After you’ve researched family-friendly campsites, found the perfect place to stay and booked your pitch – you now need to get the right gear! From family camping essentials including tents and sleeping bags to camping extras that will crank up your comfort levels, these are the items you need to buy before you arrive.
The equipment you bring along can make or break your outdoor holiday, and this is especially true when you’re camping with children. After all, on a couple’s weekend, the two of you can escape a leaking tent during a rain shower in the nearest pub to laugh about it over a bottle of red. With kids in tow, not so much.
So as well as really decent gear to keep you all warm and dry, your family camping kit needs to include cookware to help keep everyone fed, toiletries to clean everyone up after a day outdoors, as well as tools and gadgets that will cover all eventualities. There’s a lot to think about, which is why we’ve produced this family camping checklist so you can make sure you’re as prepared as possible for your holiday under canvas…
Camping essentials with kids – sleeping bags, sleeping mats and lights
There are a handful of items that even the most adventurous campers wouldn’t leave home without; we’re talking a tent, sleeping bag, inflatable mat and lantern. You’ll need all of them on your family camping expedition but ensuring a good night’s sleep is a top priority, so opt for temperature-regulating sleeping bags, self-inflating mats that stay firm overnight and tents with darkened bedroom compartments.
When it comes to buying your family camping tent, there are several things to consider, including size, cost and features in the sleeping and living areas. See our pick of the best family tents to find the perfect one for your family.
Easy Camp Chakra Blue Sleeping Bag, £19.99
Dimensions: 190x75cm | Packed Size: 37x16cm
Campers that like lots of leg room will appreciate the versatility and space provided by this rectangular sleeping bag.
Adjusting the warmth offered by the hollow-fibre synthetic fill is easy using the full-length, two-way zips that also enable each bag to be used open as a duvet or zipped together to make a double bag. There are added extras too – including an integral padded headrest and inside pocket
Available from: Easy Camp
LittleLife Snuggle Pod, £24.99
Dimensions: 18x90x140cm| Packed Size: 18x25x35cm | Suitable for ages: 18 months to 4 years
An inflatable mattress and sleeping bag in one, this clever toddler bed is bound to convince even the most sleep-resistant toddler to go to bed.
The contoured airbed cushions little sleepers while the stabilising wings prevent them tipping out. There are even built-in side pockets for bottles, torches or bears, plus the covers are easily detachable and machine washable.
Available from: Little Life
Eurohike Adventurer Youth Sleeping Bag, £19
Dimensions: 170cm x W65cm (shoulder) x 40cm (foot) | Packed Size: 36cm x 20cm
Older children to younger teens will be kept cosy in this mummy-shaped sleeping bag that improves warmth with its tapered shape, synthetic insulation and neck baffle.
One customer describes it as, “Warm and snuggly and the perfect in-between size of toddler and adult size bags.”
Available from: Millets
Regatta Napa 3 Self Inflating Mat, £35
Dimensions: 185cmx50cmx3cm | Packed Size: 15cm x 55cm
Self-inflating mats are the way forward: with this type of mat, there’s no pump to carry (or worry about leaving at home) – you simply uncurl the mat, release the valve and watch the mat inflate.
This one is provides 30mm of cushioning, a tough outer layer and comes in a stuff sack for easy transportation. There’s even a repair kit included, just in case it gets punctured.
Available from: Outdoorgear and Winfields Outdoors
Outwell Sleepin Double 3.0cm Sleeping Mat, £52.99
Dimensions: 183x128x3 cm | Packed Size: 66x18cm
If you and your partner like to keep close at night – and especially if you’re sharing a sleeping bag – it’s wise to invest in a double mat, else one of you risks rolling into the gap that is likely to open between two single mats and onto the cold, hard floor.
This self-inflating double sleeping mat is thick enough to keep you insulated from the ground during cool nights and has two valves, making it quick to inflate then deflate before packing away.
Available from: Outwell and Amazon
MPowerd Luci Outdoor 2.0 Inflatable Solar Light, £24.99
A solar-powered lantern should be on every camper’s must-take list, helping you see in the dark and spot your tent on the way back from the shower block, and this one is particularly good.
