Remember the days when heading out for a weekend of camping was as simple as grabbing the tent and sleeping bags, throwing some clothes into a bag and hitting the road in search of the perfect camping spot? There's no denying that once kids come along planning for a camping trip takes a bit more forethought and a lot more camping gear. But packing the right camping gear can save parents a lot of trouble and help kids have an unforgettable time in the great outdoors. Here's a look at our must-have kids camping gear.
Kids Camping ChairsEnsure that every kid in your group has a place around the campfire by packing a kid's camping chair for each of them. The smaller size of kids camping chairs make it easier for the little ones to climb in and out of them, and they are less prone to flip over because, let's keep it real here, the kids will probably use them as a jungle gym.
A Large Tent You Can Stand Up InFamily camping trips aren't the place for lightweight, compact tents. When camping with the kids, make sure the tent you bring along is large enough to accommodate everyone (and all their stuff) and that it's tall enough for an adult to stand up in. The height of the tent makes a huge difference when you're trying to get kids dressed and out of the tent flap each morning.
Kids-Only TentWhen the kids are a bit older, consider bringing two tents on your camping trip, one for the parents and one for the kids. Not only will the kids be delighted to have a small bit of independence (and a whole lot of fun shrieking over things that go bump in the night), but parents will be guaranteed a better night sleeping without a tent full of tossing and turning pre-teens.
Pack and PlayIf you're camping with a baby, a pack and play is an essential piece of camping gear. Set this portable playpen up in a shaded area at your campsite--it makes a great spot for small children to take mid-day naps. The pack and play is also compact enough that it can be set up in large tents, especially multi-room tents, and is a safe place for a baby to sleep at night.
Baby Gate FenceIf your kids are crawling or just learning to walk, the campfire is one of the biggest hazards at the campsite. Bringing along a baby gate fence to "wall off" the campfire creates a barrier between young children and the hot flames. While you'll still have to keep a close eye on the kiddos, the baby gate fence does provide a first line of defense.
Kids Sleeping BagsWith the excitement of camping, it can be hard to get kids to settle down and go to sleep on a camping trip. By providing kids with their very own sleeping bag, they'll be more inclined to snuggle up under the stars. As an added bonus, when your kids have their own sleeping bags, it means that you won't have to share your blankets or bag overnight.
Kit With EssentialsPrepared parents know that it's important to keep some first-aid essentials in an easily accessible place. Before your camping trip, pack a bag or box with bug spray, sunscreen, sunglasses, wet wipes, Band-Aids and any other items that you know you'll want to have quick and easy access to on your trip. Keep the box in an easy-to-reach place so you can nip any potential problems in the bud before they start.
Kids Water BottlesIt's easy to lose track of how much water everyone is drinking while on a camping trip. Kids will most likely spend the day hiking, swimming or running around the campground playing games and riding bikes, and all that activity can make them dehydrated. To make sure that everyone stays hydrated, pack each kid his or her own water bottle and fill it up at certain times of the day. If the bottle isn't empty when you go to refill it, make your kids sit down, take a short break and drink some water before they head off to play again.
Personalized Duffle BagsNothing ruins a morning at the campground like disorganized kids that can't find their clothes, socks and toothbrushes. To avoid this scenario, give each kid a personalized duffle bag in which to pack all the clothing and toiletries they'll need on the camping trip (let them pack the bag, but double check that they've packed all they'll need before you leave the house). The personalized bag will ensure that their items remain in one place and that they won't be tearing through everyone else's bag looking for their favorite sweatshirt.
Color Coded Plates and Silverware
No parent wants to spend their entire camping trip washing dishes and cleaning up after the kids. One way to avoid an abundance of dirty dishes is to give each kid a color-coded set of dishware--a plate, bowl and utensils--that they use throughout the duration of the trip. Make sure that each kid knows they are responsible for cleaning and keeping track of their own items.
READ THIS NEXT: The Best Tips for Camping With Kids