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Camping essentials for 2023: Everything you need to go camping with the family
If you're ditching long-haul flights and hotels in favour of a simpler life in the UK, Europe, or even your own back garden this summer, fetch the roof rack - we’ve got all the camping essentials (and a few luxuries) that you need.
By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated May 22, 2023
Camping holidays can require a lot of kit and if you’re new to the whole thing, or are just deciding to really do it properly for the first time, the key is all in the preparation.
Decent camping equipment, a bit of knowhow and some home comforts can make all the difference, so that even if the weather doesn’t go to camp you still have an experience that’s magical rather than miserable. Think fairy lights, stoves and excellent coffee rather than Scrabble and rain beating on the caravan windows.
We've pulled together tips and tricks from Mumsnetters who have done the hard yards when it comes to putting up a tent and surviving a holiday with family in close quarters, as well as camping experts. In our ultimate guide to camping holidays we’ve shortlisted the best campsites, camping equipment and all the little extras that make a holiday under canvas special. Read on - and don’t forget the wine cooler!
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How we chose our recommendations
We consulted experts such as the Camping and Caravanning Club, who have an excellent list of camping essentials on their website by the way, on what to take on a camping trip to make sure no tent peg was left behind.
We also took inspiration from luxury glamping gurus Canopy and Stars on how to make a camping holiday truly special and we scoured reviews from camping holidays all over the UK and Europe to find out what had impressed holidaymakers and what experiences left them unimpressed, too - with camping it’s definitely all about what you can get wrong as well as what you can do right.
Real, honest reviews from Mumsnetters
Most importantly, we trawled the Mumsnet Talk forums to find both campsite recommendations from Mumsnetters who’s had successful family holidays, as well as real, honest reviews on camping equipment - including everything from the best tents to the comfiest camping mats to the neatest and coolest camping cutlery.
We know that when it comes to holidays, it’s the benefit of others’ experience and trustworthy recommendations from real parents that you need; a good family camping experience can provide memories that last a lifetime - a bad one is simply childcare in a survival environment.
Consider your campsite
First things first, make sure you pick the right spot to pitch your tent. Wild camping on a beach seems like a great idea when you're watching the sun set over the ocean with a glass of wine, but will it be as lovely when you realise there's no running water and the iPad has run out of battery?
No matter how adventurous you and your partner are, taking kids camping throws a whole new set of challenges into the mix, and there's no doubt that a few child-friendly facilities and little extras go a long way.
Think hard about whether you want electricity, how upmarket the shower and toilet blocks need to be, whether the site has facilities such as a communal kitchen and washing up area… Whether you want a site that has its own café or somewhere you can pay extra for a larger pitch, consider what facilities you need and double check whether your chosen site can accommodate them.
Take a look at this list of Mumsnetter favourite UK campsites to get you started and give you some ideas about things you might want on your campsite wishlist.
And if you find you’re a little overwhelmed as a first-time camper, you might like to consider something a little more solid than a tent. At Booking.com you can search for campsites with pods, caravans, garden rooms and more all over the world. And many campsites these days have glamping options, including everything from yurts to bothies. Camping definitely doesn’t need to be under canvas.
What Mumsnetters say
Sandy Balls is fab! You will have a great time. Go out for a drive across the New Forest to see the wild ponies.
We're at Clippesby Hall now. Has a heated outside pool, three play parks, one of which is a zip line, no evening entertainment but does have a restaurant, takeaway and small shop.
Fforest Fields in Builth Wells is a gorgeous campsite. Sparkling clean facilities, walks in all directions, loads of space... Proper back to basics nature and an abundance of red kites overhead.
One of the reasons many parents avoid camping is because of the level of preparation and equipment it requires – forget a tent pole or cooking utensils and suddenly things can end up looking a lot less fun and more “Why didn't we book those flights to Mallorca?”
There is a lot to buy and then to remember for a camping trip; there’s no getting around it. But a little bit of organisation and some research before you go shopping will ensure you are canvas-ready by your holiday.
Sort the essentials and there's nothing stopping you and your family from enjoying a holiday to remember for all of the right reasons. Here's how to get it right...
