"Turn around, I forgot to pack the X"
When it comes to camping, the above is one of the most spine-tingling sentences to hear. In the best scenario, you are just after leaving your house and all you forgot was your lucky underwear.
In the worst scenario, you could be hours into your journey, pulling into the campsite and realise that you've forgotten your tent!
Camping is one of the most relaxing, refreshing and peaceful activities you could possibly enjoy. That said, for family trips especially, they don't happen on a whim, there's planning involved.
Planning the trip itself is a rather straightforward process. Decide where you are going, for how many days and nights, then decide what you want to do during that time. Plan it out in advance and it's easy as pie. If you want, you can even leave the decisions of the camping activities to be mulled over en-route. A nice little car journey activity as a matter of fact.
However, when it comes to camping gear, everything you bring with you, is everything you have for the entire camping trip. Better pack smart.
Our Best Advice for Packing Camping Gear
In order to pack smart, you need to have structure. To have structure, you need a camping checklist, and consider checking out our DIY camping hacks. That is why we put together our ultimate camping checklist. It isn't exhaustive but we've covered pretty much all of the essentials. The list is long and can be quite overwhelming. So, before we get into the checklist we have a few pre-game words of wisdom.
Don't Get Lost in the Details - Before you get overwhelmed, just remember, camping is meant to be fun. If you wanted, you could whittle this list down to only the bare minimum. In reality, if you have the clothes on your back, a tent, a sleeping bag, some food and drink, you are pretty much set.
You Don't Have to Bring Everything - On the above point, the reason we created this camping checklist is so you could see all the camping gear in one place and then decide what you want to take with you. You don't have to cross every single item off the list. The family camping checklist is our way of giving all our campers a gentle reminder.
This List Doesn't Include Everything - We created this list as a guide but don't blame us if everything isn't there. We can't be held responsible!
Now, let's get into it.
Tent (Make sure you have everything)
Stakes / Pegs
Hammer / Mallet
Dustpan and Brush
Mat For Tent Entrance
Camping Table + Cloth
Headlamps or Flashlights
Clothesline + Pegs
For The Night
Sleeping Bag (For Each Camper)
Pillows (For Each Camper)
Air Mattress / Air Pad (For Each Camper)
Sheets / Blanket
Repair Kit For Air Mattress
Pots / Pans
Plates / Bowls
Cups / Glasses
Bottle Opener / Corkscrew
Large Water Bottles
Camping Sink + Washing Equipment
Coffee Maker / Tea Maker
Clothes for Daytime (Including Spare Shoes!)
Warm Clothes - Hats, Gloves, Scarf, Fleece
Prescriptions / Medications
More Optional Extras
Pet Supplies + Food
Toys and Games
Matches / Firelighter
Books / Notepad
Camping Gear You Always Forget!
Credit Card / Cash
Campsite Reservation Confirmation
Family Camping Checklist Expanded and Explained
When it comes to camping, a high-end tent is the single best investment you can make.
Keep in mind that every tent has a capacity rating. It’s better to size up because the stated tent capacity is likely a tight fit.
Choosing a weather-appropriate tent is just as important. For most family campers, a 3-season tent is the best choice.
The Crua Cottage is big enough for the average family and suitable for all seasons. It is spacious, super comfortable, and incredibly durable.
And if you have a particularly big family, you may want to go with the Crua Clan Maxx.
Packed size, weight, and materials are also features that you need to pay attention to. Dome tents are particularly popular among family campers because they are lightweight and spacious.
If you are not adamant about buying the latest and greatest model, it’s best to buy a tent at the start of winter. This time of year, retailers start to mark down current year models in preparation for the next season.
A vestibule, stakes, tent footprint and rainfly are the basic tent accessories you should bring with you. If it starts raining, the stakes will help secure your tent.
A vestibule will give you an area to store your boots. Our tents such as the Crua Tri come with a vestibule included.
A ground sheet and tarp will help keep your tent dry. Pack an extra tarp or two if you expect seriously rainy conditions. Hang one tarp over the tent and put another one underneath it.
