We put together this family camping checklist to help make packing for your next trip even easier.
Specifically, we cover:
Remember, this family tent camping checklist is comprehensive – you likely won’t need every item on our list.
Instead, we encourage you to use our checklist to figure out which camping gear your family needs and which you can do without.
Our Simple Family Camping Gear Checklist
Let’s start with our simple (yet complete) family camping checklist.
For more detailed info, keep reading or just to our in-depth camping gear overviews below.
- Camp Shelter
- Sleep System
- Sleeping Bags
- Sleeping Pads (/Air Mattresses)
- Camp Pillow
- Cooking Supplies
- Matches or Lighter
- Camp Stove (& Fuel)
- Pots & Pans
- Cooking/Eating Utensils
- Plates/Bowls & Cups/Mugs
- Kitchen Knife
- Cutting Board
- Camping Sink
- Sponges and Dish Towel
- Biodegradable Soap
- Trash Bags
- Camp Clothing
- Short Sleeve Shirt
- Long Sleeve Shirt
- Sweater or Fleece
- Rain Jacket
- Long Pants
- Extra Socks
- Hiking Boots &/or Camp Shoes
- Odds & Ends
- First-Aid Kit
- Water Bottles
- Pocket Knife
- Axe or Hatchet (for cutting firewood)
- Bug Spray
- Personal Hygiene Products
- Headlamps &/or Flashlights
- Camp Lanterns
- Camping Chairs
- Books, Games, Etc
A quick note on packing – if you’re a camping newbie, pack everything (or nearly everything) on our list. Even if you might not need it.
It’s better to camp with too much gear rather than too little. Take notes and slim down your gear on your next trip.
There’s nothing wrong with packing extra gear when car camping, but creating your own family camping checklist – of the gear your family in specific needs – makes planning future trips much easier.
Our Family Camping Checklist Expanded and Explained
Now, let’s break down each of our five family tent camping gear categories in more detail.
A camp shelter is the most important piece of gear for any family camping checklist.
A high-quality tent is the single best investment you can make in camping.
Remember, each tent comes with a capacity rating. But know the stated tent capacity is usually a tight fit. It’s often better to size up.
Just as important is to select a weather-appropriate tent. We feel a 3-season tent is best for most family campers (unless you plan to camp in snow).
One of my favorite camping tents is the REI Basecamp 4-Person Tent. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s easy to set up, incredibly durable, and very spacious.
If you have a big family like me, a larger version, the REI Basecamp 6-Person Tent, is also available.
Really big family (once again, like me)? Try the REI Kingdom 8-Person Tent – it’s a behemoth and even has two separate rooms.
A rainfly, tent footprint, vestibule, and stakes are the basic tent accessories everyone should add to their family camping checklist.
A rainfly and footprint help keep your tent dry. A vestibule gives you a sheltered outdoor area to store hiking boots and gear. The stakes help secure your tent in heavy rain.
If you expect seriously rainy conditions, pack an extra tarp or two. Put one tarp underneath the tent and hang another tarp overtop.
A tent repair kit is another useful accessory. Patching with duct tape goes a long ways in the field, but a tent repair kit is helpful once you get home.
Alternative Camping Shelters
A standard camping tent isn’t the right solution for all campers.
Personally, I’ve fallen in love with hammock camping over the last several years.
It’s not ideal for families that want to sleep in the same shelter, but it’s seriously fun once your kids are teenagers and everyone wants more space!
Yet another option made specifically for camping (or even backpacking) are the hammocks from the folks at Hennessy Hammocks.
The second most important category in our family camping checklist is the sleep system.
Perhaps the most important feature to consider when selecting a sleeping bag is temperature rating.
Our advice is to select a bag rated for temperatures roughly 15° colder than the coldest you expect. It’s definitely better to be too warm than too cold while camping!
Personally, I’m a big fan of REI’s sleeping bags.
I won’t recommend a specific model since the right sleeping bag for you depends on the shape, temperature rating, and your preferences.
Just know that all of REI’s store brand sleeping bags are comfortable, durable, and fairly affordable.
We wrote a guide to choosing a sleeping bag to help you select the best model for you.
Make camping simple. Comes with two sleeping bags (rated 35° F), two inflatable air pads, and a spacious 4-person tent. All for a low price.
A sleeping pad isn’t a strict necessity, but we can assure you that you’ll never regret adding one to your family camping checklist!
Another option for family campers is the Exped MegaMat Duo 10, a wildly comfortable inflatable two-person sleeping pad that’s really more like an air mattress.
And, speaking of air mattresses, the REI Kingdom Insulated Air Bed is perfect for those who want the ultimate in camp comfort – just make sure your tent is large enough to fit it first!
Yet another option is a camping cot like the Kelty Discovery Cot. I’ve been using mine for years (I throw my sleeping pad on top for a one-two punch of comfort).
The Helinox Lite Cot gets rave reviews from other campers, although I’ve yet to use it myself. It’s pretty pricey, but can you really put a price on a good night of sleep?