Choosing your tent
Tents come in all shapes and sizes, from little three-person tunnel tents, to huge bell tents and everything in between. For some people being able to stand up in their tent is important, so you’ll want to consider the height carefully. Others really value their space so may opt for an extra sleeping compartment to use as a 'storage room'. Whatever your preference, shop around to find the right fit for you.
Generally the advice from Mumsnetters is to go as big as you can afford (and will fit in your car). A three-person tent is really only big enough for three people to sleep in, so if you want a bit of living space, too, go for a five- or six-person tent.
Think about additional ‘rooms’, too. A tent with an awning gives you all somewhere to sit around a table undercover to eat, read or play games should the weather turn. And you might also want to invest in a toilet tent, which is useful even if you don’t bring your own loo for getting changed in or washing a slightly shy child.
There are also various types of tent. The main two types are the old-fashioned ‘pole’ kind and the inflatable kind, which has airbeam struts that you pump up. The latter are a bit more expensive but much lighter and easier to store. It’s worth remembering that they can puncture and while they are normally guaranteed and can be replaced, fixing a puncture in the pouring rain when you’ve just arrived is not much fun.
And then there are bell tents which are beautiful but rather a faff to set up yourself - we’d rather leave that to the glamping companies ourselves and swan in once the set-up is complete.
What Mumsnetters say
“Try Go Outdoors for everything. Air tents are easy to put up and down quickly. We haven't invested yet - using a pole tent for now. Camping in the garden or at nice campsites (or glamping in yurts) is a good intro. We did a few glamping trips - beds, provided bedding, own bathroom - as an intro.” JustMarriedBecca
“For a 'Tent as home' you need to be able to manage the whole family inside, space for proper chair and table, stand up height and ideally windows. This is better for kids (especially in rain) but you can easily end up with a trailer load of gear. Easiest to manage is a tunnel tent like a very popular Vango Icarus. The poles are not that hard to manage.” NotMeNoNo
“We have a Quechua inflatable tent and wouldn’t be without it. We’ve currently got a 4-man with a decent size living area that you can stand in throughout, bedroom easily fits double inflatable and kids’ air bed plus bag of clothes and works well for us. No heavier than other tents, similar size bag packs away easier than most we’ve had! just have the inflator to store separately. Only ever had Vango before this but hoping to get a bigger Quechua next year as much more affordable for longer breaks our little one is three and we’ve only done four or five nights so far which current tent is ample for! I love it - it takes one person less than 10 mins to pitch.” DontEatPurpleBroccoli
Don't forget: tent pegs, poles and a mallet, if required.
Keeping your tent clean
You wouldn't stand for mud and dirt being trampled through your home, so why not extend the same courtesy to your tent? Also, if you don’t keep your tent spick and span, by day three it will look like a tip and you’ll have mud, leaves, sand and worse in everything.
Here are a fewtop tips to help keep your nylon living quarters in check throughout your holiday:
- Keep dirty shoes outside - Ikea bags have many uses: they can hold dry clothes and a towel while you shower, and they're strong and roomy enough to carry any bits and pieces you want to bring back. But they also make excellent shoe bags. Leave one by your tent door and dirty shoes inside as you come in, then you can put them on again as you leave the tent - wellies and crocs are best for camping as they’re so easy to slip on and off..
- Bring a dustpan and brush – it's always handy to have one of these around because, in spite of your best efforts, some dirt will still manage to find its way in. This is camping, after all. If you’re a real neat freak and have an electric hook-up, you could even take a handheld hoover with you.
- Pack a bathmat – surprisingly multi-use when it comes to camping, not only can you use them for their official purpose in the showers,, they also keep your ground sheet moisture-free. Alternatively, use a cheap one as an ultra-absorbent doormat that can be chucked in the washing machine when you get home.
- Flexi buckets – not only are they great for carrying toys, washing up, wet clothes and anything else that springs to mind, they also double up as a handy baby bath or washing up bowl. These collapsible buckets are handy and, crucially, won't take up much boot-space.
- Wipes for everything - no, they really aren’t environmentally friendly, but for a week, they’re a bit of a Godsend. Surface wipes will keep tables, chairs etc clean and hygienic and make-up wipes or ordinary nappy wipes are great for hands, faces and, yes, bottoms, where necessary. Don’t forget to pack some nappy sacks, too, for any mucky clear-up jobs.
