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Camping For Families: The Ultimate All-In-One Guide

BY JO SIMON

Last modified: May 24, 2022

Camping for families is a fun and adventurous time and is the perfect excuse to get out of the house, unplug and enjoy quality time as a family. But with kids in tow, there's a lot to think about for parents, especially if you are new to camping, and the answers are not often found in one place.

In this article, we have collated all of the family-related tips and advice from this website and other sources to help you camp comfortably, travel safely with your family, and, most importantly, have a great time.

So, whether you are a city slicker or country bumkin, camping newbie or veteran, or tent or RV camp, there are plenty of camping tips for families here. 

Your ideal camping setup: To tow or not to tow

We'll start at the start which is your camping setup. When we think of camping, we automatically think of the tent. But there are lots of different tent camping setups to choose from as well as all of the different types of camper trailers and caravans to hitch to your tow bar and RV's and motorhomes as well.

But before you go investing  your hard-earned money into cars, caravans and camping gear, consider what kind of camping setup suits you.

Ask these questions:

  • What do you want to get out of camping? 
  • How much space do you have to store bulky camping gear or trailers and RV's? 
  • What is your budget, both short and long term?
  • What are your longer-term plans? 
  • What is your preferred style of camping?  
  • Are you starting or growing the family?
  • Does touring or 4-wheel driving interest you. 
  • Is a lap of the country a long term or short term dream?

So what kind of camper are you or would you like to be?

Image of 9 different camping setups - minimalist, long-stayer, tent tourer, glamper, rooftop tenter, camper trailer, caravanner, campervanner, motorhomer

And before you buy anything, be it a family tent or an RV, do your research:

  • Look at the accessories available for the particular model
  • Do searches on the internet for reviews and forum comments
  • Look for YouTube videos that show the layout and setup process
  • Ask questions in-store or online
  • Try to visualise how you would configure the setup and its accessories for sleeping, cooking and indoor/outdoor shelter.

Camping for beginners: Our top tips

We have a whole other article on camping tips for beginners which is essential reading if you are new to camping altogether, although some of it is repeated in this article.

That said, here are our top 10 camping tips for beginners:

  1. Plan your camping setup as well as your trips.
  2. Start with a good editable packing checklist.
  3. Camp with friends and share the load.
  4. Include open-air undercover shelter.
  5. Buy well and buy once, borrow or buy second hand.
  6. Test your gear beforehand.
  7. Plan your meals and your menu.
  8. Choose an established campsite with facilities.
  9. Avoid bad weather.
  10. Sign up to the Camping Kickstart Program:
    > Reduce the trial and error
    > Save time and money
    > Reduce frustration
    > Go camping like a pro in as little as 28 days 

Camping for urban & apartment living families: How to go from urban to outdoor family

Two young boys playing happily at a playground with buildings in the background

While camping for the first time can be a challenge for any family, urban families living in apartments and smaller homes experience a number of unique barriers to camping:

  • A lack of storage space, not only for trailers but for bulky camping gear 
  • Alternative transport and car/ride-share options that make car ownership less attractive, or at least a suitable car for camping
  • Logistical challenges when it comes to loading the car when there are long distances between the camping gear and the loading bay or car park, especially when stairs are involved.

But there is a way for a family of up to 5 to camp comfortably and travel safely without the need for a trailer. As we cover in our Camping For Families In High-Rise And Smaller Homes article, you need the Trailer-Free Trifecta, and that is:

  1.  The right kind of vehicle (and not necessarily a large car)
  2. The right kind of camping setup that can be transported by that vehicle, and
  3. An efficient way to pack the vehicle

In this article, we also cover other issues facing apartment living families: 

  • Hiring a car if you don't own the right kind of vehicle
  • How to store you gear in a relatively small space
  • How to choose gear that will be easy to dry in a small space
  • How to choose space-efficient gear


The best family tent camping checklist

And for every camping setup, there needs to be a camping checklist, and not just any one. You need an editable checklist because everyone is different, your camping requirements change over time, and you need to be able to amend the list accordingly.

