Camping Gear for Kids

Camping Gear for Kids

Camping is one of our families’ favorite activities in the summer and fall. We like to go to local state parks, and then plan longer trips to campground further away.

We read blogs and articles with our kids and teens about places we haven’t been, and then decide which new spot is worth considering. Articles like The 18 Best State Parks in the U.S. are a fun places to start.

Last year, with our kids, we camped in Acadia National Park, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and several small state parks scattered in the northeastern USA. Our kids range from 9-15, and we have been camping with them since they were toddlers.

Camping with kids and teens can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! Kids often focus better and are “bored” less when they spend their days outdoors.

Being in a a campsite without the comforts of home or entertainment might seem impossible, but if you try it, you might find that life is actually simpler when it’s lived outside with your kids.

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The Difficult Parts About Camping With Kids and Teens

Sleep is often the hardest part about camping. No matter what gear you own, the thin walls of a tent or pop up camper don’t block out sound the way the walls of a home do. Birds, other campers, wind, and rain can all impact sleep when camping with children and teens.

Additionally, most camping mats and pads just are not as comfortable as your mattresses at home. There are of course a few kids who like camping beds MORE than their bed at home.

Food and eating is the other difficult part about camping with kids. Cooking and meal prep is definitely a bit trickier outdoors.

Kids and teens generally are also burning more calories from living outdoors, so they are constantly hungry. Coming up with simple, nourishing, easy to prep meals and snacks requires time, but is worth the effort!

The Best Parts About Camping With Kids and Teens

Simplicity. Being outdoors with any age child is transformative. Nature helps us ALL to slow down. When outdoors, you realize how few “things” your children need to be content. Whether it is digging under leaves for worms or building a fairy house, toys are often an afterthought.

As children get older and enter the middle school and teen years, the restorative parts of nature are still important! “Big” kids need to hear birds singing, watch sunrises, and spend time being “bored”.

Camping is one of our favorite ways to connect with our teens and tweens. Whether is is lighting campfires together, looking at stars, or playing cards at the picnic table, camping lets us all slow down as a family. We almost never want to go home, even when we are sleep deprived and dirty.

children and teens sit around a fire in the dark at a campground
Everyone is happier with a campfire

Sleeping Gear for Camping With Kids and Teens

To get a good night’s sleep when camping, your kids need a few basics. Having a comfortable, supportive camping mat or pad helps create good sleep. They also need a good sleeping bag or bedding to stay warm.

Some kids prefer using actual blankets and sheets from home. We have one child who packs up a fleece blanket, sheets, and a pillow and stuffs it in a bag for themselves when they camp because they dislike sleeping bags so much. Bringing bedding from home can work, but it IS messier and tends to end up all over the tent.

Sleeping Mats for Kids

A good camping mat will help promote a good night’s sleeping while camping with your children. Camping mats are not just for cushioning. Camping mats actually insulate from the ground, which keeps sleepers warmer, helping them to sleep longer.

Things to consider:

If you have a very wiggly child, you might want a larger mat so they don’t roll off in the middle of the night. One idea is to buy a double sized sleeping mat, and you can put two kids on it together, or sleep on it with your child.

Air pads are lightweight, but tend to be “bouncier” than camp mats with foam. “Bounce” equals more rolling off in the middle of the night, often with a child on a cold tent floor.

The older and larger your child is, the less they tend to roll off mats.

3 sleeping bags lined up in a tent with the door half open
Tents equal adventure

REI Kindercamp Sleeping Pad

This mat works well for toddlers and younger children. As they get past age 8 or so, children begin to need full sized camping mats. This mat is great because it takes up less room than full size mats but still had adult-sized features.

kinder camp camp mat

REI Camp Bed Self-Inflating Pad

This mat works great for kids and teens who have outgrown kids sized mats. My 13 year old loves this mat, and frequently chooses it when camping. Sometimes self inflating mats can get small leaks, so it is important to bring a patch kit with you.

rei camp bed mat

NEMO Switchback Sleeping Pad

Want a no-frills, no-fuss pad? This closed cell foam pad from NEMO is your ticket. Its is super light (making it work great for backpacking too), and it never will get a puncture.

