When planning a family camping trip it’s difficult to make sure you have all the gear you need. Our family took a 30 day trek from Florida out west living out of our mini van and primitive camping along the way. We would love to share with you our top 30 must have camping gear every camping family should have.
It goes without saying that a sturdy tent is essential when purchasing your family camping gear. Our family experienced extreme wind during our trip and we were so thankful that we had purchased a sturdy tent. The tent we used was the Kelly Ridge 6 tent. Unfortunately, this tent is not available for purchase anymore. However, there are many great tents on the market like the Kazoo Outdoor Camping Tent. I love that this tent includes a multifunctional vestibule that gives space for kids to play if raining or if primitive camping, to use as a bathroom area.
When choosing a tent you will want to take into consideration factors such as capacity, tents seasonality, and the zippers. Depending on the size of your family you want to consider a close fit. Most of the time you think bigger is better. However we found on those chilly nights smaller is better. If you do think you will need more room consider upsizing your tent capacity by 1 person. The most popular seasonality choice is the 3-season tent. If you expect to use your tent for exposure to harsher climates such as snow you will want to consider a 3/4 season tent. For hardcore family campers who expect to be in extreme wind or heavy snow you will want to consider a 4-season tent. You want to be sure you have reliable zippers when choosing a tent. Look for YKK zippers to help avoid a bad camping experience.
Waterproof Camping Tarp
Along with your tent, you will want to have a waterproof camping tarp. This can be something as simple as a heavy piece of plastic sheeting from the hardware store. You cut it a tad smaller than the floor of your tent so the moisture that comes off your tent does not go under your tent. If you are not up for DIY, depending on the size of your tent this basic waterproof camping tarp might be just what you need.
We brought two types of floor mats on our trip. The first mat was a regular welcome mat that we used right outside our tent for everyone to wipe their feet off before entering the tent. The second mat was actually a plastic tray that we used both in the van and just inside the tent. This tray was helpful in the van to place our dirty shoes on as well as keep the water and portable toilet on. It was also helpful to put in the tent so everyone could leave their dirty shoes on it rather than tracking all of that dirt throughout the tent.
Sleeping Bag & Mat
Another obvious piece of family camping gear is your sleeping bag. We found that this is one of the most important pieces of gear for staying comfortable at night. We would suggest you look for a sleeping bag that has a rating of minimum twenty degrees but 10-15 degrees would be optimal. Of course the time of year you will be camping will help you determine the best sleeping bag for your trip. When I purchased for our family I went ahead and bought adult sleeping bags for our kids. I figured it was more bang for our buck to go ahead and purchase the adult bags and they worked out just fine.
If looking for comfort you will also want to purchase a camping mat. We used the Insulated Klymit Static V pads. These mats provide extra comfort under your sleeping bag. Not only do they provide comfort but they also keep you warmer when in cold weather.
Battery Operated Pump
In order to help assist in filling up your mats, you will want to have a battery-operated pump handy. Originally we purchased a plug-in pump which plugged into the adapter in the car. We were thankful that we opted for the battery-powered one. The battery-operated pump was convenient because you could carry it into the tent with you to pump up the mats.
Up next in our list of must-have family camping gear are blankets. We found it helpful to provide an extra layer of warmth inside our sleeping bags on those extra cold nights. We purchased the Kelty Bestie blankets. These blankets are good for indoor or outdoor comfort. They come with a nice stuff sack to keep them compact while traveling. If traveling in cold weather you will likely want a fleece sleeping bag liner such as this one.
Hammer Stakes are something we left home without and we quickly realized once we reached Badlands National Park that we desperately needed them. Thankfully we were able to purchase some from a campground inside the National Park. The stakes that came with our tent were just not that sturdy to withstand the heavy winds we experienced out west. To avoid the inconvenience of trying to purchase them on the road be sure to purchase your hammer stakes before you head out on the road.
We brought several tools on our trip but the only one we really used consistently was a mallet. The mallet is very handy when using the hammer stakes with your tent. We were able to pick one up at our local dollar tree but if you are hoping to purchase online you can find one here.
Clothes Storage Bags
When planning what family camping gear we would need we were a little perplexed with how we would store our clothes. Knowing we would not have room for suitcases in the minivan we opted for these Ziploc space bags. These bags are handy because you can stuff them full and then suck the air out which saves you a lot of space. Each person in our family had their own bag as well as we had one bag for our winter clothes.
I also used these mesh bags that I picked up at the dollar tree to put our socks and underwear in. I found these to be especially helpful when sorting through clothes to easily be able to find the underwear in socks. In hind site the only thing I would purchase that I didn’t have would be luggage organizers. I think it would be helpful to purchase the different colors for each item of clothing. For example, everyone’s short sleeves and shorts would be in the red organizer. Since we traveled cross country we had to have a variety of seasonal clothing which made it a little difficult to sort through when scrunched in the back of the van.
