Does the idea of camping on sand make you feel icky and itchy? I mean a day at the beach, sure, but sleeping with it, infiltrating your tent, your sleeping bag your clothing – your FOOD!
Yes OK, it’s up there in that bracket of ultra-challenging family travel ideas! But do-able – and if you pick the right location, oh so worth it for a memorable family adventure.
After our last post on desert & beach camping in the UAE & Oman, we’ve had a few questions about important things to take and be aware of when desert camping.
If you think you knew how to camp before, trust me, sand camping is quite a different beast! There are many more safety and hygiene aspects to think about, especially when travelling with kids.
This post has been put together based on both our own first-hand camping experiences in the UAE, along with a little help from so other adventurous travelling families around the world who have provided us with their favourite sandy camping tips.
We have listed out all the essential items you need here in detail (including WHY you need them!), but you may find it easiest to DOWNLOAD OUR PRINTABLE CHECKLIST HERE.
(We’ll ask you to join our mailing list, which also gives you access to our whole library of checklists and flying tips. If all you want is our camping list though, feel free to join up then unsubscribe later).
Essential Beach Camping Items – The Big Stuff
It goes without saying there are some obvious items you need for any sort of camping with kids. Start with a great tent for beach camping, then you’ll also want to include:
- Blow-up mattress or air mat
- Sleeping bags
- Foldable camp chairs
- Gazebo or shade covering
- Tarp or ground mat
- Fold-out table
- Toilet tent
- Esky / large cooler box
- 2-3 large storage boxes (contents detailed below!)
The important thing to remember about camping on sand is that it can be very soft, therefore difficult to anchor items down with regular pegs. Investing in sturdy sand pegs is essential, and one of the first pieces of kit to be ready with when you’re setting up camp.
Top Tip: We strongly recommend a toilet tent and shovel. If you are roughing it out at the desert and beach you can be very exposed with no convenient bushes or favourite trees to hide behind for your private business.
We have linked to many of our favourite Amazon products here as many suppliers ship worldwide, but also check out AliExpress for your camping essentials, we have found deliverable very reliable and often at a fraction of the cost.
Mealtime essentials for camping (Box 1)
You will want to keep 2-3 boxes of supplies ready to go rather than running around preparing this stuff every time you want to go away.
As soon as you return from a trip, try to replenish items that have been used up immediately – you can download our free list here if you like to help you check back against on every trip (we keep it pinned with our camping boxes – if you laminate it you can use it as a tick off sheet as you load the car and re-use every time).
- Chopping board
- Sharp Knives
- Can/bottle opener
- Flipper or spatula
- Cups & mugs
- Drink Bottles
- Gas burner stove
- Propane gas canisters
- BBQ grill plate
- Saucepan with strainer
- Marshmallow sticks
- Oven gloves
- Tea towels
- Kitchen towels
- Spare plastic containers
- Food clips
- Cling film / tin foil
- Tea & coffee supplies
- Condiment supplies
- Stubby holders
Whilst there’s nothing quite like cooking your dinner on the glowing coals of a campfire, hell hath no fury like a hungry child that needs to be fed NOW (or a grumpy early waking mum who really needs her coffee!!) A small portable gas stove has been one of our best investments for quick and easy cooking. We have a Coleman Camp Stove with a grill plate and burner which is perfect for quick and easy camp meals.
Check out this great collection of easy camping recipes for kids here.
Around the camp supplies (Box 2)
- Rubbish bags
- Mozzie coils
- Wet wipes
- Toilet paper
- Electric pump
- Spare rope and pegs
- Spare batteries
- Gaffer tape
- Sand pegs
- Camping mallet
Don’t forget to bring your firewood! You are very unlikely to find enough dry wood lying around in the desert to make a fire so all supplies must come with you, including kindling.
Tips for controlling your campsite in the sand
While there is no way to stop the sand from entering your camping area, there are definitely some useful ways you can control it!
Jenny from Travelynn Family suggests setting up an exclusion zone.
Make sure kids play away from the food prep area. Nothing worse than sand in your burger. I think I had a ten metre no play zone when we camped in the Namibia desert. And consider wind direction when setting up food prep area.