One one my sons prefers this to pads with air as it is more stable. It is a bit narrow, so some kids won’t enjoy using it.

nemo foam mat

Cots for Camping with Kids

Are you short on floor space in your tent? Cots are a great option because they have room underneath the bed to store small bags and shoes. Additionally, cots keep kids up off the the tent floor, which helps their bed stay cleaner.

Disc-O-Bed Kid-O-Bunk

This cot is one of the team’s favorite options if you are short on space in the tent. This bunk bed style cot lets you fit two kids in the same space as one. Read our full Disco-O-Beds Cot Review!

black disc-o-bed kid-o-bunk

Sleeping Bags for Kids

Sleeping bags are not a necessity, as your children can just bring blankets and bedding from home when camping. However, sleeping bags make the experience more fun, and make packing up simpler. Sleeping bags also tend to be warmer than regular bedding from home. For kids and toddlers, there are several different sleeping bag styles that work great for camping.

Sleeping Bag Options for Children

There are traditional style sleeping bags, roughly rectangularly shaped, which are roomy, if a bit bulky. These are great if your child likes to move in their sleep but wants to be “under” a blanket still.

Mummy style sleeping bags are tapered to mirror the shape of your body. They hold heat better than rectangles bags, but twist up more if you or your kiddo is a restless sleeper.

Wearable sleeping bags are exactly what you might think–a sleeping bag that you wear. These are quilted or baffled insulated “garments” that zip or sap up to stay on. Your child can sleep with it on without any other blanket.

Kindercamp 40 Sleeping Bag

This sleeping bag is a traditional, rectangular shape with a cozy lining and thick baffles. Several of my children prefer rectangular sleeping bags as they find them more comfortable. You can partially unzip the bag and have a wider sleeping surface on hot nights.

rei green sleeping bag for kids

Selk’ Bag Wearable Sleeping Bag

This wearable sleeping bag isn’t just cozy to sleep in. Because your kid can wear it, they can stumble out of the tent first thing in the morning without ever getting cold. You might find yourself wanting one for yourself.

wearable sleeping bag

Cozy Layers for Sleeping While Camping

When we camp, we always make to have our children bring warm, long sleeve layers for sleeping in, even if it is summer. The few times a child forgot theirs, they were white miserable in the middle of the night when they woke up chilly.

Temperatures are often cool at night, even in warm weather, so it is good to be prepared! If it is hot, they can always wear shorts and a t-shirt instead.

REI Lightweight Long Underwear Top

Packing a set of silky, lightweight base layers for camping is the way to go when camping in the summer and early fall. You might not need heavy weight base layers, but a set like this definitely helps ward off the chill in the middle of the night.

REI red base layer top for kids

REI Lightweight Long Underwear Bottoms

These bottoms are just like the top above. Silky, lightweight, and just enough cozy for summer nights camping.

REI blue base layer bottoms for kids

REI Trailsmith Merino Wool Socks

We have several pairs of REI branded wool kid’s socks, and have been impressed with their durability. Wool socks are great to bring camping for several reasons.

They stink less than cotton, they are warmer, and they stay warm even when wet. My children generally wear a pair to bed when camping.

red rei wool kid's socks

Food for Camping with Children and Teens

Feeding kids when camping can feel like a full time job! Being outdoors makes everyone hungrier, but the kids are usually so busy they don’t want to eat large meals. We focus on filling breakfasts, simple lunches, and dinner may vary between something complicated or something simple but healthy.

a young girl eats a sandwich while sitting at a picnic table
Food: the substance that keeps everyone happy

Great Snacks for Camping with Children and Teens

  • Sandwiches
  • Fruit
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Muffins
  • Boiled eggs
  • Veggies and dip
  • Chips and salsa
  • Cheesesticks
  • Trail mix

Dishes for Camping

Classic Enamelware Dish Set

Reusable, unbreakable dishes are the way to go with kids when camping! They are sturdier than paper, leading to less spills, and they are better for the environment! We find enamelware is also easy to clean, and doesn’t end up with weird residue the way plastic does.

blue enamelware dish set

REI Insulated Camp Cup

If you are camping with teens, you need cups for coffee. Many teens will love to have a little coffee in the morning, especially if they are not sleeping amazing at the site. If your children or teens don’t drink coffee, then you can use the cup yourself!

