Simple and easy meals to keep your campers happy

simple-and-easy-meals

I’ve had several requests to do a post on camping food. For many people, this is their favorite part of camping. For me, it is not. I would rather spend our time out hiking or relaxing, and I strive to minimize the amount of time preparing meals. I am also happy to grab pre-packaged convenience foods to make that happen.

If this sounds like you, then please read ahead! If it does not, then please take my methods and advice with a grain of salt.

When I plan for our camping trips, I generally rotate through the same recipes. I strive for easy, filling, and minimal prep time. I try to do as much prep work as possible at home, but I do usually pack a sharp knife and cutting board. My husband and I share the cooking responsibilities. When we camp with friends, we find that generally it’s easier just to let each family handle their own food, especially if there are picky children or food allergies/specific diets involved. One exception is when my best friend and I go camping with our children – we prefer to cook every meal together. We cook our meals using a double-burner camp stove as well as hot coals from our campfire, and these recipes will reflect that. You might also consider grilling, for another option.

Breakfast!

Breakfasts

We used to do big breakfasts, but I have abandoned that in favor of something simple. For one, I found raw eggs difficult to pack (though there are solutions). For two, I am not a morning person so by the time I got up and moving it was almost lunchtime before we ate breakfast. You might want a hearty breakfast if you’re going to do some intense hiking, but for our needs it wasn’t necessary.

Here are some ideas of things I will bring for our breakfasts – adjust as needed for your tastes!

  • hard boiled eggs
  • yogurt
  • granola bars
  • muffins (make at home before the trip)
  • fruit
  • instant oatmeal packets (you’ll need to boil water for this, but it’s especially good for chilly mornings)
  • hot chocolate or coffee (I don’t drink coffee so I have no idea what making that entails)
  • milk
  • orange juice

For more ideas, check out this link.

Paul cuts up dinner

Lunches

Our lunch menu will change depending on our plans for the day. Sometimes we plan to be out exploring or hiking, so we’ll pack an easy lunch like sandwiches. Sometimes we’ll plan to be at our campsite, so we’ll take the time to cook. We also pack extra of the lunch sides to use as snacks during the afternoons.

  • sandwiches (we like peanut butter and jelly, but for variety you could also do pre-made tuna salad or chicken salad)
  • chips or pretzels
  • fruits and raw vegetables
  • trail mix (or nuts and raisins separately)
  • apple sauce
  • baked beans (quick and easy if you bring a can)
  • hot dogs (can cook in a pan or on a roasting stick over the fire)
  • tacos in a bag (either need to cook taco meat or warm up pre-cooked meat)
  • soup (great for chilly days – I warm up canned soup, but you could also reheat homemade soup)
  • get creative with a pie iron!

Get more lunch ideas here.

Dinner!

Dinners

We generally treat dinner as our main meal, but it would be easy to switch dinner and lunch if that works better for you. We don’t usually use the fire to cook for lunch, so any tin foil packet meals are planned for dinner. Some of these meals (especially the packets) take a long time to cook, so we try to be conscious of our time when planning our meals.

Tin foil packets: You can wrap food in foil and put in the coals of the fire to cook. This is a fun way to have dinner, and we usually plan to do this at least once. Here are some great tips for how to make dinner in foil packets, along with a few recipes.

  • hobos (we make them with hamburger meat, potatoes, carrots, onions, mushrooms, salt, and pepper)
  • lemon and herb salmon packs (salmon is a bit of a luxury for us, but this one was really good… we haven’t made it since having kids though)

Regular dinners:

  • hamburgers
  • chicken sandwiches
  • chicken and rice (I usually get the boxes of seasoned rice)
  • cooked vegetables
  • spaghetti (make sure you have a pot big enough)
  • roasted corn on the cob
  • baked potatoes
  • sloppy joes
  • chili
  • s’mores for dessert

For more camping dinner ideas, click here.

Putting it all together

When planning for our camping trip, I use an Excel spreadsheet to organize our food. Generally, we have 2 of each meal for a normal weekend trip. I make a list of all the food ingredients, then all the staples (like salt and pepper), and then all the utensils needed. Sometimes when you’re used to cooking in your kitchen you can forget the little things you need (like an extra plate or a can opener – can you tell I speak from experience?), so this step is important.

