Family Camping Essentials List

Seattle Sundries

I was recently reading a blog post that asked for readers’ suggestions for the most essential camping supplies.  It got me pondering this year’s plans, which is a regular January occurrence for me. 

Seattle Sundries

 I'm the towhead sitting on my dad's lap, 1972. Mom's tending the fire and  Granny's having a tasty camping bevy.

I grew up camping with my family and now it's a mainstay of vacations with my own husband and three kids.  We have "car camped" (we don't hike in with all our gear) all along, even when each of the kids was a very small infant.  We all love it.  It is, bar none, my favorite family activity.  It’s really more enjoyable when you’re prepared though, so here’s my list of what to remember…


  • good quality, compact tent
  • sleeping mats
  • sleeping bags
  • pillows
  • screen tent to put over the eating/cooking area if bugs are a problem (we don't always end up using this, but we're sure glad we have it when we do)
  • comfortable chairs for sitting around the fire

Cooking Items (camping is a culinary adventure):

Campsite Organizing:

  • small wisk broom
  • tablecloth (there’s often too much bird poop on the picnic tables for my taste)
  • garbage bags
  • dish washing basin (just a large food storage bin that’s handy transport for our dishtowels and cleaning supplies)
  • hatchet
  • matches
  • newspaper for starting fires
  • bungee cords (to make a towel drying line and hang the garbage bag up high in a tree, away from critters…also the kids like to make forts out of blankets hung between trees)

Miscellaneous Items:

  • telescoping marshmallow sticks
  • propane lantern
  • glow sticks (these act as dim nightlights for the kids when hung up in the tent so that they don't get too scared and so we don't accidentally step on each other if we have to get up in the night to use the bathroom)
  • pocket knives (for whittling stuff)
  • flashlights or headlamps
  • picnic blanket (for the beach or napping on mossy knolls)
  • cards
  • Scrabble
  • bug spray
  • sunscreen
  • Benadryl
  • bee sting kit
  • first aid kit
  • washcloths and hand towels (for cleaning dirty kid faces and feet when they get their pajamas on for bed)

This list probably sounds a little type A psycho in its detail, but we've been tweaking it for years.  There’s nothing like needing a first aid kit and not having one to enlighten your future packing.  We keep most of these items on two shelves in our garage so that they can easily be grabbed and packed in the car.  We're able to set up camp and break camp very quickly, leaving lots of time for hikes, crabbing, cooking and hanging out.  Now is actually a great time to find deals on gear and get ready for the warmer weather to roll in.  If you camp in Washington, I’d also like to recommend our favorite guide book for choosing where to go: Camping Washington: The Best Public Campgrounds for Tents and RVs--Rated and Reviewed by Ron Judd.  It has never steered us wrong.

Do you use essential items that I didn’t list?  I’d love to get some new tips.

Happy camping! 

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