What Mumsnetters say
Things to keep your tent clean
“Get two wooden stakes (old cricket stumps will do) hammer them into the ground by your tent door and put your wellies upside down on them. You will then have a welly stand and they stay dry.” ButtyBach
“For just inside the ‘front door’, I had bought a proper doormat - to stand on changing shoes etc. Rule is all shoes come off at the door.” BiddyPop
“Flexi tubs for shoes /clothes. And Primark £1 fold away shopping bags make great laundry bags!!” AprilMightBeMyNewName
Don't forget: puncture kit and pump.
Let’s be honest, after most camping trips, no matter how good they are, you’ll be glad to get into your own bed again. But camping doesn’t have to mean restless nights, early wake-ups and a bad back at the end of it all.
Black-out curtains for your tent will help you get to lie in occasionally (don’t forget the ear plugs to block out the sound of your fellow campers). And your actual bed can be as comfortable as you make it.
If you’re using sleeping bags, consider sleep mats first as a comfy base makes all the difference: you can pick up really cheap foam mats from places like Aldi. They're warmer and softer than sleeping on a ground sheet, and they can be used for outdoor seating, too but they can be a bit flat. You can always buy a few cheapies and layer them up, or spend a bit more for something with more padding and a softer, squishier feel. Better yet, why not try a thermal self-inflating mat if you're really pushing the boat out?
Sleeping bags also come with varying levels of comfort. Look out for bags with lots of filling that will add a cushioned feel. Some come with inbuilt pillows, too, though you may want to take your own for extra comfort. Have a look at the various tog levels available and think about what you’ll need - it’s surprising how cold it can get in the UK at night and if you’re camping on the edge of Loch Lomond you might be glad of the extra warmth. But if you’re in the south of France in August an Arctic sleeping bag will feel a bit much.
Many Mumsnetters ditch the sleeping bags altogether and go for a camp bed or air bed, made up with the usual duvet and pillows. Do remember that this set up won’t be quite as warm as sleeping bags so if you’re setting up a ‘normal’ bed, don’t forget a beanie to pull on if it gets cold (also useful for pulling over your eyes if it gets light a little early for you).
If you opt for an airbed, try to spring for slightly higher quality. Cheap ones can leak air as you sleep, and you can find yourself with a bad neck and stuck in the middle after it has sunk.
What Mumsnetters say
“Therm-A-Rest. Not cheap but mine is 20+ years and still going strong. They don't look like much but make a big difference in keeping you warm and comfortable.” GeorgiePorge
“The Megamat is amazingly comfortable. You add extra air for firmness. Much warmer than an air bed, thicker than a sim, lighter and smaller than blowup or camp beds.” TheMoJAreAJoke
“Fishing chair/beds. They are big but so worth it. We've got the car space for them but if we didn't, I'd be getting rid of everything else before getting rid of the beds!” MrsDoctorDear
MN Sleeping Recommendations
Forget tripping over guy ropes at night. From lanterns to fairy lights (easy to hang across the tent), make sure you're not left sitting in the dark with a couple of iPhone torches and nothing else.
Headlamp beanie hats are a great invention - particularly for finding the loo in the dark - or you can just invest in a few head torches, which are always useful on a camping holiday.
If you really want to impress your kids, glow sticks work a treat as well – they're easy to carry and can be hung up as night lights too, or attached around guy ropes to help you find your tent.
What Mumsnetters say
Decathlon has some reasonably priced LED lanterns, they can all hang up too
We bought a Kampa Groove lamp this year and it is so much better
They give a lovely warm light that is really nice for sitting, chatting after dark, pottering around doing stuff...
Top tip: fix a head torch to a water bottle with the light facing in. There you have it – an instant camping lantern.
It’s true - everything tastes better outdoors but a bit of prep and a few gadgets can really up your game. Even if you’re at a campsite with a café, it’s good fun to cook outside, even if it’s just the odd sausage and marshmallow on a foraged stick.
If you want to be able to prepare your own food, you may want to consider getting a burner and kettle. Whether a single or double burner is best for you will be dictated by how much you plan to cook.
Here are the other bits and bobs you'll need to remember if you're planning on cooking:
- It goes without saying that cooking utensils, crockery and cutlery will come in handy. Go for unbreakable melamine stuff.
- For a sit-down meal, a table with fold-out benches is better than camping chairs and a table. Camping chairs are very low and you can find yourself with your elbows up by your ears.