Bringing a tent repair kit is also a good idea. At the very least, you should bring some good ol’ duct tape. It’s truly a lifesaver.
If you want to make your family camping trip even more comfortable, you can bring a few extras for your tent. For instance, you can bring a winter tent heater, a tent rug, or a tent fan.
Alternative Camping Shelters
If you are a family of thru-hikers, you can bring poncho tarps and bivvies instead of a tent. However, this is not the most comfortable solution, and even though your kids may think it’s cool, they will probably change their minds as soon as you start setting everything up in the middle of a thunderstorm.
If you plan on staying just for a couple of days in the bush, and the forecast looks great, you could just bring a few hammocks instead of a tent. Hammocks are a great way to save space and weight.
Of course, no one is stopping you from bringing a few hammocks as well as a tent.
However, do know that many campsites don’t allow campers to tie ropes to trees. Moreover, there may not be any trees there, to begin with. In such situations, the Crua Hammock Stand can prove to be a lifesaver.
Bugs are another consideration to keep in mind when you are going hammock camping. You can either buy a bug net separately or get a hammock with a built-in net.
If you have a plain cotton hammock at home, you can bring it on your camping trip, but you will have to upgrade it a bit. Be sure to purchase hammock straps.
And keep in mind that hammock straps have weight limits. Double-check that your straps can handle your weight before you hang your hammock.
Top Quilt and Underquilt
Generally, campers don’t use sleeping bags when sleeping in hammocks. Temperature is the primary reason for this.
Instead of using a sleeping bag, you can attach an underquilt to the outside of your hammock. This way, the down insulation will protect you from midnight breezes.
If the weather is hot, you can simply remove the underquilt to get better airflow.
You will be perfectly comfortable with a synthetic quilt if the temperature is unlikely to fall below 40°. If you expect it to be a bit colder, it’s best to get an all-season down quilt. Down quilts are the priciest, but the comfort is well worth the expense.
You’ll also need a top-quilt—whether you’re camping in cold or hot weather. Alternatively, you can bring a toasty warm blanket.
If you want to be able to sleep in your hammock even when it’s raining, make sure to bring a hammock tarp. A hammock tarp hangs over your hammock and directs rainfall away from your site.
Learn how to halfway set up your hammock tarp so that the rain will never catch you off guard. Remember to fully set up your rain fly before you go on an adventure away from the campise. You don’t want to return from an exhausting hike to a wet blanket and soggy pillow.
To learn more about hammock camping, check out hammock camping tips.
Temperature rating is perhaps the most important feature to consider when you’re shopping for sleeping sacks. In the US, a sleeping bag’s comfort rating indicates the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep you warm. But there’s no actual standard for measuring temperature rating in the US.
However, there is one in Europe (EN 13537), and most brands carry the standardized European rating. To be on the safe side, it’s best to get a sleeping bag rated for temperatures about 15°F colder than you expect.
If you want to get a bag that will keep you warm and comfortable, you can’t go wrong with a snug mummy bag. Our 3-season Crua Mummy Sleeping Bag has a temperature rating of 23°F (-5°C). Even though it’s a mummy bag, it’s still great for campers with the broadest shoulders.
A sleeping bag won’t be of much use if you lay it directly onto the ground. Use an air mattress to keep moisture from accumulating beneath you and drawing heat away from your body.
The Crua Self Inflating Mattress is rated for temperatures between -13°F (-25°C) and 113°F (45°C). Since it’s a self-inflating mattress, you won’t have to blow out your lungs to set it up.
It’s lightweight and matches the Crua Mummy Sleeping Bag perfectly, so it won’t take up much room when packed.
Alternatively, you can get a sleeping pad made of foam. Not all foam sleeping pads are made the same. For a pad to provide a good level of cushioning, it needs to be at least 1 inch thick.
If you have side sleepers in your family, get them a sleeping pad that provides extra cushioning. The same goes for restless sleepers.
To further increase comfort, some sleeping pads have extra features. For instance, a sleeping pad may include a pillow baffle and side baffles.