When I make my food list, I divide it between dry goods and foods that need to go into the cooler. I also repackage things as much as possible to only bring what we plan to consume. (The exception for this would be snack foods, like a bag of chips.) I try to prepare as much food ahead of time as possible.

It sounds complicated but it really isn’t. We’ve found as we’ve gotten in the groove of camping, we keep it simple and don’t stress too much about the meals.

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5 Ways to Help You Make Your Camping Supplies Checklist

make-your-checklist

When building your camping supplies list and camping checklist, it might be a little overwhelming the first time, especially if you don’t know what to expect. I’m going to break it down for you to hopefully help you formulate your list. Some of the items may appear in multiple categories, which is actually good because getting multiple uses for your items will help cut down on the amount you need to pack.

Somewhere to sleep

We’ll start with the most obvious: your shelter and the items you’ll need for sleeping at night. For shelter, you will probably want a tent. (Unless of course you’re planning to use an RV or pop-up, in which case many items in this blog post will probably not be relevant!) You’ll need to make sure the tent is big enough for everyone in your party, and that it is weather appropriate. (Most tents will be fine, unless you’re camping in extreme weather.) You will need to look at what you’ll need to set up your tent: a tarp or footprint, a mallet, etc. (I highly recommend a test run of setting up your tent before you go camping – just to make sure all your bases are covered.) I would recommend always bringing a tarp and a rope even if you don’t have specific plans to use them.

You’ll also need something to sleep on or in. You have several options for comfort: sleeping pads, air mattresses, or cots. For warmth, you’ll want a sleeping bag or sheets and blankets. Don’t forget a pillow if you want a soft place to rest your head.

Something to wear

You’ll need to think through clothes and personal items for your camping trip. Be sure to check the weather if possible. Layers are best, as it can be chilly in the morning and evening, but hot during the day. Think through your planned activities and make sure you have appropriate clothing. Don’t forget toiletries, as well as things like bug spray or sun screen. I also recommend having a basic first aid kit.

Something to eat

How will you take your meals while camping? You could go very simple and get prepackaged items that don’t need to be cooked. (If you’re close enough to a town, for example, you could get lunches and dinners at a restaurant, and just have fruit for breakfasts.) You can use the fire to cook – there are a lot of recipes on the internet for foil packs. (You’ll need aluminum foil, firewood, and/or toasting sticks for this method.) Another options is a camp stove. (Don’t forget fuel for the stove.)

Plan your meals and be sure to note all the utensils you’ll need to prepare, cook, and consume each meal. Think through dishes and silverware (disposable works great for easy cleanup, but washing and reusing will pack smaller and be lest wasteful). Don’t forget to bring a way to wash all your dishes/utensils, and storage bags are very useful for leftovers.

If you will have things that need to be kept cold, then you’ll need a cooler. Plan on buying a bag of ice each morning.

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Something for lighting

You will need some sort of lighting once the sun goes down. Generally, you’ll probably want a combination of lanterns and flashlights or headlamps. A lantern to provide general light for the campsite is helpful, and we also like having a smaller lantern for inside the tent. We like everyone to have their own headlamp, even the children. You may prefer flashlights yourself.

Something to do

You will need to think through what you plan to do while at the campsite. You’ll probably want chairs and a bonfire (firewood, hatchet), even if you don’t use a fire for cooking. (Fire is good for keeping the bugs away at night, as well as providing warmth.) Do you need things to do while at the campsite, or are you comfortable just sitting and talking? Do your kids need activities? This will depend on the personalities of everyone in your party as well as the specific campground where you’ll be. We like to bring a small bag of toys for the tent. If it looks like rain, you’ll need to plan for some inside the tent activities.

Do you plan to go hiking during the day, or sightseeing? You’ll need the appropriate items for whatever you are planning to do. Footwear, water bottle, baby carrier, money for sites, etc.

