Packing and Gear

This is part six of a nine part series on camping, road trips, and traveling with kids. Head here for the intro, or to part two for links to all articles.

Besides a sense of where you’re headed, where you’re staying, what you’ll do when you get there, and how you’ll keep the people in the car fed and happy, what you bring with you and how easy it is to access it makes a significant difference in your experience. I do admit I tend to overpack and often choose to edit down my bags after my initial pack job, but fortunately I have always been pretty good at tetris and am able to find some pretty creative solutions for storing things in places. 

Luckily, you don’t have to have amazing spatial awareness to make the back of your SUV look like mine if you pack mostly in tubs and rectangular shapes. I knew we’d be hauling gear in and out of the car often, and that it would usually involve a fair amount of dirt so durable bags and tubs were a priority for me. I also knew we’d be taking little excursions within our trips and I wanted to have gear for those easy to reach and put in/pull out as needed all day long. To accommodate the various needs we’d have between our three lodging options (campsites, hotels and cabins) I choose to bring the following for this 14 day trip:

  • Three 40 gallon Commander totes each with a label on blue masking tape containing:
    • The camp kitchen
      • Coleman two burner stove
      • Two propane tanks for the stove
      • My small moka pot (it’s like this, but a bit smaller) for morning coffee
      • Cooking utensils- tongs, metal spatula, small whisk and small scraping spatula, can opener
      • Potholders
      • Dishtowels and rags
      • A collapsible sink
      • A grill topper (like these)
      • A medium sized cast iron pan
      • A medium sized pot with lid
      • A small cutting board and two knives
      • Foil
      • 4 Smore’s sticks
      • 2 Pie irons
      • 2 tablecloths
      • Plates, cups, bowls and camp mugs tucked into a wicker PBK diaper caddy that I repurposed into a utensil caddy. 
      • Dish soap and sponges
      • A package of sani wipes
    • Four sleeping bags and a hammock
    • Two inflatable mattresses (1 queen, 1 twin), one sleeping mat, and tent accessories like the car sleeve, lanterns, and the inflater with a converter to plug into my car.
  • Two 5 gallon Commander totes each with a label on blue masking tape containing:
    • Safety Gear
    • Toiletries 
  • Four packed backpacks each with a bear bell attached for hiking. I placed the packs in the back of the car on top of the cooler for fast access when parking and hiking.
    • My backpack had a first aid kit that also held my epipens, snacks, water, emergency gear like a tick remover and swiss army tool, bear spray, hats clipped to the outside, and long sleeved shirts. I also put my sandwich it it if we hiked through lunchtime.
    • My 4 year old had water, snacks, lunch, and binoculars in his mini pack
    • Each teen took a pack, one was this foldable pack from REI, and the other my larger North Face pack with bear spray, water, snacks/food, and an extra layer.
  • A Coleman cooler that fit in the little extra tray area in my car with a two section foldable tub similar to this one of grab and go snacks on one side and three jugs of water for refills on the other on top of it.
    • Cooler food (refilled as needed):
      • Butter (put in a reusable bag or get a tub of margarine)
      • Milk
      • Ground sausage
      • Ground turkey
      • Frozen tater tots
      • Frozen Hashbrowns
      • Oat milk creamer
      • Cheese and cheeze (put in a reusable bag)
      • Lunchmeat (also put in a reusable bag or tub)
      • Salami
    • Tub food
      • Packaged fruit bars and twists
      • Apples and oranges
      • Granola bars
      • Variety pack of Annie’s bunnies
      • 2 boxes of crackers
      • Individually packed Aussie Bites
      • A bag of cashews
      • A bag of turkey jerky
      • A bag of dried apricots
      • A stash of reusable or biodegradable ziploc bags
      • A flexible cutting board
      • A set of utensils
      • A roll of paper towels 
  • Rubbermaid tub with dry foods that fit perfectly next to the cooler in the tray area.
    • Tiny boxed cereal (this is a family trip favorite)
    • Precooked rice packets
    • Rice pilaf
    • Mac-n-cheese
    • Canned tuna and chicken
    • Canned beans
    • Seasonings
    • Condiments
    • Pasta and sauce
    • Oatmeal
    • Cocoa
    • S’mores supplies
    • Instant ramen
    • Tea
    • PBJ and honey
    • Cooking oil
    • Nondairy milk
    • Pancake mix
  • One small or medium duffel bag with clothes for up to 4 days for each family member. I really like this packable duffel for these trips- durable and expands and contracts as needed. 
  • Tucked into extra spaces between tubs:
    • One towel bag with 4 towels 
    • Three adult sized camping chairs and one kid sized camping chair
    • One laundry bag with laundry soap for doing laundry a few times
    • An extra sleeping blanket that rolls itself into a pillow in the pocket
    • A picnic blanket
    • Tennis shoes with socks stuffed in to grab and wear
    • Four pillows
    • A life jacket for my 4 year old to wear on boats and in pools
    • A charged emergency battery charger
    • An emergency roadside kit
    • An extra first aid kit
    • My baking soda in garbage backs (for barf clean up) hack
  • In the backseat with two kids :
    • The L.L. Bean tote full of car toys
    • A reusable zippered bag with plugs for gadgets
    • A reusable zippered bag of clean masks
    • Water bottles
    • My teenagers backpack with fun stuff for only him
  • In the front seat (center console or passenger floor) with my other child and me:
    • Teenager’s purse and backpack of fun stuff
    • My purse
    • Water bottles
    • Tiny camera tripod and our tiny whiteboard for our daily pictures
    • My travel mug
    • A package of sani wipes
    • Hand sanitizer

This sounds like a lot of stuff, I realize. It IS a lot of stuff, actually. But- I fit it all inside my Honda Pilot. It was important to me to not have to carry anything on the roof or to tow it so it would be easier to load/unload every day or to worry about keeping exterior stuff locked up during stops. Although we couldn’t see out the rear window I have a backup camera and all the sensors on my new car help with changing lanes and traffic so it worked out perfectly. 

Need some help packing your car, or have a specific question? Comment below and I’ll do my best to help!

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