Last time I went camping (at Memorial Park, mid-August, glorious time) I decided to make a list of all the items I had with me that were useful and helpful. I would also include the things that I did NOT bring that were sorely missed. This fine endeavor would then provide me with a list of exactly what to pack for the next camping trip, and thereby save me about 5 hours worth of agonizing about what I might have forgotten, and then missing a useful/crucial item once there.
So here’s my list of what I like to have when camping. This is a car camping list, not a backpacking list, which you probably would have figured out by the time you got to “carpet remnant for tent entrance”. Still, I can fit everything in a smallish VW station wagon with two giant carseats, so it’s really not all that much stuff, either. You certainly don’t need an SUV.
SLEEP + SHELTER
sheets for air mattress
manual or battery-powered pump
sleeping bags for everyone
pillowcases (stuff them with sweatshirts/towels to make pillows)
carpet remnant for tent entrance
headlamps for little kids (or for everyone, if you prefer. Little kids under 5 need headlamps because they don’t get the concept of pointing the beam where they want to go, also they tend to drop flashlights and lose them)
tablecloth (Tuffo Mat works fine)
camp table (don’t need if there are picnic tables)
single burner camp stove
Dr. Bronner’s soap (not peppermint, stings eyes when used as face wash)
Klean Kanteens, one for each person.
matches and lighter
ice chest w/ice (if you are bringing perishable food)
large water cooler
roll of paper towels
washcloths (one per person)
towels (one per person)
shampoo (or can use Dr. Bronner’s soap)
conditioner (for long hair)
moisturizer (body and face)
sunscreen (body and face)
sun hats for everyone
diapers (for kids who still need them, or for bedwetters. You do NOT want to experience a peed-in sleeping bag. Better safe than sorry)
first aid kit
any necessary medications or vitamins
potty for bigger kids (don’t have to leave the tent in the middle of the night)
underwear, one pair per person per day
socks, one pair per person per day (ideally Smartwool, as they do not get stinky or feel damp)
sweatpants (can be used as pajamas)
black or dark-colored wool sweater
Crocs (for going in the water, beach, pool, wearing in campsite showers, slipping on to go pee in the middle of the night, etc.)
maps and guidebooks
Swiss Army knife
clothesline (for hanging towels, bathing suits, washcloths, rinsed out clothing)
prefold cloth diapers (used for drying dishes, cleaning up random spills and wet spots, padding, endlessly useful to have 5-10 of these along)
guitar and pick
games, books and toys for kids. My favorite is a big bucket of Legos.
iPod for car stereo
cell phone car charger
laptop power supply
Don’t forget food! This depends on the facilities available, personal taste, etc. I like to bring a cooler with apples, avocados, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, salami, chocolate, oranges, hot dogs, peanut butter, jelly, cans of baked beans, bread, nuts, crackers, Clif bars, and marshmallows (for toasting over the campfire). Then I go to Trader Joe’s and get a whole pile of healthy snacky things. Fruit leather and trail mix and dried cranberries, etc.
I don’t really like to cook a lot when I’m camping. Some people are really into it, I am not, unless I am camping with a group to share the labor. When camping with kids, if I spend time and effort cooking over a campstove and they don’t eat it, it’s a GIANT PAIN. With my camping pantry stand-bys above, they can just grab what they want and not waste food or create a pile of dishes that need to be washed. After all, the whole point is to have fun and relax, not chore like I do at home.