Monika from Mum on the Brink also had a few tips on wind direction:
It’s very tempting to face the front of the tent towards the sea, but that is, usually, the prevailing wind direction. So if you plan on cooking on a little gas stove or don’t want even more sand in your tent, face the tent entrance away from the wind.
Similarly be careful of tides, Victoria from Drive Me Crazy Family Adventure advises:
Check the tide reports and wind advisories before you go (several apps you can use for that). Always ask a ranger or tourism authority about the best part of the beach to camp, especially if you have kids with you.
And lighting your camp? Sally from Our 3 Kids vs the World suggests
We always use solar lanterns for unpowered sites (Trust me, if you’re in the desert you’ll be getting plenty of UV during the day!)
Keeping your campsite clean and tidy (Box 3)
Some of these items may fit inside your food supplies box, or inside a wash bucket to save space on a third box.
- Washing bucket
- Scrubbing tools
- Dustpan & brush
- Disinfectant wipes
- Clothesline rope
Tips for keeping your campsite tidy
- A rake can be helpful if you’re on a slightly rocky or scrubby piece of sand.
Unfortunately in the UAE (and many other countries I am sure), litter can be a fact of life when camping. Either washed in on the tide or left by previous ungrateful campers. We always find ourselves filling 2-3 large garbage bags of litter from around our site before we even start pitching the tents. Raking over the ground will protect feet from accidental standing on broken glass or shards of plastic that can be buried just below the surface.
- Have a plan for how you will remove waste from your campsite. There’s a great guide here from Biome on how to reduce wastage camping.
- Always shake out trainers in the morning – not only for sand but scorpions often like to crawl into shoes overnight and can leave you a nasty surprise
Ariana from A Wold of Travels with Kids has a neat way to control the sand in your tent
A mat or tarp area outside the tent which is a halfway area for getting into tent, then another mat inside the tent door for a final feet wipe.
Shauna from Family Travel Fever also added:
I use a waterproof picnic blanket everywhere. Set things on it, picnic on it and dress and undress on it. Before getting in the car, tent or RV, have the kids each stand on the blanket and strip off sandy wet shoes and clothes. You are left with a pile to deal with but at least it’s not everywhere. We keep a hand vacuum dust devil to suck up sand in the car, tent and RV. Carry a bucket of water next to the blanket to rinse feet and hands. I love the collapsible buckets. We even pack in our suitcase for plane travel.
A further tip for keeping sand out of your kitchen and food preparation area is using a hanging basket system. These devices similar to a shoe rack are perfect to hang in your cooking area, or similarly to keep clothing and personal items clean inside your tent.
We also keep our dustpan and brush near the entrance to the tent to keep sand at bay before bedtime.
Personal items, hygiene & safety while camping
- Hand sanitiser
- Toothbrushes or mouth gargle
- Sunscreen & after sun gel
- Wet wipes
- Mozzie spray
- First Aid Kit
We take a comprehensive look at what to pack in your first aid kit here
Krissy from Everetts on the Go strongly recommends sand goggles:
Goggles are a must. You never know when wind will kick up and get in their eyes. A miserable kid = a miserable trip
And what if sand does get in their eyes?
I keep individual dose eye drops in my first aid kit. These are perfect for getting the sand out of little eyes. – Shauna, Family Travel Fever
Laura from Life with Baby Kicks also recommends talc for the kids’ skin:
Embrace the sand it’s going to get everywhere….. take talc makes it less itchy
Clothing for beach and desert camping
We keep our wardrobes as simplistic as we possibly can, with the theory everything is going to end up dusty and dirty, and if we haven’t showered, does it really matter if we’re wearing the same thing two days in a row!
The important thing from a clothing point of view to remember is it does get cold at night, in some places much colder. So whilst your casual beach gear or simple shorts & t-shirt outfits might be all you need for daytime (with a big slather of sunscreen) you will likely needed tracksuits and a nice warm cardigan or wrap at night.
Items to consider packing:
- T-shirts/singlet tops
- Flip flops
- Trainers & socks
- Track pants
- Thicker winter pullover or warm blanket
- Dry clothing bag
- Wet clothing bag
- Hair ties
These last few are essential for ladies with longer hair! While I don’t mind not showering for a day or two, the bird’s nest hair is another thing! It’s another way to protect your face as well if the wind does pick up.