Camping Stove & Propane Tank
Another necessary item you need to have when deciding on family travel gear is a portable grill. We used the Coleman Triton 2 Burner Propane Portable Tabletop Camping Stove (whew that’s a mouthful :). We used this stove every day. Whether making soup, oatmeal, or just boiling water for hot chocolate, the stove is definitely something we could not have done without.
You for sure want to be sure you have propane tanks available. Yes, I said tank(s). While you need to take the appropriate measures to make sure you are transporting them properly, it is helpful to always have an extra tank ready to go. We were surprised to find how isolated many of the National Parks are and how difficult it is in some areas to find supplies. For this reason, be sure you have your propane tanks ready if you purchase a propane stove.
As I mentioned above we loved making oatmeal, grits, hot chocolate, and many other items that needed hot water. Our kettle was the perfect appliance to get the job done to cook the items that we needed. We purchased our kettle at Walmart but if looking to purchase one online, this camping kettle may be just what you are looking for.
I know you are probably thinking, “hello this is not 1980”. I know the idea of a paper map seems archaic but I think you will find like we did that it can come in helpful. There were a couple of times on our trips that we were so remote that our GPS no longer worked. There’s nothing worse than driving to a destination for hours to only lose your GPS as you get within 30 minutes of the location. A good US map with detailed roads on it will be a great addition to your family camping gear.
As a family you probably already know the benefits of always having wipes on hand. We actually used 3 different types of wipes on our trek west. First, we used Cottonelle Flushable Wipes. These came in handy to use the same way you would in regular life-for hands, bums, etc. The next wipes we used were combat wipes. We used these on nights that we primitive camped as “bath wipes”. I won’t go into an explanation of that because-eww! but you get the idea. The last type of wipes we had were Clorox wipes. While these wipes we definitely used the least, we used them occasionally to clean off picnic tables or wipe things down when we happened to stay in a hotel.
This one is pretty self-explanatory but you will want to have a good cooler. We purchased a Coleman 52 Quart Xtreme 5 Day Heavy Duty Cooler with wheels. This cooler was great to keep our eggs, cheese, drinks, and anything that need to stay cool in. Every 4-5 days we would just replenish our ice and it did a good job keeping our food fresh. We really enjoyed the fact that this cooler had wheels and a handle as well as cup holders on top. The wheels of course were helpful whenever we would get it out of the van. We often used the cooler as a seat for our kids as well. Therefore whoever sat on it could use the cup holder on top to hold their drink.
Pots, Pans, and Kitchen Gadgets
It probably goes without saying that you will want to have your kitchen essentials included in your family camping gear. We purchased a pot to bring with us so we didn’t have to bring our good pot from the kitchen. The pot came in helpful whenever we wanted to make soup or beanie weenies. Another kitchen essential we brought was a frying pan. The frying pan was used almost every other day as we enjoyed having eggs in the morning for breakfast. We also had a fish fry one night and the pan was useful for cooking the fish. Finally, you will want to bring the kitchen gadgets that you think will help you on your journey. The main ones we brought were a wooden spoon, spatula, and can opener. We purchased all three of these things from the dollar tree.
I asked my husband to pick up some towels for us to bring on our trip and I was a little taken back by what he brought home. He brought home microfiber car towels similar to these for us to use whenever we took a shower or went swimming. I was surprised because they were so small. I am happy to report that they worked surprisingly well. While they aren’t the softest choice, they soak up the water incredibly well and because of their small size, they dried very quickly.
Head lamps are the family camping gear that you might forget to put on your list, but they are for sure something you want to include. We purchased the Gearlight LED Headlamps from amazon. These headlights have 7 modes. We particularly used the bright white light as well as the red light. We used these headlights every night (usually while setting up our tent). The kids also enjoyed using them as they would walk around the campsite. I would definitely recommend one per family member.
LED Rechargeable Lamp
In addition to your headlamps, you want to be sure that you have a rechargeable LED lantern. The lantern that we used could be recharged any time we traveled in our car by using a USB charger. This lantern also has a progressive dimmer that allows you to choose the light setting which best fits your situation. We found this super helpful as there were many times we wanted bright light as well as times in the tent when someone was asleep that we wanted a dim light.
This was the item that I did not want to buy because I dreaded the thought of using it. Let me tell you this was one of the most used gear on our trip. When you are doing primitive camping it means that often time you will have no toilet or a vault toilet. Let me tell you that bucket toilet starts looking real good when you are thinking about having to go in the woods or use a dirty vault toilet. I won’t go into the details of how to use one (you can research that on your own) but take my word for it that you are going to want one if you plan to primitive camp.
First Aid Kit
When it comes to family camping gear a first aid kit is a definite must. While I won’t go into the details of what you should include in your kit (you should go with your doctor’s recommendations) I will say that it is definitely something you will use if kids are on the trip. We made two separate kits. The first kit was one of those plastic shoe boxes to keep our liquid medicines or things that we didn’t think we would use that often. We placed this under a seat that would be easily accessible but at the same time, it was out of our way. The second kit was a mesh zipper bag that we kept first aid supplies such as band-aids in. We kept this where we could easily reach it and grab it whenever we went on a hike. While we definitely overpacked our kits I was thankful to have everything available that we might need to keep everyone healthy and safe.
