Are you are thinking becoming a camping family and feeling excited but also daunted at the prospect of getting your camping kit together. While it’s a fun activity for everyone and has many benefits, there are a lot of things you need to consider before heading off to the campsite.
Whether you are a beginner tent camper or experienced, this guide will help you to achieve a great tent camping setup for a fun, enjoyable, and safe family trip.
Be sure to click on the links below for more details and camping setup ideas.
Your camping setup
1: Tent and shelter
A tent is probably the first thing you buy when you are starting out camping, and it's usually the most expensive, so you want to get it right.
It goes without saying that a campsite should provide weatherproof shelter for privacy as well as for protection from the elements.
There are many on the market but our personal preference is one more suited to touring. You will find, however, plenty of other tent options, from smaller dome style tents just large enough to accommodate the number of people in your family as well as room for gear storage, to larger ones with two and three-room incorporating living space as well.
Every camper should also provide adequate outdoor shelter in their camping kit, if only to protect the gas cooking stove and outdoor gear from the rain as well as the dew formed during the night-time. This could be in the form of a tent with a larger awning, with an annex attached, a separately constructed camping tarp setup or, if you can transport one, a separate marquee or screen room.
The larger open-air shelters will also provide a much more comfortable escape from the rain and hot sun than the shelter of an enclosed tent.
Further reading on this site: How to choose your ideal tent
2: Campsite tools
A good set of camping tools can really help you to deal with the various issues and dilemmas that might arise around the campsite and on your travels, and there are plenty of compact and lightweight options that don’t take up a lot of space.
Hopefully, you won’t need to use many of them, but they will be there if and when you do.
Further reading on this site: Camping tools
3: Power and Fuel
Power and fuel is generally required for camp lighting, refrigeration, cooking stoves, the campfire and our seemingly ever-growing list of devices and appliances.
A simple setup on an unpowered site might only require ice for refrigeration, gas and/or the campfire for cooking, some batteries and smaller batter chargers for lighting and devices, and access to a power supply from time to time to recharge the batteries and chargers.
When on an unpowered site, a portable dual battery setup or a larger power bank with solar panels will be required for the more energy-hungry devices and appliances, such as compressor fridges.
While technological improvements over recent years have worked in our favour in terms of pack size, these larger banks and solar panels can still be very bulky and heavy to transport together with everything and everyone else.
Further reading on this site: Camping power and fuel options.
4: Camp Lighting
Campsites don’t need to be lit up like a sports stadium, but a good lighting setup should still provide adequate lighting for the various camping related activities, including:
- general or ambient lighting for the kitchen, tent and living areas
- task lighting for reading / cooking / playing games
- directional lighting for spot lighting and pathway
While some products are particularly bulky for transportation, there are plenty of compact torch, headlamp and lantern options to choose from to meet your needs, and many are now rechargeable.
Further reading on this site: Lighting options for camping.
5: Camp Kitchen
Camp meals don't need to be complicated and fancy, but they can still be delicious if you have a well-equipped kitchen. And experienced and beginner campers are equally able to create some delicious family camping favourites with a minimum of fuss.
A basic camp kitchen should include a two-burner stove and/or a campfire, dinnerware, cookware, utensils, ingredients, as well as a fridge or icebox, a camping pantry, an area for food preparation, access to a fresh water source and a way to store it at the campsite.
A functional kitchen doesn’t need to take up a lot of room if you choose neatly stackable items, although some campfire cookware can be bulky and heavy.
Further reading on this site: Easy camp kitchen setup
6: Camp Refrigeration
Your refrigeration options for camping range from the relatively light weight esky / iceboxes and 3-way or absorption fridges through to the heavier and more power-hungry compressor fridges. Smaller cooler bags can also take items that benefit from a cooler environment but don’t necessarily require refrigeration.
Larger fridges and iceboxes are not generally an option for tent camping families because of our size and weight restrictions, and in any case we don't believe they are necessary if you are smart about how you manage your fridge. Fridge stands are also very handy as well to elevate the fridge off the ground for easier access.
Further reading on this site: Refrigeration options for camping.