No matter what sleep system you choose, change into dry clothes before turning in for the night. You will be much more comfortable.
You kids may be tempted to stick their heads into their sleeping bags to stay warm if it’s really cold outside, or if they just want to mess around.
But, if they do this, they will introduce a lot of moisture inside their sleeping bags. In the long run, this will make them feel even colder.
If you want to quickly tick this checkbox and get to the next item on your list, you can simply grab some pillows from around the house. They are not ideal when it comes to packing and transportation, but they will keep you comfortable.
You also have the option of stuffing a couple of T-shirts into a sack and using it as a pillow. However, this is not the most comfortable solution, and, if you are a side sleeper, you may wake up with neck pain.
If your family is serious about camping, buying a few inflatable camping pillows is definitely a good investment.
The Crua Air Pillow is a featherweight inflatable camping pillow that doesn’t sacrifice comfort. It is designed to complement the Crua Koala hammock, but you can use it pretty much everywhere.
The best thing about inflatable campaign pillows is that they allow you to easily adjust the height. And you can always put a T-shirt or a towel on an inflatable pillow to get extra cushioning.
Clothing and Footwear
If you plan on mostly hanging around the camp with your family, tactical gear is probably overkill. Instead, go for something that’s comfier.
You can get away with bulkier items, such as your favourite hoodies, as you won’t be moving so much. Besides, you want to be covered from the bugs and the sun.
If you guys plan on being a bit more active, make sure to bring appropriate layers. Wear base layers that are made from quick-drying and moisture-wicking materials. Merino wool, polyester, and nylon layers are all great choices.
Avoid cotton at all cost, especially if the temperatures are low. Cotton clothing traps moisture and takes ages to dry.
When it comes to outdoor adventures, socks are way more important than you’d think. Socks will protect you from the cold, sun, bug bites, and poison ivy. Merino wool socks are the cosiest campwear ever.
Bring a few pairs for everyone. Keep one pair in your sleeping bag, and advise your family members to do the same. If the temperatures drop, you can rely on them for extra warmth during the night.
Pyjamas are more than just your comfortable sleepwear when you are camping in a tent. PJs can make the difference between freezing all night and sleeping comfortably.
You can wear your pyjamas underneath your clothing throughout the day. So, when the time comes to hit the sack, they will already be toasty warm.
Outer Layers and Rain Shells
When it comes to outer layers, bring lightweight clothing that can be swapped on and off in a jiffy. It is best to go for a lightweight down jacket or a down vest.
You will also need waterproof layers, so keep a few pairs of rain pants and packable raincoats in your camping gearbox.
Last but not least, make sure to bring the right underwear. Everyday underwear isn’t ideal for camping. Opt for merino wool underwear instead. It is antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal, breathable, as well as warm.
You may be thinking, “Why would we pack sandals on a family camping trip?” There are plenty of good reasons to do so. A pair of good sandals can take you from the campfire to the beach, and everywhere in between.
Hiking sandals, when paired with the right socks, are tough enough to handle easy trails and climbs. And, yes, it’s totally fine to wear socks with sandals when you are in the wilderness.
Food and Cooking
You don’t want your favourite camping snack to roll under your car seat while you are rummaging through your camping gear. It’s best to keep everything contained. Moreover, keeping things neatly organised and clean will prevent insects and animals from getting into your food.
In addition to a cooler, you should have a few containers for the rest of your food. In case there aren’t any food storage lockers at the park, all of your food containers should be bear-proof. You may also want to get a waterproof bag to hang your food.
Before you head out, research the park’s food storage policies. To save as much space and weight as you can, get food that comes in packages you can flatten, such as plastic bags.
Plan out your meals before you head out. You also want to prepare as many ingredients as you can before you head out. This way, you’ll save both time and space.
Choose cold meals like salads and sandwiches if you expect the weather to be hot. Plan hot meals for chilly evenings.
Plan meals that won’t spoil in the cooler, unless you have a working fridge in your van. Foods like canned soups and pasta with canned sauce will keep pretty well. Instead of making green salads, make salads that don’t wilt (such as cucumber salad).
