This guide is for individuals, couples, or families who are interested in trying car camping. The following recommendations are not for backcountry camping, and are comfort-oriented for a “DIY glamping” type of experience. I fully recognize that many of the following items are not necessary, but my experience has been that comfortable campers are happy campers, and I’m proud to take credit for converting several friends who had never camped before, or who were skeptical about it, into willing, maybe even enthusiastic, campers. 🙂
This is not a sponsored post. I’m sharing this list of tried and true items that we have purchased and used on our own camping trips, and that we like enough to have recommended to our friends and family. I have provided links to products throughout this list. If there is a * or on amazon that means it is an affiliate link, and I may receive a small commission with your purchase. Most of our items were purchased from REI or Amazon, though some are from small shops such as Power practical (luminoodle), Miir (insulated camp cups), Rumpl (sleeping bag like throws and blankets), Kammok (hammock and stand). I update this list from time to time – the first time I published it was 10/22/2018, the most recent update 7/8/2022 .
DIY Tent Glamping Basics:
- Tent – We have the REI Kingdom 6. The general rule of thumb for comfortable family camping is to choose a tent at least +2 greater than the number of people you intend to sleep on the tent. We’re a family of 4, so bought the 6 person version. Some of our friends who like to spread out more or have older kids bought the 8 person version, and have plenty of room in their tent to fit 2 queen air mattresses, and have space in the front for storage and indoor card / board games (handy, in case of stormy weather) . We also bought the tent footprint to keep the bottom clean and dry. A waterproof tarp will work for this purpose as well.
- Sleep system – We use air mattresses, and sleep comfortably while camping. We have the REI Queen Sleep system with the kingdom air mattress. We find this air mattress so comfortable, we’ve even used it at home when guests come over! As the boys have gotten bigger, we’ve added a second air mattress (twin sized, same height as our other mattress) to our tent setup. Eventually, we’ll probably need two queen size mattresses.
- Cozy Blankets and Throws: The comforter that came with the REI sleep system is warm enough for summer camping in Southern California. For additional warmth and lounging by campfire, we like our Pendleton wool camp blankets and Rumpl blankets * (we have original puffy and down blankets). For a budget option, Costco sometimes carries down throws.
- Sleeping Bag: After a very chilly camping experience (37F), we found an additional sleeping bag necessary for camping down to 20 degrees F. I found this double wide Omnicore sleeping bag rated for 10F, and it has kept us warm for these situations. We also have individual sleeping bags, but with little kids – we were able to snuggle one parent and 2 kids into the double sized one.
- Pillows: We’ve tried a few, and these thermarest compressible pillows are the most comfortable. To fluff them up prior to trips, you can throw them into the washing machine and then let them air dry.
- Lighting: We’ve found some great deals on camping lanterns from Costco. We bring flashlights for the kids. Instead of single use glow sticks, I’ve found some LED glow necklaces that make it easier to spot kids (pets and adults) after the sun sets. Recently, I’ve tried the Aimtom Power mini camping lantern and am very impressed with how much light it puts out! Just one in the center of a tent can light the entire space up!
Camp stove: We have the classic Coleman triton stove and carrying case (similar here )
- Cooking Table/storage: GCI Outdoor slim-fold Camp Kitchen Portable folding cook station
- Coffee supplies: We use a Stainless Steel french press, or a collapsible drip coffee maker. Our friends have had success with a percolater. Recently, we’ve also enjoyed Kuju Coffee since serve drip coffee.
Cast iron pan with Lodge cast iron pan silicon handle
Oven mitts or heat proof grilling gloves: Dont’ forget to protect your hands when handling hot kettles or roasting sticks.
Enamelware dining set: We have this every day set from Stansport, and for Glamping, we have this beautiful dipped set from Barnyard Electric. It is $$$ and was a birthday gift, but we use them year-round and quite frequently for our backyard dinners and with the kids (enamel ware = childproof and unbreakable!) I’ve seen s started carrying a very affordable and classy looking enamelware mug and plate.
- Camp cooking utensil set. This set has everything you really need.