- A portable or disposable barbecue (if the site allows them) is an excellent option if you're only cooking a few meals and feel a burner would be unnecessary.
- Remember to pack your food into boxes that seal to avoid unwelcome visitors.
- A cool bag will mean you don’t have to live off tins. If you have electricity, you might even take a small camping fridge.
What Mumsnetters say
“I have a really good cooler. I put ice blocks in it. I buy any meat I need and vacuum pack it with its rub or marinade before I freeze it. I have a couple of lidded plastic boxes I keep in my good cooler that I keep salad stuff,etc in. I only open the really good cooler once a day and that’s to transfer that nights dinner into a smaller cooler, which I also keep ice blocks in (it’s a cheaper cooler and not as good). Once something is opened ie milk or eggs or salad it goes in that cooler. I can keep my meat and veggies cool in my good cooler for five days. Between the freezing and vacuum packing it lasts great. I can also get five days out of my milk.” TheOldTrout01876
“We always have an electric hook up so I take my Von chef multi cooker pan. We use it in the porch if it's raining and it's great for breakfast fry ups , one-pot chicken stews and for Bolognese and chilli. We also have a Weber Go Anywhere barbecue, which is fine to use in the rain as you use it with a cover on. We just stand over the chimney starter with an umbrella to get it going. We only take a small single gas burner for when we want to cook rice or pasta and I've even used that in the rain with an umbrella and keeping the saucepan lid on.” AngelsWithSilverWings
“This is the camping kitchen we have. Ours is great. I initially bought it to go on a camping trip with DS3 and DS4 with their Taekwondo group as we were camping in a field without even running water. The model I bought has a sink so I reckoned it would be helpful as there was no camper's kitchen. It was very handy. The only thing I would suggest is that you get a long hose for your gas cooker so you can leave the gas canister on the ground. We have since then got a trailer tent with its own kitchen and I still bring it to have additional work space.” ChipMonkey
Other camping equipment you can't afford to forget:
- Swiss army knife
- Wet wipes – these ones are biodegradable
- Water carrier (5l bottle from a supermarket should be fine)
- Small first aid kit
- Gaffer tape
- Plenty of layers
- Ear plugs and sleeping mask – the great outdoors cares as much for your lie in as your child does
- Bin bags
- Hand sanitiser
- Insect repellent candles
- Toilet roll
Now you've got all of the basics down, there's nothing like a few home comforts and luxury extras to really get the party started.
A string of fairy lights and a couple of cheap faux fur rugs to chuck on the ends of your beds or on the floor of the tent transform a utilitarian space into something a bit cosy and special but there are lots of little things that will add a bit of camping magic… really excellent coffee to wake up to, really excellent gin for cocktail hour and some fancy snacks to get out as the fire goes on in the evenings all add a sense of occasion.
Here are a few more things we think of as ‘essential luxuries’.
- Wine ice block – buy a box of wine and take the metallic bag of wine out of its box.
- Hammam towels – Hammams are clever cotton sheets you can use for all kinds of things – sarong, towel, mat…
- Pillow cases – pack the childrens' clothes in pillow cases – it'll be so much easier to identify whose is whose without rummaging through bags.
- Duvets and blankets – there's no shame in bringing a duvet. You're already in the tent, you've got nothing else to prove – don't be a hero. You might also want to pack multiple fleece blankets and even a hot water bottle, if you feel the cold.
- Ear plugs and eye masks – for a longer lie in.
- Mats and floor cushions – make the tent feel more homely.
What Mumsnetters say
“For me, my luxuries are my merino leggings. I get changed into my warm clothes early in the evening so I am cosy before I get into bed, and wear the merino as a base layer under other trousers or a fleece onesie. And my Dryrobe. I bought it as I outdoor swim, but it is fabulous for camping as I can throw it on to go to the loo in the night, wear it to and from the showers so no getting dressed there, snuggle up in it during the evening and so on.” CMOTDibbler
“Tent carpet. Makes such a cosy difference.” StarGirl1701
“A portable toilet! So much better than having to walk through the campsite to the toilet in the middle of the night.” EllaPaella
“I love my metal insulated cafetière for morning coffee as it keeps the coffee warm for much longer and is easy to clean.” Kahlua4Me
“Get an electric hook up. This opens a whole new world. We have a trailer tent and take: a proper little fridge, led strip lights, toaster, fan heater (bought from Argos last August holiday), and it obviously charges all the gadgets etc.” StupidUsername1
Buyer’s guide for camping essentials
Use our guide to camping equipment must-haves to decide what to buy and what to borrow and what to pack and what to leave at home
What do you need to take a family camping?
