Going car camping for the first time? Figuring out what to pack can be daunting. Even long-time campers find remembering all the required bits and pieces a challenge.

When my husband and I were first married, I never followed a list when packing for a camping trip. But as our family grew, so did our list of camping "essentials" until it seemed that we were leaving something important behind on nearly every trip.Eventually, after we managed to forget the tent, I compiled a camping checklist.

On our list, poles, tent pegs and tent fly are listed separately, since we once arrived at our destination only to discover that the family member responsible for stowing the tent in the car did not consider the pegs, poles and fly to be part of said "tent." Other items we also learned – the hard way – to itemize specifically were passports, spare set of car keys and boat keys.

I’ve included our family’s basic list here in hopes that it will help you in planning your next camping vacation. Of course, your final list may be very different and will reflect the unique needs of your family – but this will give you a good place to start.

Basic essentials

  • Tent
  • Tent poles
  • Tent pegs and hammer
  • Tent fly
  • Tarp (to hang over tent in case of rain)
  • Ground tarp (to keep moisture from seeping through the tent floor)
  • Sleeping bags
  • Inflatable mattresses or camp cots
  • Small pillows
  • Folding chairs
  • Small folding table
  • Coolers (plus raccoon-proof straps)
  • Drinking water
  • Water containers (Fetching water is a job where kids can help. Bring containers small enough for your kids to carry when full.)
  • Ropes (for hanging the tarp and use as a laundry line)
  • Flashlights and batteries
  • Spare set of car keys
  • Boat keys or keys to any vehicles or equipment you’ll need to access
  • Passports and birth certificates (for cross-border camping)
  • Matches/butane lighter and newspaper
  • Hatchet
  • Road and trail maps
  • Hot water bottle and thermos (These are good to have on hand while camping or boating to warm up the kids after a chilly swim or if they should fall overboard. It happens!)
  • Accommodation guide (If your campground turns out to be less than ideal or you’re tired of camping in the rain, this can help you find other options in the area.)
  • Mealtime fixin’s

  • Camp stove
  • Camp stove fuel
  • Pots and frying pans
  • Strainer
  • Folding camp toaster
  • Plates, bowls, cups, cutlery
  • Knives – carving, bread, paring
  • Cooking and serving spoons
  • Tongs
  • Can opener
  • Scissors
  • Chopping board
  • Lightweight mixing bowls
  • Plastic tablecloth
  • Salt and pepper shakers
  • Food containers for leftovers
  • Plastic wrap
  • Ziploc plastic bags
  • Tinfoil
  • Cooking oil
  • Twist ties
  • Note: All food not stored in your critter-proofed coolers must be stored in your car overnight and whenever you leave your campsite for long periods of time. This will keep your food safe and keep bears away from your camp.

    Cleanup

  • Old towels (for mopping up rain, muddy footprints or condensation inside the tent)
  • Wet wipes (I try to minimize use of disposables at home, but these are incredibly convenient when camping)
  • Paper towels
  • Garbage bags
  • Large plastic dish tub
  • Biodegradable dish detergent
  • Pot scouring pad/sponge
  • Tea towels
  • Hand towels
  • Biodegradable laundry detergent (for handwashing clothing)
  • Personals

  • Bibles and devotional material
  • Reading glasses
  • Wallet
  • Cash/U.S. currency
  • Spare contact lenses or glasses
  • Toiletries
  • Tissues
  • Toilet paper
  • Camera and batteries
  • Extra batteries
  • Binoculars
  • Mosquito repellent and anti-itch cream
  • Sunblock and after-sun lotion
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun hat
  • Beach towels
  • Swimsuits
  • Wetsuits
  • Life jackets
  • Warm jacket
  • Hiking boots,
  • Personal water bottles
  • Small backpack (for carrying water, sweaters and snacks on day hikes)
  • Medications
  • First aid kit
  • "Nasties" bag (for storing dirty clothes; packing them back in our travel bags makes clean clothes less than fresh)
  • Optional luxury items

  • Smaller tarp and towel (serves as a doorstep to reduce mess inside the tent)
  • Shade canopy with mosquito netting for picnic table
  • Small brush and shovel to sweep out the tent
  • Clothes pegs for laundry line
  • Rubber boots
  • Solar-heated camp shower
  • Small sewing kit (for minor repairs)
  • GPS
  • Extras for kids

  • Mosquito netting for stroller and crib
  • Waterproof rain pants
  • Star chart
  • Nature guides
  • Fishing rods and kit
  • Kid-sized fishing nets and buckets (for exploring swamp and pond life)
  • Books
  • Board games
  • Sand/beach toys
  • Water shoes
  • That’s our family’s list of "basics" as it stands at present. While I’ve done my best to compile a complete packing list, there may be additional items your family will want or need. I’ll leave you to figure out how to get all that in your vehicle!

    For future trips, it’s a good idea to keep your list stored with your camping gear or on your computer so you’ll have a copy to refer to without having to create the list from scratch each time. But even if you used a checklist and you happen to leave something important behind, chances are, you’ll laugh about it later or have fun "improvising" with whatever’s at hand. Enjoy your trip!

    © 2008 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

    If you liked this article and would like to go deeper, we have some helpful resources below.

    Our recommended resources

    Free advice on marriage, parenting and Christian living delivered straight to your inbox

    View comments ()