Since writing our original “Tent Camping with Babies and Toddlers” article a few years ago, we’ve gained a lot more experience as well as two more kids along the way. We’ve also collected a few more must have items we love that really make tent camping with kids, in general, a whole lot easier.
Keep in mind, this is not roughing it, hike-out-into-the-woods kind of camping (maybe we’ll get to that one day and we’ll give you tips when we do). This is our attempt at “glamping” while having our fun camping adventures with four small kids.
Below are some of our tent camping with kids must have items we love,:
Yes, these exist, and we absolutely LOVE ours. In fact, now that the baby is no longer a baby, it’s time to purchase our second set of bunkbed cots. These create so much room in the tent because we can fit two kids, plus their luggage, all into ONE area of the tent. I can’t brag about these bunkbed cots enough. We even take them with us to the grandparents house and set them up there when all 11 grandchildren descend on the house at once. They are so convenient and save a ton of space.
Two downsides: they’re not cheap ($300) and they are heavy! Though they pack down small and relatively flat into a very neat and organized bag (you have to pack them a specific way), they each weigh about 45lbs! Trust me, though, they are so worth it.
We also chose to get the additional side pouches that velcro onto the side of the cot. This is great for storing flashlights and other small items right next to each kids cot.
Everyone has their own preference for what type of sleeping pad they like best but I’ve linked to one that has worked well for our family and doesn’t require a lot of time to roll up at the end of the trip. If you, or your kids, plan to sleep on the bunkbed cots you’ll certainly still want some sort of cushioned sleeping pad since the cots are really firm. We’ve tried a few trips without the sleeping pads and let’s just say everyone sleeps much better with them.
So, if you have little ones who are a bit unsure about going to bed in the tent when it gets dark out, but mommy and daddy still want to hang out by the campfire, then this Constellation Night Light Turtle (or “night turtle” as it’s called in our house) could possibly be your saving grace.
I’m not saying it’s a total miracle worker but with the press of a button it will light up your tent with stars and the moon and kids can pick three different colors to switch between. My kids usually have these with them at night at home when they go to bed so we brought them with us when we went camping, too. They LOVED having them in the tent and it helped distract them from the darkness outside.
Also, after a certain period of time, it turns off automatically if your child is no longer pressing the button to keep it on.
We truly love this item both at home and while we’re out camping!
The key thing here is that each kid needs to have a camp chair that is their size. We’ve always had one kid camp chair but when the others were big enough they all fought over the kid size camp chair. When they each have their own life goes much more smoothly. Also, get one that has a cup holder! We’ve learned from several spilled drinks that having a cup holder in their kid camp chair is a really nice bonus. The one I link to above has one.
P.S. As the kids get bigger, though, they no longer want to sit in the “baby” camp chairs (as my oldest calls it). They now want their own big camp chair. Check out this camp chair that not only has a cup holder but also a small cooler built into the side of the arm rest!
If I could have my way, however, I’d get this cool rocking camp chair that folds up nicely, too! This is on my wish list for our next camping trip.
I am sure this may be common sense to most people, but for some reason, it continues to escape our mind when we go camping. Whenever we wash our dishes and cookware, there’s no good place to let everything dry without taking up the whole picnic table! Finally, I clued into the fact that, perhaps we should just bring a good old fashioned drying rack with us because, at this point, what’s one more thing in the trunk of our minivan.
Trust me, though, this is a nice space saver when cleaning up after a meal. Plus, you can direct that excess water to drain where you want it to go and not all over the benches that you want to sit on.
Even my husband is happy I made this purchase! These collapsable dish tubs are great, not only for washing dishes while camping, but throughout the day I’d fill them with cold water for washing and rinsing hands around the campsite.
Like all kids, ours have absolutely filthy hands from playing in the dirt. Instead of constantly marching them up to the bathroom or soaking their pants while trying to rinse their hands at one of the water spigots, I’d fill these bins and it was great! In fact, my 2-year-old would regularly come over just to “rinse” his hands off.
When you’re all done using them, they collapse down flat and take up hardly any space at all.
As the kids get older and can outrun you on the trails, it’s a good idea to start letting them carry their own water and snacks. Of course, you can use a regular backpack and just throw a water bottle in there but the great thing about the Camelback kids backpack that I linked to above is that the water bladder holds 1.5L of water! This is great because you’ll definitely want that water on a hot day.
Our kids actually like having the responsibility to carry their own backpack (at least for a little while) and they bite valve makes it easy for them to get a sip of water whenever they want it.
Don’t forget to purchase a bladder tube cleaning kit should you go this route. The last thing you want is mold growing inside the water bladder.
No, I’m not trying to keep lint off my clothes while out camping but I am trying to keep the ticks off! I learned about this awesome trick from an article that my mother-in-law showed me. Apparently it works pretty well (but, of course, you always want to do a thorough check and shower after spending time in the woods).
I have not yet tried this while camping but plan to pack a lint brush with lots of replacement sticky tape next time we go out. And, I plan to start using this trick even when my kids play outside.
I’m by no means an all natural everything, essential oil guru (or even distributor, for that matter); however, I have tried this homemade essential oil repellent that I link to above. I used Distilled water, witch hazel, peppermint essential oil, lavender essential oil, and tea tree oil. I used equal parts of all three oils. The brand I linked to is just one I go to because it’s less expensive. It still seems to work well for me. But, use whichever oils you prefer.
The reason I wanted to do this is because the idea of DEET being on my kids skin and clothes for an extended period of time, perhaps even overnight, makes me a little uncomfortable. So, I tried the homemade essential oil version and I really liked it. It not only smells better but the oils are actually good for you (note: always be careful when using essential oils with small babies and children).
I will say that I needed to reapply frequently (hourly) for it to remain effective. We did still get a few bug bites here and there but, overall, the spray did work. I know this because the day we were packing up, I forgot to spray everyone and we all got several bug bites that day.
I do still use regular DEET bug spray on occasion, but only when I know everyone will get a shower later that day.
My over-the-top, splurge amenities
Okay, I’m totally preparing myself for MAJOR eye rolling action here, but my husband and I splurged last summer and bought the tall, queen sized air mattress for our tent. It’s heavenly! We did also have to buy a portable Instant Power Source that is a bit expensive but it was totally worth every penny! Not only is it good for charging things and blowing up the air mattress but it’s also great if your battery dies and you need to jump it yourself.
Also, yes, we can fit a queen size air mattress and (now) 2 bunkbed cots into our REI Kingdom 8 tent. It’s the best tent ever!
The other splurge item I plan to get, not just for camping but also for hanging out in the backyard at night, is this really cool solar powered glass ball LED garden light. The battery lasts for 8 hours at a time and needs 10-11 hours of direct sunlight to recharge. I can’t wait to try it out!
Tent camping with kids is an absolutely wonderful experience, especially when you have gear that makes camp life more comfortable and convenient. I’m sure there are so many little luxuries we’ve left out and we’d love to hear about your favorite camping with kids accessories that you just can’t live without. Share them with us in the comments below!
Also, if you haven’t already read our first article, “Tent Camping with Babies and Toddlers”, it’s worth a read as well, especially if you plan on taking babies out. We wrote this article after taking a two week tent camping trip through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks with our then 2-year-old and 6-month-old.