I want to preface this by saying that I don't think you should run out and buy all this stuff. A few years ago when we were moving from New York to Vegas and did a camping roadtrip cross country for 2 months, we had very little: A small 2 person tent for the 3 of us, no camping stove, no camping chairs, no camping table, and some cheap Walmart sleeping bags that barely kept us warm.
We look back on that trip as one of our favorites. Would it have been easier with the gear that we've since acquired? Absolutely. But it was totally doable and allowed us to figure out exactly what we needed (when we had the funds to buy more camping gear).
Below is the full run down of our gaming gear. We typically try to stick to more primitive camping spots which means there are no services including water, a bathroom, shower, and picnic tables, so we have to have all the gear that makes us self-contained. With campgrounds charging up to $30 a night, it all ends up paying for itself.
The Main Staples
We have a Big Agnes Big House 4 (a 4 person tent). I sometimes regret not getting the 6 person for a little more wiggle room or space for our family to grow, but it’s fleeting.For our family of 4, it's the perfect size and we all fit comfortably and snug.
Even if you're a family of 4, I would still recommend the Big Agnes Big House 6 (for 6 people). Availability seems to be very limited for these now, so I would check out the REI Co-op Kingdom 6 tent. It offers similar features and quality as the Big Agnes. This just gives you more room for bags, changing areas, a Pack n' Play, or if you have cots or bigger sleeping pads or mattresses.
There are cheaper tent brands out there which are totally fine and great tents, but you typically sacrifice weather resistance if you happen to camp on a rainy, windy, or hot day.
The Thermarest Mondoking 3D Sleeping Pads is made for car camping and they are dreamy sleeping pads. They keep you warm and comfortable and will make camping a more enjoyable experience. We used our backpacking pads, the Therm-a-Rest Neoair Xlite, for a long time and they also are really nice if you want to kill two birds and just make the investment into one mat per person.
For when the kids are babies, you also have to think about separating you and your sleeping bag from your infant or newborn. We used the DocATot Deluxe for infants and DocATot Grande for 9 months+ because that's what the kids were used to sleeping in at home, and that definitely helps the sleeping situation while camping when they're used to what they're sleeping in.
You could also look into a Joovy Gloo portable bed or the Kid Co travel crib. If you do go this route, I would get your baby comfortable sleeping and hanging out in it before the camping trip. If not, you run the risk of your baby having to adapt to so many new things that they end up having a hard time sleeping. Give them something comforting that they are used to.
We each have different sleeping bags, but my one suggestion would be to get at least a 30 degree bag (even if you don’t think you’ll camp in cold temperatures like that). 30 degree bags are still good in 50 degree weather. I would also suggest hitting up an REI garage sale where you can get one lightly used (which is what we did). You can save a ton of money for something that's expensive and pretty close to brand new.
Our son has the REI Co-op Kindercone 25 which keeps him warm (I also think he's warm blooded). I do kind of wish we had gotten him The North Face Youth Eco-Trail Synthetic 20 for the ability to camp in colder temperatures comfortably though.
For babies, I've used the Infant Hi-Loft Down Sweater Bunting and it works well and keeps the baby warm. It is quite expensive though, so I would only make the plunge if you plan on camping a lot with the little one (because they outgrow these things fast).
There is also the Morrison Outdoors brand to consider, which makes toddler sleeping bags for once they are a little older (2-4 years old). They have a 20 degree sleep sack for infants and also a 20 degree sleep sack for toddlers which will definitely keep your baby warm camping, and the bonus of it lasting for at least 2 years.
You gotta go Coleman with this one. We love our Coleman stove—and these things truly last forever. We also have a Jetboil that we use for backpacking, but also for heating up water for tea and coffee while car camping.
We have this REI Co-op camp roll table which doesn’t take up too much room and is really sturdy. I do wish we had something longer so we can prepare and cook food all on the same table. If I were to splurge and get another, I would get the Mountain Summit Gear Heavy Duty Roll Top Table.
We have a sedan, so we had to trade in our big camping chairs for something that folded down smaller for all our camping equipment to fit in our car. We got these Big Agnes camp chairs that fold down really small and compact, but once assembled, they’re super comfortable. It takes about a minute and a half to put together too, just so you're aware.
