Photo: Mark Bowden via 123RF

Camping as a family can seem daunting—kids need so much stuff, don’t they? With a bit of careful planning, however, you can easily take a late summer trip and enjoy each other’s company away from the demands of daily life.

On a camping trip, you can adjust many things last minute as you relax and go with the flow. However, having the essentials makes it much easier to enjoy your time together as a family. Here’s everything you need to pack for a stress-free trip into nature with your family.

Large Item Must-Haves

Investing in some high-quality camping gear can help make your trip easier and more pleasant. Having equipment that’s rated for cooler weather can make a big difference, especially in late summer when the temperatures start to drop.

  • Water! Enough for your planned trip plus 5 gallons extra (and individual water bottles)
  • Tent with rain fly and heavy stakes  
  • Sleeping bags rated for cold enough temperatures
  • Sleeping pads 
  • Camping chairs    
  • Camping table and/or tablecloth for campground structures
  • Two tarps (one under tent, one for placing muddy items) 
  • Portable stove and propane
  • Wood/charcoal for fires

Safety Equipment

Safety is your first priority on a family camping trip. You want to relax and have fun knowing that you’ve packed everything to keep your family healthy. Safety here includes a wide range of wellness essentials.

  • Medications (prescription and usual over-the-counter remedies for your family)
  • Sunscreen and bug spray
  • Whistles
  • First aid kit (one that includes tweezers, gauze, tape, and alcohol swabs)
  • Flashlights, headlamps, and lanterns
  • Buckets to douse fires with water
  • Bathroom essentials, including hand sanitizer
  • Bags to store food up high (if required for bear prevention)
  • Downloaded or printed map of the area

Photo: welcomia via 123RF

Proper Clothing

Packing proper gear for a late summer/early fall camping trip is essential. You don’t want to lose sleep because everyone is too cold! For this trip, layers are most important. Overnight and early morning will be cold, while the late afternoon will likely be very warm. For everyone in the family, have the following:

  • Wind/rain jacket
  • Heavy sweatshirt
  • Winter hat and thick socks
  • Sunhat
  • Shorts/lightweight pants
  • Lightweight shirts
  • Undergarments (extra socks!)
  • Two layers for sleeping
  • Hiking boots, sandals (for wearing around the campsite)

Food, Food, Food

Keeping everyone happy on a camping trip often comes down to having plenty of tasty snacks. Plan ahead for easy meals that you can cook on a portable stove and/or over the campfire, keeping in mind that leftovers are much more challenging to keep when you’re not at home. Using ingredients for multiple meals/snacks can make your packing and shopping easier, too. And don’t forget the other kitchen tools you’ll need. Some ideas for cooking and food are below.

  • Wash basin and rag
  • Trash bags
  • Snacks for day hikes and activities
  • Coffee/tea/hot chocolate and kettle for boiling water
  • Cooking and eating utensils
  • Aluminum foil for cooking in the fire
  • Breakfast/lunch/dinner (at least one of each meal that doesn’t need cooking in case there are fire restrictions or your stove doesn’t work)
  • Cooler with drain plug

Games and Activities

The great thing about being outdoors is that you don’t need to bring much from home to create entertainment—the natural world around you is the playground! But there are a few items that can make the time spent camping more enjoyable for everyone. You’ll also be glad you have some indoor games if your day ends up too rainy for exploration.

  • Buckets and shovels for dirt play
  • Binoculars for scavenger hunts
  • Deck of cards
  • Ring toss or bean bag toss (portable and easy to set up versions)
  • Book of scary campfire stories (know your audience and choose something more playful for kids who are too scared)
  • Glow sticks for nighttime fun
  • Musical instruments
  • Guidebooks for local plants and wildlife
  • Items for water play in nearby rivers and lakes
  • Portable speakers with downloaded music

With some careful planning, you can have a fun camping trip to end summer and welcome fall as a family.