It has an inflatable base so packs flat when not in use, contains ten bright LEDs that will light up your tent or outdoor set-up and can last up to 24 hours on a single charge from direct sunlight. It’s rain-proof, re-charges in 7 hours and can be set on four different brightness levels.
Available from: Ellis Brigham and Amazon
Petzl TIKKID Headlamp, £24.95
This brilliantly designed head torch is perfect and safe to use for children aged three upwards thanks to its eye-protecting light-limiting bulb, adjustable headband, single button operation and protected battery pack.
Children can choose between three lighting levels – low for reading, high for night time playing inside the tent or out, and strobe so you can see them coming across the campsite. There’s even a phosphorescent reflector so the lamp can be located in the dark. Batteries last for ages and rechargeable ones can also be used. Probably the best torch your child will ever own.
Available from: Little Adventure Shop, Wiggle and Amazon
Family camping cookware
All that fresh air is bound to boost appetites so make sure you’re equipped to cater for your hungry brood with these essential pieces of kitchen kit.
Quechua Hiker’s Camping SS Cooking Set with Non-Stick Coating MH500 4 Person, 3.5L, £39.99
This top-rated cooking set has pretty much everything a family of four needs to prepare and eat a hot meal in the great outdoors as it includes a saucepan, frying pan and lid plus four plates, mugs and three-piece cutlery sets.
This set is very well designed – the pot and pan are made from stainless steel so can be used on a gas or wood burner, the plates have hanging loops for easy drying and the silicone table mat doubles up as a strainer.
Available from: Decathlon
Primus Campfire Cookset, £72.49
Campers with culinary flair will be able to try their hand at more than pasta using this three-piece stainless steel set that consists of two saucepans with lids with integrated colanders and a frying pan.
It’s an investment purchase but one that will last for many camping trips over many years and, as your camping cuisine repertoire grows, you can add to the set with other types and sizes of Primus pots and pans.
Available from: Amazon
Vango Diner Cooker, £95
Cook up a storm for your family on this high-spec but easy-to-use camping cooker that has in-built and speedy ignition, separate heat controls for all three burners and built-in windshields to prevent flames going out mid-way through cooking.
Stainless steel burners plus a drip tray make this cooker easy to clean – meaning less scrubbing and more time to enjoy the sunset with a glass of something cold in your hand.
Available from: Vango, Amazon and Leisure Outlet
During the day, your little ones will be outdoors in all weather – so they’ll need protection from the elements, which in the UK can mean all four seasons in one day. Keep them covered with tops and kids’ sun hats that shield them from harmful UV rays, as well as wind and waterproof jackets and trousers that be pulled on when the weather changes.
Dry Kids Jacket and Trouser Set, £19.95
This bargain set is ideal for keeping kids dry during summer showers as it’s waterproof, lightweight and easy to pull on and off. A fold-away hood and elasticated cuffs and waistband help keep rain out and kids comfortable, while the jacket stuffs into its own front pocket for easy packing.
Available in 7 colours as well as a cool camouflage print, and in sizes to fit ages from 2 to 14, this jacket and trousers combo is best worn a little bigger to allow room for clothing underneath. But as pointed out in many Amazon reviews this set does come up large so you probably won’t need to size up.
Uniqlo Kids Airism UV Protection Long Sleeved Mesh Hoodie, £12.90
Keep little campers safe from the harmful rays of the sun by getting them to slip on one of these UV light-blocking zip-up hoodies. Made from material so light your child won’t even realise it’s there, these mesh delights come in eight different colours and six sizes, from age three to 13.
Available from: Uniqlo
Patagonia Women’s Quandary Convertible Pants – Regular, £90
The solution for those days when you need to be wearing trousers in the morning because it’s chilly, shorts in the afternoon because it’s baking then waterproofs in the evening when it starts to rain? These convertible trousers.
They are stretchy enough to crawl around your tent in, give fantastic sun protection (they’re rated 50+ UPF) and are water repellent. Although an investment, three types of bottoms in one garment saves you packing too many clothes and they’re made from recycled nylon. Winner!
