Minimalist Family Camping

Packing List

The ultimate packing list for car campers who want a small, stress-free easy grab’n’go camping kit. Gather it up at the start of the camping season, pack as much as you can into a large plastic tub and a holdall and leave it ready for your next adventure. Easy! By packing light and choosing the smallest of everything your compact kit will easily fit in the boot of your car, no roof box, no trailer, no stress. 

Try to borrow or re-purpose things you already have, camping kit does not have to be new, just functional.  Let’s start with the bigger stuff…



1. Best Compact Family Tents

Choose one that’s small, light, quick to pitch. 1 ‘man’ larger than your family.

Here are a few of my favourites:

Coleman Kobuk Valley 4 Plus
(Blackout tent that’s totally dark inside, ideal for kids who usually wake up at dawn. 
Has a high hydrostatic head rating which means its waterproof, ideal for the British summer when you never know what the weather will do next! Just a small simple dome tent, but its been great for us. This is the tent I bought when we first started our mini camping adventures and we’ve had it for five years now. Its sleeps four (2 adults and 2 kids) and just has a small porch where we keep shoes, toys etc. Really light and easy to pitch quickly and great for weekend camps.

Tabernash 6hp tent

Another simple dome tent, with a high hydrostatic head to make it really waterproof.  This one is a 6-man, so a bit more spacious then the one above, however it isn’t a blackout tent so be ready for bright early mornings.

Vango Skye 500

Easy to pitch, small pack size, with a large porch and darkened ‘Nightfall’ bedroom which reduces early morning light, plus its partially made from recycled single-use plastics.

Robens Double Dreamer TC4

Deluxe, more spacious 4-man tent with HydroTex polycotton RS fabric to maintain a comfortable tent microclimate for all-weather performance. Large porch with canopy.

Coleman Cabin Tent 

Small simple tent with instant pitch in only 60 seconds! So its super convenient but really only use for sunny weather as it’s not great in the rain.


2. Tarp for extra family camping shelter

Ideally with poles so can be used alone or attached to front of small tent as a porch. These are great for creating shade on a sunny day or protection from the rain if you have a small tent.

Vango Adventure Tarp

Geediar UV Waterproof Tarp


3. Groundsheet

Put it underneath your tent to keep the tent cleaner, and floor warmer. Ideally it should be slightly smaller than the footprint of your tent so it doesn’t stick out around the edges (this would allow rain to slide underneath which is to be avoided). You don’t need anything fancy here but look for one which folds up small if you can.

Vango GP505 Groundsheet


4. Waterproof picnic blanket recommendations

To sit/play on or use under your beds for extra ground insulation at night. They are cheap and fold up relatively small and can be used as an inexpensive alternative to a tent carpet. Choose a bright and colourful one to make a fun play area for tiny tots.

Meteor Picnic Blanket



5. Sleeping bag

One per person

You will save tons of space packing sleeping bags instead of duvets and blankets. Bags come in different thickness and warmth ratings, we have 3 season bags which will keep us warm from spring to autumn. There’s no room to give a full guide to choosing bags here so see this guide from GoOutdoors. Pack sizes vary hugely so do think carefully when you choose. If you find sleeping bags a bit constricting, try a ‘cocoon’ or ‘pod’ style which are more roomy.

eg. Berghaus Transition 300 Sleeping Bag 

Vango Starlight 250 Sleeping Bag (suitable for 2-3 seasons). Also available in junior size.

6. Self-inflating mattress (SIM)

One per person.

SIMS are much warmer than airbeds, have no need for a pump, and are very compact when stored. As they are thermally insulated they reflect your body heat back to you and keep the cold from the ground away from you. My children sleep happily on inexpensive 2.5cm SIMs, I prefer slightly thicker for more comfort. My current favourite, as they are just so small when stored, are Thermarest Neo Air Venture or Forclaz Trek 700 Air XL.

7. Inflatable pillow

One per person(or just stuff the mattress bags with clothes for a diy pillow). I love the Quecha Grey Helium Trekking Pillow from Decathlon as it it folds up tiny but is a comfortable shape and has a soft liner.

8. Travel Towel

You can save lots of space taking compact towels instead of regular ones, plus these are lighter and dry much faster. Decathlon do a great basic microfibre towel in several colours (one for every one in the family), but microfibre particles can have a damaging effect in the environment. For a more stylish and eco-friendly option try a turkish hammam towel which is light cotton and equally compact. Or these beauties:

Dock & Bay Beach towel





There is where all the tiny stuff gets gathered, the general equipment like saucepans, kettles and torches. Put the following into one large plastic tub with a lid and keep it ready for last-minute adventures. You only need to pack it once all year! Then stack this box inside two empty tubs of the same size – one for shoes in the tent, one for food to buy when you arrive.

The average camping trip is only 3 nights so if you’re doing that or less you shouldn’t need alot of anything eg. ketchup, oil, shampoo…. Get the smallest pack size of everything and you’ll be surprised how much you can fit in.

You can buy these anywhere, Wilko, supermarkets, B&Q… Mine are a tightly packed 25 litre size, 30 litre boxes might be a bit more generous!

Saucepan set – I use a compact set of 2 pans, a frying pan and a tiny kettle which it inside each other with a detached handle so its super small eg. Outdoor Gear Cook Set
Chopping board
Sharp knife
Wooden spoon (small)
Tin/bottle opener
Bbq tongs
Washing up liquid 
(very small bottle)
Rubbish sacks
Clothes pegs x 4
Sandwich bags x 4
Waterproof matches

4 plates
4 bowls
4 spoons
4 knives
4 forks
4 cups (insulated and stacking if poss,) eg. Husk Breaktime Beaker
Folding table
Compact folding chairs

squash (super concentrated)
rice / quinoa packs (Uncle Bens 2-minute)
hot chocolate sachets
10 teabags


1 torch
1 head torch
insect repellent
2 pocket tissue packs (instead of toilet roll)
wipes (small travel pack)
cleaning wipes pack (small)

Folding bbq
1 folding washing up bowl eg. Outwell Collaps
1 single ring stove with gas cannister

First aid kit (plasters, antihistamine cream, sting relief, tick remover, calpol, paracetamol)

playing cards
4 glow sticks
colouring book
4 pens
2 books for bedtime
favourite teddy
fidget spinner
Tiny disco light speaker (for rainy day tent discos!)

You don’t have to spend money on the fanciest lightweight gear to go camping. The aim is to just get out there and do it, however you can. Ikea cups and plates, a Wilko stove… or buy it on gumtree, borrow from a friend. You can always upgrade later once you’ve done a few trips and find out what will work best for you. We started with what we could find and are gradually upgrading (and downsizing as we do).

The list above outlines suggested kit in detail. I have included links to a few products to show examples you may find useful. Some of them are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase, but recommendations are only included if I think they’re really good products!

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