What to Pack for a 1-2 week Camping Trip with Kids: Clothes and Personal Items

“You must have been planning this trip for a long time”, a woman said to me the other day.

“Well actually, no I haven’t, we decided to go because it was time to go”, I said.

As I reflected on my response while driving the 600 mile stretch between Lava Hot Springs, Idaho and Yosemite, it occurred to me that I had been preparing for this trip in some way for a very long time.

Before Robbie was born, my friend Marla who had two, 10 year old boys at the time said, “Taking the boys to the National Parks would be a great thing to do”. I have camped several times a year with Robbie and friends. Two years after Robbie was born, I had numerous dreams of “going to the mountains”, and in my meditations for years, I would hear an inner voice say, “go to the mountains”. Whether I was hearing voices or not, there seemed to be something drawing me out to the Western United States park system, and not Appalachia and the Smokies.

So off we went.

Having camped in the Shenandoah’s and the national and state parks of the northeast coast, I had the idea that a few things would be different. And having traveled through the Rocky Mountains and throughout California, I knew that we would need a few different things. But it wasn’t until I really experienced the environments of the Rockies, the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada’s did I understand just how different and strange everything was. Namely, high elevation and its corresponding environment, and except for parts of the Cascade mountain range, the extreme dryness.

So for the people who have asked, here is the clothing list (with a few other sanity savers in there) I have made up for car camping with my 7 year old… The list is much different than when I started! It is intended for traveling for 1-2 week periods, with the idea that you will be rinsing or washing out your clothes in between.

* Toy
* Stuffed animal, or something called home
(I put these 2 first because there is the tendency to not think of it or leave it out, but your child’s comfort is your comfort)
* 2 short sleeve t-shirts (I like wool for myself)
* 2 long sleeve wool or 1 long sleeve wool and 1 synthetic quick dry shirt
* lightweight goose down jacket
* rain jacket
* heavier winter jacket
* 1 pair wool long johns or synthetic long johns
* 1 pair shorts
* 2 pair synthetic lightweight fleece pants
* 1 pair rain pants
* underwear – wool or synthetic

The Icebreaker brand for wool shirts is great for kids. My son’s skin is very sensitive, that he can take the wool says a lot for its softness and comfort. I prefer the Smartwool brand for myself for shirts and underwear, and for socks for both of us. Their merino wool has gotten much finer and softer over the last 3 years. Northface, Patagonia and REI also have great quality for pants, most of our pants we have found at thrift shops. Marmot and Arcteryx are great for jackets. I will spend money here when needed, this is the one place where I believe in name brand goods as protection against the elements can make all the difference in how much you enjoy the experience.

* 2 pairs wool socks
* winter hat
* muffler or neck gaiter
* light weight glove liner for cooler mornings/eve
* heavier water proof gloves
* hiking shoes
* optional but I found it helpful when we were in Montana and upper northwest: snowboots

(For back country camping, I would take out 1 short sleeve shirt and 1 long sleeve shirt, 1 pair of fleece pants and the glove liner.)

* Pajamas
* Sun glasses
* Sun hats, if you are light skinned, get a hat that has a flap in the back to protect your neck
* Bathing suit
* water shoes
* goggles
* flotation device – pfd – spend money here, it is not worth your child’s safety skimping here
* quick dry towel

I add the water things because I can’t tell you the number of times we have come across a beautiful clear creek, river or lake that beckoned. I put the water things in a designated “swim bag” that is always ready by my son’s seat. For the quick dry towel, I use a synthetic camp towel, an extra large one for each of us. Since the west is pretty dry, the towels dry fast, so you could use a regular cotton towel. Honestly though, the cotton usually didn’t dry fast enough and it was unpleasant driving with wet cotton draped over the car seat.

Wheels. This could be a bike and helmet, or scooter, but something your child can wheel around the campground with and make friends, or for me, stay with me as I jog and walk in the morning.

Daypack for the adults and the children.
Every child should really be responsible for their own water supply and rain jacket. And there are other supplies you should really not do without when you go on day hikes. Please see my post for “what to pack in the daypack when hiking with young children”. One thing i didn’t mention in my post was the importance of finding a pack that fits well for children. As a physical therapist, I find it distressing to see so many children carrying horrendously big packs and even worse, while hunched over texting. While it may keep me in a job, I would prefer to be employed preventing problems in the first place. My son has a wonderful Eddie Bauer children’s backpack that he has had since he was in preschool. It fits his back perfectly and I just bought a small camelbak pack for water to go inside of it. His rain jacket, pants, snacks, lunch and camelbak fit inside.

Toiletries – please remember to keep these in your bear box, bear bag or car. Although don’t leave your toiletries in the car in Yosemite or the Sierra Nevada’s as the bears have learned to lift the windows off and plunge in for loot.Their sense of smell is many times better than a dog’s and any toiletry item is fair game. Also, consider brushing your teeth at the campground’s designated area, namely the bathrooms where there are sinks. I noticed a few people brushing their teeth by their car or by the river, and then we would get a grizzly prowling the next day. Hello? If not for yourself, think of your neighbors and the safety of small children.

Here is the list of toiletries we brought:
* Waterbottle – this does double duty as drinking container at the campsite
* Sun protection lotion
* tooth brush, paste
* small towel for the face and hands to dry off

Anything else that you use regularly. For me I have dental floss, a tongue scraper (a yogic tradition and one I am so used to that if I miss it, I feel like I haven’t brushed my teeth), shampoo, conditioner, bottle of oil and Dr. Bonner’s peppermint soap. I also have daily contacts but usually wear eyeglasses and carry an extra pair of glasses just in case. I don’t use oil or lotions at night, for reasons listed above under “brushing teeth”.

* small flashlight to keep with your toiletry bag
* clear plastic boxes for storage

This saved me. Just having a box for cooking, my son’s clothes, my clothes, etc helped to organize things in a way that made things so much easier.

What? You need something else than where you are? Let me assure you that in most of these places, there is no wifi or cellular. I hope that does not scare you away, it is a real gift especially for kids. But having said that, with a very active minded and bodied 7 year old and mom, we loved listening to our Audible books as we drove the 100’s of miles between parks and also before we went to sleep at times, especially when it was raining or we were very tired. We listened to the entire Percy Jackson series, stories on Greek mythology, Egyptian mythology and will start on Shakespeare and Jules Verne in the next segment of our trip. One family told us about the app “Epic” which has all the classics and modern kids stories for $4.95/month. Another bargain.

Walkie Talkies with a minimum of 10 mike radius. I say 10 miles not because you would ever be 10 miles from your child, but 10 miles because the connection can get fuzzy after a mile, no matter if you have the best ones out there or not. I would leave the walkie talkie with him when I had to go to the restroom or was doing yoga in the early morning, sometimes he just needed to hear my voice. 

In another post, I will include the tent camping supplies but for now, I hope this helps. Let me know if you have something that has helped you, I will add it to the post!

Many blessings to all of you! May you enjoy the beautiful United States park system – there is nowhere else like this in the world. And if you are a U.S. citizen, one of the best things this country has to offer.