Our Guide to the Best Family Camping Gear

published Sep 6, 2023
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Family and friends eating breakfast while camping
Credit: Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Fall is the perfect time for family camping. The summer crowds have dissipated, the air is a bit cooler, and the leaves are putting on a dazzling show. Family camping encourages kids to disconnect from their devices and observe the world around them, fostering an appreciation for nature. There are nearly endless opportunities for self-confidence building as kids develop skills like starting a campfire for dinner and setting up tents. 

But perhaps most importantly, camping is the ultimate family bonding experience, as everyone works together toward a shared goal. A good camping experience comes down to that old Boy Scout motto, “be prepared,” so here are my picks for essential family camping gear to get your family ready for the great outdoors.

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This chair is so handy, I wish I had it when my oldest child was a baby. Made for children around 3 months old to 75 pounds, this convertible camping chair includes a sun canopy and a snack tray. It folds easily and can be toted in the carrying case, which is ideal because you’re going to want to take this chair everywhere.

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was $159.95

It’s not camping without a campfire (and s’mores, of course), and this camping stove is easy to operate, built-to-last, and efficient. Let the kiddos gather sticks to fuel the fire (You can also use charcoal.), which works as both a campfire and cast-iron cooking surface, compatible with a wide variety of cookware.

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was $28.99

For optimum campside chilling, you must pack a hammock, and this lightweight, machine-washable, fast-drying kids hammock is perfect for hitting the trails. The entire thing packs up to the size of a pinecone in its attached carrying case (which doubles as a drink holder when the hammock is hanging).

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was $28.96

Camp cookers make campfire cooking even more fun than it already is, and that’s saying a lot. Kids love coming up with different pie ‘recipes’ and grilled cheese combinations in the camp cooker, and the long handle makes it safe enough for them to use.

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This camping lantern doubles as a ceiling fan, which is a brilliant way to keep an otherwise stuffy tent nice and breezy. Not only is it a family camping essential, it’s a great item to have on hand when the power goes out on a humid summer night.

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My kids and I are mosquito magnets but applying sticky, greasy bug spray every time we go outdoors is a bummer. Instead, we love using BuzzPatch mosquito repellent patches, which deliver protection without the mess (and are available in cute, emoji-inspired designs that kids [and moms] love).

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Designed for kids ages 2 to 4 years old, this snuggly sleeping bag will keep kids warm thanks to down filling and a smart design that includes an enclosed footbox and sleeves that can be enclosed to keep hands warm at night. Morrison makes several sizes including one for infants.

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was $15.50

It’s dinner and a show right in your campfire thanks to color-changing Dragon Flames, a pouch of magic that transforms a campfire into a kaleidoscope of lights. Pro-tip: Use 2-3 pouches for the most vibrant color.

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Even if your group is smaller than 11 people, trust me, you’re going to want the space to spread out, especially if you’re on a multi-day camping trip. This massive tent has room to spare, plus an enclosed screen room and a gear loft to keep your supplies off of the ground. The screened in ‘porch’ is a great space for kiddos to escape the heat of the day or for parents to hang out after the kids have gone to sleep.

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Rather than going for a huge tent for the whole family, another option is to designate a kids’ tent. Older kids in particular may appreciate the private space, and this tent from Coleman is the perfect option for two big kids or tweens, who are perfectly capable of setting up this tent all by themselves.

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If your idea of roughing it doesn’t include sleeping on the actual ground, consider adding this self-inflating sleeping pad to your pack. This one inflates after about a minute of using the built-in foot pump, and its durability means you don’t have to worry about it deflating on you in the middle of the night.

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Just because you’re away from your kitchen doesn’t mean you should suffer sub-par coffee. The Pourigami is a pour-over coffee system with a super sleek design that folds up like origami to fit in your back pocket. All you need are beans and a filter, and you’re halfway to ‘good morning.’

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If you think the dark is scary at home, just wait until you’re sleeping outdoors with all the rustling leaves and hooting owls. A headlamp can go a long way in alleviating nighttime anxiety, and this one from Petzl, available in four colors, is sturdy and easy for kids to use.

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You’ll need a durable, weather-resistant, spacious bag for stowing your gear and clothes, and when it comes to camping packs, Patagonia sets the gold standard. The 55L size provides plenty of room for packing, but if that’s not enough space, consider opting for the 100L Black Hole Duffel.

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was $337.57

If you’re traveling with multiple kids, these bunk bed cots are a great investment. They free up space in the tent, include side pockets for organizing small stuff, and they’re just outrageously fun for kids ages 7-12. They can also be used as twin cots, but honestly, what kid wouldn’t want to sleep in bunk beds in a tent?

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was $19.99

Beautifully illustrated, interactive, and educational, Outdoor School: Tree, Wildflower, and Mushroom Spotting: The Definitive Interactive Nature Guide, will encourage your kiddos to ‘get their eyes on’ for plant and mushroom spotting, helping them make sense of the natural world around them.