The Ultimate Family Camping Gear List – Our Essential Items

Essential Family Camping Gear List

Lately we’ve noticed more families choosing camping, or other outdoor adventures for their vacations. They’re skipping the over crowded theme parks and busy cities and are choosing a new form of adventure. Families have looked to the outdoors as a way to continue traveling while keeping their distance at the same time. We love seeing more people enjoying this kind of travel, but we know a lot of families are completely new to it. Our goal is to provide a family camping gear list that can be used by both novice and experienced family campers.

Everyone has their own way of camp. Some like to keep it to the bare minimum, while others want every last luxury they can fit into the woods. We fall somewhere in between both of these. We’re family camping, so we aren’t looking to completely rough it, but we also aren’t looking for the Four Seasons on our campsite. We want our tent and sleeping area to be comfortable, and we enjoy some camping equipment that others might do without, but overall we’re looking for a great family camping experience. We think this family camping gear list puts us perfectly in the middle of roughing it and glamping. It’s our happy medium. When you’re making your camping checklists many of these items should be on it.

Camp Shelters and Sleep Systems

Camping Tents

For most people, this is the most important piece of camping gear. If you don’t have a good tent and sleep system, you probably won’t have a good time. This doesn’t mean blowing your gear budget for these items, but you shouldn’t cheap out on them either. You can find quality products from brands you’ve never heard of on Amazon. These products are often just as good, or better than the big brands, but at a much cheaper price. These truly are camping essentials and if you’re a first-time camper it’s important to start the experience off comfortable.

Family Tent

We cannot stress enough how important it is to invest in quality camping tents. And not only quality, but a properly sized tent. We are a family of four, but we use the CORE 6 Person Instant Cabin Tent. Unless you’re backpacking, you should always be purchasing a tent sized for more people. We’ve had a four person tent and they just don’t work for a four person family. The CORE 6 Person Tent that we purchased is plenty big for the four of us. However, size isn’t everything when buying a new tent. Since we purchased a CORE Instant Tent, it’s super easy to setup, and we were impressed with how easily it went back into the bag. It also has a great wall organizer, space to hang our tent lights, and it’s always kept us dry. If you have a larger family, CORE has 9, 10, and 12 person tents as well.

Tent Accessories

Often overlooked, and always missed when needed. Tent Accessories are something you need to have on your family camping gear list. We always bring two tarps with us. One to use as a tent footprint and one to put above the tent if we are expecting heavy rain. We also bring extra tent stakes, duct tape for patching holes (or a tent repair kit), and cheap door rugs for wiping our feet or keeping shoes on. All of these items can be purchased for pretty cheap at Walmart, Amazon, Home Depot, or most other similar stores.

Sleeping Bags

Camping without sleeping bags just isn’t camping to us. That’s not to say we don’t also bring comfy blankets along, but we always have a good sleeping bag for sure. We have a couple different bags we use, but our favorites are the Kelty Tru Comfort Doublewide Sleeping Bag. Our kids are still pretty young, and when camping with kids they’ll often want to sleep with Mom or Dad at night. The Kelty Doublewide Sleeping Bag is perfect for two people and keeps everyone warm and comfortable at night.

Sleeping Pads

There is nothing worse than sleeping directly on the hard ground. It’s cold and it’s uncomfortable. This is where we like to think we’re roughing it a little. We never use a blow up mattress when we camp. Instead we use puzzle exercise mats that we found on Amazon. They’re meant for working out, but they work great for keeping the cold out and providing a soft layer on top of the hard ground. We also use them to keep the kids busy while we finish setting up camp. Once the tent is up it’s their job to put the puzzle together and cover the tent floor. We use these Prosource Fit Extra Thick Puzzle Exercise Mats from Amazon. These are some of the best we found, but there are many other options out there.

Camping Pillows

Not much to say about this one besides it’s one of those personal items you should bring when you camp. We don’t like using normal at home items as camping gear. So, for that reason we use a Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow for camping. They come in multiple sizes and designs, plus they’re pretty comfortable for a camping pillow. Some people will just use their home pillows for camping and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just make sure you bring some sort of camping pillow or you’re bound to regret it.

Shelter and Sleeping Extras

Some of these are extras and some of these we really must have. It’s up to you to decide what makes you comfortable and what extras you can live without. Just remember, you don’t have to get everything here at the beginning. Get the essentials we’ve already shared and add some of these extras as you can.

