Camping with Kids Checklist | Packing Essentials, Where to Camp & More
Camping With Kids Checklist
There is nothing more rewarding than packing up the car, corralling the kids and heading out for a family-friendly adventure in the great outdoors. Camping with your kids will foster a greater sense of appreciation for nature and the world around them while teaching valuable life and survival skills. It is also the perfect occasion to unplug, unwind and make lasting memories together while exploring new areas and engaging in fun activities.
Here is everything you need to plan the ultimate family-friendly camping retreat.
What to Pack
As you get ready to pack your bags, consider the following to determine your specific packing needs:
- Where and when you are camping
- The type of lodging you are staying in
- Your planned activities
- How old your children are and their specific needs
- Whether you are bringing along the family pet
- How primitive or accommodating your chosen campground is
Use this camping with kids checklist to guide you through preparations, but feel free to make adjustments as needed.
Be sure to pack these campsite essentials:
- Indoor and outdoor rugs
- Foldable camping chairs
- Decorative outdoor lights
- At least one folding table
- Plastic storage bins or totes to organize supplies
- A compact multi-tool
- Duct tape
- Extra rope
- Plastic tarps and tie-downs
- A small ax or hatchet for firewood
- Firestarter and kindling
- Matches or a lighter
Tent or RV Supplies
Unless you are camping in a furnished cabin, you will need some of the following equipment to set up camp:
- Blankets, pillows and a sleeping bag
- A sleeping pad, inflatable air mattress or cot
- A camping tent with stakes
- A hammer or mallet
- A tent fan
- A tent heater
- RV parking blocks
- A repair kit for air mattresses and tents
Clothes and Shoes
Plan your outfits according to the season, weather forecast, camping environment and what types of activities you plan to engage in.
Be sure to include:
- Layering pieces: Light layers are suitable for all seasons. Include garments such as thin long-sleeve shirts, thermals, leggings, vests, undershirts and a light jacket.
- Rain gear: Rain gear is essential, no matter the season or destination. Bring an umbrella for each family member, along with portable ponchos, rain jackets, rain boots and water-resistant pants.
- Weather-specific clothing: Pack weather-dependent items, like summer shorts, long pants for hiking and swimwear for warm months. Cold weather essentials include scarves, gloves, neck warmers, thick socks, winter coats and snowsport wear.
- Versatile shoes: Your camping luggage should always include a pair of water-resistant boots, walking shoes and shower shoes. You might also consider snow boots, hiking shoes, flip flops, sandals and night slippers depending on the season.
- Children’s clothing: Camping trips can be a lot of fun, but that fun tends to be messy — bring plenty of outfit changes for your child. You should include a few stretchier pieces, slippers, long-sleeve and short-sleeve shirts and fleece sleepwear for cold destinations.
Cooking and Cleaning
Handle all of your cooking and cleaning needs with these items:
- A campfire cooking grate
- A portable grill
- Cooking fuel, like charcoal or propane
- A fire-safe dutch oven
- Food protectors and shields to keep bugs away
- Napkins or paper towels
- Roasting forks
- Food storage containers
- An outdoor broom
- Measuring spoons and cups
- Resealable plastic bags
- A camping stove
- A coffee percolator or teapot
- A pot and skillet, preferably cast iron
- Cooking utensils, including a spatula, tongs, spoon and ladle
- A knife set
- Easy-to-clean or disposable utensils and dishware
- A can opener
- A corkscrew
- A bottle opener
- Shatter-proof mugs and glasses
- A cutting board
- A portable cooler with ice
- A portable camping sink for dishes
- A trash can with trash bags
- Eco-safe dish soap
- A tablecloth with clips for the picnic table
- A dish scrubber or sponge
- Heat-resistant gloves
- An insulated mug or thermos
- A water bottle
- Jugs of freshwater or a water dispenser
- A griddle
- Non-stick cooking spray
- Disinfectant wipes
- Aluminum foil
- Plastic grocery bags
You may not need some items, like a portable sink, camping stove or grill, if you are staying somewhere like a furnished Deluxe Cabin or an RV.
Your grocery shopping list depends on what kind of recipes you plan to cook during your camping trip, but most families find success with staples like these:
- Regular or instant coffee or tea
- Grilling meats or meat substitutes
- Cereal and granola
- Milk or milk alternatives
- Fresh drinking water
- Trail mix
- Pantry staples, like salt, pepper, sugar and spices
- Condiments, including ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and other sauces
- Boxed pasta and pasta sauce
- Hot cocoa
- Nut butter and jam
- Sliced bread, pita bread and tortillas
- Sliced and shredded cheese
- Canned or boxed soup
- Macaroni and cheese
- Beans and rice
- Sweeteners, like honey and syrup
- Fresh herbs
- Instant noodles
- Pre-made pancake mix
- Butter and cooking oil
- Energy bars
- Juice boxes
- Chocolate milk
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
Create a comfortable campsite with these optional items:
- Extra pillows and blankets
- A warm robe
- Outdoor furniture
- Campsite decorations
- A white noise machine
- Insect-repelling candles
- Shade structures
- Mosquito nets
- A sleeping mask
- Hand warmers
Though it may be more challenging than you are used to, it is possible to keep yourself and your campsite clean during your adventure.