Head over to our separate camping checklist article to see what is on the list. Or alternatively, for a one page version to start you off, feel free to download a copy here (no email required).

You will see that the checklist is broken down into the following categories

  1. Tent and accessories
  2. Tools
  3. Electronics
  4. Lighting
  5. Refrigeration
  6. Bathroom and Laundry
  7. First aid / H&S
  8. Furniture
  9. Bedding and towels
  10. Clothing
  11. Sports / entertainment / other activities
  12. Cars and accessories
  13. Eco-friendly and sundry Items

In particular, though, here are some essential items to remember to include in your checklist for your next family trip:

For all children

  • Sun hat
  • Swimming top
  • Three-layer rule for clothing in winter (base, middle and outer layer)
  • Spare dry clothes
  • Wet weather shoes
  • Water shoes
  • Raincoat
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellant
  • First aid kit
  • Entertainment: books, cards and games
  • Headtorch
  • Snacks

For Babies and Toddlers

  • Diapers/nappies
  • Picnic blanket
  • Portable cot/crib
  • Baby wipes
  • Baby formula and bottles
  •  Highchair or booster chair
  •  Stroller
  • Play-pen (space permitting)
  • Potty

Planning the perfect adventure for a quick camping getaway

Image of camping family of 4 at a computer planning

So now you know what to bring, it's time to plan your family camping adventure, because they say an hour of planning saves 10 hours of doing, and this definitely applies to camping for families.

The better planned and more efficient your approach to camping is, the more enjoyable and less stressful your camping experience will be.  You will also save time and money when you can take advantage of early bird discounts, and you come properly equipped.

Here are our top planning related camping tips for families:

Planning Your first family camping adventure

Camping for beginners can be a daunting prospect, especially with kids. Here are our tips when planning your first family camping adventure:

  • Choose established campgrounds with amenities and activities for the kids, and book a powered site to avoid the need to equip yourself with your own power source.
  • Buy good quality and long-lasting gear that won't fail you at the worst time possible. It doesn't have to expensive, and you don't need a high-end setup, just a functional one that won't let you down.
  • Avoid bad weather by deferring or calling off a trip or altering your departure date due to a bad weather forecast.
  • Travel with more experienced campers to learn from, but try to resolve your issues yourself before taking the easy way out by seeking help.
  • Test your gear beforehand and how to pack the car to familiarise yourself with the process. Make sure also you have all of the pieces and required tools.
  • Plan your meals and avoid over-complicating your meals. Establish a simple meal plan of familiar dishes that everyone will enjoy and look forward to. Check out also the local cafe's, and maybe skip campfire cooking for a while.

Planning For any Family camping trip

Whether seasoned or newbie campers, follow these tips, and you will never again feel like the packing time takes longer than the trip itself. In fact, you will be able to head off on a camping trip with little notice and safe in the knowledge that everything is accounted for.

When preparing for a family camping trip:

Anytime: Organise, repair and replenish: At any time in between camping trips, organise your gear, replenish anything lost or used up, do any necessary repairs, cleaning and washing and return everything to its rightful place.

One week before you leave: 

  • Housekeeping: In the week or so before your camping trip, cancel deliveries, pay bills, check insurances and wash clothes to take.
  • Carkeeping: Before to your trip, check the condition of your car and if insurances and registrations are paid up. Does it need a tune-up/service? Is it road worthy? Check the tyres, including spare tyre, fuel, water, oil.
  • Plan your journey: Assuming you know where you are going and if required. have booked your site, in the week before your trip, plan your journey and your menu, and involve the kids. Check the information and "what's on" websites and publications, check the weather forecast, and ensure you are equipped accordingly.
  • Freeze items: In advance of your departure, freeze items to be transferred to your fridge before you leave, such as frozen meals, ice blocks and water bottles.
  • Recharge everything: Ensure all of your batteries, camp lights, charger packs and any other rechargeable devices are actually fully charged.

Departure day: Get started early on departure day, or pack as much as you can the night before. Allow plenty of time - to pack and load the car, travel, arrive and register at camp and to set up your campsite. You don't want to be setting up in the dark.