Camping Blankets: We always take some extra blankets with us. Sometimes they won’t make it out of the truck, but we always have them with us just in case. They not only add extra warmth, they also add a softer, more comfortable sleeping experience. We love these Rumpl Outdoor Down Camping Blankets, but you could just as easily use a low cost comforter from any department store. We love the Rumpl Camping Blanket because you can take it out of the tent and snuggle by the fire with it. It’s water, odor, and stain resistant, so it’s a much better camping option than a regular blanket.

Camp Lights: Flashlights and lanterns aren’t really an extra when camping, and we’ll talk more about them later. However, we bought these Fly2Sky LED Camping Lanterns for our tent as an extra and they quickly became an essential for us. They are super affordable and extremely convenient. We will never going camping with out these awesome little camp lights. In fact, we use them around the house as well, so these aren’t just an essential camping item.

Camp Kitchen

Camping Kitchen

Maybe it’s just us, but we believe one of the best things about camping is cooking and eating. If you read that and thought, “what are they talking about? We only eat hot dogs and smores” then it’s possible you’re doing it wrong. We do some major meal prepping before we ever leave the house. We’ll make breakfast burritos, prep the contents of hobo packs, and just make sure we’re as prepared as possible for most of our meals. Right after our shelter and sleep systems, our camp kitchen is the next most important family camping gear on our list.

Camping Cooler

It all really starts with your cooler. If you don’t have a good cooler it will ruin any camping trip. No one likes melted ice that turns food into a soggy mess. And no one likes spoiled food because your cooler couldn’t keep things cold. Do yourself a favor and buy a quality cooler. Don’t just grab whatever cooler is the biggest for the least amount of money. This doesn’t mean you have to spend a paycheck for a camping cooler. We have found most of our coolers in clearance sections at major retailers. In fact, we paid $40 for a $180 Ozark Trail cooler at Walmart and it’s great. It will keep our food cold for days without having to add ice. If you aren’t lucky enough to find a clearance deal, you could still save money with this RITC Hard Cooler. The quality is amazing, and it’s not nearly as expensive as a Yeti.

One thing we have always hated about coolers is melted ice. We hate it so much we refuse to use ice unless we absolutely have to. For this reason we purchase Arctic Ice Tundra Series Reusable Ice Packs for our coolers. They last a really long time and we never have to worry about our food getting wet and soggy. We also freeze multiple water bottles to use along side the reusable ice packs. Yes, it’s ice, but it’s contained within the plastic bottle and doesn’t leave a puddle of water in the cooler.

Camp Stove

There are many different ways to cook your food while camping. You could simply start a campfire, you can use a propane camp stove, or maybe even use a portable grill. Or you can be like us and use a couple different methods of cooking. We’ll use a campfire for a lot of our cooking. If we’re making hobo packs, or pre-made breakfast burritos they’ll go on the hot coals of a campfire. But, we don’t use the campfire for everything. Sometimes it’s just not feasible to light a campfire, so we turn to our Solo Stove. Specifically we’re using the Solo Stove Campfire Wood Burning Stove. And we always make a meal plan before we leave so we know which items we’ll need to bring.

We love using our Solo Stove to cook because it’s wood burning with low smoke output. We also love it because the fuel is nothing more than sticks, twigs, or pine cones. This is something the kids can easily gather for us while having fun doing it. The Solo Stove Campfire Gear Kit comes with the Solo Stove Campfire, two pots, and a tripod. Another great thing about this kit is it’s small enough to fit in a backpack, but big enough to cook meals for all four of us. We haven’t found a need for any other camping stoves yet.

Miscellaneous Camp Kitchen Items

These are all the items you should really have in a camp kitchen, but we aren’t going to write an entire section for each item. For all of our family camping gear we have separate bins based on what the gear is for. We have a specific bin just for our camp kitchen. This bin will include essential camp kitchen items like aluminum foil, baggies, seasonings, paper towel, sponges, cleaning wipes, a cutting board etc.. All of those items are essentials, so be sure to create your own camp kitchen bin and include them. The following are also essentials in our camp kitchen bin that we would recommend including in yours as well.

Camp Cooking Utensils: Please, whatever you do, don’t use throwaway cooking utensils. We use this UCO Utility Spork Set every time we go camping. Fork on one end, spoon on the other and slightly serrated side that can be used for cutting. These are way better than bringing silverware from home, and much more environmentally friendly than single use.

Camping Dinnerware Set: Just like the utensils, please stop using throwaway plates and bowls. We use this Stainless Steel Plate Set that can be used as both a plate or bowl. They’re easy to clean, don’t take up much space, and aren’t a single use product. They’re also food safe, which is obviously important since wearing eating off of them.

