I know, I recently admitted that our recent trip to Fintry Provincial Park was the first family tent camping trip in over three years, but I still have a tent camping essentials list. Family tent camp isn't much different that Girl Guide Tent Camping, except of course there are a lot fewer people on your site and way fewer rules.
If you're thinking about venturing out into tent camping with your family, here is my top ten must haves to help you get started. Just a note, most of our gear and several of the items listed here are from Coleman - it's a brand we trust, it's affordable, durable and pretty easy to find at most camping and department stores.
1. A tent
This is pretty obvious but it's number one on the list anyway and mostly just to let you know that you don't need to go to the high end expensive camping store to get a great long lasting tent. Over 10 years ago we bought our first tent from Canadian Tire, its a Coleman tent and we bought it solely because of the brand and that brand trust has paid off. It's held up through several years of camping as a couple, then as a family of three, Girl Guide Camps, and most recently back to family, plus one large hyper active dog.
2. Sleeping System - sleeping bag and sleeping mat of some sort
Here's where you might want to invest a little bit of money - get a good sleeping bag. It's great to be warm and if you are too warm in the bag you can unzip it. You know what you can't do in a sleeping bag in the middle of the night when you get cold? Get warm again. Test out the bag, make sure it's comfortable, has a temperature range that works for you, and invest in a good one. Couple the bag with a good sleeping pad. My current sleeping arrangement is a good sleeping bag, a therm-a-rest and then another common blue mat underneath just for some extra padding, because I can.
I like our Coleman propane lantern, but if you're not a fan of the propane lantern, look for a large battery operated one. Maybe get both - one for outside the tent and one for inside (battery only in the tent please)
Standard Propane Lantern
Battery Operated Lantern -great for in the tent and for people unsure of lighting propane lanterns.
4. Coffee Maker
Two options here - the first is the classic percolator. Camp Coffee truly is best when made in a percolator. The other option is a propane powered coffee maker. We have both and both devices come with us camping. I'd stick to just having perc'ed coffee but our stove only has one burner and sometimes other people want not-coffee.
Possibly the best camping invention EVER. Propane coffee maker.
5. Clothes Pins and rope. Lots of rope.
Two interconnected items that can be used in the classic way (clothes line) or for more creative measures - holding tent flaps closed if your zipper breaks (clothes pins), dog leash (rope), you name it you can probably create it with rope and clothes pins.
A must have. It can be a rain or sun shelter (when used with rope mentioned above), as a ground sheet if your tent floor leaks, you can it on it, use it as a lean to if you forget #1 on the list.
7. Folding Chairs
Yes, your campsite will have a picnic table (in a commercial tent site anyway). But it will be cemented to the ground, placed a safe distance from the campfire and generally uncomfortable. A lightweight fold able camp chair is the ticket to comfort at your site. Plus it's easy to take with you to the beach when your kid wants to swim.
An old picture but shows the usefulness of a folding chair - great spot to have breakfast and hide from the camera.
8. Dollar Store Beach Mat
We always have at least one of these to place outside the tent as a place to take your shoes on and off. It prevents a lot of extra dirt from entering the tent.
9. A good quality cooler with lots of ice.
Make sure your cooler is big enough to hold everything for your camping trip and if possible organize food for meals together in the same spot of the cooler. This will minimize the amount of time you need to open it and slow down the ice melt. Make your own ice by freezing water from home in reusable containers (like water bottles) as the ice melts you'll have a steady supply of fresh drinking water.
10. Games & Activities to keep kids active
Part of camping is some serious family bonding time. We're huge fans of playing card and word games at camp. They are easy to set up, easy to adapt for all ages, and easy to put away or stop playing when a great conversation breaks out. Games like Uno, cards, and scrabble are great to have on hand, and don't forget to pack a kids bike, scooter or other method for your kids to be mobile in the campground. It's a great way for them to meet new friends and give you a short break! If you're concerned about them being a way from you and not being able to contact or monitor them consider investing in a set of walkie talkies - its's a great way to keep in contact and kids love them!
Share your tent camping essentials - I'd love to hear what you pack on your adventures.