Getting the family outside can feel like a chore at times. It takes a LOT of gear to get your family outside for an outdoor adventure. Worse, there are a LOT of choices out there, which makes choosing the right gear pretty darn overwhelming at times.
Check out this guide and then be sure to head here for ALL our guides for 2019 – our team has worked hard to gather our very favorite recommendations.
We want to make it easier and less overwhelming for you to get out the door on those big family adventures. Lucky for you, we are a bunch of gear-nerds over here at Tales of a Mountain Mama, so we’ve thoroughly tested and compared the options for you.
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We love shopping at Recreational Equipment, Inc (REI) because they have a wide variety of high-quality gear and gadgets to fit every family and every budget.
Their attention to sustainability, outdoor education, and advocacy for public lands makes us feel great about shopping there. The annual dividend doesn’t hurt either (and pays that membership fee back a million times over).
We’ve compiled a list of our favorite gear to take on any family outdoor adventure below. Have fun shopping!
If you are considering purchasing, we have included affiliate links. Clicking these links doesn’t cost you a penny, but helps us continue our mission to find the best of the best in outdoor family gear!
This child carrier is a no-brainer. We have tested and used it for years and the new updates for 2019 make it even better. It’s comfortable, highly durable, and engineered to provide the best balanced load. It’s also available in a women-specific version (shown in photo above). See our full review here.
When you are hiking with small kids, a small backpack won’t cut it. We love this Deuter 28L backpack, because it has loads of space to hold diapers, water, lunch, extra layers for everyone, and possibly the kitchen sink.
It has excellent padding and ventilation to help keep you from overheating while you sweat it out with the extra load.
We all dream of cooking over an open campfire, but that just isn’t always practical and you always wind up with a lovely campfire perfume afterwards.
Grills have way less cleanup after cooking and more cooking space than a tiny skillet over a tiny camp stove. Roll out this road-trip worthy propane grill for an easy meal!
Ever had breakfast bacon on the grill, grilled veggie kebabs or grilled fruit for dessert? YUM!
We used the foldable camp chair design for decades, but always get annoyed at the bulk and flimsy designs. After thorough testing of the Flexlite Chair, we are happy to report that it’s awesome!
It packs down to half the size and weight of a standard fold-up camp chairs, setup is super easy (although does require a little grip strength), the base is extremely sturdy and won’t tip over with normal use (nothing will stay upright if you lean allll the way over to grab the marshmallows), and the material is extra tough.
The backs are mesh, which is great in the summer, so in the winter, pack a camp blanket or buy the quilted chair-backer to keep warm.
If you have small kids or are nursing in the night, a double sleeping bag helps a TON with sleeping space and warmth for your little ones. The Siesta 30 is a poly-fill rated to 30 degrees, but with multiple bodies generating heat, you’ll be plenty warm!
We’ve tried a lot of car camping tents, and this one is the best. Why? Because of the simple fact that it allows you room to stand UP when you put your pants on in the morning.
It also has 2 separate rooms which helps the kids to sleep and holds up under harsh weather conditions like wind and pouring rain.
If you have a hard time sleeping outside and toss and turn to get comfortable, this sleeping pad will change your life.
It’s so thick and dreamy, one of our Mamas even uses it for a guest bed in her house. There’s literally no way to be uncomfortable, no matter how many rocks or roots you sleep on with this 4″ thick pad.
It IS very bulky and heavy, so use it for car camping (or house guests) only.
Kids need to be warm and comfortable too. It’s especially important for them to be insulated from the ground, since they lose heat quicker than an adult.
The Kinder Camp is a great self-inflating pad that is tough enough to hold up to little kids, dog claws, shoes, toys, and anything else short of a pocket knife you might have in your tent.
Smart Backcountry Adventure Gear
If you are backcountry camping, you might lean towards the MSR pocket-rocket style of stove for weight and ease of use, but those have some serious downsides. For one, they don’t work great when it’s cold out (think cold summer mornings in the mountains or snow camping). They also only have two temperatures: Burn-Your-Food-Hot and Off. They are terrible for cooking anything more complicated than dehydrated food.