Feeding the famished: Our favourite camping meals and munchies

Children eating s'mores

A big part of planning your camping trips is your meal planning. And even in our camp kitchen we can still serve up some incredibly delicious meals and snacks that the whole family will love.

You don't need an expensive and complicated camp kitchen setup either. As well as the designated chefs, all you need is three things:

  1. The right camp cooking equipment, with everything you need and nothing you don't.
  2. A selection of reliable, delicious and flexible recipes that can be easily prepared with the utensils you have at hand.
  3. The right ingredients either brought from home in your food pantry or, in the case of bulky or perishable items, easily sourced on the road.

If you want to know what our camp kitchen looks like, head over to our camp kitchen article.

Here are some of our favourite healthy family food ideas:

Breakfast / Snacks:

Lunches

  • Egg and bacon sandwiches/english muffins
  • Chicken wraps
  • Macaroni and cheese (if you feel like cooking)
  • Sandwiches and rolls (cheese & salad, ham & salad, egg & lettuce)
  • Any leftovers from previous meals

Meals

Sweets

Keeping the kids captivated: Activity ideas for everyone

Boy playing cards in tent

Another important thing to remember when camping as a family is entertainment, because even though there are plenty of activities to keep kids entertained around camp, there is also something special about bonding over card or board game.

If packing space is limited, include the following items in your gear checklist for some fun camping activities.

  • A more compact travel board game instead of the bulky favourites you might have at home.
  • A couple of packs of cards with card game instructions.
  • If they enjoy drawing, compact drawing pads and enough pens/pencils to keep them entertained, but maybe not the whole pencil case.
  • Likewise, enough Lego but not the whole tub.
  • Softcover books instead of hardcover, or better still, book worms could go electronic.
  • Inflatable items rather than solid ones, such as for swimming.
  • The cricket set instead of the basketball.
  • Bikes
  • Fishing gear

Consider also other activities, such as hiking, water games, treasure and scavenger hunts, obstacle courses and spotlighting at night. And make sure you pack the right equipment to enjoy these activities.

Camping with kids: Our top tips for the best time ever

Tips for camping with kids - young girl helping pitch a tent

Camping for families is often about the kids rather than for the benefit of the parents because of it's many benefits for children and the family. But it's not all fun and games for the newbie camping parents who are still navigating the basics.

You can read more about our tips for camping with kids here, but in summary, when camping with kids:

  1.  Manage your expectations and go with the flow rather than stress about every little thing.
  2.  Set the boundaries, routines and chores for the kids. They will appreciate them in time and will still be crying out for more camping.
  3.  Include the kids in the planning process to gain some ownership and know what is expected of them.
  4. Teach them about campground etiquette for a more harmonious camping environment. You can read more about this here.
  5.  Prioritise health and safety by researching and preparing for any inherent risks around the camp. You can read more about this here.
  6.  Bring some favourite toys and games to keep them occupied for some relaxing downtime. You can read more about this here.
  7.  Stay at established family holiday parks that have organised activities for the kids to allow you to focus some of your time on familiarising yourself with camping.
  8.  Make sure the kids have playmates, and if you aren't sure if there will be other camping families, bring a friend along with you.
  9. Give them some privacy by bringing a smaller tent in which to play.
  10.  Camp with other families to share the load and for some playmates.
  11.  Avoid buying gear designed for kids (if safe to do so) to avoid another investment when they grow.
  12.  To keep toddlers from wandering off, especially at night, go to our section in this article on how to stop the "runners".
  13. Keep younger children occupied during set up and pack up with whatever you can to keep them from wandering off while your focus is elsewhere.  
  14. Keep some water and a wash-cloth on hand for clean up before entering the tent. But nevertheless, don't worry too much about the kids getting dirty.
  15.  Don't forget the marshmallows!


Reigning in the runners: How to stop your child from straying

Smartly dressed toddler in warm clothes and beanie looking down at his shoes

A universal challenge for beginner and experienced campers alike is the question of how to contain the young ones to the campsite and stop them from wandering off.  While our experience with our son at that age wasn't so challenging, there is no doubt that some parents have a nightmare of a time.

