One of the worst things about going on holiday is packing. For one parent, that often means packing for the rest of the family as well. For camping, that prospect can be even more off-putting because you need to take so much equipment and food with you. (Unless you’re wild camping with just a tent, but that’s not my cup of tea). After 3 family camping trips I’ve got our packing system working well.
For camping trip, I’m assuming it’s a family trip, for a few days to a week, and you’re driving to the campsite. If you’re not sure what you should be taking with you, then read, what to take on a camping trip where you can download my essential packing list.
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How to pack for a camping trip:
1. Start preparing a week or so before, especially if you’ve room to do so
Wash the clothes you need to take, shop or borrow anything you need equipment wise.
2. Plan meals
Decide which meals you’re cooking, and work out if you’re taking food with you or whether you’ll shop once you arrive. Some campsites will let you order an online shop. Always take some food for the children while you’re pitching the tent. It keeps them out of the way, and gives you time out from any moaning.
3. Pack items according to their purpose.
- Clothes (include bags for dirty washing)
- Outdoor clothes and waterproofs, shoes
- Food and cooking equipment (ideally have food in a plastic lidded box)
- Washing kit – bucket or washing bowl, brush, scourer, liquid, tea towels etc
- Bedding – air beds, sleeping bags, pillows, duvets, blankets
- Tent and equipment – including spare pegs / guylines / poles, footprint/groundsheet, tarp, mallet, windbreak
- Beach gear – keep it separate to other clothing and toys, because you can leave it in the car rather than unpacking once you get there.
4. Assess how much you are going to fit into your vehicle along with children
It always amazes me how my friends manage to get 2+ children into their cars with all the camping equipment and sometimes baby or toddler equipment compared with us with only myself and 1 child. The knack is either hire a bigger car for the week or get a roof box. If you don’t have these options, think about getting food on arrival, or potentially taking fewer clothes and washing them while you’re there.
I’m a take enough clothes for everyday because I hate washing while on holiday. Plus when you camp, if the weather is terrible, you get through a lot more clothes than if you can just live in the same shorts for 3 days over a week!)
5. Pack the car and have a system for it
Always, think about the order you need to get items out. It’s essential you leave room for the tent, mallet and any footprints/groundsheets to go into the car last. You want to be getting that out last.
How to pack the car with camping gear
Put down the back seats flat apart from where N will sit and remove the parcel shelf. Mine rolls out of the way, but in my old car I used to leave it at home.
Put in the long and flat items first – folded table, windbreak
Fill up the ‘passenger’ area first – cool box, suitcase/clothes, anything N wants for the journey. Start with boxes then fill in with other items like our picnic rucksack that has cooking stuff in.
Fill up the boot with bigger, bulkier items – food box, camping gas/stove, camping chairs, electricity hook up equipment.
The final space in the boot – add tent, groundsheet/carpet, tent poles and pegs, mallet, air beds/pump
Fill in gaps with sleeping bags, bedding, beach gear, wellies
Leave the front seat for things for the trip and any expensive items that you don’t want damaged – so snack bag, handbag, music, camera. I keep this fairly minimal in case we need to move things in the back around, and move N into the front seat.
Make sure that there’s nothing thin and hard that’s loose that in an accident or emergency braking situation could move forward or sideways and injure someone, especially kids in the back seat. I try and get the duvet or blankets on top of everything so it’s covered up. And don’t pile everything too high – I still need to see out the back of the car, so I keep luggage below the back seat back level where possible.
Hopefully packing this way means you know what is where, and that when you arrive you can get the tent up first, then get bedding gear blown up and into the tent. Followed by the rest.
In reverse when you’re striking camp and returning home, it’s less important how you pack. We tend to pack as much into the car as possible the night before so it’s just a case of putting bedding in and then the tent and ground sheets. I don’t always remove the tent first when we get home. Usually I leave it in the car until it’s good enough weather to get it out and air or dry it if needed. But I do pack up in a similar way leaving a gap for the final stuff – it helps know where things are when you’re unpacking.
Hopefully these tips help if you’re off on your first camping trip. Or if you find it’s always chaos when packing for a camping trip.
What system do you use? How much stuff do you take when camping?
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