Kids love camping. There's room to run, jump, ride bikes, climb and explore. They are allowed to get dirty. Insect and animal sightings abound. They learn about nature, and even pick up some survival skills. My kids love to collect rocks, leaves, pinecones etc, but they also learn what is not safe to touch. Camping is also a great chance for them to help. Helping to build a tent, set up a campfire, roll up a sleeping bag and cook outside are great skills to pick up and helping do these things can also increase their self-esteem. I have three boys, so of course, we have slept in tents, trailers and cabins for the kids to experience all the benefits of the great outdoors. I think traveling in general is also great for kids because they learn to adapt to all sorts of different circumstances. (And, having the below supplies will really help with that!) If you haven't been camping yet, a backyard campout is good practice. I have an article on Backyard Camping Activities to help get you started.
Regardless of where we are going; whether it be a lake, the mountains, the beach or the snow, these are the essentials I bring for the kids. These items were all chosen by me exclusively. I may earn a small commission from purchases from these affiliate links at no cost to reader. I hope you find my recommendations helpful.
1. Kid size camping chair. If you have a baby who still sits in a high chair at home, bring a high chair or booster seat. It will be much easier for them to eat, and you will be more likely to actually get a full meal in. Toddlers and small preschoolers who don't need a high chair still need a chair their size, for safety reasons, but also because its fun for them to have their own special camping items. (My 6 and 8 year old have their own chairs too. Just check the age range on the chair before purchasing.) Another plus, they are smaller than adult chairs and easier to carry! You can even get some fun character ones. (While we are on the subject of chairs, if you have a baby or toddler who usually gets rocked to sleep, I linked a camping rocker as well. My sister uses one and its great for travel.)
2. Their own sleeping bag. Even when we stay in a cabin, I bring the kids' sleeping bags. I think the individual-ness of it keeps them warmer and I don't have to worry about their blankets having fallen off and things like that. Make sure to check that it is not an indoor sleeping bag for slumber parties because that will probably not suffice unless it is very hot at night where you are going. If it is going to be very cold and you are sleeping in a tent or something without a heater, make sure the sleeping bag says it is for winter. The sleeping bag below is the one we have. It is a 3 seasons bag because we are more likely to be in warmer weather than freezing. It is very lightweight and easy for the kids to carry. Remember, even when camping, babies still need a safe sleep space. The AAP recommends a flat surface and on their backs. Baby sleep sacks will probably work best, but they do not recommend weighted blankets or swaddles. (Source)
3. Bicycle I don't know a time I went camping as a child where I did not ride my bike. Kids love the freedom of being able to ride in open spaces. It's great exercise too. Of course, don't forget their helmet!! Having their own helmets on hand is also great if they plan to horseback ride. Helmet tip: Don't just rely on the age range on the helmet. Actually measure your child's head. Twice I've bought my 3 year old a helmet too small even though it said up to age 5.
4. Their own flashlight - Flashlights are fun. If everyone doesn't have their own flashlight my kids will fight over holding it. Plus, its kind of a necessity for seeing at night in the campsite, so its a good idea each person has access to one for safety. These flashlights are glow in the dark so they are easy to find wherever the kids place them. They also make cute little kids lanterns as well! (Be careful with heavy duty adult flashlight they kids can get hurt if they are swinging them around or drop it on their foot.)
5. Walkie Talkies This is more for fun than safety because we keep a pretty close eye on our kids. If you have kids, I don't need to explain the entertainment value.
6. Binoculars Kids need binoculars to see all the sights just like parents, but we don't want the kids to have worry about breaking expensive adult binoculars. You can probably get away with giving toddlers pretend binoculars (my littlest has this set that he loves) but the older kids do need something that works. Another fun thing can be a magnifying glass. (Just be super careful there is no fire danger!) My middle son has a little "adventure" backpack where he keeps his compass, binoculars, water bottle and of course, snacks.
7. Sunblock, Bug Spray and First Aid Kit. **Disclaimer- I am not a medical doctor. Consult your doctor for any products consumed or applied to the skin. Sunblock is super essential of course, even in the snow. For more on sunblock read Wear Sunblock This Summer. Bug spray is also another must have. I have never found a bug spray that was universally agreed upon as the safest and most effective. So, I am not going to make a recommendation here except to say...get some. Of course, things happen so also have aloe and bite relief available. (Mosquito abatement tip- sage in the campfire.) Additionally, a first aid kit with band aids and things like that is very helpful. I also include a thermometer and fever reducer on all trips. Even if there are stores nearby, fevers often come on in the middle of the night and its best to be prepared. I also take fever cold patches for motion sickness...read more about that in my Road Trip Essentials Article.
8. Marshmallow Roasting Sticks. Every campout needs at least one marshmallow roast. It can be tricky with kids though. The kids need to be as far away from the fire as possible. You always want to prevent the little ones poking themselves or someone else with the end of the stick. These sticks stretch out pretty far and have end caps. I believe the first sticks stretch out farther than the second, which still stretches to 34 inches. (Use your judgement based on the age and maturity of your child.)
9. Small Games & Toys + Outdoor Toys
10. Portable Handwashing/Portable Toilet I am kind of a germaphobe. Not so much about dirt but...there are a lot of different germs out in the wild. This is especially true if you are fishing or having some type of animal encounter. So, even if we are renting a cabin or staying in a camping trailer with multiple sinks and a bathroom or two, I recommend these items. Why? There are no bathrooms on a boat, in some hiking areas, long stretches of road, etc. So...little ones need a potty option, which I will link below. Second, while I love wet wipes and antibacterial gel, sometimes you need a good washing. I used to bring hand soap and pour water bottles over the kids hands when I needed to. But I recently found this handy bottle linked below!
FUN BONUS BUYS
**Mystical Fire Disclaimer- Keep packet away from kids. Do not use when you are roasting marshmallows. Please do your own health research on these. We have used various types of these and the kids enjoy the color changing fire but we do it sparingly.
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