Use these ideas to make your list

Hopefully that helps you make your list. There are lots of checklists online that you can model your list after. Our list changes with each trip, so try not to stress about it being all-inclusive for every possible scenario. If you’re new at camping, it can be hard to foresee all the things you *might* need, and if packing space is tight then it can be challenging to decide what extras are worth bringing. For your first time, I would stick close to home so the climate won’t be very different from what you’re used to, and you can run back home if you forget something vital.

Our first camping trip

Me

April of 2007 was the first camping trip that my husband and I took together. We didn’t have kids yet, but we were joined by our beagle puppy. We decided to go to Cloudland Canyon State Park, which is a nice state park up in the northwest corner of Georgia, near Chattanooga. It’s funny to think about that first trip, and our inexperience. 🙂

The walk-in camping (tent only) section of Cloudland Canyon is still one of the more rustic places we’ve camped. They have 30 sites on one side of the parking lot and off to another side were the bathrooms and the sole water source for all the sites. They were only $6 a night at that time (they’re $16/night now!). In those days, my husband worked on Saturdays, so we arrived early Saturday evening, when most of the sites had already been claimed. We chose one of the few remaining ones – which also happened to be one of the farthest away from the bathrooms and water. We got lost on the way there and added an hour to our trip, so we didn’t have much time to get the tent set up before it got dark.

I camped with my family a lot as a girl, but stopped once we moved overseas when I was 8. My husband had never camped before, but he is fairly outdoorsy and adventurous. We had registered for camping gear for our wedding and I had spent a lot of time researching some of the other things we would need, namely the tent. We had settled on a pretty expensive one from REI because I wanted something that was good and would last. We chose a bigger one because at the time, being able to stand up completely in the tent seemed important. (The next summer, we bought a much smaller tent that fit our needs better.)

So, our first camping trip, we way overpacked. We had this huge tent, and we brought way too much padding for sleeping. We also brought our huge dog crate, which we lugged all the way from the parking lot to the site and set up into the tent. (That was the only time we brought the crate – our dog did much better just sprawled on our sleeping bags, and the crate was a little ridiculous to bring due to its size.)

We weren’t used to setting up the tent so it took us a little while, and was dark by the time we finished. I set about making dinner, while Paul tried to figure out the fire. I don’t remember why, but for whatever reason the fire didn’t happen that night. We also could not get our camp stove turned on – it was one thing we had never tested before our trip, so we thought it was defective. We ended up eating cold baked beans and graham crackers because they were two things that didn’t need to be cooked.

The next morning, our puppy woke us up early. I had a big breakfast planned because that just seemed to be what you do when camping. With the help of the light of day, I realized I had hooked up the stove wrong the night before, so I was glad to see that we would be able to use it to cook. We had a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast.

Paul and I in front of one of the falls

We then spent the morning hiking Cloudland Canyon which is beautiful. Our puppy LOVED the many stairs to get down to the falls. She was a bundle of energy. We really, really enjoyed our day exploring the park. In the early afternoon, we went back to the campsite and the dog and I took a nice, delicious nap in the tent. It wasn’t hot outside, but I was really warm from hiking so I left the doors of the tent open to catch the breeze. Unfortunately, because of that I woke up to several insects flying around inside.

We’ve come a long way from those first few trips. Here are some lessons we took away from it:

  • For the two of us, a big tent was unnecessary. It took up a lot of space in the trunk and was complicated to set up. Also, the expensive Kelty tent was a little overkill for our needs – we found the much cheaper Walmart tent we bought the next year did just fine.
  • We ditched the idea of bringing our dog crate after that trip – it was definitely way too cumbersome and heavy. At that time we thought a tent big enough for also a Pack & Play for any future babies would be important, but once our baby came along that was another item we didn’t even consider. 🙂
  • We abandoned the memory foam bed topper and extra sleeping bags for padding because they took up SO much room. I wrote more about that here.
  • We now test out all new equipment before going camping!
  • We now bring jugs of water with us for cooking (easier to carry and keep the water clean), and we usually carry our dishes to the spigot to wash them instead of lugging buckets of water back to the campsite.
  • We don’t do big breakfasts anymore. Paul hates getting up early, and I felt like we were either eating very late (at like 11am) or I was cooking and eating by myself, which wasn’t much fun.
  • We don’t leave the tent doors wide open due to bugs!
  • I realize I take a lot more pictures now. (You can see all the pictures I did take at this album on Flickr.)

