By Rachel Hoeing

Considering the fact that I am usually quite the uncoordinated, not-so-athletic, indoor gal, it may be a surprise to my friends that I love to go camping! I love the fact that there are no electronics to distract our family time and I thoroughly enjoy watching my children explore nature and relish in imaginative play.

If you have yet to take your children camping, I would highly recommend doing so! Fall and spring are the best times of year to go. You may choose a local campground, or if you are ready for a challenge, we have even “roughed it” in the woods with nothing but our tent and the sounds of the river next to us!

In addition to the basic camping essentials – tents, cooking supplies, lamps, etc. I have given you some ideas that will help the “camping with kids” experience go as smoothly as possible and also give you ideas for the types of items you may want to bring along on your camping excursion!

WalkieTalkies – Or as the sophisticated people call them, two-way radios. This is a MUST! My children love to play in the woods (always instill the buddy rule) and use their walkie-talkies.  It is also a good idea to keep one radio at base camp and one with the “explorers.” You can find an assortment of these on here. Oh, and if your kids have phones my suggestion is to tell them to leave them at home for the weekend!

Sleeping Bags – Yes, I know Dora and Toy Story are adorable sleeping bags for your kids, but when you are truly looking for the camping experience, you cannot go wrong by purchasing a sleeping bag that will withstand very cold nights. I found a few on Sierra Trading Post that are made especially for kids and are made for 40 degree weather.  Believe me – I have slept in my generic sleeping bag and then borrowed my husband’s, which was made for 0 degrees, and it was an unbelievable difference! Keep your kiddos warm! (Don’t forget pillows and a camping mat or cushion for under the sleeping bag.)

Headlamps – These are extremely goofy looking to wear, but they are awesome! Adults can use them while building a fire or cooking without having to give up the use of a hand for a flashlight. For kids, these headlamps are fun to wear while running around in the woods, but also prove useful for bathroom trips or getting settled in their tents. REI has a great selection. If you can’t get a headlamp, be sure to at least man each person with a flashlight!

Smores – You absolutely cannot go camping without smores. Throw plenty of marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars in your camping bags. You can roast your marshmallows the good old-fashioned way with sticks, or my children were very impressed with our friend’s adjustable stainless steel roasting sticks!

Chairs – Although most kids won’t be sitting for long, you will definitely want a camping chair for eating and sitting by the fire. Again, Amazon has a great selection you can see here.  If it is not too cold to sit on the ground, my kids love these folding chairs from REI.

Hammock – Of course this is not an essential item, as they can get fairly expensive, but we love my husband’s ENO hammock (shown in first photo above). It folds up into a tiny little bag for travel, and can hang between any two trees of your choice. The kids enjoy playing in it, and the parents enjoy napping in it!

Entertainment – If you are going to camp more than a day or two, chances are that the kids may get a little bored, (Remember – NO electronics allowed! At least not when you camp with my family!) so you should always have a big tub of supplies. A friend of mine keeps a Rubbermaid container in her attic and when it is time to camp, she just loads it up in the car. Inside the container you can find a plastic table cloth, board games, coloring books, puzzles, footballs, horseshoes, art supplies, etc. These activities are also good for early evening when it is too dark to run around in the woods, but not yet time to go to sleep!

You may also consider hiking, biking, fishing or rock climbing while on your trip, so  be sure to bring the necessary supplies if you are planning to do one of those.

For the wee ones – Do not be afraid to bring along that Pack-N-Play! It is great to use during the day because they can chill in this without shoving dirt and leaves in their mouths. Most pack-n-plays can also fit inside your tent so that the child can sleep peacefully and be up and away from the cold ground. You will also want to purchase a hiking backpack to carry the little ones! These range in price from $30-$150, so your best bet is to shop around and/or google “child backpack carriers” online.

Other essentials – In addition to the basic items you would normally bring with you on a camping trip, here are a few more that usually are needed with kids.
– String for a clothesline  (Someone always gets their clothes dirty or wet and you need a place to hang them!)
– Babywipes
– Extra socks
– Toboggans
– Gallon of water
– Plastic plates/cups/utensils
– Shoes that are easy to slip off/on when leaving the tent to use the bathroom
– Trash bags
– Insect repellent
– First Aid Kit
– Snacks!!
– Sunscreen
– Camera

Most importantly … have fun!  Share some of your camping tips below!

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