REI insulated camping cup with lid

Camping With Kids and Teens: Helping Out

One benefit of being together outdoors with your kids is that you can use the new setting to work on team building and connection skills. Having your kids help with camping chores helps you, and lets the kids contribute in a meaningful way to their experience.

camping dishes drying on a rock

SOL Flat Pack Collapsible Sink

It may seem funny to have a collapsible sink in a post on camping gear for kids, but hear me out! Kids benefit from contributing to their family. It gives them pride and a sense of ownership.

This dish washing bin folds flat and stows out of the way and makes it easier for your kids and teens to help with the camp dishes.

Additionally, this dishwashing bin can double as a water play station if you need to keep younger children occupied!

SOL Collapsible dish basin

Camping Chairs for Kids

If you want to hang out at the campfire with your children, you need chairs. Get everyone their own seat and there will be less squabbles. Our favorite chairs have a spot for a drink or water bottle.

three children sit on a log doing junior ranger workbooks. there is a tent in the background and a smoky fire in the foreground.
On this camping trip, we could have used more chairs.

Coleman Quad Chair

This chair is a great fit for younger kids and toddlers. It has a spot for a kid’s water bottle or snack, and is lower to the ground which makes getting in and out easier.

coleman kid's camping chair

Mountain Summit Gear Anytime Chair

When getting chairs for a family, sometimes you choose practicality over the most comfortable option. This chair is a great, basic camp chair option.

It isn’t the most comfortable camp chair ever made, but it works just fine for conversation around the fire, roasting marshmallows, and having a morning cup of coffee. Its a great chair to add to your family camp gear for your bigger kids and teens.

blue camping chair with cup holders

Clothes and Footwear for the Campsite

One of the hardest parts about campsite life is DIRT in the tent, am I right? None of us want to sleep with sand and dirt at the end of a long day outdoors.

Unfortunately, dirt is a huge part of life when camping. When possible, I like to make sure my kids have a pair of shoes that are easy to slip on and off at the campsite, so they can get into and out of the tent without hassle and without shoes.

Slip on Shoes

Chacos Chillios Slide Sandals

These are great to slide right into with wool socks or barefoot. Because they are made of synthetic materials, they rinse off and dry quickly when dirty.

Chaco chilies slide

Chacos Chillios Clogs

These slide on shoes are a little more protective and secure than the slides above. They have a closed toe and a heel strap, making them great for short hikes and water exploration as well.

Chacos chillios clog

Clothes for Camping

Kids being comfortable is essential when in the outdoors. They need to be able to move their bodies, investigate, explore, and express joy without working about getting dirty, wet, or cold. Having a selection of layerable, easy wash clothes will help with this.

We love synthetics for shorts and pants as they are easy to wash and hang dry. Bonus: if they get wet, they dry in a flash!

For warmth, layer a fleece or a cozy sweatshirt. It is great to have clothes you can wear near a campfire, and the only trouble with some synthetics is that they are delicate enough that sparks can melt them.

REI Mountainmaker Pants

Want a versatile, comfy, stain resistant, go anywhere pant? This pant is the ticket for your kids when camping. They are made of nylon with spandex for stretch. Your kids can live in these at the campsite.

grey nylon camping pants from REI

Columbia Basin Park Hoodie

Every kid needs a cozy cotton hoodie when camping. They are cozy in the morning when they first come out of the tent. In the evening, they can throw the hoodie back on to sit at the campfire. Because it is cotton, you don’t have to worry about sparks damaging the fibers.

olive green Columbia hoodie

Gear for Camping Adventures with Kids and Teens

Having fun and exploring are the best parts of camping with your kids. Whether you stay close to the campsite and do micro adventures or you go further afield on day trips or hikes, it it is good to be prepared.

Sturdy Shoes for Camping

Chances are, you already know which shoes work for your kid’s feet. However, we have a few recommendations that really are awesome for all around outdoor adventures.

If you need more ideas, visit our post on the Best Hiking Shoes for Kids.