We have yet to camp at Cloudland Canyon since then, but we really need to. It was a great campground and had a lot of activities to keep the whole family occupied. (We did stay in a cabin there a few years later, and got a chance to explore all the playgrounds!)

On the way

12 Great Camping-Themed Books for Kids

camping-books-for-kids

Since we want camping to be as much a part of our kids’ lives as school or church, we try to keep our bookshelves stocked with children’s books about camping. Since our kids our younger, they don’t necessarily remember what camping is during the winter so this is a great way to talk about it. We only have a couple so far, but I try to pick them up when I see them and have the extra money to spend. We also bring them with us when we go camping, for reading in the car and in the tent. I thought I’d share with you some of our favorites and some of the others on our wish list.

*Note: these are books for younger kids that feature characters going camping. There are also a number of nonfiction camping books meant for older kids that I would love to get, but I am keeping for focus small for this post.

1. Maisy Goes Camping

MaisyGoesCamping
Maisy Goes Camping: A Maisy First Experience Book, by Lucy Cousins

When Maisy sets off to go camping in the country, it’s only natural that all her friends come along, too. But they soon find that pitching a tent is not an easy thing to do. Even if they do manage to keep the tent up, there’s the matter of fitting them all in — Maisy, Charley, Cyril, Tallulah, and finally, the huge elephant, Eddie. What a squeezy squish-squash! Good night, campers! Uh-oh-what’s that popping sound? (Age Range: 2-5 years)

2. Curious George Goes Camping

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Curious George Goes Camping, by H.A. Rey

When the man with the yellow hat takes George camping, George is very excited. There is so much to do at the campsite— pitching a tent, gathering water, meeting fellow campers—that George hardly knows where to begin (he only hopes the day will end with a roasted marshmallow!). When George’s knack for unintentional mischief gets him lost deep in the woods, George is scared… and being sprayed by a skunk only adds to the trouble. But George puts on a brave face, and he ends up saving the day when he puts out a small fire that could have endangered the forest. (Age Range: 3-5 years)

3. Fred and Ted Go Camping

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Fred and Ted Go Camping, by Peter Eastman

Fred and Ted—beloved canine stars of P. D. Eastman’s Big Dog…Little Dog are back in an all-new Beginner Book written and illustrated by P.D.’s son, Peter Eastman! In this story Fred and Ted go camping, and as usual, their uniquely different approaches to doing things (such as packing equipment, setting up camp, and fishing techniques) have humorous—and sometimes surprising—results. A charming introduction to opposites that beginner readers will find ruff to put down! (Age Range: 3-7 years)

4. Just Me and My Dad

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Just Me and My Dad (Little Critter), by Mercer Mayer

This well-loved Little Critter picture book has become a modern classic. It’s the tale of a father-and-son camping trip filled with Little Critter’s mistakes and good intentions. In spite of difficulties, however, the happy father and son manage to put up their tent, catch fish for dinner, and sleep beneath the stars. In spite of minimal text, the story is full and rich, with endearing illustrations from start to finish. (Age Range: 3-7 years)

5. A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee

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A Camping Spree With Mr. Magee, by Chris Van Dusen

Mr. Magee and his trusty dog, Dee, are enjoying a peaceful camping trip when all of a sudden they find themselves plunging down a mountain and teetering on the edge of a huge waterfall! How will they find their way out of this slippery situation? Chris Van Dusen, the creator of Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee, has filled this new adventure with charming illustrations and a playful, rhyming text. A fun read-aloud for children (and adults!) on campouts or snuggling at home! (Age Range: 3-7 years)

6. Olivia Goes Camping

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Olivia Goes Camping, by Alex Harvey

Olivia is super excited to have her best friend come along on her family camping trip. However Francine is not a huge fan of the Great Outdoors and is less than excited about the mud, the bugs, and the idea of sleeping in a tent. It’s up to Olivia to help Francine get in touch with her inner nature lover in this funny story that’s based on an episode. (Age Range: 4-6 years)

7. Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping

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Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping, by Mélanie Watt

Scaredy Squirrel is not too comfortable with the idea of camping … unless it’s on his couch! There will be no mosquitoes, skunks or zippers to worry about when he watches a show about the joys of camping on his brand-new TV. But first Scaredy must find an electrical outlet, and that means going into the woods! Will the nutty worrywart’s plans prepare him for the great outdoors, or will his adventure end up as a scary story told around the campfire? (Age Range: 4-8 years)

8. Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping

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Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping, by Peggy Parrish

Amelia Bedelia has never been camping in the great outdoors before. She’s trying her best to do exactly as she’s told, but pitching a tent is not the same as throwing it into the bushes, and catching a fish with your bare hands isn’t easy. As usual, the mixed-up housekeeper makes this camping trip one hugely entertaining adventure. (Age Range: 4-8 years)

9. Camping

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Camping, by Nancy Hundal

Who can forget their first camping trip? “Holidays, lolling days. Mom wishes for museums and art galleries. Dad talks about fancy hotels. My sister Laurie wants malls, anywhere. Duncan dreams of arcades. And I long for Disneyland.” This year won’t be like the others. There will be no paintings or fluffy towels, clothes racks, jackpots or mouse ears. Nancy and her family are going camping. Just the thought of camping is bad enough. Outhouses, mosquito bites, burnt food and lots of work – what kind of holiday is that? But from the moment their campsite is established, the family slowly begins to discover the magic of life in the wild. Nights so quiet and dark, it’s like being wrapped in a blanket. Food that warms the stomach and awakens the senses. Swimming in the lake, climbing trees and lolling in the sun. And millions, no, bajillions of stars. More time, less o’clock. That’s what camping is about. (Age Range: 5+ years)

10. Stella and Roy Go Camping

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Stella and Roy Go Camping, by Ashley Wolff

This delightful children’s picture book tells the story of a camping trip in Yosemite taken by siblings Stella and Roy and their mother. During the trip, Roy continually tries to find evidence of bears in the animal tracks around them. Each time he does, he is contradicted by his sister, but then one night a bear really does appear. The book is populated by the animals and birds that call Yosemite home, and there is additional information at the back about each. The full-color paintings are engaging and true-to-life, guaranteed to capture the interest of just about any child. (Age Range: 4-8 years)

11. When We Go Camping

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When We Go Camping, by Margriet Ruus

In this beautifully illustrated book, one busy family finds lots to do from sun up to sunset. At the campsite, there’s wood to chop for the fire and fish to catch. And there’s lots of time to explore, climb rocks, splash in the lake, and discover animals in the shadows of the woods. As afternoon turns to evening, supper needs to be made, and just before bed, stories are told around the campfire. Each painting highlights the tracks of one animal, which curve from the text into the illustration. Readers can turn to the glossary for more details about the wildlife depicted on each page. When We Go Camping is a perfect way to preserve summer memories all year long. (Age Range: 6-9 years)

12. S is for Smores

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S Is for S’mores: A Camping Alphabet, by Helen Foster James

From what to pack, where to go, and what to do when you get there, S is for S’mores: A Camping Alphabet takes readers on an A-Z trail exploring this outdoor pastime. Veteran camper Helen Foster James tackles topics such as unique camping environments, equipment necessities, famous conservationists, and national parks and other attractions. Whether your idea of “roughing it” is a blanket in your own backyard or the subarctic ecosystem of Alaska’s Denali National Park, S is for S’mores is a fun and informative guide that is sure to help campers of all ages make the most of their wilderness adventures. (Age Range: 6-9 years)

Camping in the rain

Getting rained out

It’s cold and rainy here in Georgia this weekend. A friend posted on Facebook, “I’m so glad we decided not to camp this weekend!” Boy, isn’t that the truth.