Pack the following:
- Wet wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Body lotion
- Lip balm
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Glasses and a protective case
- Contact lenses, lens case and cleaning solution
- A hairbrush or comb
- Skincare supplies
- A nail file
- Hair ties and headbands
- Towels and washcloths
- A portable laundry hamper
- Shower needs, like soap, shampoo, conditioner, a loofa, razors and shaving cream
- Extra toilet paper for your RV or cabin
- A plastic bag for wet and dirty clothes
- Cotton swabs
- Feminine hygiene products
- A portable mirror
- A basket with a handle to carry items to and from the shower house
- Shower shoes for public restrooms
Keep your family safe and healthy these first-aid essentials:
- Bandages in a variety of sizes
- Over-the-counter pain medications
- Antibiotic cream
- Prescription medications
- Rubbing alcohol
- Disinfectant wipes
- Aloe or burn soothing gel
- Bug spray
- A thermometer
- Blister treatment
- Medical tape
- Sterile pads
- Safety pins
- Anti-nausea medicine
- Antiseptic spray
- An emergency inhaler
- Anti-itch cream
- Elastic wrap
- Eye drops
- Cough drops
- Cold medicine
- Antacid tablets
- Diarrhea medication
- Medical gloves
- A CPR mask and a first-aid manual with instructions
You might consider bringing an additional smaller, portable version of your first-aid kit as well if you plan to do any hiking or sightseeing.
Extra Safety Supplies
Here are some additional safety supplies that can be helpful in case of an emergency:
- The address and phone number for the nearest emergency room or urgent care facility
- A fire extinguisher
- A field guide with information about poisonous plants, local wildlife and bite identification
- Activity-specific safety items, like a snake bite kit or bear mace, if necessary
If your idea of a family-friendly camping trip includes the family pet, you will need the following gear:
- A durable leash
- A reflective harness
- Outdoor toys
- Food and water bowls
- Food and treats
- An LED light that attaches to your pet’s collar or harness
- A pet-specific first-aid kit that includes a snake bite kit, bandages and blood clotting powder
- Pet waste bags
- Wet wipes for easy cleanup
- A crate, if lodging in an RV or cabin
- Up-to-date vaccination records
- A current photo
- Pet tags with your contact information listed
- The phone number and address of the nearest emergency vet or pet hospital
- A pet life jacket
- Boots, coats and cold-weather essentials
Remember, while most campgrounds are pet friendly, it’s always a good idea to know how each campground handles pets. Call ahead for specific policies, regulations and restrictions.
Camping is a great time to engage in fun recreation, like swimming, horseback riding or planned outings.
Create a camping itinerary and pack the following items as needed:
- Fishing gear, including a pole, reel, tackle and bait
- Hiking supplies, like a daypack and trekking poles
- Binoculars and a birding guide
- A plant identification guide
- A kayak or canoe with paddles
- A bicycle and helmet
- A picnic basket and blanket
- A telescope
- A magnifying glass
- Beach essentials, including a cooler, chair, towel and umbrella
- Life jackets
- Outdoor lawn games
- Skis or a snowboard
- A local map and guidebook for nearby attractions
- Indoor fun for rainy days, like board games, cards, music, books and art supplies
Some campgrounds and public recreation facilities may have items available for rent or purchase. Research your options before making an investment!
Permits and Belongings
Keep these permits and belongings on your person or in another easily accessible location throughout your journey:
- Your legal ID card
- Your fishing license
- A printed version of your camping registration confirmation
- Parking passes where necessary
- Event tickets
- A copy of your RV insurance and registration
- Your car insurance and registration
- Vet papers for your pet
- Backpacking permits for hiking trips
- Reservation confirmations for events, restaurants and attractions
- Your health insurance information
- Your credit card and spare cash
- Your cell phone and charger
- A portable charging port, if needed
Child-specific supplies depend on your child’s age, needs and interests, but these items are a good place to start:
- Child-friendly first-aid supplies, like medicines, teething toys, rash cream, sunscreen and insect repellant
- An outdoor playpen
- A travel crib or bassinet
- A current photo
- Comfort items, like stuffed animals or a blanket
- Baby essentials, including diapers, lotion, soap, formula, bottles and wipes
- A sippy cup
- A no-spill snack holder
- A portable tub for bathing
- A mini tent for playing
- Scooters, bikes, skateboards or wagons
- Sidewalk chalk
- A portable high chair or booster seat
- Beach toys
- Travel games for time in the car
- Indoor toys, including coloring books, board games or a tablet
- Baby carriers, wraps, slings or backpacks
- Child-size camping chairs
- A water purifier for baby formula
- A portable changing station
- A hands-free headlamp
- A thermos full of warm water for late-night feeding
- Warm hats or sun hats
- A soft floor mat for playing on the ground
- Water guns
Kid-Approved Camping Recipes
Some crowd-pleasing camping recipes and foods for kids include:
- Grilled nut butter and jelly sandwiches
- Hot dogs over the fire
- Macaroni and cheese
- Homemade trail mix with cereal, nuts and dried fruits
- String cheese
- Crackers and chips
- Fruit juice
- Breakfast burritos
- Campfire egg scrambles
- Campfire nachos
- Loaded baked potatoes
- Campfire popcorn
- Personal campfire pizzas
For best results, let your older kids help you plan the menu, prepare cooking ingredients and play an active role in cooking and cleanup.
