If you’re new to camping with kids then you might just be feeling a bit overwhelmed at what you need to figure out before your first outing with a tent.
A note about buying camping equipment:
I mention it a lot in my camping guides but I’ll say it again – if you can, borrow camping gear for your first couple of trips. Not everyone loves camping and I see way too often people who have bought a whole kit, perhaps gone through a camping checklist like this one and just added things to their Amazon basket, and then hated it. They then have to sell it all.
Invest well in a good tent and good sleeping gear – the rest can generally be brought from home and upgraded once you know you love camping with your family.
Maybe look out for those people who hated it selling their kit!
What to bring camping with kids
My full checklist is below with a link to a printable PDF too. I’ll go through each category here and discuss what you need and don’t need and what you definitely don’t want to forget!
Perhaps the most obvious part but of course you need a tent of some description. I have written a post about choosing the best family tent but to summarise, go for a good brand, one that you can stand up in and one that has at least 2 more berth than you need. So for 4 of you look for 6 berth tents – this gives extra room, you don’t want to be too squished in!
Often big tents can come in separate bags – perhaps one for the outer and one for the inners, or one for the poles. As obvious as it sounds – make sure to bring each one! I recommend adding to your list so you can tick it off.
Mallet is one that is often forgotten. I recommend taking a couple so if your kids want to help with pegging out you can do it together!
Getting a good nights sleep, for all of you, while camping is essential but sometimes it can take a while to get your sleeping set up right.
First you need to have a good base to sleep on. Airbeds are common but they have the disadvantage of deflating. They also can become cold – the cold comes up through the ground and cools down the air inside that you’re laying on. You can combat this by putting a foam mat or insulated picnic blanket underneath.
Airbeds are my favourite option really – we have a very old red and blue flocked one (perhaps you know what I mean!) and even though it’s almost as old as me it’s never failed on us. Don’t forget a pump too. Ones that are powered by 12v sockets can be used via a car but remember if it’s muddy or rainy you’ll get the bed wet.
Camping beds are another option although I’ve never found them comfortable.
Self inflating mats are often touted as the best from many of my friends. They were great for kids, I didn’t like them so much but appreciated their small size and insulating properties.
Once you’ve figured out the base you’ll need a good sleeping bag. At least 3 season is a good idea. Even if you’re camping in summer you might want one that’s a little more warmer than a summer season one. Nights can get cold! In a pinch you can bring duvets from home – they are much more bulky so bear in mind space in your car.
Blankets are great to have – we always brought lots!
A camp kitchen is another area that can take some time to refine. I like to bring what I can from home if possible. We always had a lot of plastic plates and beakers so those came camping rather than breakable options. I did still like a proper mug for tea rather than a travel mug. Pans came from home – I just brought small ones.
Eventually we transitioned to having a set of kitchen stuff just for camping which we kept in a box. It meant I always knew we had everything.
Stove options are also varied. If you’re just starting out you might like the single burners that have a canister. We liked these a lot and found they worked really well, we loved the small size and no worries about big gas bottles. Downside of them is the single hob limitation while cooking.
If you want a bigger set up you can get 2 burner hobs that connect to a larger gas bottle. This was our first kitchen set up that we had and it worked well once we figured out the gas bottle we needed! You’ll need the gas, a regulator, hose and of course the stove. Ensure that it all is compatible. You can also get petrol stoves – I never tried that myself but a friend had one and liked it.
You might like to think about what food you’ll have while camping and how you’ll store the food. Is there a shop onsite that you can buy from everyday or will you have to do supermarket shops? Tinned and packet food can be good because you don’t need to worry about storing them.
Cleaning up after eating is another thing to remember. My kids would often be in charge of washing up – it’s a good chore for them while camping! A washing up bowl is essential – a strong, basic one is better than a pop up one because it can be used to carry the pots too.
This is your seating areas and thing you might want for chilling out round your tent.
First is some sort of camping chair. You can get inexpensive ones in many places, even supermarkets in the summer and kid sized ones are a good idea. Kids love to have their own chair!
A table is also good for putting hot drinks on or for keeping food off the ground while eating. Tables are also good for keeping food off the ground and away from bugs overnight.
A nice picnic blanket that can sit outside is also a good plan. For camping with babies it’s a place they can be laid down for a play and for kids it can be a toy area to keep everything nearby. Get one that is waterproof as the ground can be damp in mornings until the sun comes out.
You’ll also want to consider some toys, games and books that you could bring. Small is best!
In the clothes section you’ll want to consider how many days you’re away for and the potential weather you’re going to face. This can obviously be amended just prior to leaving if the weather forecast is strongly suggesting a particular type of weather.
Waterproofs are always a good idea as are sun suits. It covers you for a variety of different days!
Kids might not need really warm clothes or a hat for the evenings if they are charging about and keeping themselves warm, but it’s a good idea to encourage them so their body temperature doesn’t drop too much. Once you’re cold it’s harder to get warm again. Adults sat around with a glass of wine or some tea will appreciate a warm jumper and hat!
When it comes to shoes try to take some that are easy to put on and off. Crocs, love em or hate em, were a favourite for ours as they were easily left at the door of the tent so as not to drag dirt inside. Wellies are great for the same reason.
Other family camping essentials
Ok, so what else do you need to take while camping with kids?
This section contains some nice to haves that you might not need straight away but might come in handy like a wind break. You can get ones that match tents or you could get one like you use on the beach. These are great to have a little enclosed area for kids to play near the tent or for some shelter while cooking outside.
Electric hook up can be a good idea, especially if you want to run an electric coolbox, have lights for the evening and charge phones and electrical devices. You could also go down the road of getting a solar charger for small items though.
Light is essential in some way. We always had a few different torches and a lantern for general light. Headtorches are good for if you need hands free, maybe for reading or late night tent fixing. Make sure you can charge them easily. Another idea is fairy lights. We like them around the door of the tent which makes finding your way back inside easy after a late night toilet stop.
Finally, if you have small kids you might want to bring a potty for emergencies or you could get a porta-potti if adults or bigger kids might want it. Young kids might also benefit from some pull up nappies if you’re concerned about wetting the bed – that’s not fun sorting out in a field!
Printable Family camping checklist
Here’s our full checklist for camping with kids in the UK. Get the printable version here.
- Carpet or picnic blanket for indoors
- Spare guy ropes
- Sun shelter / beach tent
- duct tape/camping repair kit
- Sleeping bags
- Airbed, camp bed or self inflating mats
- Pump for airbed
- Gas & regulator
- Matches or Lighter
- Water bottle – 5l from supermarket can work well
- Stove Kettle
- Cutlery, cooking utensils & tub for storage
- Chopping board
- Can opener and corkscrew
- Plastic beakers / water bottles
- Washing Up bowl
- Tea Towels
- Washing up liquid
- Anti Bac spray
- Food idea for first night
- Cool box
- Ice blocks
- Plastic lidded box for food
- Home Comforts
- Camping chairs
- Picnic blanket
- Books or kindle
- Card games or portable board games
- Daytime outfits
- Dressing gown
- Cosy jumper for evenings
- Sun suits
- Swimming costume
- Welly boots
- Sun hat / cap
- Warm hat for evenings
- Other family camping essentials
- Wind break
- Electric Hook up
- Solar charging device
- Torch for each person
- Hot water bottles
- Spare plastic bags for rubbish or storage
- Outdoor toys
- toothbrush and toothpaste
- baby wipes or anti bac wipes
- sun cream
- Shower gel/shampoo/conditioner
- hair brush
- First aid kit
- Insect repellant
- Potty or portable toilet