We seem to have had a string of bad luck when it comes to weather the past few years. I think it’s because our camping trips have been more planned, less spontaneous – we used to wait until we were close enough to check the weather and then decide to camp. (That’s one reason why we haven’t camped in some of the more popular campgrounds.) But the past few years, we’ve been in situations where we’ve chosen to camp anyway despite the weather forecasts.

I have to admit, I really really hate camping in the rain. Even more than that, I really hate camping in thunderstorms.

Our campsite

Our first time camping in the rain, we strung up a tarp over our campsite which worked okay (though the tarp split as you can see from the picture – I highly recommend getting a heavy duty tarp for camping). We found a large stick for support and put the fire underneath so we were still able to use that (though we had to be very careful not to damage the tarp – the fire didn’t cause the rip).

One thing I didn’t count on was how boring it can be to camp when it’s wet and rainy. In this instance, it rained during the nights, and just off and on during the day. Our tent kept us nice and dry, but you can’t stay there all weekend. We normally like to explore the campground and hiking trails during the day. On this particular trip, we found ourselves stuck under a pavilion during a sudden downpour. We entertained ourselves, so it wasn’t a terrible experience; just not ideal. We also decided not to do any hiking because everything was so wet.

Savannah and Daddy

Our second time we planned a bit better – we had a heavy duty tarp and better stick supports, so we had a nice little area to move around. We had some activities for our daughter, and I believe that it stayed dry most of our visit at that campground so we were able to enjoy the activities the park offered.

Doing Sudoku

The last two times though – phew, those were the worst. The first of those was actually not in a campground, but rather in Indiana, in the backyard of some friends we were visiting who didn’t have enough room for us to sleep inside (we were one of several families visiting that weekend). It only rained one night, and my husband and I awoke in the middle of the night to a horrible thunderstorm. For the next two hours, we laid there with hearts pounding as we listened to the wind slash angrily at our tent, to the thunder and lightning. At one point, the tornado siren went off, and we bolted upright, unsure of what to do. We didn’t necessarily want to make a dash to the house with our toddler, and then sit up the rest of the night. But, we didn’t want to stay outside in a tornado either! I don’t remember that we made a decision before the storm died, but I was so scared. I swore up and down I would never camp in a thunderstorm again.

However, we all know what happens when you say “never”. I got my chance about a month ago, when we went on a family camping trip down to Richmond Hill. The days were dry, but the second night it stormed the entire night. I could not let myself fall asleep with the storm raging around me, and I got about an hour of sleep that night. Our tent started leaking too, so in some ways it was good that I was awake to move everything out of the way. (It was a small leak.) Unlike my previous experience, with a fast and furious storm, this one lasted all night and would alternate between raging and quiet. During the quiet times, the trees swaying (and leaves brushing against our tent) and long shadows cast on the tent made my imagination go wild, which was almost worst. At 7am my husband woke me up and said that the rain had stopped but was supposed to start again in an hour, so we needed to hurry and pack up. We did, and sure enough right at 8am the rain started up again. It’s miserable to pack up in the rain, and it’s miserable to pack up wet camping gear. I am so glad we were able to make it out of the there without too much trouble.

And now in a future blog post, I plan to discuss what to do when you don’t unpack your wet tent soon enough and it gets all mildewy…

Packing the car: camping supplies

packing-the-car

We’ve been car camping for about 6 years now, and we’ve put a lot of thought into what we should bring camping. We prefer to keep it as simple as possible, and since we drive a small Toyota Corolla space is an issue. Here’s what we have narrowed it down to, but we’re continually reevaluating and modifying as needed. One thing about kids… your needs are always changing depending on their ages! (Keep in mind we are car camping, usually at a state park with bathrooms available – if you are backpacking then your priorities will be different, of course!)

Camping Gear

TENTWhen it was just the two of us, we used an inexpensive tent that we bought at Walmart and we loved it. It was so easy to set up. But, it was a little small for more than two people plus stuff.
Our new tent

Now we have a big Kelty tent. It has some cool features – tall enough to stand in the middle of the tent, a vestibule (front porch). It also is complicated to set up, though not impossible. We’ll probably be tent-shopping in the next few years – look for future posts about that.
Our tent

FOOTPRINT/TARPTo protect the floor of your tent and extend its lifetime, it’s important to put something in between the tent and the ground. We have a footprint for our big tent that actually buckles into place so it doesn’t move. For the smaller tent, we just use a tarp, which works just as well. Just make sure that whatever you use is smaller than the tent itself – you don’t want water to collect and go underneath the tent if it rains or mists heavily. If your tarp is too big, just fold it back to make it the right size.

