Family camping is a great way to spend time outside together, unplugged from the many distractions of daily life. Feeling intimidated about your first overnight camping adventure? Not to worry, these tips will help you and your kids have a wild adventure with memories that last a lifetime.

Where the Wild Things Are

Family Camping in northern Michigan. photo by Andrea Guthmann

Family camping in northern Michigan. photo by Andrea Guthmann /Midwest TravelingMom

Aahhh, the great outdoors. Fresh air, swimming in clean sparkling lakes, the beauty of a mountain sunset, sleeping under the stars, waking with the birds.

Sounds serene until you remember one thing: you’re camping with kids. Throw a few toddler tantrums and too-cool-for-the-family-vacation tweens into the mix and your peaceful wilderness adventure has turned into a family vacation nightmare.

Hiking the Lost Dutchman Trail in Arizona's Superstition Mountains. php

Hiking the Lost Dutchman Trail in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains. Photo by Andrea Guthmann /Midwest TravelingMom

Take a deep breath. Your family can still  live off the land for a few days, while living in harmony. Here are a few camping essentials and tips on how to answer the call of the wild, without losing your mind.ProductReview

Gear Up for Adventure

First off, get the right gear. Go to an outdoor equipment store and try things out, the tents, the backpacks, the chairs, etc. See what camping essentials you like and what meets your family’s needs. I particularly like L.L. Bean. The staff is is friendly and informed and they have THE BEST return policy anywhere. If you take it camping and it doesn’t fit or it doesn’t work right, you can bring it back, no questions asked. They also host all kinds of free events in their stores to help you get started. You could take the free Camping Essentials Clinic, a Fishing for Beginners Clinic, or a Canoeing or Kayaking Clinic. Again, they’re all free, and sure, they’re promoting their products, but they’re glad to give you guidance on how to make your outdoor adventure a success.  And don’t forget to pick up some of their free pamphlets— the family camping essentials checklist, backpacking checklist, canoeing checklist, day hiking checklist, etc…

Here’s my list of must-haves for a peaceful camping adventure with kids:

photo collage by Andrea Guthmann

photo collage by Andrea Guthmann


slumber party: a sleeping bag that’s warm and well cushioned is a                         must. Therm-a-Rest makes a great line of camping equipment, everything from sleeping bags, to hammocks, air mattresses, sleeping pads and more. Their three-season down sleeping bag works for everything but the coldest temps. And, hey, I won’t be camping in the winter with my kids anyway! Sold at REI and thermarest.com

chair: One of the perks of car camping over back country camping! A Coleman Vertex chair packs up easily, has added support, two drink holders, even a built in bottle opener and special wine glass holder. Cheers! sold at Wal-Mart, coleman.com and amazon.com.

good night’s sleep: It can do wonders for everyone’s mood. Gone are the days where camping meant sleeping on the hard floor. Durarest’s Double High Airbed means you’ll never wake with a backache again! sold at Wal-Mart, Bass Pro Shops and amazon.com.

cooking: hot dogs & s’mores are great but not every campsite has a BBQ or a grill to go over the firepit. Rule # 1 in camping: Be prepared! You’ll be all set to feed your hungry campers by bringing your own propane stove. The classic Coleman is a trusted brand and comes in a wide variety of sizes. Just make sure and try it out at home before heading into the wild! You want to have enough propane and matches or a lighter handy. sold at coleman.com and lots of outdoor stores.

hanging out: Story time under the stars? Our double hammock is a fun part of the family campsite. Therm-a-Rest makes a comfortable and easily portable nylon hammock that’s packs up into its own little pouch. sold at REI and thermarest.com

Camping with Kids - Get the Right Gear

sure footing: Nothing spoils a hike like a blister, or wet shoes! Our family loves water shoes. Our go-to brand for the guys and girls is Jambu Shoes. Their shoes do double duty- the rubber soles are great for hiking, plus they’re also water shoes. Sold in outdoor stores like REI and L.L. Bean or on-line at Jambu.com.

sun-protective clothing: Bring along sunscreen, but consider sun-protective clothing as well. SunLovePeace.com makes a super-cute line of kids t-shirts and hoodies.

hand sanitizer: one of the conveniences that make you thankful you live in the modern age! Quick-drying hand sanitizer makes for easy clean-up.

Ready, set, take it outside!