THE Best Tent Camping Setup for Families


Last modified: November 21, 2022

Are you thinking of becoming a camping family and feel excited but also daunted at the prospect of working out your type of camping setup and what you need to buy for camping. 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.

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We discuss below the various components of a family tent camping setup. These related articles may also interest you:

Your camping setup

1: Tent and shelter

A great camping setup

A functional camping setup for a family. This image contains one of many options available.

The most important thing to buy for camping when you are starting out is your tent. And it's usually the most expensive, so you want to get it right.

It goes without saying that a campsite should provide adequate internal shelter from the weather and for privacy, but it should also provide adequate outdoor shelter to protect you, your outdoor camping gear as well as your gas cooker from the sun and rain.

Your tent

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.

Outdoor shelter

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

Camping tools packed in bag,

Camping tools are easy to get together and don't need to take up a lot of space. Just head down to the local hardware store.

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

Camping power

Power and fuel options vary greatly from a simple ice and gas or campfire combination to an elaborate solar panel and large battery setup.

There are a variety of things you need for camping and your camping setup in the power and fuel department depending on a number of things: your lighting setup, 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

Tent lighting

Camp lighting can be a simple as rechargeable tent lights. Include in your daily tasks the process of recharging them and you will never be left in the dark.

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 kitchen

A simple camp kitchen without the bells and whistles but with all of the functionality you need.

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

Camp refrigeration

If you want to avoid the expense of a camp fridge, try an ice box backed up by a padded cooler bag.

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 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

Camping bathroom and laundry ideas

Camp without bathroom facilities with a portable toilet and solar shower. 

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

Components o a first aid kit for camping

Be prepared for most emergencies with a well equipped first-aid kit.

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

Three generation family sitting around a table

Camping is so much more comfortable with the right type of 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

Sleeping bags and sleeping mats

Pick your bedding well and get a good nights sleep.

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.

Further reading on this site: Sleeping bags and bedding as well as Sleeping mats and pads.

11: Clothing

Which clothing to choose for camping

Some of us love looking smart in our outdoor gear but at least make sure it is comfortable and practical and follows the three-layer rule in cold weather.

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.

12: Entertainment

Entertainment options for camping

Camping is certainly one of the best ways to get kids of the screens and back to traditional games.

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

Which car to choose for camping

The type of car you choose is really a key part of the three trailer free camping essentials - right next to the physical camping setup and how to pack the 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

Camping setup and car packed for camping

The before and after - a family of four safely travelling to the campsite for a wonderful family camping adventure and an example of a trailer free camping setup.

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:

  1. The right camping setup as depicted in our Camping Kickstart Program
  2. The right car to transport your camping setup
  3. A systematic way to pack the car for camping

And we cover all of that in the Camping Kickstart Program.

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