Check out our guide to choosing a sleeping pad for more tips.
When starting out, I recommend just grabbing some pillows from around the house to mark this one off your family camping checklist.
But, once you get more serious about camping, investing in a camp pillow is definitely worth it (especially if you ever get into backpacking).
I recently went out and bought 8 of the best camping pillows I could find.
My plan is to review them all on Beyond The Tent and let you know which ones I like most.
For now, the Cocoon Sleeping Bag Head Pillow is my favorite (but check back soon to read my complete review round-up).
Additional Sleep Items
Extra blankets are always worth bringing when family camping.
Like pillows, there’s not a real reason not to bring blankets from around the house when first starting out.
But, once you fall in love with camping (and I know you will!), you’ll appreciate a camping blanket thanks to the light weight, superior packability, and water resistance.
Finally, I advise you all to bring ear plugs, especially if you’re sleeping in a tent with a lot of other people!
Your camp kitchen can be quite simple or quite complex depending on what camping meals your family likes to cook.
- Don’t forget to check out our complete camping food list for camping meal ideas!
Many developed campgrounds, such as state parks, have drinkable water.
Plan ahead for those that don’t. Water treatment, like a water filter or water purifier, works well if a water source is nearby.
The MSR Guardian Purifier is the gold standard for water purifiers, but the Katadyn Gravity Water Filter is a highly effective (and far less expensive) alternative. Check out our Katadyn Gravity Filter review here.
Personally, I prefer to bring all the water my family will need in water containers like the 7-Gallon Reliance Aqua-Tainer when car camping.
Remember to pack not just the water your camping group will need for drinking, but also enough for any cooking, cleaning, and bathing you plan to do.
Don’t forget to pack enough for any four-legged camping companions if you’re camping with dogs!
A standard two-burner propane camp stove is the best option for most family campers.
There are a huge variety of models available, so we put together a guide to choosing the best camping stove with more info.
The Coleman Compact Propane Stove is a simple yet reliable option for families on a budget.
The Eureka Ignite Plus 2-Burner Stove is an excellent choice for those willing to shell out a little more. It has push-button ignite, better temperature control, and is made to last for years on end.
Just as important as your camp stove is fuel (propane or butane). Don’t forget this at home or you’ll be eating dinner cold!
Of course, you can always cook your meals on a campfire. In fact, we recommend you at least try this (just bring a stove as backup).
Sensitive simmer control. Two burners (10,000 BTUs each) with push-button ignition. Rugged construction to hold up to years of camping.
Cooking and Eating Gear
For lack of a better term, we call this category on our family camping checklist “cooking and eating gear.”
Basically, this consists of anything you need to cook a meal and then enjoy eating it.
At the very least, you’ll need a pot or a pan, a fork or a spoon, and a plate or a bowl for everyone.
But, when you’re car camping and space isn’t a concern, there’s no reason not to pack a full set of eating utensils, a plate and bowl for everyone, and cooking utensils like a spatula, sharp kitchen knife, and cutting board.
The camp kitchen gear you’ll need depends largely on what type of camping meals you plan to cook.
Personally, I love to cook in cast iron while camping, so I always bring at least one Lodge Cast Iron Skillet.
See our separate camp kitchen checklist for a more in-depth look.
Clean Up Gear
Don’t forget to pack what you need to clean up after cooking a meal for your family.
At a minimum, my family brings biodegradable soap (we like Campsuds), a sponge or two, and a dish towel.
A collapsible camp sink is very helpful, especially when camping somewhere without a dish washing area. The Sea to Summit Kitchen Sink is a great choice.
An alternative option is to use paper plates. This is a great option for your first few family camping trips so you don’t have to buy even more new gear!
And, finally, don’t forget to bring plenty of garbage bags!
A cooler is pretty much a staple of car camping.
We’ve put together a list of the best coolers available now to help you narrow down the options.
One of the most common questions that pops up is whether to buy a standard “cheap” cooler or one of the new breed of high-end premium coolers.
We put the Yeti Cooler vs Coleman Xtreme head to head to see which cooler keeps your food cold for longer.
Other Camp Cooking Equipment
Go beyond the basics and pack as much cooking equipment as you need when car camping.
For example, you won’t find me without my coffee maker! Personally, I prefer a simple method like the pour-over or French press when camping.
We’ve outlined the best ways to make camp coffee here (from simple to extravagant).
Other kitchen accessories that are helpful include a tablecloth to lay down on your picnic table and plastic storage bins to store food and cooking equipment inside.
Me personally, I love grilling. I always pack my Coleman Sportster Propane Grill when possible.
Make camping even more fun! Quick setup with a sturdy design. 3,250 to 20,000 BTUs of grilling power. Great for cooking meat, seafood, and veggies! Has an automatic ignition and built-in thermometer.
Check out my full review of the Coleman Sportster Propane Grill here.
Another idea that kids love is a cast iron griddle/grill like this one from Lodge. Pancakes, grilled, cheese, and burgers just got even easier to cook!
