Whether you’re organising a weekend away, a multi-week trip up the coast or your own Big Lap, packing requirements will invariably differ. One thing that won’t change is the fact that it always pays to plan ahead. Read on for some packing points to consider.
Consider the distance of the campground from your home. Planning a camping trip is different to planning a holiday in Bali — for starters, you will not be flying because of all the equipment you need to bring!
Taking a long road trip will work for some families, but if you are not ready to brave one then choose a campground a little closer to home. How old your kids are, and how they handle the car, will play a role in determining how far you’re willing to drive. This will also determine food and snack requirements for the road trip (more on this later).
Think also about the available space in your vehicle and caravan, taking into account roof racks and pods as well as bike racks. Decide what are the ‘must-haves’ and what can stay at home. Even though you don’t want to forget anything, you also don’t want to overpack as this will just result in a crammed vehicle with less space for essentials and too much ‘stuff’ to keep track of once you’re on the road.
Sleeping under the stars is like nothing else, but it does come with risks. From sunburn to insect bites and everything in between, camping with kids has potential for tears. Be prepared by making sure you have an up-to-date first aid kit packed.
While you’re thinking about medical emergencies, throw in some adaptable charging cables for your phone, matches in a waterproof container, a spare torch with extra batteries, sunscreen and repellent. A hot tip, pack a roll or two of duct tape. It has multiple uses in that it can repair your tent or hold up a washing line, but also hold bandages together in an emergency.
Is there running water at your site? This is a big one as you need water for drinking, washing dishes and possibly showering. If there’s no running water, you will need to bring your own in. Always bring more than you think you will need.
Plan meals before you leave for your trip. This will allow you to do any prep work in advance instead of while you’re on holiday, making your time away much more relaxing.
Ensure you pack the right amount of food for the length of time you’ll be away. Too much and it will spoil, not enough and you’ll get, well, hungry. Check whether you’ll be able to top up your food supply once at your destination — if not, you will need to pack enough for the entire trip.
Include food and snacks for the road trip in your food calculations and make sure these are easily accessible, so you are not pulling off the highway every time someone complains that they’re hungry.
Decide how you are going to cook your main meals and pack any equipment you’ll require for this. You could bring a campfire grill, campfire jaffle maker and aluminium foil to utilise cooking over an open fire — as long as there isn’t a fire ban!
You can involve the kids and make mealtimes a family activity. In saying that, if your kids prefer to eat cereal, watermelon, hot dogs and marshmallows every day, don’t over-complicate things — just bring what you need. Throw in camping plates, cups and cutlery, cookware if you are using a gas stove, spare Tupperware containers and some tea towels.
Invest in some storage containers that you can use to store food, camping equipment, or any other items you are bringing. This keeps your items clean and organised, and keeps insects and potential animal intruders out.
If you’re on a budget, some large clear plastic containers with fitted lids from Bunnings or Target will do the job, and you can easily see what’s in each container before you go rummaging around in search of a muesli bar. Bonus, you can keep your camping gear stored in these after your trip so it’s ready to go for next time.
Getting a good night’s rest is all-important while camping as it prepares you for the next day’s adventures. It’s the same story for your kids, so make sure you pack everything they (and you) need to nod off. Things to think about include bedding and pillows, pyjamas, night-time nappies or waterproof fitted sheets (if required), battery-operated night lights, bedside torches for middle-of-the-night toilet missions and any must-have teddies, bunnies or blankies — trust me, you do not want to forget these! If your little one is using dummies, pack a truckload of these.
Pay attention to the amenities offered by your campsite and/or on the road. If there are public showers and toilets available, you only need to bring towels and toiletries. If there are no showers you may need to consider bringing a portable camping shower and possibly a large bucket if you have small children — this can double as a washing up tub. If you’re only going away for a weekend you may prefer to just embrace the dirt or use baby wipes.
If you’re camping waterside you can freshen up by simply going for a swim, providing it’s safe to do so and you ditch the soap (it can contaminate the water). Bring a big bottle of hand sanitiser and keep it in a location where it is readily accessible to everyone (except small children who might think it could be tasty to drink).
Think about what you need to pack to keep the kids entertained while you are away. Big ticket items like trikes, bikes, surfboards, bodyboards, kayaks and fishing rods are fun but will take up a lot of space, so choose wisely. It’s a good idea to pack some activities for wet weather or just chilling out such as Lego and magnetic tiles, books and colouring books. Bring some activities to keep the kids entertained in the car, too. Things like iPads, audio books and card games can double up as camping activities once you reach your destination. If your kids are going to be up late and in the dark, glowsticks are a great way to keep track of them — they can wear them like a necklace, bracelet or anklet and they’re easy to spot. Plus, they’re loads of fun and a great way to keep them entertained.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, just remember that camping is an activity in itself for kids, you don’t need to overthink it. Sometimes the best activities are the simple ones — swimming in a waterhole, catching bugs, gathering kindling for a campfire and toasting marshmallows.
You’re obviously going to check the forecast, but make sure you pack clothes for all kinds of weather as Mother Nature can be unpredictable. Kids also invariably get dirty, wet and muddy when camping so extra clothes will always come in handy! Think layers rather than bulky jackets (unless you actually need them) and don’t forget some bags for wet and dirty clothes. If your kids are old enough, consider allowing them to pack their own clothes. You can always check their packing if you’re worried but letting them arrive at the campsite without a few (not too essential) items could be a great learning experience and they might take better care when packing next time.
Check in advance whether your campsite allows campfires and, if so, if they are prohibited during any times of the year. Find out if fire pits are provided, need to be booked or need to be brought in. Camping grounds that allow fire pits to be brought in usually have fairly strict specifications on these so make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to find a suitable one. You will also need to check if firewood is provided or whether you need to bring your own. Don’t forget the firelighters and matches!
This is the stuff that can easily get forgotten when you are focussing on packing for kids, but it’s critical to have the proper equipment with you to ensure a safe and enjoyable camping experience. Think about items such as camping chairs, a fold-up table, travel clothesline, extension cord, axe, spare batteries, headlamps (you can also get fun kids’ versions), citronella candles, bin bags and camping lanterns.
A camping checklist will streamline your packing process and set your mind at ease that nothing has been forgotten. If you are a seasoned camper, you may already have your own master copy that you work from. If you need a little inspiration, there are a plethora of camping checklists you can download online and print off — pick one that resonates with you and tweak as needed.
Last but not least, remember that camping is meant to be fun! Planning and good organisation go a long way towards making a camping trip enjoyable but keep it simple and as easy for yourself as possible. At the end of the day, kids just want to play outside, get dirty, eat treats, and stay up late, and that’s what camping is all about.