drinking it. Even some developed campgrounds don't have great water sources. Check to see if your campground has a potable water source before heading out, and bring treatment along just in case.

Food

Every parent is aware of the dangers that come along with not feeding their kids enough food. Camping, especially car camping, lets you bring enough food to feed a small army, and sometimes that is exactly what you need.

Try and create a good meal plan before you go out and get your shopping done early. In general, camping requires food that is easy to cook and doesn’t go bad quickly. If you’re wanting a lot of fresh foods, make sure to bring a cooler. If you have leftover food from your ample supply, make a camp meal that is based on extras.

Fun For Kids

Every family camping packing list needs to include a massive amount of camping fun. Often, trees and rocks can be enough entertainment for some kids. If this isn’t the case, it can be a great idea to have a good backup plan with some games or other entertainment for kids included in your camping supplies.

  • Backpack
  • Bikes and Helmets
  • Multitool
  • Camera
  • Solar charger
  • Binoculars
  • Frisbee, sports, family games
  • Cards
  • Fishing Gear

Tips for Camping with Kids

Buy kids camping gear as gifts

When camping becomes a big family staple, kids will love getting more gear as presents. Ask your kids what they want to try. Maybe they want to start fishing, carving with a pocket knife, hunting, or just want a better sleeping bag. This will make your kids want to start camping more.

Do kids pack their own clothing?

The trick here is to have kids pack their own gear but always double-check it. It’s a great move to allow them to have ownership over what they pack, but they will forget something and you need to find out what they forgot.

Invite friends

Friends make everything better for kids. If they have friends to camp and share a tent with, they will be ecstatic to try every activity out there. This will help share your family's camping trip with others and turn it into a whole camping adventure.

Prepare the gear and food

The boring logistics are the parts that certainly won’t excite your kids. If you can prep all of the gear and food for the trip, your kids will be focused on having fun. Further down the road, you can get them more involved in this process.

Ian Standard
I'm a part time wilderness guide, part time student, and full time nature lover. I find any ways possible to get outside and feel together with the world around me, and sometimes that means skiing, biking, hiking, or just sitting.
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