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Camping with Kids — What to Pack {Free Printable List!}

Say you were an avid camper pre-procreating and you haven’t mustered the courage to take your little ones out with you. Or, maybe sleeping in a tent isn’t exactly your style, but you’ve been wanting to expose your kids to a night or two of the great outdoors so that they can experience some of these awesome benefits. It’s time to break the seal—and we’ve got a series of posts lined up to help you figure out how to plan a great trip, what you need to bring, and where to go around Nashville.

camping with kidsWhat to Pack

If you’ve got the money, you can spend A LOT on specialized camping gear for kids—but you don’t have to do that. To be honest, with one exception, our family’s camping list doesn’t look all that different now that we bring kids. We just have to bring more pillows, blankets, cups, plates, etc. Keep in mind that I’m talking about “car camping” here—where you drive up to your campsite. You need to think very differently if you are attempting a backpacking trip with your littles. (More power to you!!)


  • tentingTent(s): Size and quantity depend on the ages and number of people in your party. We’ve attempted a few different scenarios and finally landed on our family of four sleeping (relatively) comfortably in a four man Eddie Bauer tent.
  • Foam or air pads/mattresses: We’ve had success bringing an air mattress for the adults and laying the kids on the padded ground, but—to be honest—the air mattress was a little more trouble than the comfort we gained. Of all things to invest in, foam pads or fancy Thermarests are where we intend to spend money before our next trip (mostly for the adults). The kids seem to sleep fine on top of their sleeping bags covered in fleece blankets. (But check out these simple pillow beds if you have space in your car!)
  • Sleeping bags: I have a zero-degree bag from my college days that we mostly use as a blanket, and the boys each have a basic cotton and fluff bag on top of which they lay. If you can borrow fancy warm bags from friends, you can wrap a rubber band around the end make it child-sized and reduce the amount of space keeping your kid warm. However, we’ve found that summer car camping just requires as many blankets as you can muster.
  • 10665139_10100686399631478_1370043912714985410_nBlankets: You can’t have enough as it always seems to get colder than expected. I usually pack at least two fleece blankets per person.
  • Pillows: You can make kid-sized, no-sew fleece pillows (with or without your kids) to reduce the space they take up in your car.
  • Tarp: On our most recent trip, we woke up to wet mattress pads and sleeping bags. Luckily, it was our last night, so we just hung them to dry while we ate breakfast and then packed them in the car. To prevent this, put a tarp that is slightly smaller than your tent’s footprint under your tent so that ground moisture can’t seep through the tent floor during the night. Make sure the tarp doesn’t peek out around your tent – it will collect and pool dew and rain!


Fireside Provisions

Ready to venture out this summer? Make packing easy on yourself and enter below for a chance to win this awesome box of camp-ready goodies from our friends at Fireside Provisions!

Food—and the equipment needed to prepare it: Here’s where I have the most anxiety about camping…having enough food and thinking through all the tools needed to prepare it. My friend’s brother-in-law just started Fireside Provisions to help with that conundrum: you pick from their menu of camp-friendly foods, and they ship you the goods before your next trip with a list of all the tools you need to bring. Love it! It really takes the load off the packer (you, most likely). Some basic tools you might consider: saucepan, pot, dutch oven, tongs, knife, cutting board, wooden spoon, ladle, spatula, can opener, foil, salt & pepper, butter, campfire roasting forks,

cooking with daddybowls, plates, forks, spoons, refillable water bottles (one per person).

Coffee travel mugs: one per adult (add one per child if you’re planning on hot cocoa)

  • 21655_10100351782422048_119986634_nPercolator: If coffee over a fire is your thing. (Yum!)
  • Cooler with ice: If you’re bringing perishables.
  • Water jug: Most campgrounds have potable water, but I feel like you can never have enough and dehydration is not a game I want to play.
  • Dish soap, dish towels, dish drying rack: Our friends brought a cheap, plastic dish drying rack with us on our last trip, and I loved it! An easy way to carry dirty dishes to the bathhouse or spigot and then let clean dishes dry. Brilliant.

Hot pads/fireman gloves: Friends had a pair of fireman gloves with them on their last trip. It made tending the fire and picking up hot pots super easy!

Lighter, backup lighter, firewood, kindling/newspaper: Many campgrounds offer bundles of wood. Some require you only use their local wood (like the federal park at Mammoth Cave in KY). Make sure you know before you head out.

Campstove/fuel (optional): Not necessary if you plan to cook over a fire, but nice to have if you’re cooking for a crowd or planning on preparing more than one or two dishes at a time.

boo boosOTHER

  • clothes and toiletries
  • clothesline/rope
  • first aid kit, sunscreen, bug spray
  • garbage bags
  • camp chairs
  • rain gear
  • cash
  • camera (charged!)
  • cards
  • soccer ball/football/frisbee etc
  • glowsticks: this is the one essential that wasn’t on our camping list pre-kids. Glowsticks and flashlights are great because once the sun sets it gets D-A-R-K. Arming kids with a glowstick is entertaining for them, but also helps you see them!
  • headlamp/lantern/flashlights
  • axe, hammer, utility knife
  • hammock(s), carry-your-kid hiking pack (optional): We attempted one hike with our then 18 month old, but the hiking pack we borrowed from a friend killed my back. I stick to walks my kids can handle on their own two legs now. I might have to reconsider this when baby #3 arrives.


  • life jackets
  • swimsuits, water shoes
  • towels
  • fishing net/poles, buckets

Remember that a sense of adventure and embracing the unknown is part of the camping experience. We’ve put together a free printable family car camping packing list to help your plan your next trip!

Anything I missed? What do you consider an essential when you camp with your family?

Fireside Provisions has partnered with us to give away box of camp-ready goodies to one of our readers!
Enter to win below:


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6 Responses to Camping with Kids — What to Pack {Free Printable List!}

  1. Stacey June 24, 2015 at 1:26 pm #

    Great post Mandy! I love seeing other people making the effort to get out into the woods with their kids, it can be so rewarding for everyone! I think a kid carrier is a great thing to bring along for hikes, you can find them on craigslist or ask to borrow from a friend. We used to have a Kelty backpacking carrier but have found our simple ergo to be way more comfortable so we just use that now 🙂

    • Mandy June 26, 2015 at 2:07 pm #

      I’ll have to try our ergo Stacey. Do you front carry with the ergo? It seems like that may not be comfortable once the baby gets big…. but maybe I’m imagining wrong. It’s been a while since I wore an ergo!!

  2. Amy June 25, 2015 at 8:04 am #

    Mandy, this post is awesome! So helpful!
    Thank you!

    We make the same dinner for our first night of camping. It’s super easy and filling.

    Tilapia and couscous served with raw veggies.

    — Frozen individually sealed tilapia filets – one per person.
    –Zip lock bag with couscous already measured out and seasonings added. (We use curry seasoning, garlic granules and S&P). Write with a sharpie how much water you need on the ziplock so you’ll have it ready to go at the campsite.
    –few TBSP of butter.
    –pre-cut veggies that your family likes. (Carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, cucumbers etc.)

    1. Heat butter in a big skillet. Cook tilapia a couple mins until it is almost done.
    2. Pour in dried couscous and spices and cook for another minute to sizzle up the spices.
    3. Add water and stir. Cover with lid. As soon as the water starts bubbling turn off the heat. Sit with the lid on for a few minutes.
    4. Fluff and serve with veggies on the side.

    • Mandy June 26, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

      Thanks, Amy! This sounds delicious! I’m putting together another post with reader camp recipes and I’ll be sure to include this 🙂


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