It’s easy to get overwhelmed at the selection of camping gear on the market, particularly if you’re new to camping yourself, but rest assured that you don’t need a ton of equipment to have a great time outdoors with your family.
If you stick to the items in this budget, camping with your family can be a rejuvenating—and wallet friendly—getaway. Most of the items on this list require an upfront investment, but they’re generally one-time purchases. Once you have them, you can go camping as often as you’d like without spending much money at all.
Your tent will be your home away from home. While backcountry minimalists will tell you that less is more, you’ll have to adjust your thinking for family camping.
Size matters because you want to have enough room for everyone to live comfortably, avoiding “he pushed me!” bedtime squabbles. The inside of your tent should have plenty of room for everyone’s sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and any stuff that won’t be kept inside the car (assuming, of course, that you even have a car with you). Higher ceilings make it easier to set up, change, and generally co-exist. Look for extra features like separate cubbies for backpacks and gear; some tents even have dividers, creating “rooms” on the inside.
A good rule to follow when buying tents— the stated capacity of a tent is usually one person shy of what’s actually practical. In other words, a four-man tent will fit three comfortably. Size up accordingly.
Each member of your family needs a quality sleeping bag that is suited to the weather you’ll be camping in. Sleeping bags that are too hot or too cold will undoubtedly result in complaints, so aim for something in the middle and supplement by adding blankets, or create a venting system by unzipping the bag. Remember, that camping sleeping bags differ from sleepover types of sleeping bags, meaning that the cartoon character sleeping bag should probably stay at home.
The sleeping pad just might be the most underrated piece of camping gear for a family camping trip. It is really the key piece that will allow all family members to have a comfortable, solid night’s sleep, and this is crucial on a camping trip.
Having said that, it’s wise to avoid the temptation to go for a massive inflatable air mattress, unless you have access to an electric pump. Otherwise, be prepared to waste a few hours working up a sweat with your hand pump while everyone else complains about bugs and hunger—yikes!
Speaking of being hungry, you’ll definitely want to invest in a camp stove to keep your crew well fed. Cooking over an open fire may seem like a romantic notion, but a camp stove lets you cook a lot of food in a short amount of time, which is a huge perk when you need to whip something up after everyone returns from a hike, exhausted and starving. Pick up a camp stove with at least two burners, and save the campfire cooking for dessert. S’mores, anyone?
Pots, dishes, and utensils
There’s no need to bring all the contents of your kitchen drawers, but you will need some key pieces to cook your camp meals. Start by planning your menu before you leave—the simpler, the better—and use your list to determine what items you’ll need to take with you.
At the very minimum, you should bring a cup, plate, and bowl for each person, a set of utensils for each person, two pots (different sizes are okay), a frying pan, and key kitchen utensils, like a serving spoon and a spatula. Don’t forget about cutting boards and knives for prep work. Tip: save yourself time by doing as much prep work as possible before you leave. The less you have to do while you’re out camping, the more time you have to enjoy yourself.
First aid kit
Learning opportunity alert: assembling a first aid kit with your family prior to taking off on a camping trip is a great way to teach kids basic first aid skills and learn about staying safe while you’re out on the trails.
You never know what types of bumps, bruises, or upset tummies might arise, so come prepared with a first aid kit equipped with—bear with us now—bandages, gauze, tape, scissors, moleskin, antiseptic ointment, ace bandages, medicine (think stomach, cough, sore throat, aspirin, etc.), tweezers, antiseptic wipes, latex gloves, a sewing needle, and disinfectant soap. If you don’t want to raid your cabinet at home, buy a fresh kit.
From the comfort of your own home, it’s easy to forget how dark it gets at night when you’re outdoors, away from city lights. Having a few lights on hand is necessary for setting up after dark, late night bathroom trips, and alleviating night frights. Take at least one of each of the following: a headlamp, a hand-held flashlight, and a lantern to keep around the camp.
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