When my wife and I were only two, we used to be back country campers. We traveled light and brought only what we could logistically carry in our backpacks. Now that we two have become four including our two young sons, our camping is mainly focused around family car camping which is very different and requires different equipment. Here are the 6 essentials I’d recommend based on my experience out in the woods and what I’ll need knowing transportation back to civilization is only a few feet away.
- Gimme shelter – Choose a tent built for more people than you intend to go camping with. This will give you a little extra room and somewhere to keep some of your gear in case it rains. Also my kiddos sleep like little tornadoes, if yours do too this will give you a bit extra room so you’re less likely to take a foot to the face while you’re sleeping.
- Nighty, night – It’s time to throw away that big, ugly rectangular sleeping bag you have to stuff into an army duffel bag. There are far better and more efficient models available. I highly recommend a bag that is at least rated to 20° F as we all know how quickly the weather can change here in the Northeast. They also stuff small enough now so they take up only a fraction of space in your trunk. I also recommend a sleeping pad, which adds just a bit of cushion so you don’t get a rock or root jabbing in your ribs. Your back will thank me later.
- Feed me! – For foods to eat, I usually recommend stuff that doesn’t have to be refrigerated but still provides enough punch to keep little bellies feeling full. Stuff like pasta for dinner, pancake mix for breakfast, etc. Don’t forget the S’mores supplies for the campfire and coffee is necessary for the morning…even if you have to resort to instant.
- Whatcha got cookin’? – Speaking of all that yummy campfire food, you’re going to need something to cook it all with. When I was backpack camping I had a great little jet boil stove which was great for one or two but when you need to feed a posse, there are few stoves that can beat a good old fashioned two-burner stove like your parents possibly used when you were a kid. There are swankier options available but why mess with a good thing? Most two-burner stoves use propane and light quick so you can have multiple pots going at once. Speaking of pots and pans, you only need to bring a few with you. A pot to boil water big enough for pasta, a saucepan good enough for sauce or oatmeal and a griddle or frying pan for pancakes should do it.
- Let there be light! – There are lots of bright camp lights out there, but bright lights also attract bugs and moths. So I usually stick with the light from the campfire at night as the fire will help keep the bugs away. Inevitably, kids do like to run around to catch fireflies and don’t forget there are those necessary expeditions to the campground bathroom as well. So for that, headlamps are a requirement. I usually make sure everyone has his or her own headlamp with fully charged batteries. Then I have an extra headlamp with extra batteries tucked away…just to be safe.
- Ouchies – Kids trip on roots and skin their knees, bugs bite, bee’s sting, etc. The great outdoors comes with bumps and bruises so be sure to bring along a first-aid kit. It doesn’t have to be a huge one, just a small fully stocked first aid kit will do and you can buy them pre-made. Additionally make sure to pack sunscreen to keep your skin protected from the sun’s harmful rays and a good bug spray to keep the bloodsuckers at bay.