Family Setting up Camping

Comprehensive Guide to Family Camping: Tips, Gear, and Preparation

Written by: Tom Crew



Time to read 8 min

If you’re looking to take the family camping for the first time, consider these essential strategies. Transitioning from camping novice to an ‘old salt’ can be a bumpy journey paved with incidents that are either never talked about or form the basis for campfire stories. For example, maybe you’ve packed everything but the kitchen sink, and of course, forgot the matches.

Some brave souls throw themselves into the camping ‘deep-end’ armed with little, if any, knowledge but then they vow never to do it again after a bad experience. Starting out on the wrong foot is not the ideal way to build camping confidence. Instead, start with baby steps and gradually ease into the it. If you’re a beginner, consider these basic strategies to avoid common pitfalls and have a fantastic first camping experience.

Essential Camping Gear

Keep it Simple

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to replicate every comfort of home on your camping forays. The vast range of camping gear available today allows travelers to virtually set up a home away from home. While this is a good option for experienced campers who know exactly what they want and need, it can be overwhelming for beginners.

Basic Gear to Start With:

  • Tent : Choose one that is easy to set up and spacious enough for your family.
  • Sleeping Mats : Provide insulation and comfort.
  • Sleeping Bags : Appropriate for the season and weather conditions.
  • Table and Chairs : Basic, foldable options are best for starters.
  • Portable Stove : Essential for cooking.
  • Cooking Utensils : Basic pots, pans, and utensils.

Leave all the fancy stuff for later – even a cooler box or fridge is best selected down the track in your camping career, after you have a better idea of the style of camping you prefer. Keeping it simple extends to the products selected too. Try to purchase tents with minimal poles or guy ropes for ease of setting up, and choose basic chairs and tables, initially at least, over those with multiple hinge points and fiddly bits.

Practice at Home

With darkness closing in and the wind picking up, your first trip away is not the place to learn how to set up even the most basic tent. Instead, take the time to assemble all your gear at home. Get the kids involved and make it a fun family activity. Set up the tent in your backyard or even inside the house if space allows. Ideally, do a practice set-up for a night spent at home and pretend that you don’t have any additional resources than what you’ll have when away from home. This will help you identify if the sleeping bags are warm enough, the tent pegs strong enough, the lights bright enough, and if the gas cylinder is empty!

During this practice run, take note of any missing items or equipment that doesn’t work as expected. Check the stability of your tent, ensure the zippers and seams are functioning correctly, and confirm that your cooking equipment is in good working order. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the assembly instructions for your tent and other gear, as this knowledge will be invaluable when you're out in the wilderness.

By practicing at home, you can troubleshoot potential issues in a controlled environment, ensuring that your actual camping trip goes smoothly. This approach not only builds confidence but also helps to create a sense of anticipation and excitement for the upcoming adventure. Plus, it can turn into a fun mini-camping experience that gets everyone, especially the kids, even more excited about the real trip.

Short Trips are Good

Initial camping trips are best spent relatively close to home, over a weekend or a short break, such as the Easter long weekend. This proximity allows for a quick return home if necessary and provides a sense of security. Start by itemizing your list of essential items to take, including basics like a tent, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, and first-aid supplies. Once you have your list, travel to a nearby campsite, preferably one with a shopping center not too far away. This ensures that if you forget anything crucial, you can easily make a quick trip to pick it up.

Staying close to home also allows you to test your gear in a familiar environment. Setting up camp for the first time can be challenging, and being near a store can be a lifesaver if you realize you need additional gear or a better vehicle setup. Don’t be discouraged if you find that you need to buy extra products or change your setup. This isn’t an indication of failure but rather part of the natural process of refining your camping style and setup.

These initial short trips are incredibly valuable for learning what works best for you and your family. They help highlight the gear that needs improvement or replacement, and they provide an opportunity to practice essential camping skills without the pressure of being far from home. Over time, as you gain experience and confidence, you’ll develop a personalized camping setup that meets your specific needs and preferences, making future trips more enjoyable and stress-free.

Talk to Others

Campers are enthusiastic teachers and are usually more than happy to dispense advice to inexperienced participants. Information on equipment suitability and handy gear or tips is shared around the campfire or virtually anywhere that travelers gather out in the bush. The camaraderie of the camping community is one of its greatest strengths, creating an atmosphere where stories, tips, and tricks flow freely.

Don’t be shy about asking plenty of questions of the old-timers; their wealth of experience is invaluable. Listen to their ideas and anecdotes—although not all advice will be relevant to your situation, much of it will come in handy. Experienced campers can offer insights on everything from the best spots to pitch your tent to how to cook a perfect meal over a campfire. Their stories, often filled with humor and lessons learned the hard way, can help you avoid common pitfalls and make your camping experience more enjoyable.

