It’s great to be impulsive, but if I know one thing for sure it’s that a family camping trip just can’t be done correctly when approached with a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ mentality. Yes, logically you could be on the road in 20 minutes with the kids, a bunch of sleeping bags, tent, and flashlight to head off into the wild, blue yonder, but you’ll be regretting it come midnight when someone is cold, wants a very specific type of snack, or needs their nightlight to ward off the monsters in the dark.

The trick to a successful family camping trip is planning, planning, more planning, and then packing, and that’s where a camping checklist comes in handy. With summer right around the corner, there’s no better time to get a jump on your long weekend planning by sourcing out your camping gear and putting some thought into what you’ll pack for a family camping trip.

And don’t forget about all of the other necessities you’ll need when it comes to traveling with kids – from video games to toys for both big boys (and little ones too), here’s the ultimate camping checklist to help you plan and pack for a family camping trip:

Gear up, get ready…

And don’t forget the tent

If you don’t have a full size camper trailer parked in your driveway, you’re going to need to bring a tent along when you go camping. If you’ve got a big family in tow like I do, the World Famous Sales Sunrise 8-person Square Dome Tent is the perfect size – not only is it roomy enough to sleep 7 to 8 people, it has a full length fly with vestibule that can be converted into an awning.

But I like to mix it up a bit, and this year I’m going to try something a little different. We’re going to take advantage of our minivan when we go camping by setting up the Sportz SUV Tent. It works by wrapping around the cargo area of your minivan, SUV, or CUV, and lets you have access to the interior of your car from your tent. The tent itself sleeps 4 to 5 people, but you can put a few extra in the back of your van and still all be sleeping together.

Cozy up on a camp mattress

When we were kids we’d camp out on the cold, hard, sometimes rocky ground with just our sleeping bags. This is not an experience that makes me feel nostalgic, so I’m always sure to pack camping mattresses like the Rockwater Airlift Comfort Mattress. They’re easy to inflate and have a non-slip fabric surface so your sleeping bag won’t end up sliding off the mattress with you in it.

Light up the starry night

There’s nothing like camping out under the stars, but your family might want a little bit of light too. That’s where the Goal Zero Lighthouse LED Lantern comes in – with a built-in hanger you can pop it up in the corner of your tent and have the perfect lighting for bedtime, and it also has a USB output to charge your smartphones or tablets. The Goal Zero Lighthouse LED Lantern charges via an AC/DC outlet, but when you’re off the grid you can power it with Goal Zero solar panels.

 To keep plugged in wherever you go, I recommend having a Goal Zero Sherpa 50 Solar Recharging Kit along for any camping trip. If you’re like me and every vacation is a working vacation, the Goal Zero Solar Recharging Kit will power up your laptop, tablets, or smartphones so you’ll never run out of juice when you need it the most.

When the snack-attack hits…

Kids get hungry at the most interesting times – like when you’re in the middle of a stretch of road with absolutely no services for 100km or it’s the middle of the night and you’re at a campground. These are moments when granola bars and crackers don’t always make the cut, so the Koolatron Travel Saver cooler will definitely come in handy. I bring along dishes they love like my pasta salads, my favourite quiona recipes (because I get hungry too), and I stock it with things that need to be kept cold like juice boxes, milk, and cheese strings.

Pack for fun and…

Get on the road, again

Any road trip with the family requires strategic thought when it comes to keeping the kids entertained, because if the kids aren’t entertained they’re definitely a distraction while you’re trying to focus on driving. Once you’ve hit the road, the best way to ward off the ‘I’m Boreds’ is to give them the gift of gaming, and by that I mean the Nintendo 3DS XL Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bundle. The 3DS XL is the latest out of Nintendo and has amazing graphics, cool 3D imagery, and is pocket sized for easy packing. Plus, it comes bundled with Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, which is sure to keep your kids quiet in the backseat while you enjoy the drive.

Keep your eyes peeled

One of the must-packs for any family camping trip is a good pair of binoculars. Maybe you’ll use them to spy birds in the trees or gaze across at a mountain range. Or, you might need a pair of Olympus 8x 21mm RC II WP Binoculars if your kids are the adventurous types and think it’s funny to run ahead of you on a hike through the forest. Whatever you use them for, they’ll give you a clear view with up to 8x magnification and are waterproof (just in case you’re distracted by the view and water finds you, not the other way around).

Off road fun for the whole family

When it comes to camping, I can’t recommend enough that you pack toys for everyone, including Dad. We’ve been the proud owners of a Traxxas Slash 4×4 for several years, and we’ve taken it on every single camping trip we’ve gone on. It always draws a crowd, and it rips up everything from dirt jumps to a forest path because it can hit speeds up to 97kph.

This year we plan on stopping at a few lakes during out annual road trip, so we’ll be adding the Traxxas Blast RC Race Boat to the family. It glides over the water at 19kph and jumps waves thanks to the high-torque servo that helps it blast straight through anything. Between the Traxxas RC Race Boat and the Traxxas Slash 4×4, I’m pretty sure no one will be bored near our campsite.

Camping can be the ultimate in relaxing vacations if you plan ahead and and pack for every possibility. By arming yourself with this camping checklist, you’ll be ready to hit the great outdoors and be prepared for everything and anything. If you’re into camping out in the backcountry, be sure to take a look at Tom’s post on the ‘Top 10 Wilderness Products for Back Country Camping’.