Coffee Maker: These days there are many ways to make coffee while camping. However, we think we have found the best way to make a great cup of coffee. Our coffee maker of choice is the Coffee Gator French Press. It’s a thermal insulated brewer that makes great coffee every time. Plus, it comes in four different color options (we went with orange) so you can brew coffee in style.

Coffee Cups: Sticking with our theme of, STOP USING SINGLE USE ITEMS, we’re going to recommend some awesome coffee cups. We use these MiiR Insulated Camp Coffee Cups. MiiR coffee cups come in a crazy amount of colors, but most importantly, they keep your coffee hot for a long time. Also, a little pro camping tip. MiiR makes wine glasses and beer growlers as well.

Enjoying Coffee While Camping

Miscellaneous But Essential Family Camping Gear

Just because these camping items are miscellaneous it doesn’t mean they aren’t essential. These items are often the odds and ends that people end up forgetting and then regretting during their family camping trip.

Lanterns: Earlier we mentioned the FengChi LED Camping Lanterns, and we stand by that recommendation 100%. However, they aren’t a complete replacement for an actual lantern. We mainly use the FengChi lanterns to provide lighting inside the tent. Our bigger lanterns are used around the campsite, on bathroom trips, and to provide even more light inside our tent. We like to use these LE LED Rechargeable Camping Lanterns.

Flashlights: Don’t think you’re getting away with only using a lantern. Lanterns are great for providing light in the area around you, but not for lighting up a path you might be walking on, or checking on that noise you heard in the woods. You’ll want a flashlight for that middle of the night walk to the bathroom. You can buy flashlights anywhere, but we love our Gearlight LED Tactical Flashlights. They’re really affordable, come in a two pack, are compact, and can be extremely bright when needed. Side note; always bring extra batteries for your battery powered devices. Or even think about buying some rechargeable batteries for these devices.

Water Storage: You’ll need fresh water while camping and not all campsites will have running water. You have a couple options for water while camping. You can buy large single use gallons of water to bring with you, but in the end that’s a huge waste of plastic, or you can bring a reusable water jug. We’re currently using a couple of these 5 Gallon Water Storeage Containers every time we go camping. Whether you go single use or a reusable water bottle, just make sure you’re bringing water.

First Aid Kit: Every family camping gear kit should have a first aid kit. We all know kids are prone to cuts and scrapes, so these will come in handy more often than you think. You could always make your own first aid kit if you prefer, but there are many pre-made kits available to purchase. We like our EVERLIT Survival First Aid Kit because it combines your normal first aid items with survival gear as well. You never know when you’ll need either, but at least we’re prepared if we do. Experienced campers know when you’re making your camping checklists you’re checking off these safety items near the top.

Pocket Knife and Multi-Tool: Both have many uses and both should be in your camping gear kits. Our camping kit includes the RoverTac Camping Multi-tool which is specifically built for camping. It has things you wouldn’t find in a normal multi-tool, such as a mini hatchet and hammer. Our pocket knife of choice is the SOG Tactical Folding Knife, but this is really just our preference. You can shop around and find good pocket knives, just make sure you bring it with.

Hatchet: Some people’s camping gear lists will say hatchet or axe. Honestly, there isn’t much reason to bring an axe on a family camping trip. A hatchet is much smaller, and works just fine for chopping wood or hammering tent stakes. The hatchet we use is the Schrade SCAXE10 Full Tang Hatchet and have never had any issues with it. You can find decent hatchets in the outdoors section of most big box stores.

Camping Chairs and Tables: Many campsites will have a picnic table, but you can’t really drag that in front of a campfire, can you? Call us lazy, but we were sold on this Coleman Camping Chair because of the built in four can cooler. You can also buy some lower cost camp chairs from Walmart that are just as comfortable to sit in, but for half the price. As for a camping table, we like bringing one to use for cooking, or just to place next to our camp chairs while sitting around the campfire. It’s a convenience thing for us and our table isn’t anything more than a basic square folding table.

Even More Essential Family Camping Gear?

Yes, there is even more essential camping gear that you should be bringing with you. However, the point of this article isn’t to remind you of every last item you should bring. It’s to point out what should be on your camping essentials list to make a great camping trip. I don’t think we need to remind you to bring sunscreen, or your toothbrush, right? We’re also assuming you know bug bites happen in the woods, so bringing a strong bug spray is essential. If we missed something in our list of camping essentials and needs to be specifically pointed out please let us know. We’re a little bit of camping gear addicts, so we’re always looking for new camping gear to try out. Let us know what essential family camping gear we’re missing in the comments, or send us a message. There is always room for more on our camping list.

To learn how to get all of this essential family camping gear and more at discounted prices, visit our Camping Gear for Cheap post. Now start building your camping kits and get outdoors!

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