MALLET AND HATCHETThe mallet for pounding in stakes; ours also has a hook on the other end of the handle, useful for removing the stakes. The hatchet is good for firewood.
Mallet & hatchet

SLEEPING BAGSWe turn our sleeping bags into a double bed by zipping them together – you can do this if the sleeping bags unzip all the way. Our 3 year old has her own sleeping bag, and our baby sleeps in the double sleeping bag with us. Right now, we’re in the process of figuring out the best sleeping pad. We liked the self-inflating ones we rented from REI, but they’re a little pricey to buy. Some people use an air mattress. For pillows, we have smaller camping pillows that can roll smaller into a little bag (to save space).
Inside our tent

BLANKETSIt’s always a good idea to have a few throw blankets; sometimes temperatures can dip down, especially in the spring or fall.

WHISK BROOM AND DUST PANFor cleaning out the tent before packing it away.
Broom and dust pan

WELCOME MATUseful for wiping off feet before entering the tent; it keeps the tent cleaner and we also leave our shoes there. We made it from a piece of discarded carpet.
Welcome!

LIGHTINGWe have a variety of lighting devices. Camping with kids has a different spin in that it’s not “every man for himself”. So, we are starting to focus on more larger-range lamps and less on single-person lamps. We have a big family-sized LED one that we like, and we’ll probably get a second one before our next trip.
Lantern

We also have headlamps that we use for walking around outside the campsite. We have one per person, including for the children – this is important. We have found that our 3 year old LOVES having her own headlamp, and she WILL steal ours if we’re not careful. 😉 So we bought her a cheap one (that only has on/off) and we have nicer ones with more settings.
Headlamps

Eating and Food Prep

CAMP STOVEWe have a double-burner Coleman camp stove that we love. Don’t forget to bring extra fuel. Also important is to bring matches and/or a lighter.
Making lunch

COOKWAREBecause of our space issues, we like to invest in compact camping cookware. We used to have a small set that fed two people, and actually recently upgraded to the GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper set. It’s kinda amazing – two pots with lids that have strainers built in, a frying pan, 4 insulated mugs with lids, 4 bowls, and 4 plates that all condense into one handy-dandy carrying case that doubles as a sink.
gsi_outdoors-bugaboo-camper-2012

DISHES AND UTENSILSAs part of our cookware set, we have 4 plates/cups/bowls. We also bring 2 other plates that were our original camping dishes before we got that set – extra plates come in handy for food prep. For utensils, we have “sporks” by Light My Fire. These are fork, spoon, and knife all rolled into one piece. They come in a lot of bright colors, which my daughter loves (she’s really obsessed with green).
Spoon/fork/knife

TOASTING STICKSToasting sticks are useful for marshmallows and hot dogs. I like having these collapsible sticks dedicated to the purpose – I’m not really one to use a stick I picked off the ground!
Toasters

PICNIC BASKET AND COOLERWe got a picnic basket for our wedding that we use to transport all our dry goods and food. We use a soft-sided cooler for anything that needs to be kept cold. We love that this is smaller than the hard-sided one, and it has two openings which makes food organization simpler.
Picnic basket
Cooler

TABLECLOTHBecause campsite tables aren’t always the cleanest! One that is plastic will be easier to wipe off.
Picnic table

DRINKSI like to buy a case of bottled water because it’s easy to grab. I also bring those Crystal Light drink packets which have enough powder mix for a bottle of water. This is great because you can just bring water and each person can then decide how to flavor it. Don’t forget to bring a sippy cup if they’re not old enough to drink from a regular cup or water bottle.
Water

FOODThe subject of camp food goes beyond the scope of this post, so I’ll briefly summarize. We like simple, easy-to-fix meals that take as few ingredients as possible and can be cooked either on a camp stove or over a fire. We also bring along snacks to munch on during the day.
Breakfast!