Clothing is perhaps the most subjective category on our family camping checklist.
In fact, you’re probably okay with just normal “outdoor” clothing from home on your first couple camping trips.
But specialized outdoor clothing actually has its benefits.
Not only is most outdoor clothing more durable than normal clothing, but it’s also lightweight, breathable, moisture-wicking, and dries fast when it gets wet.
Also subjective is what type of clothing to bring camping – and how much of it.
Personally, even on short weekend camping trips, we like to pack at least one extra change of clothes per person as well as a separate set of sleepwear.
For longer car camping trips, there’s no reason you can’t pack a different set of clothing for each day. However, just know that plenty of campers get by with the same set of clothing for several days to a week.
It’s just as important to tailor your camp clothing to the weather.
For example, if the forecast calls for rainy conditions, don’t forget a rain jacket. But, in the summer, you might want to pack a swimsuit and sun hat!
And, if you’re winter camping, we recommend that you layer your clothing for camping so you can shed clothing or add clothing as required.
Perhaps, most important is a solid pair of hiking boots. At the very least, you’ll need an old pair of shoes to wear around camp that you don’t mind getting dirty.
Camping Odds and Ends
There’s a ton of family camping gear that just doesn’t fit into any of the categories above.
- First-Aid Kit – Make a DIY camping first-aid kit or buy a pre-made one like the HART Outdoor Multi-Day First-Aid Kit.
- Water Bottles – Mugs or cups work well for drinking, but water bottles are really where it’s at for camping, especially if you go on a hike!
- Lanterns – Don’t forget a camping lantern to help illuminate your campsite at night! I actually reviewed the top 8 rechargeable lanterns to help you make a decision easier.
- Headlamp or Flashlight – A couple of flashlights and/or headlamps (enough for everyone in your family) is important to pack.
- Pocket Knife – A pocket knife or multi-tool has countless uses – don’t forget to add this to your camping pack list.
- Axe or Hatchet – If you plan to have a campfire, a solid ax or hatchet is a must for chopping wood. I’ve been extremely happy with the Fiskars Norden Axe.
- Bug Spray – We hate mosquitos! Keep them at bay with bug spray or check out the Thermacell (one of my favorite camping gadgets).
- Sunscreen – If you’re camping in summer, don’t forget plenty of sunscreen for everyone in the family.
- Personal Hygiene – Stay clean with a camping hygiene kit that includes a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and any other hygiene items you can’t live without!
- Camping Chair – Kick back around the campfire with a camping chair. My kids and I personally like the REI Flexlite Air Camp Chair (they also work well for backpacking).
- Camping Table – A camp table is helpful to have at a campsite without a picnic table. Even with a picnic table, a camp table gives you a separate place to cook and eat. The Mountain Summit Gear Heavy-Duty Roll-Top is one of the best available.
- Books, Games, Activities – If you have lots of kids like us, don’t forget to bring plenty of camping activities to keep everyone occupied!
Remember, that not every family needs all this gear. For example, you can usually do without a camping table if you’re at a campsite with a picnic table.
Just use our family camping list to review all the options and make sure you have the essentials to cover your family’s camping needs.
Additional Family Camping Gear to Consider
We’ve covered all the basic family tent camping gear above – but here are a few additional items to consider adding to your checklist depending on your camping style!
Dog Camping Gear
Camping with your dog?
Make sure to add any gear and supplies they need to your family camping checklist. Beyond the basics of food, water, and dog bowls, don’t forget a dog bed and a warm blanket.
Our guide to camping with dogs provides a dog camping checklist of its own.
Winter Camping Gear
Winter camping is a whole different ball game in terms of required gear.
Of course, warm clothing and insulated, waterproof winter hiking boots are also a must.
Interested in winter camping with your family?
Well, you’re in luck – we have a ton of resources to help you get started.
Gear for Dispersed Camping
We suspect most of you probably go family camping at developed campgrounds like those at state parks and national parks.
But, for those who like to family camp a bit off the beaten path, dispersed camping in a national forest or on BLM land is probably right up your alley.
Because of the lack of amenities (seriously, dispersed camping comes with no amenities), it’s essential to pack a little extra gear.
Another great item to have while camping in the backcountry is a portable power device.
Available in many forms (including small power packs up to large generator-like power stations), portable power batteries hold enough juice to keep all your important devices charged while camping.
You can even go one step further and pair your power pack with a portable solar panel for nearly limitless recharging in the field.
Because there’s so many options available, there’s no one size fits all solution for everyone.
That said, I like all the products from Goal Zero (slightly expensive, but extremely reliable and easy to use), including the Goal Zero Yeti 400.
Everyone’s family camping packing list will be slightly different.
In fact, we encourage you to make your own. Use our complete gear list to start and take notes on what you don’t actually need and what you wish you had on each camping trip.
Before long, you’ll have your very own family camping checklist that’s perfectly tailored for you and your family.
Let us know if we missed any must-have family camping gear that you never hit the campground without!