Salomon Speedcross Kid’s Trail Running Shoe

We have found Salomon trail running shoes to be the best bang for our buck when it comes to quality adventure footwear for our kids. They work great on hikes (or runs) and are durable.

We have even managed to have more than one child use a pair. The kids love the easy lacing system, and I love that they can get them on and off quickly.

teal Salomon speed cross running shoe

Keen Seacamp CNX Sandals

Keen sandals work fantastically as a multi-purpose camping and hiking shoe for children and teens. If the smaller sizes of children’s Keen’s don’t fit your child, you can look at the adult versions as well.

We like the Scamp CNX line in particular because the soles are are thinner and more flexible, leading to a lighter, more comfortable shoe.

Keen Seacamp CNX sandals

Water Bottles for Camping

Hydration is a critical part to having great adventures! Having a good water bottle helps everyone keep track of their own drinks, and reduces campsite clutter because you don’t need to have cups for everyone.

Camelbak Eddy Water Bottle

These water bottles are great for younger kids. They are easy to use, don’t spill easily, and fit well in the hands of younger children.

camelback eddy water bottle

Hydroflask 24 oz Insulated Water Bottle

Older children and teens love having cold, refreshing water. The Hydroflask works awesome for keeping liquids cold (or hot). My teens bring their Hydroflask everywhere. Yes, it is more expensive, but it is very durable and helps kids drink more water.

hydro flask water bottle

Nalgene 32 oz Water Bottle

If your child doesn’t care about their water temperature, Nalgene bottles are a great choice. These water bottles are easy to clean, hold a full quart of water, and come in fun graphics.

Nalgene water bottle

Backpacks for Camping for Kids

a boy hikes up a wooded trail with an orange REI backpack.

REI Tarn 18 Backpack

This is our favorite pack for tweens and young teens. It has handy water bottle pockets, a waist belt, sternum strap, and a great stow and go pocket. We use this pack for camping, hiking, and biking. It is also hydration bladder compatible, but you have to purchase the hydration bladder seperately.

REI Tarn 18 pack

REI Tarn 12 Backpack

The Tarn 12 pack is similar to the 18, but for smaller sized bodies. This pack works great for kids ages 5-8. It has great features such as water bottle pockets, but in a slightly smaller size.

rei tarn 12 pack

Campsite Necessities for Kids and Teens

Campsite Lighting

Kid’s love to play with lights! Having their very own light empowers them, and helps them to feel brave in the dark. We like to use headlamps for each child, along with other lanterns and lights to illuminate the campsite and tent.

Older kids and teens like having their own lights because they can read in the dark and be independent.

luck light hanging from a ceiling in a cabin

Black Diamond Whiz Headlamp

This headlamp from Black Diamond is a great choice for younger children because the battery compartment can only be opened with a screwdriver. This can be mildly annoying for adults, as you do need to have the right sized screwdriver handy. However, it makes it much safer for curious kids who want to play with everything!

pink black diamond whiz headlamp

Petzl Tikka Headlamp

This headlamp is a good choice for older kids and teenagers. It is simple, easy to use, and won’t break the bank. Until my teens are older, I like to buy quality lights, but avoid top of the line, expensive headlamps.

Why? Well, kids lose stuff. Or they drop them in the lake, never to be seen again. So having something cheaper lets me give them full control, but without worrying about them losing it.

blue petal tikka headlamp

Luci Solar Lantern

Our family loves this solar powered lantern. Leave it on the dash of your vehicle or out on the picnic table, and you will have plenty of charge for an evening. These lanterns provide great, soft illumination in the tent, good for story time.

luci solar lantern

Fun Camping Gear for Kids and Teens

Camping is fun, but can be made even more fun with a few additional accessories. There are many things we might not have included here, but we wanted to give a few basic ideas of what we love to bring camping with kids and teens.

Hammocks for Camping

a young girls smiles while she swings in a green hammock in the woods
Hammocks are our favorite camping toy

Hammocks are absolutely one of my kids’ favorite camping “toys”. Hang one up between two trees or posts and you have instant fun. Hammocks make a good place to read, rock, and even sleep. Be prepared for giggles!

