Primitive camping, where you bring nothing but clothes for sleeping, may appeal to some, but most campers probably want more to bring more supplies to make the great outdoors resemble the comfortable indoors they left behind. When packing, break your needs down into the basic systems: shelter, food, water, lighting, tools, etc. and pack all the items that you need within those systems. Camping essentials are those items that keep you safe, warm, fed and provided for in case of an emergency.
Tents come in sizes big enough for a family of four to six or you can all split up into two-person tents. The standard A-frame tents usually sleep smaller numbers, but they do provide more privacy. "The Campsite Companion" reminds you that light-colored tents reflect sunlight while dark colored tents will keep the heat in. Brightly colored tents are not only easier for kids to spot, but provide an extra measure of protection against hunters.
Sleeping bags may not be considered rough enough for some campers, but most will be glad they brought along at least that much comfort when faced with sleeping over hard ground. Be aware of the climate when choosing a sleeping bag because you don't want to burn up or freeze to death while trying to sleep.
Matches are great for starting fires, but leave safety matches at home because the slightest moisture makes them useless and they aren't usually strong enough for starting fires anyway. Take along a set of large wooden matches that are kept in a waterproof container.
A compass is the camper's best friend, but only if you know how to use it. Bring along enough compasses so that every member of the party has one and make sure each camper knows exactly how to use it if they get lost.
A map is only as good as your ability to situate and orient yourself. Teach the kids how to read the map before you head out and give each of them their own copy. "The Complete Practical Guide to Camping, Hiking and Wilderness Skills" recommends a planimetric map that shows road systems and town locations.
Flashlights or lanterns will provide more than adequate illumination even in the darkest camping spot in the woods. A small flashlight is a good piece of equipment to take for reading inside the tent or using for entertainment in the form of making puppet shadows. More powerful lanterns are recommended for exploring at night or just keeping the campsite lit.
Bring along empty plastic bottles if you know you are going to camp near a trusted supply of water. Water purifying equipment is a must if you aren't familiar with the water supply. The way to get around trusting the water supply is to bring along a supply of bottled water, but this can weigh you down significantly.
Eating equipment should be limited to two plates per person so that you can eat off one in case you haven't gotten around to washing the other. Bring along eating utensils, bowls, and cooking equipment. A camp kitchen can get very sophisticated these days so carefully plan just how sophisticated a meal you want to prepare. The more intense the cooking plans, the more heavy the cooking equipment will be.