If you don’t need chairs that fold up small, there are plenty of camp chairs that offer similar comfort that you can get at Target or off Amazon.
For the baby, we use this Pop n' Sit booster. It's great, but my only complaint is that it's low to thew ground. We have to put it on top of one of our boxes while eating at a table, or on top of the picnic table if we have one. That's what we sacrificed for a cheaper cost. If you want to go bigger, there is the Summer Pop n' Sit highchair rather than the booster that is prettyyyy sweet.
We have a 5 gallon water jug that we fill up every day and a half or so when we're camping. To dispense the water, we use this manual water pump that works really well.
Side note: If you are primitive camping and don't have a water source, there is usually a spigot with potable water at national park visitors centers or picnic areas. We also use iOverlander to find potable water sources when we're not around either of those.
Hammocks take up little room and are a hit by kids and adults at the campground. We have this Kootek Double Hammock and almost the whole family can fit in it.
Advanced Elements Solar Shower
I truly don't know how we went so long without a solar shower. This is definitely another winner and necessity if you’re camping because nothing is worse than sleeping in a tent after a day sweating. It truly made our month in a tent completely doable and enjoyable.
If you are a family of 3 or more, I would recommend the Advanced Elements 5 gallon solar shower.
I honestly can’t say a specific use for these, but we use them constantly and are a staple in our camping equipment. I like having assorted sizes for different uses like these bungee cords. Additionally, a small rope, rubber bands, and ziplock bags are always something we’re using while camping.
Is it just me or is shit always wet when you camp? This is a cheap little clothesline that has made our life easy (and our clothes dry) while camping. Also remember to use environmentally friendly soap when doing laundry in a body of water. We like to use Dr. Bronners.
All hail AIMTOM. An extended camping trip probably wouldn’t be possible without our AIMTOM 540W, a portable power charger. It keeps our headlamps, portable charger, phones, speakers, computer, iPad, and camera charged and it’s truly a savior and necessity.
It's easily chargeable in the car with the cigarette lighter (do we still call it that these days?), has multiple USB ports and plug-ins, and can output when it's being charged. Love this thing so much and we often use it at home.
USB rechargable LED lights
These rechargeable LED lights can be hung by rope over your table or in your tent. They’re nice because they offer more ambient light rather than using headlamps while cooking and eating and offer way more light than your typical lantern.
We go Petzl every time and we have the Cadillac of headlamps, but I do love my Petzl Swift RL. You can find cheaper ones if you want, but I definitely recommend the USB charged headlamps rather than batteries.
Ok, it’s called a cathole trowel, but, I mean, come on, it’s a poop shovel. When you’re backpacking or wild camping where there’s no toilet around, it’s important to be respectful to nature and others using the areas. There’s guidelines about how to dispose of human waste, including 200 feet from a water source and 6 inches dug into the ground. It’s also important to carry out your own toilet paper--so plan accordingly. Don’t be shitty to mother nature!
We used to use a rock to bang our tent stakes in, and our obscenely bent tent stakes are what we have to show for it. If you’re planning on camping a decent amount, a mallet is cheap and so helpful.
Soar subject because we have a cheap little coffee maker (like this one) that works great but there are some real fancy ones out there that I dream of. Maybe one day.
But yeah, if you're camping with kids, get yourself a coffee maker.
Cooking odds and ends
We have a box of cooking utensils. They are designated for camping so they are just stored in a box in the garage so it’s one less thing that needs to be packed when we go on a camping trip. Nothing in there is nice—it’s either old stuff from our kitchen or Goodwill purchases. In the kitchen box is:
A frying pan
A big pot and lid
A small pot and lid
Large plates for each camper
Small plates for each camper
A bowl for each camper
A mug for each camper
Fork, knife, and spoon for each camper
2 cutting knives
Cutting boards (small plastic ones)
A wine/bottle opener
2 Drying rags
2 shallow plastic bins to do dishes (ours are actually kitty litter bins)
We also leave staples in the camping box including:
I hope this all helps you pack up your car for a camping adventure. Remember, you don't need all this stuff, especially for your first go at camping. Collect stuff as you go.
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