7: Bathroom and Laundry
Your bathroom and laundry related gear will depend on the types of facilities you have available to you as well as the length of your stay. With access to shower, toilet and laundry facilities, you might only need the standard items like toiletries, towels and basic laundry supplies.
Camping in areas without toilet and shower facilities becomes much more complicated for car campers, especially if you want to make room for a portable toilet and shower as well as a privacy tent. Areas requiring fully self-contained campers (who are required to carry out all of their waste, including wastewater) would be off-limits to car and tent campers.
Further reading on this site: Bathroom and laundry.
8: First Aid and Safety
It goes without saying that a well-equipped first aid kit is one of the most important items to include in your setup, especially when children are involved. Also important is knowing in advance how to administer first aid, especially in an emergency.
Further reading on this site: First aid and safety.
9: Camp Furniture
Your tent camping setup should provide for a table or benchtop for food preparation and casual dining, as well as a camp chair and a table or stand on which to rest the cooking stove. You might not necessarily need a separate table for each of these functions, but the longer your stay the more convenient that extra bench and table top space will be.
It probably goes without saying that everyone should have a camping chair, but if packing space is limited, give preference to those with a smaller pack size. That goes for the other items as well. Other useful items include shelving or a kitchen pantry to raise items off the floor and to help organise your gear.
Further reading on this site: How to choose a camping chair.
10: Sleeping and Bedding
Arguably the second most important item in your tent camping setup after the tent is your bedding. In fact, we can’t stress enough how important it is to have good quality and reliable sleeping gear in your camping kit that can provide you with the best possible night of sleep.
Sleeping gear can be notoriously bulky and difficult to transport. A family of 4 camping trailer free with the type of setup for beginners outlined in The Campus doesn't necessarily need extremely compact hiking style gear, but you will most likely need to compromise.
If you want to defer costs in order to invest in a better quality sleeping mat, the doona / quilt off your bed may suffice instead of a sleeping bag.
Your outdoor wardrobe will vary greatly depending on your planned activities, the expected temperature and weather conditions and your personal preferences. The important thing to remember when you have limited for car space is to choose compact and lightweight but comfortable clothing that you enjoy wearing AND that serves a specific purpose. To reduce the amount of clothes you need to pack, limit everyone to a certain volume of clothing (say the size of a reusable shopping bag each) and footwear.
Further reading on this site: Outdoor clothing options.
And, last but not least, the fun things to bring camping. When children are involved, entertainment options are really important, not only to keep the kids active and off the screens, but also to provide some welcome relief for the parents.
Even with our limited packing space, there are plenty of entertainment options to choose from. You really just need to focus on what you can take rather than what you can't.
You might not be able to take the basketball but there are plenty of other easier to pack possibilities - tennis racks / cricket bats and balls, cards, compact games, pencils / writing paper, small toys and inflatable items. And then of course a couple of bikes could easily go on the tow / hitch bar, weight permitting.
13: Your car
There's no point having a great camping kit if you can't transport it safely. Your choice of car is therefore the key to comfortable car and tent camping and the safe transporting of you, your family and your gear to and from your camping spots - trailer free.
There are many different types of vehicles to choose from, and if you do your homework you can avoid for buyers regret - that is, paying a lot of money for something that is either bigger than you really need, or worse still, not big enough.
You don't necessarily need the biggest car on the market either. We have identified a number of cars in the mid-size range that would generally be suitable for families or groups of up to four people. If you don't own a car, or the right type of car, all is not lost - consider renting or hiring one.
Further reading on this site: Best car styles for camping review
Putting it all together
Knowing what goes in your camping setup is only part of the battle. You now need to get it all together and make sure that what you end up with works together cohesively.
You also importantly need to be able to pack for camping and get everyone and everything to and from the campsite safely.
If you have a trailer, or access to one, then packing for camping isn't so much of a challenge.
But if you don't have a trailer and you are a family of up to 5 people, then camping trailer free is absolutely doable and we can show you how.
You just need these three things working together as we cover in our member only portal, The Campus:
And we cover all of that in the Camping Kickstart Program.