Preparing for Family Camping Getaways

Here in Northern California we had a huge spring rainstorm roll through the area, this weekend. I’d hate to get caught camping in one of those, but I know that near-perfect springtime camping weather is right around the corner, so it’s time to make sure we’ve got all of our gear organized and ready to go.

I have to admit, we’re not great planners when it comes to reserving campsites ahead of time. We try to camp every month, even during the winter, but more often than not we make the decision during the week. This leaves very little time to hit the grocery store for food. We need to have everything ready to go by Friday, so that we can be on the road to reach the campsite before dark.

Middle Cape Sable beach, Florida Everglades (photo by boltron on Flickr)

The key to this, of course, is organization. Unfortunately, getting organized is a lot easier to talk about than it is to do. At least for me! The only way that I’ve been able to pull this off, with any success, is with plastic storage tubs. They’re not perfect, because I can only fit two of them in my small SUV, along with an ice chest, but keeping the camping gear in storage tubs eliminates a lot of packing on those Friday afternoons.

We split our gear into “camp kitchen” and “camping gear” storage bins. Large items, like our tent, camp chairs, sleeping bags, sleeping pads and stove don’t fit into storage bins and are packed separately.  It’s proven fairly easy to remember those large items, though, and we pack those into the car last, so they are easy to see. One item that would fit inside a storage bin is the tarp that we use underneath our tent, but it would take up too much room so we spread it out in the back of the SUV and pack our gear on top of it.

For a more in-depth copy of this list, in PDF format, see The Camping Gear List.

Camping Gear Bin

  • Lighter & Tender
  • Garbage Bags
  • Toilet Paper
  • Table Cloth (2)
  • Hatchet
  • Stove Fuel / Propane
  • Whisk Broom and Dustpan
  • Lantern
  • Collapsible 5-Gallon Water Bladder
  • Plastic Dishpan
  • Insect Repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Spare Batteries
  • Cards and Games

Camp Kitchen Bin

  • Paper Towels
  • Hand Sanitizer and Wipes
  • Dish Soap
  • Coffee Pot
  • Dutch Oven
  • Frying Pan
  • Cooking Utensils
  • Oven Mit
  • Eating Utensils
  • Plates, Bowels & Cups
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Re-sealable Bags
  • Cooking Oil
  • Dry Food (Cereal, Coffee, Trail Mix, etc.)

The bulky items in the camp kitchen bin take up a lot of room, but many of the smaller items pack away inside them. The key to making this work is keeping these bins stocked and ready to go. We have a hard enough time getting the three kids ready to go, so being able to grab the two bins, along with the tent and associated sleeping gear really helps out.

Using milk jugs to make block ice for the ice chest

We use 1-gallon milk jugs to make our own block ice

The other key to a quick Friday getaway is the ice chest. We are fortunate to have a second refrigerator in our garage, so this is where all of our camping food goes during the week, until we are ready to pack the ice chest. It’s also where we make all of our ice. We use 1-gallon milk jugs and we need five of them for a weekend of camping. When I leave for work in the morning, I put two of the milk jugs into the ice chest to pre-cool it.

In the afternoon, after the kids come home from school, Lisa will replace those two milk jugs with three fresh ones and load the food and drinks into the ice chest. Managing the ice chest is one of the biggest problems most prospective campers face, because if you don’t have enough freezer space for all of that block-ice, it’s difficult to pre-cool it. If you cannot pre-cool your ice chest, try to ensure that everything you put into it is already cold.

The best way to get in the habit of spending a weekend camping with your family is to ensure that the preparation for the trip is not a huge ordeal. Hopefully these tips will encourage you to investigate your own system for getting organized.

See also…

40 thoughts on “Preparing for Family Camping Getaways

  1. Michele – like my wife Lisa says, “oh well, at least it’s keeping him out of trouble.” 🙂

    Thanks for the very kind words, I hope you guys are having a great time camping!

  2. As someone with a husband who pre-warms the coffee pot with hot water, I don’t know whether to thank you or hate you for the cooler advice. I know my husband will be ALL about that project!! We even have the outdoor refrigerator to boot. You’ve inspired us to do the once a month camping thing with 2 longer trips planned this summer. We can’t make it out too early on Friday so we’re going tonight. I woke up this morning and we’ve been all over your site. Now it’s time to unplug and go! Thanks again for all the useful info.

  3. I developed my own camping blog in the beginning of March of this year and you and I iseem to be on the same page in terms of how much we love camping and sharing our unique experiences and tips. I love your tips and will probably use some of them in the future. Thanks. I have book marked your blog and will be returning in the future to read more. Pl.ease consider posting my web site here. My web site is I included the web address for one specific article on my BLOG that has received a lot of comments to date. Check it our as I thonk you may enjoy my articles as much as I am enjoying reading yours.

