Camping with kids 101: tips + products you need for an awesome family camping adventure

Camping with kids is an outdoor getaway idea that's affordable, offers the ability for families to connect with nature, and for those parents with unvaccinated children looking for a COVID-safe adventure this summer, you won't find a better option than popping a tent in the great outdoors and eating dinner under the stars each night. Plus, camping with kids gives you an excuse to eat s'mores. Need I say more?

Now, it's absolutely true that preparing for and setting up camp is a lot of work. I'll get to more of that in a moment, but like many endeavors, I think you will find a family camping adventure to be worthwhile in the end and a pretty cool way to make memories with your kids.

5 tips to a calmer family camping trip from parenting expert (an avid camper), Laura Linn Knight:

  • Plan meals ahead: Meals are always the most stressful part of camping for me. I want to make sure that I bring enough food, and I also don't want to pack the whole kitchen sink. Find a few ingredients that will work for multiple meals. Having an overview of your daily menu will save you a lot of time and energy once you arrive.
  • Bring layers and an extra trash bag for dirty clothes: Camping with kids means dirty clothes and often warm days turn quickly into cold nights. Be prepared with layers so that your children can keep playing while you are cooking dinner over the fire. Reuse clothes for as long as possible, but have an extra-large trash bag nearby so that clothes can easily be saved for the washing machine when you return home. And always be safe and check clothes and kids for ticks before bed.
  • Have a special camping toy bag: We have a bag of toys that lives with our camping gear. We never bring the toys into our house so that they stay novel for our trips. They include outdoor toys like binoculars, a bug catching kit, buckets and a pretend camping stove. We also have a few books for reading at bedtime and stuffed animals for snuggling with.
  • Get comfortable: If you are camping in a tent, bring a comfortable mattress and extra layers to put on top of your sleeping bag. Remember that temperatures drop at night and so be prepared for chilly nights. Also, keep a flashlight on hand with a pair of flip flops next to the tent door for middle of the night bathroom trips.
  • Break the rules! Part of the fun is doing things you wouldn't normally do at home. Camping is a time to let loose and not worrying about staying up late and telling extra stories. Plan to let your kids play in the dirt, search for bugs and stay up a little later than normal.

If this is your first experience camping, I'd suggest trying it in your backyard first. Then, if all goes well, start by looking up established campgrounds that offer "car camping" (where you're assigned a specific space and park your car close to wear you set up your tent). State parks often have these camping sites as well. And if you're lucky, there might be a lake or pool for swimming and water activities, as well as hiking trails. When searching, check user reviews, especially when it comes to the cleanliness of bathrooms and the availability of items like firewood, fire starters and a camp store that may have necessities you didn't realize you needed when packing.

It is true that it's hard to pack lightly for a camping trip. First of all, you're literally bringing along the roof over your head, as well as everything you need to sleep comfortably (sleeping bags, pads, pillows) and eat, as well as dishes, utensils and what you'll sit on while you're eating (though most camp sites provide a picnic table). It is... a lot.

The good news is that there are tons of multi-functional and useful camping items out there, and if you and your family get to be regular campers, you'll soon discover what it is you need and what you can live without. And who knows, if you're established campers looking for new camping necessities, you might find these here, too.

We've gathered a list of items you may need if you'll be camping with kids this summer. The great outdoors are waiting for your family. What are you waiting for?

Coleman Cabin Tent with Instant Set Up in 60 Seconds

Okay, if there's one thing I don't like about camping, it's setting up the tent, which always seems to take longer than it should (so many poles to hook together!). Enter the new Coleman cabin tent, which purports to set up in 60 seconds. Amazing! I also like the large size for families and room divider, dark room technology for keeping little ones sleeping and not waking up as soon as the sun comes up, and its hinged door design. This Coleman tent was also rated the best family tent overall by America's State Parks.

This Amazon reviewer said: "It's comfortable for a full size plus a twin sized air mattress. It sets up and takes down very easily - sets up in less than two minutes with one person, and less than five minutes to get it stuffed into the carrying bag. It fits in my subcompact car. It stayed dry through 5 straight hours of heavy rain. Too heavy to hike any real distance with, but excellent for car camping with kids."

Kids Wearable Sleeping Bag


Just remember, when you're sleeping outdoors, it can get chilly at night. Billed as "the ultimate kids camping companion" by Morrison Outdoors, the Big Mo 40 is the first sleeping bag with adjustable sleeves designed for kids ages 2-4 years old. No matter how much they kick and roll, this wearable sleeping bag won't come off and will keep little ones warm and cozy all night long.

Smile Soft LED Night Lantern


Could we talk about how cute this lantern is for a moment? The Smile lantern includes an LED bulb that gives off a soft light beam, which is perfect if your little one needs a little light when it starts to get dark outside. Its hat has a hook for hanging up in your tent, and its lightweight construction is easy for your child to carry. Just don't forget to bring extra batteries in case you need them!

Stuffed Puffs for making s'mores


Streamline your s'mores game with Stuffed Puffs (arrives in a pack of 3), marshmallows with milk chocolate already inside. Kind of genius, right? All that's missing are the graham crackers. And while any ol' stick will do, we also really like these stainless steel s'mores sticks from Target are pretty cool. And as for actual meals, we love the yummy (and easy) ideas from Fresh Off the Grid. Campfire nachos, anyone?

Rainleaf Microfiber Quick-drying Towel


You only have to smell a mildewed towel once to know you never want to repeat that experience. And because finding a place to dry towels can be a little tricky in the great outdoors, I love this highly-rated microfiber towel found on Amazon.

Guava Adventure + Travel Set


Well this has got to be one of the cooler multi-purpose travel companions for baby that I've ever seen, and it's perfect for camping! Like Superman, it's a pack-n-play! It's a travel crib (with a cool shade to make the space darker)! Its a mosquito and bug shield! Love the organic cotton sheet and quilt it comes with, too.

Kids Base Camp Chair


LL Bean has long been known for sturdy camping supplies, and this camp chair is no exception. Says one reviewer, "My daughter only had one child-sized chair so I ordered a chair so they would have one for each boy. Quickly decided I should order another so they would each have a new chair. They love them and the chairs are very well made and going to be worth every penny!"

Coleman Xtreme 5 Cooler


We like the price tag on this cooler, and its ability to keep ice cold for up to 5 days at temperatures of up to 90 degrees. And hey, cup holders are never a bad thing. Holding up to 100 cans, this is a good size cooler, too.

Terra Kids Binoculars 


These expertly-crafted binoculars for kids magnify 4x! With rubberized lens guard bumpers and soft and adjustable eye-piece spacing, these binoculars are comfortable to look through and use. And who knows what you'll see on the other end!

BuzzPatch bug repellent stickers


So one unfortunate thing about camping in the summer? Mosquitos. BuzzPatch offers a way to deter mosquitos from your little one with their natural stickers that are non-toxic and DEET free. Slap a sticker on your kid's t-shirt and they'll be mosquito-free for up to 8 hours (mosquitos find humans by sensing the CO2 being emitted. The Buzzpatch scent creates a virtual shield by "camouflaging" your kids from mosquitos) Genius!

Per the BuzzPatch website: kids 0-2 need only 1 sticker, kids 3-5 need 2 and kids age 6+ to adults need 2-4 patches. A lot better than spraying bug spray everywhere, especially when it risks being inhaled or getting in your child's eyes.

(The price below is for 3 packs)

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