Choose vegetables that hold up well, like celery and carrots. Eat the more perishable food first. For instance, you can eat marinated chicken the first day. So that the more perishable foods won’t spoil as quickly, put them directly on ice in your cooler.
If you want more cool camping tips (pun intended), check out our list of 15 clever camping food tips.
Cooking over fire may indeed be the best part of a family camping trip. But this can take a lot of time and work. Little mouths get hungry very quickly, so prepare some grab and go meals.
To make grilling in the wilderness a bit easier, consider getting the Crua Firepit.
Choose meats that will cook quickly if you plan on cooking every single meal over the fire. Pre-cooked meats, shrimp, thin-sliced steaks are a great choice if you want to cut down the cooking time.
Don’t waste time driving all over town to grab different stuff for your camping trip. One trip = less stress.
Make sure your checklist is 100% completed and then head to a discount hypermarket such as Costco or E-Mart. Of course, Amazon is always an option as well. From bug spray to games and campaign gear, you’ll find everything you need in a hypermarket.
Keep Your Cooler Cool
When it comes to family camping, a quality cooler with thick insulation is always a good investment. But even a high-end cooler will lose its cool after a couple of days. There are a few extra steps you can take to help your cooler perform to its maximum potential.
Before you pack your cooler, pre-chill it in the freezer. You should also pre-chill your food and drinks.
The less warm air there is inside your cooler, the more efficient it will be. Use every bit of space in your cooler. Top it up whenever possible.
Using two coolers is also a good idea—one for your food and one for your drinks. This way, you will be opening your food cooler less often.
Once you arrive at the camp, make sure to cover your cooler with a sleeping pad, bag, or a blanket and put it in the shade.
A standard two-burner propane camp stove is a great option for families. If you have a big family, make sure to get a stove with a higher BTU output.
Most stoves are compatible with larger propane tanks, as long as you have the right adapter and hose. Propane camping stoves are easy to use and they are reliable.
Propane fuel is cheap and easy to find. However, propane fuel doesn’t perform well in cold weather.
Alternatively, you can get a butane stove for your family camping trip. These are very affordable and fuel-efficient. However, like propane stoves, they are less efficient when the temperatures drop.
If you expect the weather to be really cold, it may be best to get a liquid fuel stove. Liquid fuel stoves are great for high elevations as well as cold weather. It’s best to get a liquid fuel stove that runs on white gas. You can use them with refillable containers to minimise environmental impact.
But, do know that almost every liquid fuel stove takes some getting used to. If you want to use it on your camping trip, make sure to learn how to use it beforehand.
Do your best to find a campsite near a water source. If there is no drinkable water at the campsite, you will need to plan ahead. You will need at least two litres of drinking water per person per day. You will also need a lot of water for cooking and cleaning.
But hauling a truckload of water isn’t the most convenient solution. Bring an emergency water filtration system. It will allow you to drink out of any body of water.
Even if you find a campground with a potable pump, toss a water filter such as the Lifestraw or Sawyer into your campaign bag. Water purification tablets are also a great investment.
To make things more convenient, as well as save space, you can get a collapsible water jug.
In addition, to pre-chilling your cooler, you can freeze a few jugs of water before your trip. They will help you keep your food and drinks cool for longer. And when the ice melts, you’ll have more cooking or drinking water.
Basic safety should be your priority, and making your own first aid kit is just the beginning. Even though you’ll probably never use most of the things on this list, it’s good to be prepared for every scenario.
You don’t have to go all Tom Hanks with some driftwood right away. Luckily, there are plenty of backup fire systems you can use. For instance, you can bring a flint-strike lighter and a container of stormproof matches. All you need to start a fire is some fuel, tinder, and kindling.
That pretty much covers it.
The key is to plan ahead; don’t wait until the day before your trip to start planning and organising everything. You’ll get to enjoy the adventure that much more if you plan and organize, as with most things in life.
Final tip—do a dry run in the backyard if you have time. Your kids will love it!
What did we miss? Let us know in the comments