Family camping checklist
Remember all your family camping essentials with our round-up of the most important kit to bring for cooking, sleeping and all-round comfort on your camping trips.
Toothbrushes, tent, sleeping bags, collapsible kettle, teddy bears... there is so much to remember on a family camping trip that you often need lists of lists. To help make sure you don't arrive at your campsite without the most useful or important items, here's our round-up of camping gear that you really shouldn't leave home without.
Campsites in the UK vary enormously with regard to facilities, but most have a toilet and running water. If you're staying on an almost wild campsite, you may want to bring water supplies and even a portable shower depending on how long you're staying. If you're planning to bring more home comforts, electric hook-up will be more important to you. If your campsite allows campfires, check whether you need to bring a firepit to keep it off the ground.
Not booked yet? Consider Britain's best beach campsites.
Family camping checklist
What to pack when family camping, ranging from the critical to the optional:
Recommended: Vango Aether Air tent
If you're looking for a large family tent, this excellent air tent from Vango is easy to put up and very spacious. It's also made from recycled bottles, meaning you're taking plastic waste out of the world by buying it.
Also consider: Easy Camp Palmdale 600 Lux
For families on more of a budget, the Easy Camp Palmdale 600 lux tunnel tent offers similarly palatial interior, but is held up with fibreglass poles, more compact and considerably cheaper.
If you want to save some money, check out our round-up of the very best tent deals available now.
Recommended: Outwell Sleeping Bag Oak Lux
This comfortable, hourglass-shaped three-season sleeping bag is well designed to keep body heat firmly in on cold nights. The hood is deep and can be cinched tight, and an insulated flap at the top of the bag gives an extra layer of protection around your nose, neck and chin. It's made from 100% synthetic fill underneath, with a 50:50 blend of duck down and polyester which gives good insulation from moisture from below, and warmth above. It's also surprisingly compact when tucked into its stuff-sack – always a bonus if you have a small car.
- See more sleeping bag reviews at our piece on best three-season sleeping bags: review and buyer's guide
Recommended: Outwell Sleepin 7.5cm single self-inflating mat
Self-inflating mats are the best option for camping, being more robust, compact and simple than the £10 blow-up ones you might see in a supermarket. Kids will put any air mat through its paces on a camping trip, so it's really important to find one that can withstand being jumped on by excited eight-year-olds. The Outwell Sleepin is a sturdy choice, compact and easy to pack down. And at 7.5cm thickness, keeps the cold off explorers young and old.
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Recommended: Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Deluxe pillow
This inflatable pillow is an expensive but surprisingly comfortable luxury. Also light (at 130g) and compact enough for backpacking. Our reviewer found it most comfortable when slightly soft... the choice is yours, of course.
Recommended: Lifesystems First Aid Kit
Household admin is often hard to keep up with, which is why many parents end up with a box of plasters and a bottle of Calpol comprising the home ‘medical’ cabinet. But with all the potential injuries that camping offers, this just isn't an option when on a family trip: a decent first aid is essential. This camping first aid kit is recommended by the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, and contains more than 40 items to treat the most common camping situations, including burns, cuts, grazes, blisters and even eye injuries. Clever design features include reflective frontage so it’s quick and easy to find in low light, and internal organisation according to the Lifesystems QUICK-FIND system – where everything is stored logically and well labelled, for panicky situations. It’s this kind of manufacturing experience that makes it worth forking out for.
Cooking stove and gas cylinder (if applicable)
Recommended: Trangia Camping Stove
It’s hard not to be impressed by the Trangia stove. A clever bit of Scandinavian design, the flame sits inside a cylindrical cup, which stops it going out. It works well in most conditions, although in high winds, you will get the customary burnt thumb as you try to use your lighter. Buy it with the cookset, and there's an option to buy the ‘hard-anodised’ non-stick pans (fryer 22cm, saucepans 1.75l & 1.5l) that cook eggs, baked beans and bacon to perfection with less than a teaspoon of oil. It’s lightweight, compact and as you’d expect, stacks down into itself to offer dimensions of 22.6 x 11.4 x 22.1cm.
You can buy the version that plugs into either a spirit burner or a gas canister.
Recommended: Helinox chair 2
This robust chair folds down to a remarkably compact and lightweight size. It offers good back support, and is comfortable to sit in.
Crockery and cutlery
You don't really need to splash out on camping cutlery for a family camping trip, as your own cutlery won't take up that much more space. But if you're keen to have a dedicated camping set, there are a few options at Decathlon and Go Outdoors.
