Family Camping: The Keys to Quick & Easy Getaways

By Susan A. Merkner

Advance Preparations Make Quick Getaways Easy

When planning a family camping trip, it’s important to remember the Girl Scout motto: “Be prepared.”  Advance planning, along with proper packing, are the key elements for a relaxed outdoor vacation. 

Family CampingAfter years of camping trips, our family has organized a system for storing and transporting gear that makes it easy to get away for a quick weekend without too much advance hassle.  Most of our camping equipment is stored in several large, plastic boxes with removable lids.  After putting together a set of menus and making a trip to the grocery store, we can be on our way quickly. 


Our system works well for car camping and for use in a camper or recreational vehicle, as well as a visit to one of the many Texas state parks, where we typically sleep either in tents, a cabin or a screened shelter.  We haven’t graduated to backpacking trips yet, which would necessitate a completely different approach to gear, with a “less is better” orientation, rather than the “everything but the kitchen sink” attitude we have adopted.

There are several crucial factors involved when planning a camping trip. In addition to selecting a destination, it’s important to decide at the onset whether food will be kept cold in a refrigerator or in one or more coolers.  That decision affects what food is taken, how much grocery shopping is needed during the trip and how often ice will need to be purchased.

Advance meal planning also depends on which cooking methods are selected. Will you be using an open fire which burns wood or charcoal, a small gas or charcoal grill, or a single- or double-burner propane gas or liquid fuel camp stove? If electricity is available, campsite chefs can include small kitchen appliances such as an electric skillet, slow cooker, griddle and even a coffee pot.

Experienced campers suggest you do as much meal preparation ahead of time as possible. For example, if you plan to use ground meat in a recipe, brown it at home and store it in a plastic bag inside the cooler.  Likewise, chop vegetables at home and wash fresh fruit ahead of time.

The following checklist of camping equipment is designed to be the starting point for planning a trip. Not all items are needed on every campout.  Check out the recommended books for more suggestions on equipment and menus. And remember: Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints!

Parenthood Camp Guide: A guide to summer, wilderness & speciality programs for boys and girls in the U.S. Bulky Items 

- Tents, ground cloths

- Card tables

- Lawn chairs

- Sleeping bags, pads/air mattresses, pillows

- Trash-bag holder

- Shovel and metal bucket

- 3 plastic dishpans for washing dishes

- Outdoor sporting equipment: bicycles, horseshoes, bats, balls, skates, etc.

- Indoor games and crafts, guidebooks, cards, etc. 

- Camp stove 

- Fuel

- Charcoal

- Firewood

- Fire-starters 

- Small grill 

- Picnic blankets

- Plastic/cloth tablecloths, clips

- Coolers  

- Food, drinks

- Drinking water, cups 

Equipment Box 

- Citronella candles

- Clothespins, rope

- Matches

- Igniter

- Air pump

- Lantern

- Flashlights

- Batteries

- Toolbox: hammer, nails, etc.

- Hatchet, large knife

- Light bulbs

- Extension cords, cube taps, timer

- Fire extinguisher

- Sunscreen

- Insect repellent

- First-aid kit

- Pump hand soap 

- Laundry detergent, stain-remover stick

Kitchen Box

- Hot pads

- Kitchen towels

- Hot mitts

- Can insulators

- Dishwashing liquid

- Sponge or dish cloth

- Bleach in spray bottle

- All-purpose cleaner in spray bottle

- Aluminum/cast iron cookware

- Set of metal bowls

- Long-handled cooking utensils

- Can opener

- Rubber gloves in resealable plastic bag 

- Slotted spoon, other serving pieces 

- Colander 

- Cutting board, knives

- Condiments: salt, pepper, sugar, cooking oil, ketchup, mustard, etc.

- Screen domes to cover food outdoors

Paper Box

- Paper/plastic plates and bowls

- Plastic utensils

- Napkins, holder

- Paper towels

- Toilet paper

- Foil, plastic wrap

- Clean resealable plastic food-storage bags

- Large plastic trash bags

- Paper grocery bags

- Plastic grocery bags

- Twist ties

Personal Belongings

- Clothes, extra shoes/hiking boots

- Bandana 

- Raingear

- Toiletries, medications

- Towels, washcloths

- Camera, film, batteries

- Binoculars

- Day pack or fanny pack

- Books



Camper’s Guide to Outdoor Cooking: Everything From Fires to Fixin’s, by John G. Ragsdale, Gulf Publishing, 1998.

Cooking in the Outdoors, by Cliff Jacobson, Globe Pequot Press, 1999.

Cooking the Dutch Oven Way, by Jane Woodruff, Globe Pequot Press, 2000.

Kids Camp: Activities for the Backyard or Wilderness, by Laurie Carlson and Judith Dammel, Chicago Review Press, 1995.

Roughing It Easy: A Unique Ideabook for Camping and Cooking, by Dian Thomas, Betterway Publications, 1994.

Simple Foods for the Pack: More Than 180 All-Natural, Trail-Tested Recipes, by Claudia Axcell, Diana Cooke and Vikki Kinmont, Sierra Club Books, 2004.

The Camper’s Pocket Handbook: A Backcountry Traveler’s Companion, by John Goll, Globe Pequot Press, 1998.

More from Parenthood:
Camps & Camping: Planning & Resource Guide for Summer Camp, Day Camp, Family Camps and Camping

Susan Merkner is former editor of Our Kids San Antonio, a publication of Dominion Parenting Media.