We used two different backpacks on our trip: a child carrier backpack and a hiking backpack. The child carrier we used was the Kelty child carrier. The Kelty brand is no longer available but the Osprey Poco Carrier is a similar product. If you have a child from infant to three I would say an infant/child carrier is a must. Our youngest is 4 but thankfully he only weighed about 35 lbs at the time of our trip. Almost every hike we did my husband ended up carrying him in our carrier. It allowed us to hike the trails we wanted without having to carry him in our arms. The hiking backpack we used was the Deuter Osprey Daylight Plus Day Backpack. This backpack was so helpful to carry extra jackets, our first aid kit, and extra snacks and drinks. The backpack has a specially designed back to allow air to circulate to keep you cool as you hike. I also appreciated the multiple buckles to help support your back. Both of these backpacks were used almost every day of our trip.
What is a family camping trip without having some s’mores around the campfire? The next item on our family camping gear list would definitely be roasting sticks. These roasting sticks came in handy not only for s’mores but also for roasting hot dogs over the fire.
Of course you are going to need dishware to eat your meals on. We purchased most of our plastic reusable dishware at Dollar Tree. We also purchased sporks that had a little knife on the side similar to these.
We took our mini van on our trek across the US with 180,000 miles already under her belt (I know we are crazy). We did a full check-up before leaving to be sure everything was in tip top shape. However, we knew we wanted to have a back up just in case something should happen with the battery. Thankfully we never had to use it but it was reassuring to have for our trip. In addition to charging car batteries it can also be used to charge devices. Ours had 2 USB ports to charge the devices. When you are primitive camping your car is your only source of charging if you haven’t brought a battery source. You will have to check about your specific car to see which charger will be best.
Three Pairs Of Shoes
Before we left I debated on which shoes to bring with us. I can confidently say after being on the road for a month that each family member should be able to get by on 3 pairs of shoes (let me know in the comments if you think differently). The first pair of shoes you will want to have are a pair of rain boots. I was surprised how much my kids used the rain boots. They came in handy when playing in the snow as well as just walking around the campsite. They are perfect because you can simply slip them on your feet and go. I will say my oldest had the tall rain boots and they worked much better in the snow. He never got snow down in his boots when my other two children did.
The second pair of shoes you want to be sure to bring are a pair of flip flops. We found the flip flops helpful to have for travel days when we needed to jump in and out of the car. We also used the flip flops when we showered at campsites. Finally the flip flops came in helpful when you would normally use flip flops-sandy places.
The third pair of shoes you want to have are a good pair of sneakers. When preparing for our trip, I was really particular about the kind of sneakers we brought. I really wanted to find a pair of sneakers that were not only comfortable but also rugged and great on slippery surfaces. My friend was kind enough to suggest Altras. I ended up purchasing a pair for my two oldest and myself. I thought they were amazing. They were light, flexible, and had an excellent grip. I wish I could have purchased a pair for my youngest but unfortunately, they didn’t make them that small.
You will want a sink to wash your pots, pans, and dishes in. We found a portable sink on amazon that worked really well for us. It was able to fold down providing extra space when packing it up with the other kitchen essentials. We also purchased campuses to use to clean our dishes. It only took a small drop to provide enough suds to wash up the dishes we used.
In addition to your portable sink, a water cooler is a necessity when purchasing family camping gear. The water cooler is of the utmost importance when you are primitive camping. Many primitive camping sites do not have a source of freshwater. The water cooler will come in handy for not only drinking water but also for brushing teeth, washing dishes, and occasionally for washing hands. We tried to keep an eye out for places where we could refill our water cooler in between our camping spots. The Coleman 5 gallon is one of many beverage coolers that will be helpful to have on your trip.
We had been warned before we left of the dangers of the grizzlies out west. When we went to the Buffalo Bill museum our eyes were really opened to how dangerous they can be. While we did not plan to camp in bear country, we knew we would take hikes out there. I tried to purchase this bear spray on Amazon before we left. Unfortunately they would not deliver it to us in Florida. Since we were not able to purchase it online before we left we picked some up once we got out West. Regardless of when you purchase it, bear spray is something you definitely want to be included in your family camping gear.
I know this one sounds crazy after listing all of these essential family camping gear items but hear me out. At one of our stops at a general store we had picked up a mini pocket frameless kite similar to this one. We had such a fun time flying this on our trip. The beauty of this “toy” is that it does not take up much space in your vehicle but it will provide hours of fun.
Our last and final thing we wanted to mention were personal items. Of course this will be specific for your family. Some families will find it helpful to have something like a hammock. Each and every family has specific items that make their world go round. So write these down so you don’t forget them on your family camping trip.
Now the only thing left is to pack up and go! We are excited that you are about to embark on a family camping adventure with your family. If you are interested in joining our family on our trek across the country be sure to head over to our YouTube channel and check out all of our videos on family-friendly travel. Be sure to also hit that notification bell so you will be notified whenever we upload our next video. Happy Camping!