As you gain more experience, you’ll develop your own set of tips and tricks. One day, you too will pass on your thoughts on the best camping practices, continuing the tradition of sharing knowledge within the camping community. This exchange of information not only helps you become a more confident camper but also fosters a sense of belonging and shared adventure among fellow outdoor enthusiasts.

Preparation and Safety

Prepare for All Weather Conditions

Just because you are heading to the beach in summer does not guarantee that warm days and dry nights will be the norm (especially in Northern Australia!). Inclement weather is one of the most testing situations to confront campers, and preparation is the key to dealing with and making the most of it. Make sure that your tent is adequately proofed against rain and wind; a waterproof tent with a good rainfly is essential. It's also wise to have plenty of clothes in reserve, including layers for warmth and dry clothes to change into if you get wet.

Always carry a few spare tarps in case you need additional shelter or a dry area to store gear. Raincoats and waterproof footwear will keep you comfortable and dry during unexpected showers. Good lighting, such as headlamps and lanterns, is crucial for visibility in stormy conditions. Extra tent pegs and guy lines can help secure your tent against strong winds.

In terms of provisions, it's smart to pack canned food and other non-perishable items that don’t require cooking or refrigeration, as heavy rain can make cooking outdoors challenging. Preparing for bad weather might seem like overkill, but it's far better to be over-prepared than to find yourself uncomfortable and unprepared in a downpour. This readiness ensures that even in less-than-ideal conditions, your camping experience remains enjoyable and safe.

Invest in Quality Gear

Like other decisions in life, there is always more merit in choosing quality over quantity, especially when it comes to camping gear. Camping places considerable demands on equipment, and being able to rely upon good tents and sleeping gear is paramount to enjoyable trips. Quality zips, sound stitching, and durable materials are worth the initial investment, as the failure of key items out in the bush can make everyone’s life miserable.

When selecting tents, brands like Vango and Nortent are excellent choices. These brands are known for their high-quality construction, reliable waterproofing, and robust materials. For example, Vango's tents often feature their patented TBS®II Tension Band System, which provides extra stability in windy conditions. Nortent, on the other hand, is renowned for its durability and designs that cater to more extreme weather conditions, making them a solid choice for serious adventurers.

In addition to tents, sleeping bags, mats, and other gear should be chosen with care. High-quality sleeping bags, for instance, will offer better insulation and comfort, ensuring a good night's sleep even in colder temperatures. Look for sleeping bags with high fill power down or advanced synthetic insulation.

When buying products, the key is to look closely at the details, read reviews, and seek advice from experienced campers. Online reviews and testimonials can provide insight into the performance and longevity of the gear. Visiting a physical store to inspect the items before purchase can also be beneficial.

Compromises on safety are equally foolish. Lightly engineered camp chairs may collapse under weight, and poor-quality stoves can pose fire hazards or fail when you need them most. My advice is to buy the best you can afford and don’t scrimp on safety items. Investing in reliable brands and high-quality gear will pay off in the long run, ensuring that your camping trips are comfortable, enjoyable, and safe. Brands like Vango and Nortent may come with a higher price tag, but the peace of mind and enhanced experience they provide are well worth the cost.

Efficient Packing and Organisation

Containers are Good

Use square resealable containers for most items you camp with. These containers are invaluable for keeping your camping supplies organized and protected from dust, moisture, and curious animals. Square and rectangular shapes are particularly advantageous because they offer better packing possibilities and more efficient use of space compared to round containers, which often leave awkward gaps.

Clearly label all containers with their contents to make it easier to find what you need quickly. Avoid using glass containers as much as possible since they are heavy and prone to breaking. Instead, opt for strong plastic containers that are lightweight, generally transparent, and durable enough to survive many trips.

For clothing, soft bags are the best option. They can be easily jammed into irregular corners of your car or trailer, maximizing space. Organize your packing so that regularly used items are stored in locations where they can be accessed without having to unpack other items first. This organization can save you time and hassle, especially in urgent situations.

Additionally, consider using water-impervious bags for tents and other items that need to stay dry, particularly if you are touring or camping in areas prone to rain. These bags will ensure that your essential gear remains dry and ready for use, no matter the weather conditions. Proper packing and storage can significantly enhance your camping experience, making it more enjoyable and less stressful.


Camping can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for the whole family. By starting simple, practicing at home, taking short trips, and learning from others, you can build your confidence and refine your camping style. Remember to prepare for all conditions, invest in quality gear, and use practical storage solutions to make your adventures more comfortable and stress-free. Happy camping!