What to Buy For A Camping Trip If You’ve Never Gone Camping
My family went camping every year starting when I was seven years old. I thought my parents just really loved camping, but as an adult, I realize that there are other perks to camping trips.
For one thing, camping is usually more affordable than staying in a hotel and eating in restaurants. It also is a great way for a family to spend time together with no screens (although when I was a kid, there were far fewer screens). All I knew as a kid was that camping was super fun and even on bad trips (I once had food poisoning on a camping trip), I still remember having fun.
I couldn’t wait to take my own kids on a camping trip. Since my husband wasn’t a fan of camping, I found a great alternative near Santa Barbara – yurt camping at Cachuma Lake.
Since it was our first family trip and everything my parents had for camping was at least 30 years old, we were starting from scratch. It isn’t cheap starting from scratch but everything is usable for years to come.
Family Camping Essentials
If you want to take your family on a camping trip, here is your must-have list. We went camping with a 7 year old and 3 year old and these are the items we used during our trip and are saving for our upcoming trip.
I will admit here that I’m really not very eco-friendly on our camp sites. We use disposable plates, cups and utensils to make clean up easier. I also don’t cook a true breakfast (think cereal or croissants) and our lunches and dinners are simple and don’t require a skillet.
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- Tent: Duh, this is somewhat a given, although we actually do not have a tent. Since we camped in a yurt, it wasn’t necessary. That being said, my family had two Coleman tents that we literally used every year for at least 10 years, so I know that is a durable brand.
- Coolers: I recommend bringing two coolers – one for drinks and snacks and one for uncooked food. We have two large Coleman coolers that we’ve used since before we were married for parties, so we just took those coolers.
- Sleeping Bags and Blankets: You’ll need a nice warm sleeping bag for every member of your family. I also purchased a few cheap blankets for the evenings when we were sitting around the fire. I suppose we could have taken our own, but I really didn’t want to risk them getting ruined. Camping tip – I brought an old comforter plastic zipper bag to store the sleeping bags and our towels in so that they would stay clean when my kids were playing in the yurt.
- Storage Tub: I had read a camping tip that suggested getting a Rubbermaid tub for your kitchen supplies. I have to say, it was a great tip! I kept everything related to meals in the tub and we kept it outside our yurt. Whenever it was time to cook or eat, we just grabbed what we needed from the tub. Everything was dry and clean. The best part? It is now completely packed for the next trip, stored in our garage.
- Cooking Supplies: I don’t do a ton of cooking while camping, so I bought the bare minimum. I purchased a small single burner Coleman Butane Stove (mainly to heat water for coffee and canned beans) and a small portable camping cooking set (which I really didn’t need since I only used a small saucepan). I brought our own barbecue tools like tongs and aluminum foil. Camping tip – Find out if your campsite sells butane and wood so that you can buy them there, rather than travel with them. I bought butane at a camping store and it ended up costing the same as the campground price.
- Safety Gear: I bought a Coleman camping lantern to use inside the yurt. It also became a necessity for our walks to the bathroom at night since the campsites are dark. We also took three flashlights that we already had at home. Again, they were critical for evening walks to the bathroom. Bug spray is also a necessity, particularly at night. Of course, sunscreen and hats are critical during the day.
- Camping Fun Stuff: I was determined that we would have zero screen time on our camping trip so I had to prepare ahead. I found a Badminton set at a local discount store, along with water guns and sand supplies. I also bought a plastic baseball bat set and bowling set. The trip was a success. My kids never thought to ask for a tablet and we pretty much played all day. The biggest hit was the water guns since it was fairly hot on our second day there and we couldn’t use the pool since my youngest wasn’t potty trained.
- Camping Luxuries: A friend told me that she always buys several cheap table cloths from and tarps from the Dollar Store. These were great to have! The campsite tables were pretty gross so it was nice to have them covered. The tarps were also great to give my kids somewhere to sit, other than the floor!
If you want to splurge on a few extras, here are some items that will make your family just a bit more comfortable.
- Air Mattress or Foam Pads: My parents had an air mattress that was just theirs. This was old-school, where you had to pump it with your foot. I’ve also seen camping hacks where people use those foam mats for playrooms to pad the floor.
- Coffee Percolator: We took instant coffee packets and boiled water every morning, which was fine, but if you want good coffee, get a coffee percolator.
- Chairs: You need somewhere to sit when you’re hanging out by the fire. I picked up some camping folding chairs for my husband and I and smaller versions for the boys.
These basics will get your family through your first camping trip. Of course, there are tons of other supplies you can buy to make your trip more comfortable, but if it’s your family’s first time, I recommend waiting to see if everyone likes camping first!