Available from: Patagonia and AlpineTrek
First aid and toiletries
The best outdoor play involves plenty of dirt and some danger. Let the kids roll in the mud and climb trees safe in the knowledge you can wash them clean before bed with gentle products that won’t harm their skin or the campsite’s septic tank. And be prepared to treat any small accidents with a fully stocked first aid kit.
Family First Aid Kit, £27.99
This compact zippered pouch contains everything you need to treat most common injuries, including bumps, grazes and scratches, including plasters, burn gel, eye wash and an oral thermometer.
There are even ‘Brave Little Star’ stickers for the patient. Parents praise it as “an ideal first aid kit that has everything you need”.
Available from: LittleLife, John Lewis and Amazon
Attitude Baby Leaves 2 in 1 Shampoo & Body Wash, £9.99
Take only one bottle into the shower block to save time and the planet when you wash your little ones with this hypoallergenic body and hair wash that’s gentle enough to use on the youngest of babies and the most sensitive of skins.
It will leave skin and hair soft and delicately scented and is free from unnecessary chemicals and preservatives, which also makes it ideal for use at campsites with septic tanks. Plus the pump dispenser is a great way to ensure the contents of the bottle doesn’t get ‘accidentally’ emptied out while you’re reaching for a towel.
Available from: Big Green Smile
Camping tools and useful gadgets
Travel Bottle Shower, £10.99
This simple plastic device turns virtually any water bottle into a shower, making it perfect for washing sand or mud off your family’s feet or – if you leave a 2 litre water bottle in the sun – a warm shower at the end of the day.
Customers were impressed with this nifty little device on their camping trips with one saying, “It certainly beats using wipes”.
Available from: Lifeventure and Amazon
Eurohike Mobile Mains Kit 2.0 with 2 USB, £38.71
If you’ve booked a pitch with electric hook-up (meaning you’ll be camped next to an electrical post from which you can take power), you’ll need this gadget, which allows you to use and charge multiple devices from the comfort of your tent.
It has three UK 3-pin sockets and 2 USB sockets, an extra-long lead made from strengthened orange wire and an in-built circuit breaker to keep you and your electrical devices safe.
Available from: Ultimate Outdoors , Blacks and Amazon
Camping extras and ‘nice-to-haves’
These items will elevate your camping experience into something more akin to a stay in a luxury hotel (ish). From proper pillows to a table and chairs, a few creature comforts can make a big difference when you’re staying outdoors.
Cocoon Air Core Ultralight Pillow, £34.95
Dimensions (inflated): 40x55cm | Packed Size: 11×7.5cm
Sure you can rest your weary head on a folded towel or jumper but when you’re bedding down for the night, nothing beats a proper pillow. Described by some users as “better than most posh hotel pillows’, this inflatable version can be blown up to just the right amount for customisable comfort.
It’s pricier than some but comes with a 2-year warranty, a stuff sack for easy storage and has a layer of synthetic filling under its washable shell, making it both superbly comfortable and practical.
Available from: Alpine Trek
Quechua Folding Camping Table and 4 Stools, £39.99
Dimensions: 120x60x70cm | Folded Dimensions: 60x60x10.5cm
Believe us, eating three meals a day perched on a tree stump or sat cross-legged on the ground swiftly loses its appeal. By day two, you’ll be hankering after a place other than your lap to put your plate and by day three, you’ll be parting with your cash for an overpriced set from the campsite shop.
Avoid this outcome by bringing along a table and stool set such as this Quechua version that seats up to six people (you’ll need to buy two extra stools or camping chairs) and can be adjusted to two different heights – the lower one is great if you want to do a ‘first sitting’ for children at dinner time.
It also cleverly folds away with the four included seats tucked inside the table so you can carry it away.
Available from: Decathlon
About the author
Gabrielle Nathan has been working as a journalist for nearly 20 years, on publications including GQ, Red, Women’s Health and Tatler. She began writing about parenting and family travel while pregnant with her first child in 2012 and joined the MFM ranks in 2014.
She lives in London with her husband and three children but can often be found camping in greener and quieter parts of the UK. After a few mishaps (think leaky tent and punctured air mattress) she’s becoming an expert on all the essentials you need for a successful family camping trip.