As we get excited to take off to the mountains, we are busy packing up the camper and car. I will admit – organization is not really my forte, but so many people have been asking what to bring on their adventures, we decided to break it down a bit.
We have a system in our car that works really well for us. At high altitudes, we often find that we need a variety of gear and apparel, so this is the most important place for us to have all our stuff in order. We have a bin in the back of our car where we keep a few bags of essentials that continually pop up as necessities, whether we are hitting the soccer fields, headed out for a hike, or just heading into town for a bit. There are separate bags of rain coats, fleeces, an extra set of clothes for everyone that can double as comfy clothes to sleep in (as well as socks), winter hats and gloves, water bottles for everyone, and a bag of sunscreen, baseball hats, sunglasses, lip balm (believe it or not, that’s the first thing to burn at high altitude!), first aid supplies, and medicine. This eliminates the need to pack up all this stuff on a daily basis every time we want to head somewhere.
Sometimes, we even carry around our swim bag (suits, towels, and goggles) for the unplanned dips in a lake. Our bin or bag of shoes travels in our camper, but it often finds its way to our trunk so we can switch shoes when we get done hiking or want to hit the water. One of my favorite and most commonly asked questions is whether the kids need hiking boots. No! We usually limit our shoes to a pair of crocs, gym shoes, and water shoes. The crocs (or flip flops) are great for getting in and out of the car when travelling, and perfect for taking on and off at the campsite. Comfortable gym shoes work great for any of the outdoor activities we do, including rock climbing, hiking, and running. Even though Chuck and I have nice hiking boots and waterproof hiking shoes, we choose not to bring them just to keep things light. Simplicity is key when travelling- we try to minimize what we bring by choosing the things that will work well across the board. We spend a lot of time near water on our trips, so water shoes (typically keens) are perfect for hiking up the Narrows in Zion,
or just walking around in a rocky lake or river.
The girls still like bringing cowboy or rubber boots for fun and to slip on in the morning over the footie pajamas.
Even though our popup had a stove, we like to do as much as we can outside, including cooking, so we have a big trunk that stays near the camper with all our kitchen necessities, including pots and pans, rags, towels, dish soap, a dishwashing bin, plates and bowls, mugs, silverware, foil, zip lock bags, tablecloths, clothes line, paper towels, cutting board, lighters, barbeque tools, wipes, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, a collapsible water container, and more.
Our Coleman stove is not only our #1 cooking source, it offers the security of a backup stove, which we have needed on more than one occasion. Plus, we can use it wherever if we end up away from the camper for dinner.
If we have electric for some of the trip, we like to bring along a toaster and electric griddle for cheaper and easier cooking. Our most creative method of cooking is using our pie irons, a perfect way to use your campfire, limit dishes, and enjoy a delicious meal!
Although we have contemplated bringing only a few chairs, we continue to bring 7 camping chairs, one for each of us. As crazy as it sounds, I am not sure if there was ever an occasion where all of them were used at the same time – the kids stay so busy exploring our campsites, and rarely take a break to sit down, even by a nice warm campfire. Wonder if this will change some day?
We carry around a large piece of Astroturf for outside the camper – we like it because it is light, folds up pretty small, and if it gets wet, it is still manageable as we move around. We also have a couple mats for outside and inside the camper to wipe off shoes. Despite our best attempts at keeping the dirt out of the camper, it seems like the floor is always getting dirty, so a small broom is a necessity for us.
Nights are regularly in the 30s while camping in the mountains, so we also bring a ceramic heater to take off the chill, along with lots of blankets, pillows, and sleeping bags.
Another favorite item is a portable lamp with a nightlight in the base. We can’t use it when we don’t have electric (which is usually more than half the time), but it has been very useful several times when we struggled with a bad converter box and other electrical issues.
As far as clothes, we bring a variety for all sorts of weather, including fleeces, comfortable long pants, jeans, t-shirts, and long sleeves. Everybody has their own suitcase.
Because I’m crazy about pictures, I bring one bag with a coordinated family set of clothes (hiker friendly, yet a little nicer than our norm) that is only used when we are going somewhere I might want a nice family picture. We have also enjoyed making matching shirts – it makes it easier to keep track of everybody as we count off 7 on and off the trails, and looks good in pictures. A friend helped us make them last year, and this year, we had them screen printed for under $5 per shirt.
My new favorite trick is to bring along a few zippered throw pillow cases, but instead of a pillow, we put some essentials inside that don’t come out a ton, like coats. They are so much nicer to look at than another suitcase sitting around!
One of my favorite things about camping is escaping from all the toys at home! So, what are the toys that make the cut? We bring playing cards, travel games (our new favorite game is Splendor-thanks for the intro Tom and Heather!), a soccer ball, frisbee, buckets, coloring books, crayons, paper, journals, pencils, pens, books, movies, iPads, and bridge books (to keep the kids on top of the school game, we have them complete a page in their bridge book for each day we are out). Our favorite toy after years of travel is our bucket of animals. These are the souvenirs the kids have collected over our years of camping, and perhaps their favorite vacation pastime is sitting in our campsite building intricate homes for them in the dirt.
Perhaps we didn’t have to leave home in the first place 😉
Some other necessities include binoculars, cameras, go-pro, headlamps, lanterns, backpacks, more water bottles, bear spray, propane bottles, batteries, a cooler bag, and a medium sized cooler (for those times our camper fridge doesn’t work).
Our mechanical must haves include a tool box, extra extension cords, tire pressure gauge, leveling pads, etc. And this year, passports! I finally packed those up today after days of fearing I will forget them. This list is far from complete, but these are some of the items we could not live without. Everybody’s list is different, and we enjoy some of the luxuries other families bring along as well, such as crock pots (we don’t have electric often enough to warrant bringing one though). Happy trails!