☐ Tent – We take our largest tent when car camping, or even more than one tent, so that the kids can have privacy. (Wink Wink). We also pack one old cheap beater tent that we let the kids play in all day…this way they are not in and out of the tent we are sleeping in bringing in bugs and dirt etc.
☐ Cots or good ground pads. On trips longer than 5 days, we take cots for everyone in the family, but for shorter trips, we make due with ground pads. Note: don’t bother buying an expensive inflatable ground pad for kids under 10 years old, as they WILL pop it. Just pick up a rolling or folding foam pads for about $20 each.
☐ Tarps (at least 2), rope, bungees, retractable poles, etc. Buy the biggest bundle of bungees you can find. You will use one tarp under your tent to protect your tent, and another for shade/weather protection around the campsite. We never set up exactly the same way, which is part of the fun of camping, but the pictures above give you a few ideas for how we have set up at different sites.
☐ Sleeping bags - for car camping, we always bring several extra sleeping bags in case it gets cold, (especially if you have cheaper sleeping bags). There is nothing more debilitating than being cold all night long, or going to bed in a wet sleeping bag. Adults know enough to keep their bag off the sides of the tent in the rain, but kids can forget. It is nice that when you are car camping, you can have a few extra bags just in case.
☐ Buckets (2) - for gathering water, washing dishes, etc. We usually put a basic set of tools needed in these buckets including a hatchet, rubber mallet, hammer, small box of nails, bungees, etc.
☐ Large Potable Water Jug - We never travel with less than 5 gallons of water, which gives us a lot of flexibility if we have trouble finding a proper campsite for the night.
☐ Tool Kit - Craig keeps a reasonably sized toolkit in the truck. Wrenches, screwdrivers, air pump, chisels, handsaw, etc. You never know...
☐ Hammocks - Notice the plural use of the word. If you have more than one child, do yourself a favor and bring more than one hammock.
☐ Cooler - We love camping, a lot. We have lived for 3 years out of a cooler, and driven across the country twice, tent camping the whole way with a family of 5. We have a small $50 Coleman Cooler. It works fine. If you have and extra $400, I say spend it on white water rafting, zip-lining or something else fun…your kids are not making memories based upon how many days your cooler kept ice cold for. If you are lugging a cooler that large, clearly you are somewhere where you can hop in the car and buy more ice.
☐ Folding Table/Folding Chairs - For longer car trips, we always bring these along, (except for trips of 3 days or less), especially if we will be camping at undeveloped sites with no picnic tables.
☐ Camp Stove or Charcoal, Fire Starters, Matches - OK...moment of truth. The Modern Nomad Family just bought our first camp stove a few months ago - still haven't used it. We ALWAYS cook over a wood fire. We carry one small package of charcoal, and use 3-4 briquettes as fire starters, and then put wood over it until we have a great fire going. (We also bring a few homemade wax/lint/cardboard fire starters along, just in case). In fact, the first time we went across the country, a friend insisted we bring their two-burner propane stove with us, and we carried that stove and the fuel along the entire trip and never used it once. The lesson we learned, only bring the equipment you are comfortable with! In my opinion, I am going to start a campfire eventually, why not just cook over the same fire. (We do not cook over the charcoal, much too expensive...we just use a little to get a fire started quickly).
☐ Kitchen Gear - Less is more! The beauty of camping, is the simplicity of it. Don't bring 5 knives! Bring 1 good Swiss Army knife, and make do with it for everything! You need a skillet, a pot for boiling or reheating pre-made chili or soup. (Our favorite: we make it ahead of time at home, and put in in mason jars in the cooler. After a long day of playing in the woods, we just heat it up!) We have one cutting board, but often I don't bother using it, I just cut on a plate. Our essential kitchen kit contains: 8 enamel plates, bowls and mugs, real silverware, a wood spoon, a wooden spatula, cast iron pot and pan, hot dog/marshmallow skewers, swiss army knife, salt, pepper, oil, sugar, powdered milk, tin foil, zip lock bags, garbage bags, small mason jars with laundry soap and dish soap, washcloths, dishtowels, clothesline, vinyl table cloth and clips to hold it down and the most important item, a french press for making coffee.
☐ Snack Bin - This is key if you are traveling with children. Go to Aldi's before you trip and buy a bunch of your favorite healthy snack foods that don't require refrigeration. Take everything out of the boxes and put it all in one clear bin. We keep this bin in the front seat of the car. You will not regret it.
☐ First Aid/Medical Kit - This is not a place to skimp. When camping, the risk of getting hurt is higher, and your access to healthcare is diminished. Sure, band aids are great for a scrape, but please MAKE SURE you have a decent supply of large gauze and a few ace bandages in case of a more serious injury. We have twice had to use these materials to help others that were camping nearby. In fact, the one older woman cut her leg so badly, the large gauze was not big enough--- I had to cover the injury with a sanitary napkin. Now I always keep a few in the Medical Kit for this purpose.
☐ Clothes, Towels and Personal Items - Each person in out family gets one bath towel and one beach towel. If they choose not to hang it up to dry, not my problem. We color coordinate EVERYTHING in out family, and each person has a color. Dad is blue, Mom is green, oldest daughter red, then purple, then orange. Now if I see a water bottle, toothbrush, sleeping bag, toiletry kit, headlamp, flashlight, backpack, clothing bag, pillow( you name it...we color code everything) laying around, I know immediately who the slob is.
☐ Pillows...you are car camping, be happy...bring the pillow! Just make sure to color code them so that if Little Johnny leaves his on the ground in the mud, you don't get stuck sleeping on it! Our family motto is: "PADDLE YOUR OWN CANOE!" This is a metaphor for everything we do, from actual paddling, to keeping track and taking care of your own belongings!