Best Camping Gear for Families
Camping with kids can be a fun adventure for the whole family. The fresh air, scenic views, and opportunities for outdoor exploration can make for an unforgettable experience. We know the importance of getting kids outside, and conveniently, when you are camping, kids are out all day (and night!)
My family has found that camping with our kids has been an incredible bonding experience, as we unplug from our devices (especially in spots with no internet or cell service) and connect with each other. Some of my favorite memories with my kids are at a campsite: cooking over a fire, playing games in the sunshine, or snuggled up in a tent falling asleep.
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- Best Camping Gear for Families
- Best Camping Gear for Families: Things to Consider
- Family Size Tent
- Great Family Camping Tents
- Family Camping Sleep Systems
- Camping Sleeping Bags for Babies and Toddlers
- Best Kids Sleeping Bag
- Best Camp Kitchen Gear
- First Aid and Other Tools
- Luxury Camping Items
- Start Small to Figure Out What Works Best
- Best Camping Gear for Families
Best Camping Gear for Families: Things to Consider
Camping does require both planning in advance and equipping yourselves with the right kind of gear, which we know can be difficult for some families. Camping gear can be expensive, especially if you’re just starting out.
While you could possibly get away with a couple camping trips with little to no start-up costs (borrowing gear from friends or neighbors, or using items you already have like blankets, foam or blow-up mattresses, old pots and pans and kitchen utensils, etc.), you’ll probably quickly decide to purchase items to make the experience smoother and more enjoyable for everyone.
When investing in gear, consider your budget and the needs of your family. How big is your family? How long will you typically be camping? In what types of weather do you plan to camp?
Although it’s tempting to go cheap at first if you aren’t sure if camping is right for you, also consider the durability and functionality of the gear you purchase. Think you might want to start out car-camping, then move on to backpacking? Perhaps invest in a lightweight tent and sleeping gear that can serve both functions.
Are you wanting to save money on campsites by dispersed camping on public lands? You’ll want to make sure you have the right setup since you’ll be providing your own bathroom, electricity, and water.
You also might want to look for gear that is easy to set up and use, especially if you’ll be camping with young children and are fairly new at camping with kids. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to figure out a complicated tent setup after pulling up to a campsite in the dark with tired kiddos (been there, done that, never want to do it again!) Setting up your gear at home in your yard before venturing out can help to solve this problem.
Family Size Tent
A tent will be one of the most important–if not THE most important–piece of gear you buy for your camping adventures. You’ll want to find a tent that works for your family, by thinking through the scenarios in which you’ll go camping.
Will you only car-camp (i.e., have your car close by at an established campground)? Will you be dispersed camping (similar to car-camping but you are not at an established campground so lack amenities like toilets, running water, and electrical outlets)? Or do you want a tent that could work for both car-camping and backpacking (carrying all of your gear and setting up after you hike in), if you decide to do that in the future?
Climate is also an important consideration when choosing a tent. What temperatures are you likely to camp in? How rainy will it be when your family is camping? Do you live in a place that is particularly windy or prone to thunderstorms? You’ll want a tent to withstand the elements, but you might also not want to purchase “too much” tent. In other words, if you are on a budget, there might be features you can forgo that will still give you a great tent and great camping experience if you’ll only be camping in sunny, calm weather.
Outdoors gear lingo and descriptions can be hard to follow if you aren’t familiar with them. For example, tents may look similar in a photo, but the price points are hundreds of dollars different. Reading reviews helps to parse out what you are looking for, but being familiar with the structures and fabrics that make tents higher-quality can help guide you to make the purchase that’s best for your family.
One big consideration when choosing a tent is the type of poles: many cheaper tents are made with fiberglass poles, while pricier tents are usually aluminum. Fiberglass poles are not a deal-breaker; I’ve had several cheaper tents that I have loved that use fiberglass poles. But they can splinter and break, and while replaceable, that can be a pain in and of itself. Aluminum poles are more durable and hold up better in windy conditions, so they are sometimes worth the extra money.
Great Family Camping Tents
When choosing a tent, you’ll also want to consider how many humans you’d like to fit in it, and how large/small those humans are. You want a tent that will be roomy enough for your family, but usually the bigger a tent is, the more difficult it is to erect and to store, so you want a balance between the two.
My family usually goes with tents that *just fit* us, since kids are usually smaller than adults and tents are usually made to fit the # of adults they are designed for (i.e., a 4-person tent fits 4 adults, so you get a little more room with 2 small kids).
