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It’s probably no secret by now- we LOVE camping as a family. We’ve been camping since our kids were itty bitty and they’ve become the best campers! I’ve been camping in some capacity most of my life- but it wasn’t until we decided to start camping as a family that I really started collecting camping gear. Now, I am pretty minimalist by nature and I DON’T think you need a ton of fancy camping gear to camp well. We started with very basic equipment (see the $2 plastic target plates, below) and slowly started upgrading to better quality items that will last us for years to come. These are my camping must-haves for easy car camping with a family.
p.s. Don’t forget to download my family camping gear checklist with clickable links!
Camp Kitchen Essentials:
- Gas Camp Stove This is the one we have used for years– but it’s out of production now- this newer version is just as affordable (only $75) and with great reviews (this is the one we’ll get once we need a new one- but ours is just fine 5 years in!). If you need a single burner, this one is great as well! Don’t forget the propane (or butane for the single burner!)
- Cast Iron Pan This is honestly one of the only truly ‘must-have’ camp cooking items, in my opinion. Cast iron pans are one of THE best investment you can make for your kitchen- not only do they cook the BEST steak, they can cook over a camp stove OR the fire (or from stovetop to oven if you’re at home).
- Cast Iron Griddle This is more of a nice-to-have, but honestly, we use this EVERY camping trip for eggs, bacon, pancakes (flat top side) to burgers and skewers (griddle side). Worth every penny!
- Small Pot(for boiling water, soups and more). A small pot is necessary if you’re heating water for coffee or hot chocolate, cooking small bags of pre-packaged grains, oatmeal or a small can of soup (for a larger amount of chili or soup I recommend a dutch oven- below!).
- Chef’s Knife (with cover) You really only need two knives- a large (protected, especially when you don’t have a good place to store it) chef’s knife and a paring knife for smaller items.
- Paring Knife
- Cutting board I like one with secured edges so you don’t have to worry about slippage.
- Mixing Bowl For mixing veggies with oil for skewers, salads and more!
- Tongs – a small set for the griddle (bacon!) or cast-iron is an essential.
- BBQ Tool Set for cooking over the fire (I recommend using an oven glove for extra safety!)
- Heat-safe spatula for scrambled eggs or sauteed veggies is a must!
- Oven Mitt or Ove Gloves
- Heavy-Duty Foil– the regular stuff does not work as well over the fire, these are essential for cooking over the fire in a cast-iron (avoid sticking) or for foil packs of veggies, veggies and meat or cooking corn!
- Heat-safe dishes and utensils I will tell you from experience, our first year of camping regularly we relied on inexpensive plastic ware from Target and it was NOT the same
- Mugs (fancy or basic)
- Meat thermometer Better safe than sorry- especially camping!
- Cooler We love our current cooler, but just upgraded to a larger one for longer trips. The more heavy-duty your cooler, the longer you’ll be able to keep food cold (important!).
Non-essentials (but really nice to have):
- Dutch Oven If you want to cook soups, stews, chilis or nachos over the fire (or camp stove)- a cast-iron dutch oven is a must- and will last you forever if you treat it well!
- Grill for fire (option 1- over fire grill or option 2- tripod and grill grate). If you want to cook primarily over the fire- you’ll want an over-fire grill (more direct heat if you’re doing skewers, etc) or a tripod with a grill grate- it’s up to you, the tripod is more indirect heat and good for things that cook slower- but the over-fire grill is great for things like skewers, hot dogs and sausages.
- Skewers– we love skewers for camping! They cook up fast and there are endless flavor combinations.
- French Press or Pour-over System and Kettle. If you’re a coffee lover like we are, a good coffee system is important for camping! We recently upgraded to the Stanley french press and LOVE it- it makes a ton of coffee and keeps it hot for hours!
- Leakproof container. This is essential to keep any moisture (not just rain, but humidity and condensation) as well as critters outside of your pantry items!
- Sea salt
- Kosher Salt
- Spice container
- Cooking oil
- Cooking spray
- Coffee (for the french press) or use pour-over packets- these are the best pour-over coffee packs we’ve found and used for years! We’ve typically just used a small pot to boil water over the camp stove, but now that we have the Stanley French Press, a camping kettle is better (it boils more water!).
Sleeping & Hanging Out:
- Tent for the grown-ups
- Tent for the kids
- Air mattress and sheets or sleeping bags for the adults
- Camp chairs
- Tablecloth for picnic table
- Dish bins
- Dish soap
- Headlamps (grown-ups and kids)
- Lantern for the kids
- Lantern for the adults
- Fire starters
- Lighter or matches
- Filtered/spring water
- Pocket knife
- First Aid Kit
Personal items (don’t forget!):
- Clothes (+ 1 pair because camping is dirty!)
- Hiking boots (these are the ones I have and love– I also loved and used these hiking boots from Merrell for 4+ years- note they do run small!)
- Hiking socks (my favorite brands are darn tough and smartwool)
- Flip flops for the beach or lake (or around camp- cros work great, too as they’re easy to hose off!).
- Rain coat or poncho
- Beach towels
- Blanket for the beach or lake
- Life Jackets if you’ll be boating
- Face wipes
- Bug Spray (favorite natural and favorite heavy duty)
- Water Bottles (favorite water bottle for adults/favorite for kids– they also have thermos brand and love it)
- Water bottle slings (these are game-changers for kids and grown-ups for hands-free nature walks)