All-in-one washing liquid
Recommended: Lifesystems all-purpose soap
If space is at a premium, you’ll love this little washing solution that has multiple uses for different family situations. This biodegradable, PH balanced all-purpose soap has been tested in cold water and cleaned greasy dishes, ketchupy faces and even restored a rather sodden sleeping bag to its former glory after a not-so-little night-time accident from my little one. Tip: it’s concentrated, so you only need a tiny bit. Dilute in water for use on young skin rather than squeezing neat onto a flannel.
Recommended: Dutch oven
Ever fancied sticking your cooking pot on the wood fire and cooking directly from the flames? That is exactly what Dutch ovens are made to do. This cast-iron beauty is a wonderful addition to the outdoor cook's repertoire. This one from Canvas Tent Shop comes pre-seasoned, so you can use it directly out of the box. It has legs, so can go directly into the fire – although you may find that coals make it easier to control the heat. Please a couple of coals on the lid and you have an oven that could make bread or cakes if you want to! Highly recommended if you love cooking in the great outdoors.
Recommended: Kelly Kettle Ultimate ‘Base Camp’ kit
Like to start the day with a cuppa? The tubular Kelly Kettle could revolutionise your morning routine. Employ the children to find dry twigs while you fill it up, and place them inside the bottom tray. Place the brilliantly designed hollow kettle over the lighted twigs and behold as a hole in the side of the tray draws in oxygen, firing up the flames. The efficiency of the heat, which travels up through the middle of the kettle and out the top of the cylinder, means that the water boils in around three minutes (listen out for the whistle). You have to keep an eye on the twigs and be ready to feed it – and do not, under any circumstances, allow any member of your family to peer curiously down the top.
The Ultimate Base Camp kit comes with a sauce pan and shallower frying pan, two mugs (with measurements on the side), a small griddle, a hobo stove – for turning the base into a wood-burning stove, a pot support – which turns the kettle into a high-heat hob – and of course, the kettle.
- Read our in-depth review of the Kelly Kettle
- Best camping cookware for a fireside feast
- Camping mugs: the best collapsible, lightweight and insulated designs
Recommended: Robens Wayne grill and firepit
This brilliant firepit from Robens is the most unlikely looking firepit-grill you may ever have seen, but it has outperformed many others that I have used. It packs down into a laptop-sized carry case, which gives it a huge advantage over every other portable firepit on the market, and its clever design – with a small base and a larger grill – means the heat spreads effectively out to the whole grill area. Once you've finished your barbecue – if you're having one – lift off the grill and load it up with wood. It's stainless steel, it can handle whatever heat you throw at it.
Coolbox or coolbag
Recommended: YETI Roadie 24
It's tough, lightweight and perfectly proportioned to accommodate approximately 18 cans of beer or 10kg of ice. It's so robust that Yeti even sells a special seat cushion to turn it into a seat – available separately.
Camping tarp or awning
Recommended: High Peak tarp 2
Awnings are brilliant, but often specific to the tent you're camping in. Tarps, on the other hand, are pretty standard, tend to be cheaper, and can be adjusted to shelter you from the wind and rain coming from any direction. Want a bit of outside space in your tent? Use poles and guy lines to position it near the door. Looking for protection from rain around the campfire? You can't go wrong with long poles in the middle, short poles at the front and the back pegged to the ground – this reflects the heat back to you and keeps the chill off your neck. Plus, there's a real sense of pride in putting up a shelter yourself. The High Peak tarp (size 2) comes with two long poles, but we recommend you buy a couple of extra poles to give yourself more options.
Recommended: Symple Stuff Camping Table
If you have space in your car, a camping kitchen unit will make all the difference to your back while you're camping. This one from Campart is easy to put together and folds neatly into a bag, giving you the luxury of a sink, a windshield-protected spot for a stove, and compartments to store all your essentials. And it saves on the constant leaning over while you're cooking.
If you're planning on walking with your camping equipment on your back, consider this lightweight camping kit, which will help you shave weight from your rucksacks.
Tanya Jackson is the acting group digital editor of countryfile.com and discoverwildlife.com. She loves campfire cooking, swimming in the sea, trail running, rural folklore, barn owls and red kites, hiking with the kids and looking for signs of ancient settlements in the Wiltshire hills where she lives. Tanya also has a passion for English food and drink, and loves uncovering the stories of the land as told through local produce.