But also want to consider if you’ll want to be able to store gear in your tent with you, or if you’ll have a baby or toddler in a travel crib/pack-n-play and the space they’ll need. I’ve divided up the following options according to how many people are in your family, but you’ll want to adjust depending on your family’s unique circumstances,
Best 4-Person Tents (Up to 4 People)
- Weight: 11 pounds
- Floor Dimensions: 96 x 84 inches
- Height: 55 inches
- Footprint Included?: No
- Price: $150
Coleman makes solid entry-level car-camping tents. When we were still in grad school and on a strict budget, we had a Coleman tent we camped out of for over five years!
Coleman’s “darkroom” tents can work well if you have a kid or baby that can’t sleep when there’s light, it’s like blackout curtains for a tent – also great for northern regions with late sunsets in summer.
- Weight: 16 lbs. 14 oz
- Floor Dimensions: 100 x 86 inches
- Height: 60 inches
- Footprint Included?: No
- Price: $449
For an upgrade from a cheaper tent, or when camping in more extreme conditions (a lot of rain, high humidity, wind), the REI Co-op Base Camp is a solid tent. We have used the 6-person version of this in 60mph winds on the coast and in torrential downpours in the mountains. We even once were in flooding conditions to where it felt like our tent floor was a waterbed (90s flashbacks, for sure), and we stayed nice and dry inside!
A more expensive tent like this one is also an upgrade for bonuses like 2-doors and a larger vestibule for storing gear outside the tent, or having a space to hang out when it’s raining.
Best 6-Person Tents (4-6 People)
- Weight: 15 lbs. 4 oz
- Floor Dimensions: 120 x 100 inches
- Height: 78 inches
- Footprint Included?: No
- Price: $399
This one is a new tent design from REI. It would be a good one if parents are tall (over 6 ft), so they can stand up in the tent. This makes entering the tent and changing (for example) so much easier! Reviewers also say it’s easy to put up, which is always a huge plus for camping with lots of small kids.
- Weight: 20 lbs. 15 oz.
- Floor Dimensions: 120 x 96 inches
- Height: 76 inches
- Footprint Included?: No
- Price: $500
Several members of the TMM team love the North Face Wawona tents, including the 6 and 8. This is a solidly-built, durable tent perfect for families. The Wawona tent features color-coded poles and fabric for ease of setup, which can be great for beginners (or even those of us who still struggle sometimes with figuring out tent architecture!)
Best Large Family Tents (6+ People)
For bigger or multi-generational families, you’ll want to think about having a very large tent or splitting up into multiples. Each has its pros and cons. For example, having multiple tents is more flexible so you can just grab whichever you need for camping outings with only part of the family. Since smaller tents are easier to erect, you won’t have the task of putting up a giant tent.
But on the other hand, you might not want to be separated from younger kids, or there might only be one tent pad at designated campsites in established campgrounds. Buying two tents (depending on what you are choosing) might also be more expensive than owning only one.
- Weight: 34 lbs. 15 oz.
- Floor Dimensions: 156 x 120 inches
- Height: 84 inches
- Footprint Included?: No
- Price: $500
This tent has a divider space so you can separate kids and parents, which can be nice when kids are used to sleeping in a separate room or space from their parents. Having separate sleeping quarters keeps kids close by, while also giving parents a little more opportunity to connect with each other while camping.
- Weight: 24 lbs. 3 oz.
- Floor Dimensions: 168 x 96 inches
- Height: 78 inches
- Footprint Included?: No
- Price: $699
While pricier than Eureka Canyon large-family tent above, the North Face Wawona 8 is one of the best tents out there for family camping. There are so many features to love about this tent, but two of my favorites are 1) the large vestibule for storing everything from bags to bikes, and 2) the three doors so you don’t have to climb over sleeping kids to get in and out in the night. I love that the separate doors also open up into each separate divided space, so potentially you could never have kids stepping all over your sleeping setup!
Family Camping Sleep Systems
What sleeping bag and pad you need really depends on the weather you’ll be camping in. Sleeping bag needs vary greatly between summer and winter camping. In general, plan to use a sleeping back with 10-20 degrees lower rating than what the low nighttime temps will be (can vary depending on how hot or cold you sleep, I use a sleeping bag 10 degrees warmer than my husband and he’s still usually colder than I am).
You’ll also want to consider how you sleep (rolling around a lot, in what positions) and whether you like being confined to a mummy sack (which will typically stuff down smaller) or be more roomy in a rectangle bag.
Sleeping pads are also an important consideration, not only for comfort but for warmth as well. Sleeping pads are rated by “R-value” – the higher the number, the warmer the sleeping pad will keep you. They are usually on a scale from 1 to 7, with 1 being very little insulation from the cold ground to 7 being extremely insulated and warm. Fun fact: you can stack sleeping pads for increased R-value! So if you use a 2.2-rated inflatable pad with a 1.1-rated foam pad underneath, your R-value for that system is 3.3.