Here are suggestions from us and others to help stop the "runners":

  • To allow them to be seen and identified easier, keep them dressed in bright coloured clothes.
  • So that they can be seen easily at night, tie glow sticks to them.
  • So you can pinpoint their position, have them wear a GPS tracking device such as a watch.
  • To prevent them from exiting the tent at night, place the zipper slider up high out of their reach. Also, put your bed between their beds and the tent entrance.
  • Around water, keep a properly fitted life jacket or floatation device on them at all times.
  • To keep them in one place, set up a play pen or fence an area off.
  • Keep them occupied with plenty of adventures and other activities to tire them out.
  • Relax, go with the flow and enjoy watching them as they explore and enjoy the new sites, sounds, smells and feelings of grass, rocks, sticks, mud...
  • Have a screen device handy as an emergency backup.
  • A somewhat controversial idea, when you can absolutely watch them closely  from a distance, tie a guy rope to their life jacket or backpack.

What other ideas do you have?

How to find a fabulous family campsite

Image of a campground on a river at sunset

You’ve decided on a camping getaway and cleared your diary. Now it’s time to decide on where you want to go, actually find that ideal campsite, and if necessary, book it.

The types of sites available in Australia range from your typical basic free camping on a patch of land through to the established family holiday parks, complete with all of the facilities and activities for the kids.

Finding that ideal site can be a bit perplexing, with numerous online resources available that might list many but not all sites in a particular area. While you can just type “campsites” together with your preferred location into your search engine and see what comes up, here are some useful websites and resources to help you find that perfect site.

Wikicamps

Wikicamps is an app designed around a database of campgrounds, caravan parks, backpacker hostels, day-use areas, points of interest, information centres and public dump points.

Full Range Camping

Full Range Camping is an online directory and app listing camping spots and local businesses, places of interest, activities and amenities for the camping and caravanning community and tips, travel stories and reviews. The app is available offline and also contains weather forecasts and GPS navigation.

Hipcamp

Hipcamp, which recently acquired the Australian Youcamp app, is essentially a type of Airbnb for camping adventures on private land. The platform lists campsites on private land and manages many of the administrative processes for the hosts, such as attracting visitors, managing the booking and payment processes and the provision of insurance coverage in the event of injuries to guests or property damage.

The types of facilities available at each location vary greatly, from none at all (requiring visitors to be fully self-contained) to fully equipped showers and toilets and a water supply.

The Camps Australia Wide app

The Camps Australia Wide app is a free and budget camping and caravan park guide for Australia. It provides a whole range of information about each location, such as price, facilities available, mobile phone coverage, dry weather access and whether they accept dogs.

Independent caravan and holiday parks

Your typical holiday park is really the complete package and would be a great place to start for a family. They provide a range of accommodation for travellers from simple campsites to top end cabin accommodation.

They also generally provide a whole range of facilities, including camp kitchens, showers, toilets, laundry facilities, a store and entertainment facilities, and some even organised activities for the kids during peak holiday times.

Holiday and caravan parks will generally have a website and online booking system and a reception for telephone bookings. They will also be listed on many of the above camping apps.

Holiday park chains

Many holiday parks are part of membership-based holiday park chains that provide a level of uniformity across the participating parks. While anyone can book their sites, members are generally equipped with discounts on bookings and loyalty rewards. Listed below are some of the park chains:

National park websites

National parks provide a wide variety of options, from fully serviced sites with luxury tents and all of the facilities to remote locations with no facilities whatsoever. Bookings are generally required for sites in national parks where campsite fees apply.

Free sites are generally available on a first-come-first-served basis, however, some national parks will also require a parking pass or motor vehicle permit. As there are no standard rules across the national, refer to the park documentation for site-specific details.

Links to national park websites are listed below:

Free Camping

And finally, free camping is extremely popular in Australia, but there are restrictions on where you can camp. So do your research first, or you may receive a visit from a disapproving manager or local. Many free camping areas are also listed on the above apps.
 