Alpine Mountain Gear Hammock

This hammock is a good budget option for your kids to hang out and play in. Its construction is a little lower quality than others, but it will work great for camping trips and lounging in the back yard. This set includes the straps you need for hanging it.

orange mountain summit gear hammock

ENO DoubleNest Hammock

ENO is known for their quality hammock construction, and this one is no exception. They use super soft, durable fabrics in their hammocks, and the fabrics come in beautiful, fun colors. This hammock does not come with hanging straps, so they’ll need to be purchased seperately.

colorful ENO Doublenest Hammock

Music for Camping with Kids and Teens

One little luxury that it super fun to have when camping is music. Whether you bring your own instruments or just a speaker, a little music can set the mood instantly. Our kids appreciate having a speaker in camp as they have gotten older.

JBL Clip 4 Speaker

This little bluetooth speaker is waterproof. It clips onto belt loops or packs, which keeps it from getting lost. It gives 10 hours of play time on a single charge. Prepare for campsite singalong sessions!

JBL clip on speaker

Camping Safety for Families

It can be intimidating to think about leaving the comfort of you home to sleep outdoors. The ease of a house with solid walls, windows definitely has an appeal, but heading outdoors is rarely as hard as we think it might be. A little safety prep will help with that.

a first aid kit sits next to a child with a wounded knee

First Aid Kits for Camping

A good first aid kit is a must have when camping with children and teenagers. The most common injury is mild scrapes and cuts, which can be treated with soap, water, and bandaids. However, it is nice to have a large variety of supplies on hand for when worse injuries or illnesses strike.

Hart Extended First Aid Kit

This first aid kit is large. It also is comprehensive. This kit contains a well thought out variety of supplies to treat any non-emergent injury or mild illness.

hart first aid kit

Bug Protection

Depending on where you camp, bug protection can make or break your camping trip. Having hordes of mosquitoes biting all night long is miserable. Likewise, exploring in a tick prone area might not be uncomfortable in the moment but can lead to serious diseases.

Bug protection is essential when camping with toddlers and children. Read the latest CDC Guidelines for ticks and be prepared!

There are a few different protection options. You can wear bug nets and long sleeves/long pants. You can use chemical repellants, such as natural bug sprays or DEET based bug sprays. You can try to use candles and scents to repel mosquitoes and flying pests. You can also buy treated clothing or treat your clothing yourself.

Learn more about safe tick protection from our post: Don’t Let Ticks Scare You

Natrapel Lemon Eucalyptus Bug Spray

This natural insect repellant is a good one to use if you want something fast and simple to use. It is safe for most fabrics, and safe to put on your skin. It doesn’t work as well as DEET based sprays, but it definitely works better than many natural repellants. This a great repellant to keep on hand when camping with children and teens.

Sawyer Permethrin Spray

Permethrin is the gold standard when it comes to protecting yourself from ticks and mosquitos. Permethrin is unique because you do not treat your skin with it.

Instead, permethrin is used on clothing, and is a semi-permanent repellent in that you apply it once and lasts for weeks. Permethrin doesn’t smell, and doesn’t damage fabrics or tents. The only caveat: permethrin should not be used on clothing or shoes that go in water.

Staying Home is Easier, But Camping with Kids and Teens is More Fun

Camping with your kids and teens definitely requires more prep, gear, and time than staying home. It’s a challenge to pull away from the chores and obligations of modern life.

I’m here to tell you: unplugging and just GOING are totally worth it. Gather the gear you need to camp with your kids, and take that leap.

Memories will be made. Sleep will be lost. You will probably won’t even want to leave to go back home.

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  • Rita Muller is a born and raised Vermont girl and mom of five children (yes, she knows one is missing in the photo below – she’s working on that!) She works and plays from the northeastern corner of her tiny state. She likes to think that Vermont is small but mighty. Living one hour from the largest mountains in the Northeast and a major part of the Appalachian Trail is a constant source of outdoor adventure ideas. She divides her time between cooking, chicken wrangling, gardening, teaching her children, trail running, hiking, backpacking, and getting outdoors to camp and explore WITH her children. She and her husband Ryan have a deep love of the outdoors that they seek to share with their children, even though it might look different than adventuring with adults.

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