To help with choosing a sleeping bag, I’ve broken down the different sleeping bag options for adults based on climate.
Best Warm Weather Sleepingbag and Quilt
If you are camping in warm weather and would like a sleeping bag, you can find some that are relatively inexpensive and packable. These bags will have pretty limited insulation, but will keep you warm with a sleeping pad and appropriate clothing. One good option is the REI Co-op Helio Sack 50, which is warm enough for mild nights and easy to pack up to bring with you on your campout.
Another great option for warm weather camping is quilts. I prefer quilts because they create more flexible sleeping arrangements (for example, you can use one quilt for two small kiddos or have a parent share with a kid). I like quilts too because they are often really lightweight, which means they can work for car-camping or backpacking. One more pro of these quilts is you can use them at home too. Just last night, I pulled out four of our down quilts for a tween sleepover at our house!
Two great options available at REI are Rumpl blankets or the REI Co-op Camp blanket. Rumpl blankets come with either synthetic insulation or down. Synthetic is cheaper and is better for very wet camping, since it still insulates even when wet. Down is more compressible and lighter weight for the warmth it provides, which means down quilts are great for backpacking too, if that might be in your family’s future.
Another hot tip (pun intended): for really warm weather, forego the sleeping bag and bring old bedsheets! They can offer a bit of warmth if you get chilly, but at the same time, you can use them to cool down! We’ve been camping when it’s still 70-80 degrees at night sometimes, so we soak the bedsheets to cool down.
Cool Weather Sleeping Bags
For cool nights, you’ll want to look for a down or synthetic bag in the 30*-40* temperature range, or lower. Remember, you want your sleeping bag to have a lower temperature rating than you are expecting.
This Kelty synthetic rectangle bag is an inexpensive bag from a tried and true outdoor gear brand. It’ll keep you warm in cooler temps without breaking the bank. Another nice thing about this and other rectangle bags are that they can be zipped together for a double sleeping to snuggle together on colder evenings.
Another rectangle budget sleeping bag from Kelty is the Kelty Galactic 30, different from the above because it’s down rather than synthetic. I had a similar bag for over a decade that I used for both car-camping and backpacking trips, and I loved it. I gave it to a friend when I upgraded to an ultralight quilt, but it was still in great shape after many nights sleeping in it.
For a sleeping bag upgrade, consider something like the Nemo Disco. It’s warm in cooler temps, plus it’s roomy and comfy for all kinds of sleepers (side sleeping is the bane of my sleeping outdoors existence!) This one is down, so it’s fairly lightweight and could be also used for backpacking. One cool feature on the Nemo Disco bag are the “gills,” that allow you to ventilate and regulate your temperature throughout the night.
Cold Weather Sleeping Bags (Temps Down To and Just Below Freezing)
This synthetic sleeping bag from REI Co-op combines the best of both rectangular and mummy bags: a rectangular bag with space to stretch out along with a hood like you would find in a mummy bag. This sleeping bag will keep you warm in most camping conditions for three-season camping (spring/summer/fall) in most regions. It’s not too heavy at 3 lbs. 10 oz. for the regular version and right around 4 pounds for the long. If packing space isn’t limited, this is a great option at $139.
Another option at a reasonable price point ($100), this synthetic sleeping bag is hefty at nearly 6 pounds, but is also really warm for three-season camping. I like rectangular bags like this because in warmer weather, you can unzip them all the way to use more like a quilt or blanket, while still having the warmth of a three-season bag during colder shoulder season (spring/fall) days.
A similar design to the REI Co-op Siesta Hooded 20 degree bag above, this is the down version so it’s a bit lighter at 3 lbs. 12 oz. for the long version and is more compressible (the long version packs down to 9 liters as opposed to almost 34 liters of the Siesta long version) and packable than the synthetic option. This would be a good option if you are looking for a warm bag, don’t mind the weight but are limited in car space. The down version is a bit more expensive ($199) than the synthetic one.
Best Double Sleeping Bag
Double sleeping bags can be great too! Share body heat and are great for co-sleeping toddlers (practice safe sleep with infants under 1) or kids who like to be close at night:
Like the down Hunkerdown 20 above, but this three-season down bag is built for 2! This would be a warm, three-season (and possibly winter, depending on climate) bag for a couple who likes to sleep close or parents who want to co-sleep while camping.