One of our Mamas has been using the MSR DragonFly for backpacking for 15 years. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to use, has a stable base, is field repairable and utterly bomb-proof. The best part? It simmers better than my stove at home and boils water in a snap.
The only downside? It sounds like a jet-engine taking off, and takes practice to light it without the traditional *poof* factor.
It’s great to get your kids engaged in camp chores, including filtering their own water. In this case, that’s pretty darn easy. Just have them fill up their water bottle and drink!
This bottle removes impurities from the traditional bacteria and protozoa, to microplastics, and even reduces lead and pesticides. Great for travel overseas, in addition to backpacking!
This water filter won tons of awards when it first came out, for good reason. It’s ultra-light at only 3 oz, and insanely easy to use. You just fill the bag up, screw the filter on and squeeze!
It’s also incredibly to field clean and backwash, so it never gets clogged. One of our Mamas says the included Sawyer plastic bags are stiff when squeezing, so consider getting a softer plastic bladder like the Vecto Bag from CNOC.
If you are hitting the backcountry with the family, you probably need a bigger tent. We love the Copper Spur by Big Agnes.
It’s got tons of floor space and head room, great ventilation, vestibules that are big enough to hold backpacks and boots, and it’s ultra light. There’s also a super unique ceiling pocket that we jut love.
When one of our Mamas got one, she was concerned about the durability of the fabric, which seemed too light to last, but it’s held up to dogs, a rough-housing toddler, and multiple trips, and it still looks brand new. We recommend getting the footprint to help the tent last for a lifetime!
This isn’t the cheapest jacket, but it is the absolute BEST jacket on the market if you are hiking/climbing/skiing or even just going across town and want to stay warm, but not get too hot. It is ultra light synthetic fill, 100% bomb proof, literally lasts forever, and worth every penny. One of our Mamas has had this jacket for almost 10 years and still wears it almost every day!
One of our Mamas won’t go on a camping trip, road trip, or backyard night adventure without her Lighthouse Lantern. The folks at Goal Zero have combined their best technology: A USB powered, super bright lantern and a power bank that charges your phones and tablets.
As much as we want to be “unplugged” on our backcountry adventures, we still want to have our phones for emergencies (…and taking pictures, playing white noise for the littlest kids at bedtime, using it as a flashlight, and using that neat star chart app). It’s also incredibly compact, so it’s easy to squeeze in the gear bins or the overstuffed roof box.
Have you ever played that game with your campfire, where the second you sit down, the wind shifts and smoke starts blowing in your face? Then you get up and move, and the smoke follows you in a complete 360-degree circle? Or maybe campfire smoke makes your allergies act up?
Well, the clever folks at BioLite have come up with a pretty clever design that virtually eliminates annoying and harmful smoke from your campfire. It also uses way less wood by maximizing air flow, and is friendlier to LNT standards by elevating the fire and protecting the top soil.
Don’t worry… it’s not like having a fire in a barrel. You can still see the flames and feel the warmth all the way around, thanks to a cool open design, so it’s still a perfect campfire for s’mores. Bonus: the fan will charge your devices too!
This little device has to be one of the best pieces of safety equipment ever invented. It allows you to stay in touch with family and friends, from almost anywhere in the world, in places without cell service.
You can send geo-tagged text messages to loved ones, use it as a GPS with full topographic maps, and can call for help in an emergency. If you frequently recreate out of cell phone range (National Parks, in the mountains, paddle on rivers, etc), this little device could literally save your life. It could also provide peace of mind in less dire circumstances, by letting you know that your spouse has a flat tire and will be late coming home from a hunting trip.
With our little ones, it’s a great safety blanket, allowing you to stay in touch with the world while you are still “unplugged.” *Note: It DOES require a subscription plan, that’s about $12/month, but is absolutely worth every penny.
Get Out Affordably
If you aren’t going high-$$/ultra-light/completely-overbuilt, but still want to be out on the trail with a well-constructed, reliable tent, the REI Half Dome is a clear winner. It has a simple design, ample headroom, and solid construction that makes for a lightweight tent that’s great for families of any size.
