This summer my husband and I decided it was time to start camping with our kids. We’d both gone camping with our families growing up, and now that our daughter is six and our son is four, we figured they were old enough to sleep in a tent while we hung out by the campfire for some coveted adult time away from our screens.
However, as anyone out there with kids—especially young kids—knows, going anywhere with them involves packing a ton of stuff. Luckily our camping trips were just a few two-night excursions to local provincial parks in Ontario, Canada, so car camping was on the agenda. Still, our Kia Sportage and the accompanying roof rack were packed to the brim with what I’d deem essentials.
As a professional product reviewer, I take a lot of pride in packing the right gear for trips like this. I’ve learned that when camping with kids, finding the right camping accessories is a trial-and-error process, and you can learn from my experience. Aside from a cooler full of snacks and easy-to-assemble meals (hot dogs, pasta), a backpack cooler full of adult beverages, a few pantry items, tarps and clothing, here’s a list of all the gear and games my husband and I feel that no parents with young kids should camp without.
1. Coleman Sundome Camping Tent
In terms of camping tents for beginners, the Coleman is my favorite. It’s super easy to assemble and it’s roomy enough for two queen air mattresses to fit in comfortably. (Speaking of air mattresses, opt for ones with internal and external pump options for optimal inflation). The Sundome also has an organizing compartment you can hang things inside and a removable top, so on clear and pretty nights you can sleep under the stars.
2. Etekcity LED Camping Lantern
These LED lanterns run on batteries but they’ve lasted our entire trip without needing to replace them. My husband and I also love how easy they are for little hands to use and carry, but they’re also large enough that the kids don’t lose them as quickly as they would a small flashlight. Each order comes with four lanterns, so there’s one for everyone. We attach one inside the tent with a bungee cord for an easy pull-down night light, and another in our kitchen tent to light it up after the sun goes down.
3. Wise Owl Outfitters Camping Hammock
These hammocks are a lifesaver. They’re lightweight and transportable, they attach to any tree with ease and they hold up to 300 pounds, which means multiple kids can swing on one at once. These things were so popular that we now have one per family member, and the kids spend hours swinging and playing each time we set them up.
4. Paw Patrol Kids Camping Chair
Sure, we could invest a little more money in a proper kids camping chair, but you know they’re just going to wreck it eventually anyway. Grabbing branded fireside chairs (ones with cupholders!) was a no-brainer. The kids each knew where they got to sit, and they were happy to carry their chairs with them to various parts of the campsite.
5. Coleman Gas Camping Stove
One of the nights we camped, we sat through an incredibly terrifying thunderstorm, which meant there was no way we were having a campfire. That also meant we had to have pre-packaged foods or rely on this camping stove to heat things up. I love this stove because it’s portable and easy to use, plus there are two burners so you can cook multiple things at once.
6. Bruntmor Pre-Seasoned Heavy Duty Cast Iron Camping Cooking Set
We don’t have this exact set, but we invested in a cast iron griddle that fits right over our propane stove, and it has been a lifesaver on several occasions. It’s perfect for cooking things kids love like pancakes or hamburgers, but it can also go over a grate on the fire without getting damaged. Next year I think I’ll invest in this set that includes more cast iron gear, especially since it comes with its own handy carrying bag.
7. Himal Portable PVC Framed Cornhole
This small cornhole set is a great starter set for kids, but it’s also surprisingly portable when you’re camping. We set ours up away from the fire, and we had plenty of family tournaments this summer. My husband is freakishly good at it, but I think with a bit of practice me and the kids can take him next year.
8. MalloMe Marshmallow Roasting Sticks
You can’t have a campfire without roasted marshmallows, especially around kids. However, I didn’t love the idea of whittling sticks from the woods, nor did I want to invest in giant, scary pokers that could potentially impale an eye. Enter these 32-inch telescoping sticks, which come in a nifty carrying case and are color-coded, so you know which one is yours. They’re great for marshmallows, but we’ve also used them for hot dogs and sausages.
9. Camp Cooking Utensil Set & Outdoor Kitchen Gear
When we first started camping, we would just throw random tools into a bag and go from there. Then we discovered this kitchen gear kit that has everything we need. We did beef it up with a paring knife and an extra small cutting board, but we love how everything packs up into one little carrying case so we can easily keep sharp objects away from the kids.
10. Try Not to Laugh Challenge Would You Rather? Campfire Edition
Our daughter is now reading, and she had a ton of fun asking us the questions in this book as we sat around the fire or cooked up meals. Sure, there are tons of versions of Would You Rather — including the ones you can make up in your head. But she was practicing her reading while we had quality family time, which made this themed book extra special.
11. NARMAY Play Tent
One of the biggest challenges we faced once we got our site set up was keeping the kids out of our sleeping tent. It was a cool new thing, and they wanted to play inside. Of course, we didn’t want them running around in it and jumping on the air mattresses. Enter this play tent, which we set up outside of the sleeping tent. We threw a blanket, some coloring books and games inside, and suddenly the kids had a space of their own to play. Problem solved.
12. COLETTI Bozeman Camping Coffee Pot
My husband and I are both coffee addicts, and we aren’t our best selves in the morning without a hot cuppa. We also both detest instant coffee. Enter this percolator, which works on a fire grill or a propane stove. At first, we had to experiment so the water didn’t boil over and we didn’t get coffee grinds in our cups, but now we’ve perfected it and won’t go camping without it.
13. YETI Rambler 14 oz Mug
Did I mention we like hot coffee? With kids, sipping on a hot cup is never a guarantee, which is why we also bring these sweet mugs from Yeti. They have a lid to avoid spillage and keep our coffees hot for hours. They also keep our cold drinks cool for as long as it takes us to drink them, so we find them incredibly useful while camping.
14. Campsite Storage Strap Camping Accessories
Whether you want to hang up wet items outside, organize things in your tent or just keep random items out of kids’ reach, these straps are dead useful in various situations. We have three or four of them now, and we always put them to good use.
15. Little Chicks Easy-Clean Potty
The first time we went camping, we didn’t bother with a potty. But let me tell you, taking clumsy kids into the woods to squat or walking to the outhouse every five minutes quickly gets old. We finally broke down and bought this, and it’s been an absolute lifesaver. We throw it in the trunk for a makeshift outhouse when the kids need to go, and we just pack extra cleaning wipes to keep it sanitary.
16. Fire HD 8 Kids Tablet
Do we go camping to get away from our screens? Absolutely. We also do it to bond as a family and have new experiences. So when we first packed the kids’ tablets, we hid them so they wouldn’t know. In our minds, they were the last resort. As it turns out, they really came in handy the morning we left. Packing up a site is never as exciting as setting it up, and after spending a couple of days out in the wilderness, tempers run hotter than usual. Especially when kids are running around and getting into things and distracting you. So setting them up on their chairs for tablet time while we got organized and packed the car back up was the best decision — one I now stand by each and every time we go camping.
The Most Essential Camping Accessories, According to a National Park Ranger