If you’re going for the first time, you might prefer to borrow some of the big ticket items, or camp somewhere where the accommodation is set up for you. But otherwise, think in terms of something to sleep under (a tent); something to sleep on (mats, sleeping bags and the like), things to cook and eat with and domestic essentials such as cleaning equipment, a washing line etc. Buying your own bedding is worthwhile and kids’ sleeping bags will be well used for cub camps, school trips and sleepovers for years to come.
It’s also good to pack into storage you can then use, such as plastic tubs that can be used to keep food dry, and trugs that can double as laundry baskets or shoe storage in the tent.
Take plenty of warm clothes and layers so you can dress for any weather, swim stuff if you’re near water or the campsite has a pool, and lots of practical clothes that dry fast in the sun such as fleeces.
The ROI has some really useful packing lists on its website that are worth checking out.
What are the top 10 things you need for camping?
Gin, tonic, lemons… OK,OK…. 1. A tent.
- Tent pegs, mallets and anything else you need to set up.
- Ground sheets, mats and a doormat.
- Beds or sleeping mats.
- Duvet and pillows or a sleeping bag
- Cooking equipment and matches
- Cutlery and crockery
- Chairs and a table
- Food (at least enough to get your going)
- Entertainment - books, magazines, board games and outdoor toys to keep kids busy.
What should you not bring camping?
There are a few camping no-nos. Try to avoid:
- Anything expensive. Things to get lost or nicked.
- Anything loud - you don’t want to be ‘those’ neighbours.
- Things that are scented (unless you want to be eaten by mozzies, leave the Chanel No 5 at home).
- Food that isn’t wrapped and will attract animals. Eggs in particular need locking down or you’ll have foxes in your tent.
- Anything breakable. Go metal and melamine all the way. Broken glass in a tent is not fun.
What is the best food to bring on a camping trip?
You need to meal-plan a bit in advance. Lots of people really enjoy campfire cooking and will pack lots of tiny spice jars to cook up a storm, but if you’re going fancy you’ll need to be sure you have not just the food you will need but the right utensils. It’s often best to keep things simple. Here are a few no-fail camping meal ideas to consider:
- Cereal for breakfast. A fry-up is also a must but you’ll be glad your brought the cheerios when you’re still trying to get the fire lit three hours after the children woke up and first started asking about breakfast. See also individually packaged croissants and brioche.
- Sliced bread and buns for lunchtime sandwiches. Keep lunches simple (sarnie, fruit, crisps) so you don’t spend all day either cooking or washing up. Jarred sandwich fillings like marmite, peanut butter and jam are super quick and require no prep, but a cheeseboard, crackers and grapes are good, too.
- A pre-made meal you can heat up for the first night is a good plan. A spag bol in tupperware can easily be heated up while you cook some pasta (in fact pasta is a camping staple). Or a chilli con carne just needs rice (or a bag of tortilla chips if you’re feeling very lazy).
- Barbecue food always suits campfire cooking. Sausages in buns are the simplest solution (don’t forget the ketchup) but sliced halloumi, peppers and onions are easy too and great thrown into wraps and folded.
- Tins, tins and more tins. Tuna can be easily turned into a topping for jacket potatoes done on the fire, or added to cold cooked pasta and sweetcorn for a pasta salad, or pressed into service as a sandwich filling. Tinned pulses fill a family up quickly and make a good side for barbecued meats or fish. And don’t forget the baked beans, which can be a meal all by themselves at a push.
- Frying pan food. Anything you can cook in one pan is a boon - paella, omelettes, corned beef hash, frying pan pizzas and quesadillas are all great camping dishes.
- Don’t forget a few posh bits and pieces to up your game. Fancy tins of olives, expensive biscuits, boxes of chocolates, exotic looking crisps and then some decent coffee and whisky (or whatever your tipple is) will make any campfire meal feel like a bit of a feast.
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