Coleman has been a leader in camping lanterns and stoves for almost 120 years, so it’s no surprise that the iconic Coleman stove is a campground workhorse for many of our Mamas. While this stove doesn’t have any frills, it is durable, incredibly easy to use, and it will pretty much last forever. Not bad for an incredibly affordable camp stove!
Trekking poles have become increasingly common with hikers as they reduce impact on knees, help conserve energy, and improve balance on the trail.
This may come as a shock, but you don’t have to spend big bucks on a pair of trekking poles. It’s easy to think you need to spend over $150 on a pair of carbon fiber, cork-grip, spring-loaded, quick-deploying poles, with all the fancy options out there. Unless you are doing a seriously hardcore, ultra-light, long-distance trek down the PCT, you really don’t need all the bells and whistles.
Save yourself some money and get a simple set of durable, easy-to-use trekking poles, like these Passage Trekking Poles. They work great, are durable, and they won’t break the bank.
Best Sustainable Gear
Ok, we know $25 is a little steep for a straw… but hear us out: Plastic straws are a huge source of plastic pollution, with over 500 million used every single day. Of course, if you have a 2-year old, straws are a necessity from home to restaurants to base camp.
Enter the Final Straw. It’s a pretty brilliantly designed stainless steel straw with a silicone liner that automatically snaps itself together after pulling it out of the small keychain-compatible carrying case. There’s a telescoping brush included for cleaning it on the fly, although it’s also dishwasher safe.
Getting one for your child and carrying it with you could save thousands of plastic straws over a lifetime!
Goal Zero is pretty much THE name in outdoor solar power. Their small, portable solar panels are a great addition to any camp, allowing you to keep your cell phone charged for pictures, navigation, or trail apps without draining your car battery.
Don’t worry – we won’t tell anyone you were up playing Candy Crush after the kids went to bed. Charge up to 2 devices at a time.
When you think of old-school car camping, you might imagine the stereotypical image of 1970s campers drinking coffee from a dented-up enamel mug, or a disposable Styrofoam cup. Neither is particularly environmentally friendly or even effective at keeping your coffee hot!
These days, reusable mugs are over-engineered to keep your coffee hot forEVER. The Hydro Flask is no exception, with a guarantee to keep your drink hot for up to 12 hours. It’s also BPA free and has a lid that locks up tight (because kids) and won’t dribble coffee down your chin.
Bonus: actually fits into the cup holder of most cars. It comes in lots of fun colors and designs, like this one. Just don’t ask us to make a decision on which one is best until we finish this cup of coffee.
Patagonia has been a leader in sustainable gear for years, with their commitment to using recycled materials, as well as repairing and up-cycling their products. The Nano Puff is a classic style that has been a perennial favorite of our gear testing Mamas (and Dads!).
Made from 55% recycled PrimaLoft insulation and a bluesign-approved ripstop nylon shell with DWR finish, this jacket is light enough to use as a mid-layer on really cold days, or an outer layer when it’s warmer. It does everything well; from nordic skiing, to camping, to cold-weather hiking.
It’s typical Patagonia-level quality, so you’ll be tired of wearing it long before it wears out.
Kids want to do everything just like their parents, which means if you are using a headlamp (which you probably are!) they want one too. This one is great because it’s an LED that they won’t go blind staring at like you did as a kid. It changes colors, lights up a wide area, and has a breakaway strap to prevent choking.
Hammocks are pretty indispensable if you have kids. They can keep themselves entertained with a hammock while you work on dinner, or setting up the tent. If you are breastfeeding, it also makes a discreet and comfortable spot to nurse, or rock a baby to sleep.
National Parks + Trivia… what’s not to love? This is great for a road trip, camping trip, or just to keep around the house and get the kids excited for an upcoming vacation!
Cornhole is one of the best lawn games ever, so why not bring a version camping with you? One of our Mamas keeps this traveling version of cornhole in her camping bins, so she never forgets to bring it along. It’s great competition while dinner is cooking for both adults and kids!
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