Note that sand can also get incredibly hot during the day – flipflops and sandals aren’t always the best for protecting feet, so although trainers will fill up, socks will give a little extra protection from those burning granules!
Beach Gear Bag
If your camping near water, it’s time to have some fun! Here are some suggested items to pack for the beach:
- Lip balm
- Sun Hats
Read more about taking babies to hot climates here
Entertainment at the beach or desert
- Card games
- Digger trucks and digging tools
- Music player and speaker
- Beach paddles and ball
- Spare battery pack and cords
- Go Pro or Kids Action Camera
- Glow sticks – a great way to see where the kids have gone at night!
Extra camping items with a baby
I don’t think we’ve mentioned quite enough yet how sand gets everywhere! While It’s inevitable, there are a few extra things you can pack to make it slightly less painful.
Keryn from Walking on Travels suggests how to keep the sand and babies separated:
Sand is a big challenge when you visit the beach with a baby. They want to play in it, which means they will eat it, get it in their eyes and every other crevice imaginable. Packing a crib isn’t always practical, which is why we always brought an inflatable baby pool with us.
It packs up small and provides an easy space for babies to play next to you without getting into the sand. Their view of you and the water isn’t blocked, and they can still kick and play. You could even add a bit of water for the baby to safely play in if you like. Just remember— you can’t leave a baby alone in an inflatable pool. Suffocation is still a risk and a baby could roll out of the pool.
Preparing your car for desert camping
If your beach or desert camping adventure will see you hitting soft sand, make sure you come equipped with a 4WD or all-wheel drive vehicle. Your vehicle should be completely checked over for oil and gas, filters, battery power and essential safety checks.
We won’t go into too much detail on the 4WD and vehicle aspect as this is a whole other article unto itself – but pop over here to learn more about driving in desert conditions (Including 2WD vehicles)
Some essential gear to bring with you:
- Tyre pressure gauge
- Compressor – reinflate your tires after
- Tow ropes
- Jumper cables – kid left the inside light on your car?
- Your mates – trust me the most important thing you’ll need if you get stuck is some moral support – as well as someone to get you out!!
Don’t forget to let the tires down (18 psi is suggested for large vehicles) before driving on to the soft sand and get them reinflated again as soon as you hit the hard stuff. While you’re at the service station get the car washed too. It won’t get rid of all the sand but your engine will thank you.
Tip: keep a regular check during your time camping that the cars interior lights have not been left on! Even if you turn off the auto door lights, sometimes boot and car door lights will remain on, every bit will be draining your battery.
Add your fresh food on for the day of travel
Once you’ve got all your gear packed, don’t forget to leave your cooler box accessible ready for those last-minute essentials to be added:
- Meat for the barbeque
- Some fresh veg and fruit
- Butter, dips
- A loaf of bread and rolls
And don’t forget firewood & ice!!!! (Or to leave room in your car for these items, often forgotten until the last minute)
Laura from Life with Baby Kicks suggests
Before you leave freeze milk in the cool box for your morning coffee
We also freeze a few 1.5 L water bottles beforehand then add these to our large water cooler, this will keep your water chilled for much longer.
Ice will likely all be melted before the end of your first 24 hours even in winter, so be prepared that an ice run will still be required if you are going to be in the desert more than one night.
Thanks to all our outdoor adventure families who helped contribute their ideas to this post.
You may also want to check out our guide to kids camping essentials – many superb gift ideas for outdoorsy kids.
What are you waiting for? Download the full beach camping checklist here.
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6 thoughts on “Desert and beach camping preparation guide [+Packing List]”
We camped for 10+ years with our kids but now we have a popup camper. Your list still applies in many, many ways. I’m going to print several copies – one for the house and one for the camper. Thanks for the helpful list!!
Hi, Thank you so much for the good read I really learnt a lot.
Thank you so much for your awesome listings. I love to travel and camp. Thanks a lot for your valuable sharing and experience. A very informative article. I enjoyed reading it. Keep sharing more with us.
We had an outing where we stayed at the beach till at late night. We wish we could’ve been more prepared with more marshmallow for smores and the likes. But staring at the sea with the stars is something we would also not trade for.
the tips for driving on the beach are essential. I wish I had known this information before trying to drive on the beach! We learned the hard way.
Haven’t we all at some point ????