Camping with kids isn’t as hard as it sounds, here is a quick primer on how to get started.

Oh, to be wild and free, unencumbered by extra clothes, diapers, and stuffed animals. My wife and I no longer embark on fast and light adventures in the mountains alone, but the tradeoffs are worth it. Taking our two young boys, ages three and one and a half, camping and backpacking around the Cascade mountains in Washington takes persistence, patience, and the right camping gear for kids. Our kids have been camping since they were two months old, meaning having the right kids camping equipment has been essential to our family from an early age. If you’re wondering what to take camping with kids, we’ve got a few hacks to share.

Shelter and Sleeping Gear for Camping With Kids

When we first started out, we were hyper focused on keeping our tiny babies warm and comfortable at night. Our older son’s first backpacking trip was to Waptus Lake in the central Cascades, an 18-mile round trip journey. We had to make sure our own gear was light enough, since we were adding additional weighty baby items such as baby wipes, diapers, and changes of clothes to our packs. We started with a lightweight 3-person backpacking tent with our first child, and when baby number two came along, we shifted to a 4-person ultra-light backpacking tent. Having a shelter that is lightweight, durable, and roomy has been imperative for backpacking with 2 kids.

For infants, finding a warm and safe sleeping system for backpacking is challenging. For those like us who never co-slept with our kids, we couldn’t just shove them in our sleeping bags at night. We relied on a 650-fill-power down sleeping bag with integrated arms, no hood, or draw strings which could create a sleeping hazard. Similarly, we used a foam pad rather than an air mattress, as it is safer and saves weight.

Backpacks and Storage

Having a comfortable kid carrier to take our kids backpacking or day hiking is a must. Last month, we hiked to 8 Mile Lake within the coveted Enchantment Wilderness Area. My wife and I each wore a kid carrier, allowing us to carry our not-so-small-anymore kids 6.6 miles comfortably. Our boys were so relaxed that they both fell asleep on our backs. When a short rain squall rolled in, the easy to deploy sunshade kept our boys dry in a pinch and prevented a meltdown.

Upon our return to basecamp outside of Leavenworth, Washington, setting up camp was easy knowing where each item was in our car. Having durable storage containers that are light and don’t take up too much space is essential for car camping with kids. Less time worrying about where each item is, means more time focused on making smores and building forts.

Camping Food With Kids

I’m obsessed with having really cold drinks, as well as making sure our kids have nourishing camping food that doesn’t spoil, so having a high-quality cooler is very important to us. We love to cook real food, not just freeze dried meals, so we rely on an easily packable two burner stove for car camping and a lightweight stove and durable pots for backpacking. When it’s mealtime, we prefer to have a portable kids camping chair with a tray attached. It keeps them contained, makes cleanup easier, and allows them to feel like they fit in with their own camping chair like mom and dad.

Safety Gear and Essentials

Even before we had kids, but especially now, we always carry a personal locator beacon with us on any camping trip in case of emergency. These devices will trigger an emergency response with the touch of a button when we are somewhere without cell service. They aren’t just for backpacking though, as many car camping spots tend to be off the beaten path and away from a reliable signal.

Dependable and easy to use lighting makes camping feel safer and more fun for our kids. Our boys love to use their own headlamps that are specifically made with kids in mind. They enjoy hanging lanterns from the tent ceiling creating a cozy atmosphere at night.

Fun Extras

What would camping with kids be without a few extra bells and whistles? Our kids love to swing in a hammock, bike around the campground, and mess with our hiking poles. Above all, they simply love being outside. They don’t need screens or entertainment when out camping. Sitting next to a fire, sleeping beside a peaceful river, and cuddling up next to mama and dada in a tent brings out the best in them. 

Camping with young kids isn’t easy, but it is worth it, even if it does mean carrying a little extra weight. With the right gear, It’s completely doable and the memories made are priceless.

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