  4. You are so right about the plastic totes.I have 4 for everything. I prep cooler almost the same as you.Nothing like getting away Friday afternoon ASAP.

    • And Mel, they are great for wet or muddy shoe storage outside the tent. Of course, then you have a muddy tub to put your gear back into, but that’s still better than having a muddy tent!

  5. Thanks for this very practical post! The two storage bins is a great idea, as is using giant milk jugs for ice blocks. My husband and I are planning a weekend getaway two weeks from now, and these tips will definitely help make our trip easier!!

  6. Great tips that I can put to use this year! We are preparing for our first camping trip of the year and our first trip camping with our car. In the past we’ve always done hike in, primitive camping but we discovered that doesn’t really work when you have a little one that can’t carry anything. Last year we took our 9 month old on her first camping trip and I got stuck carrying ALL of our gear while my husband carried her in a backpack carrier! Not fun! Too much weight, too many steep hills. ‘Nuff said. At least our daughter had a great time and slept straight through the night. 🙂

    Gonna check out a new (new to us) state park in southern Minnesota with several caves we can tour!

    Happy camping!

    • Thanks, Kim! Yes, I’m afraid you will be car camping for the foreseeable future 🙂 My 9-year old girls are definitely ready for backpacking, but my son has a ways to go!

  7. Eric,
    Because I started my own camping blog this year it forced me to take the next step with getting organized. I love my clear boxes, with each one labled. I even have to laught at myself for being so organized. But then it’s a one time deal and now it’s done.

    Bin 1 dry food labled DRY FOOD FOOD….
    Bin 2 bottles, fressh food labled FRESH FOOD FOOD……
    Bin 3 camp kitchen labled KITCHEN NO FOOD
    Bin 4 gear labeld GEAR NO FOOD
    Bin 5 cloths CLOTHING

    I like the big lable maker and noting FOOD OR NO FOOD so those camping with me can see easily what goes into the bear box and what can stay out. Of course were car camping and the bins are not the biggest so it may seem like a lot of bins to you. But this step has kept me less crazy when it comes to knowing where everything is and where to find it.

    Happy Camping

  8. Some really good points here.

    I think all of us can be a little guilty of acting a bit “off the cuff” and forgetting that organisation is actually a key part of the whole camping experience, if you want things to go well.

  9. Great post. Funny thing is that camping is the one of the only thing I”m organized about. I keep my stuff is green storage bins but am tempted to switch over to clear bins so I can see what’s in it w/o having to rummage through. Good labeling may make this not necessary though.

    • All of the lids on my clear ones have broken – I don’t know if it’s just these, or if it’s something common to all of them. The lids are kind of a harder plastic and they just get brittle over time, probably from the sun.

  10. I have never Pre cooled my ice chest but will give it a go this year. As allway I enjoy reading your posts. Happy Camping and yes soon the rain will be gone. Where will your first North Cal Camp trip be?

    • Thanks Ruth! We will head over to one of the state beaches next weekend (we have birthday parties this weekend) and then up into the Kings Canyon area, after that. There are so many great places to go, around here, that it boggles the mind 🙂

  11. We’ve been using the “bin” method for a couple of years now – it really has made camping life easier! I also like the fact that they are protected from the elements if you happen to be caught in some inclement weather. They’re also the perfect size “table” for kids to snack or play card on (especially inside the tent if it’s raining). LOVE the tip about freezing milk jugs and pre-cooling the ice chest. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Lani – that’s a good point about keeping the gear protected from the elements. Even at home in the garage, the storage bins are a lot better than keeping the gear out in the open.

  12. Great post, Roy! I’d love to be able to pack up & go as quick as you guys do. Love the idea of having the camping gear packed & ready at all times.

  13. Great article! I will attempt to use this method in a few weeks as we try an overnighter with our 2 yr old. While he loves the outdoors, we are not sure how we will get him to sleep at 7pm with the sun still up!

    • Hah! Yes, Rudy that’s always a challenge 🙂 Don’t worry, though, he’ll be raring-to-go at 4:00 am! Actually, if it’s not too hot, this sounds like another job for the big blue tarp! You can tarp the tent to make it darker inside.

  14. Great tip about keeping the ice-chest pre-cooled and using milk jugs. I completely agree about how its much easier to get going if you can do lots of the packing ahead of time.

  15. This gets me so excited for camping. I remember when my family used to do camping trips all the time in the spring and summer months. Soon it will be my turn to take my family camping to the old spots in the forests we used to stay.

  16. Wow! I live in Florida and have never seen that many stars ever at a campsite. That pictures is inspiring me to make some trips down to south Florida instead of the Ocala area.