Are you thinking about going on a family camping trip? We recently took our 6 children on a family camping trip and it was a real learning experience. We discovered some camping must haves and some really don’t bothers.
I think we can save your family time and money with this first-hand advice. Take it from us there are just some things you shouldn’t leave behind and a couple of others that aren’t worth the trouble.
Keep reading for our 11 camping must haves and don’t bothers you need to know before you go.
Our Family Camping Trip
No, we aren’t crazy. We really took our entire family of 8 on a camping trip. And this was the first time hubby and I went camping since before having children.
It was time for me to try it again! The first time Chris took me camping… it rained the entire time. Needless to say, it wasn’t a great experience and I’ve been “team resort” – or team hotel, team glamping, or team just-about-anything-else-besides-tent-camping – ever since.
I do have to say right here though, this time, it changed my mind!
Camping with a large family can be tricky, but having toddlers as half of your crew is downright challenging. We didn’t have a completely bump-free camping trip, and in fact, the twins weren’t feeling well for the entirety of our trip, but STILL, we all had a great time.
I would say that was a success, and we’re all ready to go again!
So, if you want a happy trip keep reading for our camping must haves below.
Camping Must Haves
1) Sleeping Arrangements
Of course, you have to have somewhere to sleep when you are camping. A lot of people are buying campers these days, but we think tent camping gives that real camping experience we remember from being kids.
Along with it being more economical as well as the storage of tents takes up MUCH less space.
If you think you are serious about going camping, we recommend purchasing a popup tent. Don’t try to save money by purchasing a pole tent—it’s not worth it. A popup tent goes up in a minute and is SO deserving of every penny.
The key for maximum comfort here is to choose a tent that lists double the number of people you have – ie. an 8 person tent for 4 people.
We, of course, have smaller people, as well as a second small tent, so we didn’t quite double it and still it was comfortable.
When you are camping, it gets dark, like really dark. So, bringing lighting is a must. We bring a lantern, flashlights, and our new favorite thing is solar lights. Solar-powered string lights can illuminate your entire camping area. We even use them inside our tent.
The best feature of solar lights is not relying on electrical plugins or having to bring batteries. They are one of our new camping must haves.
These headlamps are easy to use for a quick evening walk (or run to the bathrooms!), and these fan lights were so great for hanging in the tents and helping with air flow, especially when sleeping. We also liked having a larger lantern, and even used it to charge our phone when needed with the USB port.
3) Air Mattress
Even though we are “roughing it,” it’s important to make sure all of our littles are comfortable. We always bring air mattresses so everyone gets a great night of sleep. And I highly recommend it!
For our toddlers, we have an air mattress with raised sides. This helps prevent them from rolling off in the night.
Better sleep equals better moods for the following day. And when your toddler is happy everyone has more fun.
4) First Aid Kit
If you have children then you likely know the magic of a bandaid. Be ready for scrapes, bruises, and bug bites. Bandaids, ointments, and bug bite relief will go a long way for unhappy little ones.
And don’t forget hydrogel burn pads, just in case you have a campfire accident.
We typically keep one of these in our car, so we always have one with us anyway!
5) Plastic Storage Tote
When you pack your camping gear place it in large plastic storage totes. When you get to your destination, unpack these totes to be used. They make great sinks for washing reusable dishes or bathtubs for very dirty toddlers.
At the end of the trip, dry them off and everything goes back in.
6) Cast Iron Pan
I love my cast iron pan, and it is one of my camping must haves. Cast iron pans are sturdy and can go directly into the campfire, can be used on a grill or an electric plate. Best of all you can cook a variety of meals and even great desserts like Smores Pizookie.
A cast iron skillet can really expand the variety of camp food you can prepare.
7) Bug Repellent
There is nothing more miserable than being eaten alive by bugs.
We like to spray our tent with bug repellent to help cut down on mosquitos. We also make sure to spray our shoes and clothes before hiking which helps prevent ticks as well.
Try using bug repellent stickers and bracelets for littles, citronella candles or (the thermacell patio shield worked well for us!) at the picnic table, and even repellers or bug traps for around the tent.
Every little bit helps.
One of the biggest camping must haves with littles is snacks. Snacks can turn a frown upside down, stop complaining, and even help bring everyone together. We like to bring a variety of healthy and fun snacks.
We pack fruit like apples and oranges, homemade protein bars, snack mixes, and more.
Make sure you have plenty of drinking water. Especially during the hot summer months and when you are hiking. It is easy to get dehydration sickness and not even realize what’s going on.
You should bring 1-2 gallons of water per person. This amount includes drinking water, cooking, cleaning, and personal hygiene.
A great way to bring water is to freeze gallons beforehand (dump a liiitle out first) and then use them to keep your cooler chilled as it melts for you to drink. This helps prevent a puddle of water as ice melts in your cooler.
Camping Don’t Bothers
10) Fancy Toiletries
When it comes to camping, leave the fancy toiletries behind. Perfumes, lotions, and even scented soaps can attract bugs.
Unscented castile soap is a great choice that can be used on your body, face, and even hair. And we’ve been loving Stryke Club everywhere wash lately… for our teens AND the rest of the fam. It’s easy to take one container, well, for everywhere.
We really like a couple of eco-friendly options we’ve tried recently, too, like the EC30 waterless swatches! All you need is a small swatch and add water when you’re ready to wash. SO easy, and you don’t have to carry around big plastic containers either.
11) Glass and Ceramic
Have you ever cut your foot on a piece of glass at the beach? It can put a real damper on your day.
I know glass is a great choice for eco-friendly families, but not for camping trips. Glass and ceramic can break and leave pieces behind. It is dangerous for any shoeless camper.
We’ve found that it’s helpful for everyone to have their own stainless steel insulated bottle (and a different color for each person!) that can be refilled from the water gallons in the cooler. This also cuts down on the waste from plastic water bottles.
Final Thoughts on Camping Must Haves and Don’t Bothers
Sure, we could make our list of camping must haves and don’t bothers longer, but I think these are the most important ones for a new-to-camping family.
These must haves are a great place for you to start packing for a great family camping trip. If you think you need more help, check out this post on big family road trip packing tips. It makes your packing easier for a more Instagram-worthy family trip.
And we think you will love this fun post on our ultimate family road trip playlist. It will have the whole family jamming for miles.
If you’ve been camping before, tell us your favorite camping must haves in the comments below.