If sleeping bags are less than ideal for you and you prefer the comfort of sheets and comforter, this sleep system from REI might be a great option. I know some don’t like the slippery feeling of synthetic sleeping bag fabric and prefer cotton sheets on their skin at night. Keep in mind you won’t want a system like this in very wet, cold weather – cotton will make you very cold (possibly dangerously so!) if it gets wet.
Similar to the REI Co-op sleep system above, the Nemo Jazz double sleeping system comes with a built-in sheet for next to your skin. But rather than cotton, this one is a soft polyester. One cool thing about the Nemo double sleep system is that it fits perfectly with Nemo Roamer double mat, so you’ll have a complete, comfortable sleep system. You can also keep it all together (deflated pad + double sleeping bag) in the oversized stuff sack, making packing up even simpler.
Camping Sleeping Bags for Babies and Toddlers
Kid bags are sometimes even trickier to figure out than adult ones, since they vary by size and age of kid. There are also options for wearable sleeping bags that are a good option for babies or toddlers that roll around a lot and are hard to keep covered up on chilly nights.
Sleeping Bag For Babies
Camping with a small baby can be a really wonderful (but sometimes stressful) experience. Baby sleep can be the trickiest to figure out of all kids because they can sometimes be accustomed to certain routines and loudly let you know when these are disrupted. It can also be trickier to regulate a baby’s body temperature, since they can’t wake up and tell you they are cold in the night.
The Morrison Outdoors Little Mo 20 is a great option for a first sleeping bag, since it works like a long-sleeved sleep sack, which may be similar to what you might use at home in a crib. It also packs up super small so works well for backpacking too!
Sleeping Bags for Toddlers and Preschoolers
The Little Red sleeping bag is what my 4-year-old currently uses. It’s a great bag for the price ($99), synthetic but fairly compressible. Plus, it’s warm and perfect for three-season car-camping. What I like about is it attaches to a sleeping mat so your kiddo can’t roll off their mat when they are sleeping (though my daughter can somehow flip her mat on TOP of her sometimes, but that’s pretty rare).
Morrison Outdoors makes great bags for babies, but they also have the Big Mo 40 (for 2-4 year olds) and the new Mighty Mo 40 for even older ones (4-6 year olds). These bags are great for rollers or little ones who have trouble staying in a sleeping bag. They are also great for mornings at camping in the cold, since it can essentially function as a long down coat in a chair by the morning fire.
Best Kids Sleeping Bag
The Kindercamp sleeping bag is a synthetic rectangular bag that works great as a first sleeping bag for younger kids (up to 60 inches tall). The reasonable price ($69) and the durable REI quality are the big draws of these bags. The rectangular shape is great for kids to get used to the feeling of being confined in a sleeping bag, and the adorable colors and patterns on this one get better every year too.
This one is warm enough for most summertime camping, but if you’ll be camping in shoulder seasons, you might want to consider the warmer Kindercone 25. It’s a mummy bag rather than rectangular, and is more a true three-season bag than the Kindercamp 40.
The Selk’Bag Wearable sleeping bags for kids are cute, practical, and fun. They are a good option for kids who are big rollers (like with the Morrison Outdoors bags above) and who don’t like being confined in a sleeping bag. They are also great for chilly camp mornings – just put on your shoes and go! The Selk’Bags are not as warm as other sleeping bags listed here, so these are really for summertime camping or shoulder seasons in mild climates.
For slightly bigger kids including tweens and smaller teens (up to 66 inches), the REI Co-op Downtime 25 is a great bag. It’s a warm, three-season bag that is a little pricier ($189) but is great quality and will last kids a long time. Plus, it’s light enough at around 2 lbs. 4 oz. for backpacking along with car-camping!
Best Camp Kitchen Gear
Now that the sleep part is figured out, setting up a camp kitchen is the next consideration for car-camping. At minimum, you need some basic necessities to eat with, like cutlery and plates. You can choose to bring mainly cold or pre-made meals – which I did often when car-camping alone with my two young kids. But now that they are older and I go more often with other friends or family, cooking hot meals is worth the effort.
If you are cooking hot meals, a stove will be one of your most expensive (and vital) purchases. The Coleman Cascade Classic 2-burner stove is a classic for a reason, since it’s reliable and reasonably priced ($100).
Several years ago, I replaced our old Coleman 2-burner with a Eureka Spark+ Butane Stove since it’s a bit more compact, and I usually cook on only one of the burners anyways. I love how easy this one is to use, and the replacement butane canisters are lightweight and compact to pack.
If you know you’ll be doing more dispersed camping (without picnic tables, for example) – a roll-up portable kitchen space like the Summit Gear Deluxe Roll-Top Kitchen is a necessity if you’ll be cooking a lot.