Miscellaneous Items

BUCKET AND MISC. ITEMSBuckets are useful to have around for carrying water and doing dishes. For transportation, I fill it with a paper towel roll, a box of ziploc bags, aluminum foil, and a box of garbage bags. I’ve found each are good things to have around! I also keep a sponge, dish soap, and dish towel in here for washing dishes. And finally, a few plastic grocery bags for things like dirty diapers.
Bucket

CAMPING CHAIRSWe bring folding camping chairs – one per person. (If you’re camping in a big group, I highly recommend bringing an extra chair. When our daughter was 2, we had a small child-sized chair that actually was a booster seat. However, she can easily get into the adult-sized chairs now and the small one is a little too low to the ground for her.
From the door of the tent

ROPE/TARPRopes are useful for making clothes lines, putting up tarps, and other things. We’ve camped in the rain enough that we invested in a heavy duty tarp after the other one we had ripped (see picture below).
Our campsite

BUG REPELLENT AND SUNSCREENBugs can be a major problem while camping. Avoid scented perfumes and soaps that might attract them. My preliminary research shows that out in the woods, “natural” bug repellant doesn’t work very well, so we use the regular stuff and try to use it sparingly. We always bathe everyone before crawling into bed to avoid getting bug spray in the sleeping bags. As for sunscreen, rash guards and hats are the best defense against the sun. Look into where you’ll be camping to see if you’ll need sunscreen for swimming, hiking, or just being in the sun at the campsite.

FIRST AID KITYou can put one together yourself, but we bought one at REI that we like. You may also want to consider having rubbing alcohol for tick removal – we had trouble with that when we would camp with our dog.
First aid

Personal Gear

CLOTHES, SHOESLayers are the way to go while camping because the daytime can be hot while the nighttimes chilly. I bring shoes for hiking and sandals for easy removal when around the campsite. I try not to bring anything that I don’t mind getting dirty – especially for kids’ clothes. I also include a plastic bag for dirty clothes.

TOILETRIESWe try to keep toiletries simple. Avoid scented things that might attract bugs. I do usually bring shampoo/conditioner needed for a shower – they are essential for washing off dirty but happy little bodies and also removing bug spray at the end of the day. On cold days, a warm shower can really help.
Toiletries

TOWELSYou’ll probably want a regular bath towel (one per person), and perhaps a hand towel and/or washcloth depending on what you normally use. (Remember: keep it simple!) Also, if you’ll be swimming you may want a separate beach towel. I like having a dish towel as well.
Clothesline

BABY CARRIER – If you have a little one, a baby carrier is a must! I want to do a future post expanding on the different kinds, but we use ours for both when we’re hiking and when we’re trying to get things done around the campsite (like setting up the tent). I have an Ergo, and can wear both my baby and my preschooler. (The second picture was taken just a few weeks ago at age 3.5!) Baby carriers can be a must if you have a child who likes to bolt. (Another idea to contain a small child is a stroller.)
Savannah takes a nap
Not too big to wear!

ACTIVITIESWhat you bring for activities will depend on what is offered at the campground. We tend to find the hottest part of the day and the evenings right before bedtime are when we have down time. I like to bring along my camping guidebook for reference and notes. I also like to make sure I have a deck of cards, and as our kids get older I want to include family games. You’ll want to think through what kinds of toys your kids might want along. During our last trip, we brought a reusable shopping bag with books, coloring books and crayons, and miscellaneous toys. (I wouldn’t necessarily recommend crayons if the weather is going to be hot, though!) The toys were for inside the tent only – very useful for when she woke up extra early and we weren’t ready to crawl out from our sleeping bags yet.
Toys for camping

CAMERATo capture the memories! Make sure the battery is charged and you have your memory card.

That’s a basic rundown of what we pack in our car, but that doesn’t mean these are the only things you need for camping. Everyone has their own personal requirements for a happy camping trip, and it will depend on your needs, the ages of your kids, and your destination. I hope to go into depth about my favorite items in the future, but this should be a good basic list to get you started.