Camping health and safety: Our four-pronged approach

Image of a foot being bandaged

When camping, it is not only important to have a well equipped first aid kit, you need to know how to use it properly. You also should follow preventative measures to avoid the need to use it and call for help when the situation is beyond your control.

We have a four pronged approach to camping safety:

First aid kit

Firstly, a well equipped first aid kit is essential in dealing with any medical situation. Rather than include the list here, head over to our first aid lit article for our very comprehensive list. You won't need every item, but it will help you to decide what to include in yours.

Prevention: Tips from the experts

Secondly, we want to minimise the risk of anything going wrong in the first place with our health and safety preventative measures. With the proper knowledge, planning and equipment, we can help to minimise or even avoid risks to our health and safety.

Listed below are some informative articles from trusted sources designed to help improve your safety in the great outdoors and on your travels. These aticles are by reputable and trusted sources external to Set to Camp.

Treatment: Tips from the Experts

Thirdly, no matter how prepared you are and how many precautions you take, things can go wrong, and people can get sick, have accidents, injure themselves, get bitten by something – you name it.

Here are some useful articles. Many of these situations are rare, and some exceptionally so, but advanced knowledge in being able to provide the right kind of first aid assistance is important and reassuring.

Calling for help: How to call for emergency assistance in Australia

And last but not least, having the ability to call for emergency help is essential, especially if you are a beginner camper and are still learning the do's and don'ts of camping and travelling into remote areas. Again, rather than repeat the information, head over to our article here on how to call for emergency help in Australia.

If you are located elsewhere, use the information to guide what you should be researching for your location.

About camping etiquette: Enjoy, embrace and leave no trace

Pretty established camp ground with children playing

Campground etiquette for the kids

While we want kids to have fun and be kids, a simple early reminder to them about the right way to behave can go a long way towards a more harmonious campground.

Here is our advice for the kids on camping etiquette:

  • Keep the noise down early in the morning
  • Don't walk or ride through the middle of someone else's campsite
  • Clean up after themselves in the shower block and camp kitchen
  • When playing ball games, try to avoid kicking or hitting the balls into someone's campsite. But if that happens, most campers will be fine with it if they politely apologise and ask for their ball ack.
  • Familiarise them with the campground rules, including when they should return to the campsite in the evening.

Hopefully, others in the campground inclined to party after dark will show the same consideration and courtesy to you and your family!

Camping etiquette for everyone

With so many unique and diverse campers camping in such close proximity to each other, it's not surprising that campground harmony isn't always a given. Any number of things can turn the peace and tranquillity of camping into something less so - loud music, generators, parties late at night, leaving waste behind, the state of the bathrooms...

So, when you are heading out into the great outdoors for a family camping adventure, here are my camping etiquette words of wisdom:

Enjoy

So, the first thing is, surprise surprise, enjoy yourself. And camping is one of those activities where we are never short of something to do, especially of the more peaceful variety. Even if it is to go for a walk and enjoy the fresh-air and the surrounds.

Embrace

That said, while we all want to have a great time, we have a responsibility to do our bit for campground harmony. And that often means embracing within reason the fact that there are people who also want to enjoy themselves, and will play music we don't like, have different sleeping patterns, have friendly children that mean well, cook food that is not to your taste (or smell), and so on.

So my second suggestion is to go with the flow, have a positive mindset and don't sweat the small stuff. Try to embrace what is going on around you rather than get annoyed at every little thing, and you will enjoy your experience even more. You might even realise you actually enjoy their music rather than try to drown it out with your own.

Leave No Trace 

Our third and probably over-arching point is to follow the Leave No Trace Principles (LNT), which was established with hiking in mind, but we as campers can take a lot from it as well.

LNT sets a pretty high bar for us, but is nevertheless is something we should all aim for, even if we don't always hit the target. Every little bit counts!

You can head on over to our separate Leave No Trace article for the details, or jump to any of the following seven principles for more information and suggestions:

1. Plan ahead and prepare so that you are properly equipped for your activities and don't abandon your LNT principles in the name of safety and expediency.

2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces to minimise the amount of damage we do when we are hiking and around camp. 