To save money, you can thrift or reuse your old spatulas and mixing spoons to save money, but for convenience and packability, a kit like the GSI Outdoors Gourmet Kitchen Set this would be a good purchase to have everything you need in one spot.
Same with pots and pans: reusing old ones on campstoves is always a good option, but you might want to eventually invest in a dedicated set like the Stanley Even-Heat Camp Pro cookset.
You also need something to eat off. I know a lot of folks who simply bring disposable, paper plates and plastic cutlery. This is the easiest option for occasional trips (especially if you are just starting out!), but you may eventually want a more sustainable and durable option if you camp often. Enamelware like the Mountain Summit Gear set is perfect for camping since it’s non-breakable, durable, and easy to wash.
Finally, if you do choose to cook and eat off reusable plates, you’ll want a cleaning setup for dishwashing. A collapsible sink like the Sol Flat Pack 16 liters is easy to store and pack, but very useful for doing those dishes.
First Aid and Other Tools
Camping First Aid Kits
While camping can be a super fun for the whole family, it’s important to be prepared for the unexpected. Make sure you have a first aid kit and know how to use it. You can either build your own DIY first aid kit, which has the pro of being able to customize to your family’s unique needs. For example, I know my kids get carsick on windy mountain roads, so our camping first-aid kit includes plenty of Dramamine! My little ones are also prone to rashes, so we like to keep chewable children’s anti-histamines supplied in our kit.
But you can also purchase a pre-built set like the HART Outdoor Weekend First Aid Kit. A benefit to buying a pre-made kit is they are usually well-stocked with items you might not consider and come in durable and (sometimes) waterproof bags.
Fire Starting for Camping
If you plan to have a fire, you’ll also need to be sure to bring fire-starting necessities. You’ll definitely need a lighter (about a year ago, we purchased our first electric rechargeable lighter, and we love it!) and depending on your skill level, some kind of fire-starter. You can make your own fire-starters or purchase something like the UCO Sweetfire Fire Starter Tinder to help you out!
While you may be camping at an established campground with bathrooms, having a portable toilet can be a great option if you are dispersed camping or you are far away from the bathrooms. My family once camped at a state park in Texas, where the central bathrooms were so far it took us 10 minutes to walk to them!
Having a portable toilet sounds kind of gross to some, but these are usually equipped with bags that neutralize odors and break down waste so there is usually minimal smell. I especially appreciated having a portable toilet when I camped while I was pregnant, way more convenient than having to walk in the dark in the middle of the night (over and over and over again). An affordable (and comfortable) option is the Reliance Luggable Loo that’s compatible with their Bio-Gel waste bags.
Other toiletries you might want to consider are the Happy Bottom portable bidet if you won’t be camping close to showers and a Kula reusable pee cloth (these are amazing!) if you will be doing a lot of hiking on your camping trip.
Not everything is a necessity! Sometimes you just want to bring things to make the camping experience more enjoyable or fun. Some of my favorite “luxury” car-camping items include:
These are so fun! We have used other brands of string lights for camping, and the ones from this brand are by far the most durable. I love that on sunny days, we can keep recharging them for the coming night. They do recharge slowly and need quite a bit of direct sunlight, so be sure to move them around to sunny spots throughout the day.
My kids love camping, but they also love to play games. Why not combine the two? We have this combined chess/checkers set that packs up small and is very durable. The pieces are magnetic so they are (a bit) harder to lose.
This one is a true luxury item. While camp chairs are somewhat of a necessity for sitting around the fire and around the campsite, you can find basic ones in the $20-50 range. But none will be as comfortable as this reclining chair from NEMO. While I don’t own one myself, I’ve sat in a friend’s chair, and it’s worth the hype if you can justify the cost ($299). Truth is, I’m rarely sitting while camping with kids, so I have not been able to (yet)!
Start Small to Figure Out What Works Best
Camping can be a super fun, and sometimes relaxing, outdoor family activity, but it can seem daunting to prepare for a night outdoors. You can create a memorable camping experience without breaking the bank, including thrifting gear, using what you have, borrowing gear, and purchasing affordable basics like some of the items detailed above.
Whatever you choose, don’t be intimidated. Start small and simple – perhaps in your backyard – and build up your experience and preferences and go from there. Even after camping for almost 14 years with babies and kids, I’m still learning every time and keep a running list of ideas of things to pack next time or how to trim down what we don’t typically end up using!
While camping with kids can seem like a lot of effort, it is well worth it to wake up to their enthusiastic smiles and excitement about being outside.
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