Last November my friends Catherine Connors and Tracey Clark invited my daughters and I to go camping in Joshua Tree for Catherine and Tracey’s very first Project Girl Quest adventure. Catherine and Tracey told us to simply bring ourselves and they would take care of the rest. It ended up being an amazing weekend that completely inspired me to give camping another try. You see, Nate and I historically have not been great campers, and, to be honest, I always felt a little guilty that we weren’t giving our kids more camping experiences. After camping with Catherine, however, I was totally ready to give it another go. She’s an expert and I learned a lot from her that weekend. I’ve gathered all of that wisdom and created the ultimate car camping checklist, which I am sharing with you today!
After sending Catherine many texts and pretty much copying everything she and her husband Kyle did, our little family went camping in Joshua Tree for spring break and it was the best! Since it went so well, I feel it is my duty to share with you my checklist, as inspired by Catherine Connors.
Please note: this is all about car camping, friends. You know, your-car-is-10-feet-away-from-your-tent type camping, not backpacking-10-miles-into-the-wilderness-to-find-a-remote-place-to-rough-it camping. I don’t know that we’ll ever attempt that latter type of camping because the car camping is just so perfect with kids. Maybe one day, but not now with littles under foot.
The list is pretty self-explanatory and I imagine I may be the person who uses it the most in the future. If you click on the image of the list above you can download a PDF and use it yourself! I do want to expound on a few of the items that you see on the list, so here we go:
- FOOD. Here’s the deal, Nate and I were the worst when it came to food and camping. NO MORE! We bought a camping stove, which makes all the difference. And with some strategic food planning, we ate very well on our trip. For dinners I picked meals that could either be made ahead and frozen and then simply cooked in a pot (like chili or soup), or I chose items that keep well (like spaghetti, which doesn’t require refrigeration, and hot dogs, which are super easy). We had lots of good snacks, simple lunches, and planned on cooking breakfast (eggs and sausage) just one of the mornings, with oatmeal and cereal for the other mornings. Oh, and freezing a lot of the food ahead of time (including bread and muffins) was super helpful. The food keeps longer and helps keep the cooler, well, cool.
- Instant Canopy: An EZ-Up is critical since most campsites lack permanent shade (especially in the desert!). We kept it anchored over the main picnic table at our campsite.
- Multiple Tents: When we camped with Catherine she had one tent that was dedicated exclusively to supplies. When Nate and I went with our kids, we brought 2 tents and had the kids sleep separately from us, which left lots of space for luggage and supplies in both tents. It’s just so much easier to stay organized and find stuff with that extra space.
- Tent Heater: This isn’t always necessary, but depending on the time of year it may be. We recommend only turning it on as you are going to bed and when you first get up in the morning.
- Extra Tables: If you are staying at an established campsite, there will be at least one table, but it’s so nice to have more. I have two folding tables and we had them both set up.
- Binoculars: We purchased a pair of Celestron 15×70 binoculars, as recommended by Catherine, and they are SO FUN to have, especially at night! Not necessary but definitely a nice-to-have!
- Solar-Powered Twinkle Lights: Yes, these are cute and make your campsite pretty, but they are also very useful. I strung up a strand of these lights around the pop-up canopy over our table, so at night there was always a light source in our campsite. It wasn’t too bright but could help guide the way. I loved having these, plus they come in useful for other things, too (like decorations for my lip sync party here at home last weekend)! Just make sure the solar panel is exposed to the sun during the day.
- Power Bank Charger: I have an external battery charger that can charge things for hours and hours. I bought it for plane rides but it is awesome for camping, too.
- Outdoor mat or artificial turf: Some friends lent us a big piece of artificial turf and another friend lent us an outdoor mat (like for a patio). We placed these at the entrances of our tents and they were SO AWESOME TO HAVE.
- Coffee When Camping: If you are a coffee drinker, there are two suggestions for you. First, instant coffee packets (like Starbucks VIA) totally work. But the second suggestion is just as easy and makes much better coffee: take an Aeropress. Easy cleanup and perfect for camping.
Everything else on the list should be pretty easy to figure out, but let me know if you have questions! And, as always, feel free to share your own tips below in the comments! I am certain there are some awesome car campers reading this who have secrets to share!
Before we go, I have one final tip: Joshua Tree is the best place ever for camping with kids. (Indian Cove Campground and Jumbo Rocks are our favorite campgrounds.) Joshua Tree is truly magical. The granite boulders are incredibly grippy, making it easy to hike and climb. And, with an emergency whistle and walkie talkie in tow, the kids can explore this otherworldly place and feel like true adventurers. My favorite part is that the desert is so DRY, so nothing gets damp or wet! (I am such a mom.) I know this last tip isn’t helpful for everyone, but I just felt like I needed to sing the camping praises of Joshua Tree National Park. If you ever have the chance to camp there, take it!
All photos in this post were taken by my talented friend Nicole Watkins. Thank you for sharing them, Nicole!