Camp collapsible dish bin
Scrub brush for doing dishes (update: lately I’ve been clearing the plates/pots and wiping them down with a water wipe – one wipe for many dishes!)
- Camp soap: campsuds
- Egg Storage: It really works and keeps our eggs from crushing!
- Cooler: We tried a bunch of coolers before getting Yeti Hopper flip and it really is amazing – keeps food cold all day in the summer heat with proper ice packs in place and doesn’t sweat. We were skeptical, but it really has outperformed all our other coolers, and it’s a perfect size for road trips and picnics. We also have the tundra haul which has kept food cold for 4 days, and is better for longer camping / road trips.
- NOTE: On some camping trips (i.e. when water is limited or when traveling with a large group 16+), we have found it easier to use compostable paper plates, rather bring all our enamel ware and do dishes.
- pop up trash can
- bath caddy or hanging organizer
- biodegradable soap: from REI
- quick dry towels – We love our towels and changing ponchos from Nomadix . Sometimes you may find lower priced microfiber towels at Costco or Ikea but the nomadix are built to last and beautiful.
- nalgene travel leakproof bottles for toiletries
- Don’t forget your camp chairs: we have an assortment of REI camp chair, coleman kids chairs, coleman adult chairs . We love these small packable ones from trekology and have been bringing them on road trips and even for tailgating parking lot picnics during the pandemic.
- Hammocks are great for seating or lounging! We haven’t tried sleeping in one yet, but we’ve heard some people do hammock camping! If you’re in Southern California like us, we don’t have many trees so we have found this Swiftlet portable stand super useful with our double room hammock. (If you purchase through this link, you will get a 15% referral discount!)
- Camp organization: We have this ozark trail folding end table with cup holder.
- Camp table: It’s really nice to have a table to set things on when sitting by the campfire. For example, you’re s’mores or hot chocolate. We get a lot of use out of our large Trekology table
- Luminoodle: I love these colored rope lights – they add a splash of color to your tent. Makes it easy to pick out your tent when it is dark out and you are walking back from the bathroom.
- Mpowered solar lights : another version of colored lights I like.
- Tablecloth: adds ambience and provides a trusty clean surface. Tablecloth weights: coleman watermelon table weights.
- Glowsticks for the kids, for a more sustainable option – we’ve moved to these reusable LED necklaces and have a different color per family member.
- Telescoping Smore’s sticks: We like these ones.
- Mystic Fire – turns campfire into a rainbow. Everyone loves this!
- Gas campfire: We have the Camco big red campfire, and it comes in handy in Southern California where there are often wood fire bans.
- Kids play tent I found one on sale for a little over $10. This is nice to have because it provides shade for kids in summer, and a place to play. Meanwhile, they don’t track a ton of dirt into your actual tent.
- Doormat: I got a cheap one from target. Keeps the dirt from tracking into the tent if you’re camping by the beach or some other dirt campsite. We did not find this necessary when camping on grass.
- Bring from home: Scooters or bikes for kids.
- Walker Family Duffel bags : These aren’t just for camping – we use them for almost all our trips – but they are perfect for keeping each person’s stuff organized at camp.
I hope you find this list helpful. Again, this is just a guide and what has worked for us. None of this is “necessary” for having fun. As I prefaced, for some – a simple tarp will suffice. Other great options are to rent or borrow camping gear, or buy second hand. We did not buy all of this gear at once, but have accumulated items over the years. We generally wait until sales – Labor day, Black Friday and Memorial Day tend to be sale times for outdoor gear. Finally, for those who are wondering, we organize our camp gear into several large bins, which we then store in our garage – always ready for our next trip.
Disclosure: Over the years, some brands have reached out to us after seeing our instagram camping posts, and have gifted us some gear. However, rest assured – we only share gear that we really love! We are very enthusiastic about camping, and are open to additional suggestions and/or opportunities to review new products. Our goal for 2021 is to start backpacking, so stay tuned for that gear guide! (Spoiler alert – we did it, I will try to find time to blog it 🙂 If you have any questions about camping or getting outdoors, please follow us @everydayadventurefam , and send me a DM on instagram! I have camp highlights that show our camp set up in detail, camping hacks, as well as tent tours!