3. Dispose of waste properly - general and human waste and waste-water - no further explanation needed.

4. Leave the environment as you found it including by leaving souvenirs behind.

5. Minimise campfire impacts  including buy using existing fire pits, minimising the size of the campfire and only collecting firewood from a wide area that does not serve as a habitat for wildlife.

6. Respect wildlife, including by staying away from its habitat and pathways, and not feeding it.

7. Be conscious of hosts, campers and visitors by being respectful to others, leading by example, abiding by the applicable rules and regulations, being patient, keeping the noise down, especially at night, being polite and considerate to others and trying not to stand out.

Travelling trailer free? How to choose your ideal car for camping

Car park full of different types of cars including 4-wheel drives

This section is really for those families wishing to camp trailer free, that is without the need for any kind of trailer to haul your gear.

Choose your vehicle wisely, and you can avoid the potentially costly mistake of buying an unsuitable vehicle - one that is either bigger than you really need, or worse still, not big enough.

Suitable cars for transporting a family of four don't necessarily need to be in the large size category if they aren't otherwise your preference. You may find your ideal vehicle listed in our best mid-size car for camping trailer free review, which you will find in our Camping Kickstart Program.

If you don't actually own a car, or the vehicle for camping, you can also check out our article: Hiring a car? Which car, and how to pack it.

When choosing your vehicle, you will have the usual considerations, such as driving performance, accessories, off-road capabilities, fuel efficiency, running costs, comfort, number of seats or even if it will fit into your driveway or car space at home. Consider also the following when choosing a vehicle to comfortably and safely transport everyone and everything to and from the campsite:

Car style

Cars suitable for camping vary from your typical wagon, SUV and 4WD through to the dual-cab utes with a canopy and the larger people mover vehicles. Not every model of vehicle will suit, but fortunately we still have a wide choice.

For more on the pros and cons of these types of vehicles, go to our car styles for camping article.

Payload

An important factor when choosing a car for camping trailer free is the extent to which it is built to carry the weight of your load. That includes you, your passengers, your camping gear, luggage, bikes, any emergency fuel and water, and other "toys" as well as any accessories added to your car, such as tow bars and roof racks. You will be surprised at how quickly the weight all adds up.

All vehicles will (or should) have a rated payload, or load carrying capacity, and car manufacturers should, but don't always, make this information available to their customers, at least in our experience. It sometimes involves a bit of digging around, but the first places to look are in the printed vehicle specifications or on the vehicle compliance plate.

To learn more about payload, you can check out our payload article, and you can estimate the weight of your particular carload using our calculator.

Rear cargo capacity

As camping gear is much more easily placed inside the car than strapped to the roof racks or hitched to the tow/hitch bar, your camping car of choice will need to have a generous rear cargo area.

While the bigger the better, by comparison to other vehicles it doesn't need to be enormously large. It still, however, needs to meet our minimum requirements, as we outline in our rear cargo capacity article.

If transporting gear on the car roof is not an option, such as if you are hiring a vehicle, then there are other options. The 8-seater people movers and the dual-cab ute with a canopy may have adequate rear cargo capacity to hold all of your camping gear as shown in our Hiring a car? Which car and how to pack it.

Car roof and accessories

Unless your vehicle has a particularly large rear cargo area, one popular option is to transport some of your camping gear on the roof of your car, either strapped directly to the roof racks or enclosed in a roof box or bag. As with the overall car payload, your car roof and roof racks will have specified load limits.

Transporting gear on the roof of your vehicle requires fitted roof rails, which are likely to be more cost-effective if factory-fitted rather than fitted after market. In fact, fitting aftermarket roof rails might not be possible for some vehicle models. You will also need roof racks, which generally take the form of crossbars or a roof tray or basket fitted to the rails.

For more information, check out our car roof considerations article.

Other accessories

Accessories of all sorts are sold by car manufacturers to enhance their vehicles and increase their potential. Those particularly useful for camping trailer free include tinted windows, tow bars, side steps and cargo barriers.

For more on this, check out our accessories and other considerations article.