Family camping in New JerseyWhen preparing for a camping trip, don’t overpack. Try to resist bringing all sorts of extras that will only get in the way of your enjoyment of the great outdoors. Even if you plan on pitching your tent next to your car, it’s possible to be fully prepared without lugging tons of unnecessary equipment around.

A Short List of Camping Essentials

  • Tent. If you plan to go camping with any regularity, this is a worthwhile investment that will last for years. Try to think carefully about your long-term needs before buying a tent though, as they come in many sizes and prices.
  • Footprint. Consider purchasing this inexpensive accessory, also known as a ground tarp, to spread on the ground and protect the floor of your new tent.
  • Down sleeping bags and inflatable pads. While less costly, cotton sleeping bags absorb moisture and won’t keep the kids as warm on chilly nights.
  • Games and activities. Make sure there’s never a dull moment by bringing a Frisbee, card games, or your child’s favorite toy, but also pack educational goodies such as binoculars, a magnifying glass, or an animal identification guide.
  • Lantern and flashlight. Extra batteries are always a good idea, too.
  • Toilet paper and trowel. Toilet facilities might not be available at some campsites, so remember to bury any waste a considerable distance from your tent.
  • Daypack or small backpack. Stuff this with useful items like maps, bug spray, sunscreen, water purification tablets, a small first-aid kit, matches/lighter, a rain jacket, etc.
  • Water bottle or jug. Be green! And don’t forget to fill it up before leaving home.
  • Food and a cooler. Plan to bring foods that are easy to cook with minimum paper waste; don’t forget the S’mores!
  • Camping cookset, bowls, and utensils. All the more important if you plan to spend multiple nights at a campsite—and better for the environment than paper or plastic. A camping stove. Or consider bringing your own cooking grate to use over the campsite’s fire pit.

Ben Keene is the author of Best Hikes Near New York City (FalconGuides, 2011).