Packing Tips for Camping Trips
Save valuable space in your luggage with these packing tips:
- Save space in your suitcase: Roll your clothing into individual rolls and secure them with a rubber band to save space in your luggage.
- Stay organized: Use a printable checklist and make notes on it during your trip for even easier packing next time. Label bags with a name or location for easier unpacking. Start packing several days before your trip to minimize stress.
- Plan for the weather: Check the weather when planning your outfits, and always prepare for worst-case scenarios.
- Stock your camping kitchen: Create a menu for the week and shop accordingly. Label kitchen ingredients and prepare some foods — like chopping vegetables — ahead of time.
- Keep things clean: Bring plenty of bags for wet and dirty clothes. Remember less is more — pack reusable items and re-wearable clothes.
- Check firewood regulations: Do not bring your own firewood without first checking local regulations and campground rules — it is illegal or banned in many places. Most campgrounds have it available for purchase on-site.
- Last in, first out: Load your most important items — like food, toilet paper or your child’s toys — into the vehicle last, so they are the first things you unpack.
Remember, you can likely purchase some items, like fishing bait, extra ice for your cooler and some last-minute goods, at a campground store or nearby facility should you run out.
What to Look for in a Family-Friendly Campground
The following campground traits are crucial for a fun, safe camping trip for the whole family:
- On-site restrooms with hot water
- Level, spacious campsites for easy tent pitching
- Laundry facilities
- A playground for the kids
- Friendly, helpful staff
- Proximity to nearby attractions or activities
- Away from road traffic, especially if traveling with a young child or fussy sleeper
You should also consider things that are not necessary for a successful camping trip but may enhance your experience, such as:
- On-site amenities and activities, like an arcade, bike rentals or swimming pool
- A pet park and pet-friendly sites
- Electricity hookups
- Furnished cabin options for more comfortable lodging
- Amp connections for RV sites
Tips and Tricks for Camping With Kids
Family-friendly camping trips are the perfect opportunity to bond and make new memories.
These tips will help you make the experience as safe and stress-free as possible:
- Incorporate plenty of grab-and-go snacks into your camping menu for days you plan to spend away from the campsite
Bring glow sticks and other glow-in-the-dark items to keep a better eye on the kids after dark and to use as a nightlight for overnight bathroom trips.
- Use your camping trip as an opportunity to teach your kids more about the world around you, including nature lessons, outdoor classroom activities, other cultures and new experiences.
- Plan several activities and games, like scavenger hunts or camping songs and ghost stories around the campfire, to keep boredom at bay.
- Create a budget and stick to it while packing and planning activities.
- Review proper camping etiquette with your children, including quiet hours, where not to shine flashlights and how to interact with fellow campers.
- Encourage your children to see camping as an adventure. Create a countdown to help them get excited. Consider leaving electronics and cell phones at home for better bonding and less screen time.
- Teach your children the importance of throwing trash away, putting a campfire out when finished and leaving nature as you found it.
- If your children are too young for their own mini tent, get a large tent with separate rooms for more privacy and comfort.
- Carry wet wipes wherever you go for easy hand washing before meals, wiping down public surfaces and staying clean when away from the campsite.
- Practice safety rules, like swimming guidelines and campfire safety, with your children before you go.
- Ask your campground about specific rules, like restricted areas, arrival and departure times and site guidelines.
Reserve a Stay at Kampgrounds of America
KOA is the ideal place to plan your camping getaway. Every campground is safe and clean, with on-site laundry facilities, a playground and a variety of ways to stay, such as Tent Sites, RV Sites, Camping Cabins and unique lodging options. Select campgrounds feature additional amenities, like games, events, activities and pet parks. The best part is that, with nearly 500 North American locations, there is always a KOA Campground near your travel destination.
Find a KOA today and start planning the ultimate family vacation.