Car Camping with Kids Checklist

Getting out of the door when camping can seem pretty overwhelming. The to-do list is LONG and you will always, ALWAYS forget that ONE thing that you can’t live without (Toothbrush anyone?).

Well, at Tales of a Mountain Mama, we spend a LOT of time packing, unpacking, repacking, sorting, and organizing gear. We can tell you it’s WAY easier to pack for a trip when you keep your gear cleaned, packed, and ready for the next adventure!

Looking for a packing list for your RV? Get ours here!

We’ve done the hard work for you, and put together all our favorite items in this car camping with kids checklist.

A camping van is set up in a wooded setting.

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Get the Car Camping with Kids Checklist

Of course, you don’t have to have every single piece of gear on this list. But these are the items we keep at the ready. We keep bins full of gear in our garage or closets, ready to go. Then we can grab what we need for an adventure at a moment’s notice, or even better: just put the whole bin in the car!

You can print our free camping list, laminate it, and store it alongside your camping gear for easy re-use!

Camp Kitchen Gear

There’s nothing worse than getting to camp, realizing you forgot to pack a cook pot, matches, or your stove (We’ve forgotten ALL of these at one point or another). By keeping all your cooking gear in ready-to-grab storage bins, you’ll make sure you don’t forget the all-important items you can’t live without!

Also be sure to check out our post, Family Camping Made Easy, for even more tips beyond what to pack.

Cooking Gear:

This list has some obvious items, like a stove, spatula and marshmallow sticks… but don’t forget the all-important coffee press! We are partial to GSI’s Outdoor Java Press, so you don’t have to rely on instant coffee!

If you are going to be cooking on an open fire, make sure to pack some gloves and a campfire grate, as well as your cast iron dutch oven.

A family roasts marshmallows around a campfire.

Dining Kit:

  • Plates
  • Bowls
  • Mugs
  • Water Bottles
  • Sippy Cups
  • Forks, Knives, Spoons, Sporks
  • Picnic Blanket or Tablecloth

While paper plates are certainly easier when it’s time to clean up, we encourage you to be environmentally friendly and cut down on the amount of waste you are creating, when you are able to (read: when your partner is along to help with dishes)! Go with reusable cutlery, water bottles, and dishes.

Washing Kit:

We keep our dish soap, sponges, and anything that gets wet in a little mesh lingerie bag. Just hang it up in a tree after washing, and it air-dries to keep the funk to a minimum. Bonus: By hanging up, it won’t get pine needles, grime and sand on it, and it will be all ready for the next round of dishes!

Food Prep and Storage:

  • Metal Skewers
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Firestarter
  • 2-3 Empty Tupperware Containers
  • Ziploc Baggies
  • Egg Holder (an empty water bottle also works great if you pre-crack your eggs)
  • Instant Coffee and Teabags (emergency stash!)
  • Salt + pepper shakers
  • Spice Jars (cinnamon, seasoning salt, Italian seasoning, etc)
  • Tabasco or Sriracha
  • Olive oil
  • Cooking Spray
  • Trash Bags
  • Paper Towels
  • (2) 55-Quart Coolers – check out our Best Coolers for Camping!

Keep an extra cooler for dry goods and keep it pre-loaded with MVPs like extra coffee, ziplocs and tupperware for leftovers. Bonus: The hard-sided cooler will keep pests like mice and birds out of your food at camp.

We keep our spices pre-packed in spice jars, to save time when packing food. We always keep oil or cooking spray in our bins, because there is literally nothing worse than forgetting and having all your food stick to the pans for the entire weekend.

Make sure to check out our Family Camping Meal Plan!

A campground setup including a few large tents and a shelter.

Car Camping Gear

It’s easy to keep all your kitchen gear together, but it gets a little easier to forget things when it comes to camping gear. Here’s the gear we keep in storage bins to make sure we don’t forget the little things!

Camp MVPs:

This is probably THE most important bin/kit out of everything else on this list. Don’t leave home without the toilet paper, sunscreen, bug spray, or first aid kit!!

Pro storage tip: Wrap half a roll of duct tape around a water bottle you keep for camping. Then you won’t have to lug around a whole roll, but you will always have enough for an emergency fix of jacket holes, tent holes, shoe issues, blisters, broken utensils, etc.

Two boys play a card game at a campsite.

Hydration Kit:

Depending on where you are camping, you may need to bring or filter your own water. Even in a campground with full amenities, we still like to pack a Dromedary or a refillable water jug for water storage. That way we aren’t running to the spigot every time we need to fill a water bottle, and we aren’t wasting money buying gallon jugs of water.

Light Kit:

The contents of your light kit totally depend on your personal preferences and where you are camping! For car camping, we love having a string of solar lights on the tents. It is less intrusive light than a full lantern, but provides pleasant ambiance for nighttime story-telling or games.

Another fun lighting idea is to bring glow sticks! They can make it easier and more comfortable for kids in the dark, whether in tents as nightlights or around the site.

A young boy walks between two camping tents.

Sleeping Gear for Camping and Large Items

Not everything can be stored in the garage. No garage on the planet is mouse-proof, and it would be a shame to have a little rodent making a nest in your nice, warm sleeping bag. There’s also issues with mildew, mold, and insects, depending on where you live. Store these items indoors:

Sleeping Gear:

Sleeping bags should be stored in their mesh bags, or hung up in a closet. If they are stored compressed, they will lose their loft over time. Losing their loft means they won’t keep you as warm at night!

It’s not a bad idea to include a few extra blankets as well. Sometimes nights can surprise you with how chilly they feel. Also, sleeping bags should be rated 10 degrees warmer than the low temperature on your trip.

Large Camping Items:

Usually these are too big, or used too often to go into your main camping storage… but they are just as important! Bikes can be great entertainment for kids in a developed campground. Some campgrounds allow hammocks and some don’t, so be sure to check local regulations.

Three girls play happily in a camping hammock.

Camping Clothing and Toiletries

Now obviously, this list is entirely dependent on where you are camping, the weather forecast, and the length of your trip. BUT, hopefully it will give you a basic checklist to help you get started with your packing!

Basic Camping Clothing:

Basic Camping Toiletries:

  • Contacts/Glasses
  • Sunglasses
  • Tooth Paste
  • Toothbrush
  • Brush
  • Extra Hair Elastics
  • Q-Tips
  • Deodorant
  • Body Wipes
  • Regular Medications
  • Diapers/Wipes/Cream

Family Car Camping

Camping as a family is a great way to explore the outdoor world around you and experience new joys as a family. We hope this list makes your car camping trip just a little easier! What are some of your family’s car camping staples?

Related Posts:

This free car camping packing list is perfect to help you make sure you can focus lesson packing and more on just having fun. We've taken the advice of 20 families and made sure you won't forget anything!

Car Camping with Kids Checklist

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  • Ginny has spent her career focused on getting people outside; working with the Park Service, Forest Service, Student Conservation Association and Keystone Science School, as well as spending a decade in the outdoor retail industry. She practices what she preaches, so can usually be found outside: downhill and cross-country skiing in the winter and hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, riding her dual-sport motorcycle, running, and SUPing in the summer. She has lived in Washington, Colorado, and currently lives in Montana with her husband, 2-year old son, and awesome trail dog.

2 thoughts on “Car Camping with Kids Checklist”

  1. I love this list! Thank you! Brings back memories of my childhood and makes me what to resort some of my current bins. Keep on adventuring!


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