Absolute Must-Haves For Tent Camping With Kids

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We all know tent camping requires sleeping bags, camping chairs, and bug spray. But tent camping with kids requires much more than the unquestionable necessities. As a new-to-camping mom of two young boys, I’ve been on the search for must-haves that keep young kids, and moms, happy and occupied on outdoor adventures.

With the help of members of the Facebook group 1000 Hours Outside Michigan, I’ve compiled a list of items you cannot go without on your next tent camping trip with kids!

Construction Cones

One 1000 Hours Outside Michigan member uses Dollar Store construction cones to set boundaries, either around the campfire while cooking, or around the perimeter of their campsite to help kids respect the space of nearby campers. This is a great idea to instill safety and respect.

Friends

Sharing the experience with our friends is what makes tent camping most enjoyable for our family. Since jumping into tent camping, we have not gone a trip without a group of our peers. The kids have other kids to play with to keep them busy, and us adults have extra hands to help when needed.

Preparing for boredom when camping with kids is a must. Preparing simple and engaging activities ahead of time to whip out when the kids get bored is just as important as meal prep.

“I’m Bored” Jar

As a Tinkergarten leader, I’ve learned kids need to be guided into play. I transformed the idea of Tinkergarten’s “Play Breaks Jar” into an “I’m Bored” Jar. Prior to camping (or even summer vacation), write play ideas on strips of paper, and put them in a jar. Have your kids pull a strip from the jar when they say, “I’m bored!” or simply need a push to play.

Some of my favorite ideas to list include building a stick fort, making a new friend, making a collection of green things, and meditating for 10 minutes.

Laundry Bag or Basket

I have found this makes unpacking easier after camping with kids. We use one bag for dirty clothes and towels, so when we get home it can immediately be dumped in the wash without having to sort through it.

Layers of Clothes

You never know what kind of weather you’re really going to have in Michigan. Instead of packing pajamas, we sleep in tomorrow’s clothes and layer up before bed. In the morning as temperatures rise, the kids can take off layers on their own until they get down to their clothes for the day.

Meals + Snacks That Are Already Prepped

This is practically required for tent camping with kids. Without the luxury of a camper kitchen, having snacks and meal basics prepared ahead of time is a must-have. I like to prep a crazy amount of pancakes, baked goods, and fruits and veggies ahead of time to make snacking easy. Then, I have larger meals prepped in containers that can be quickly warmed by campfire.

Some of our favorites are chili, ground meat/lentils for tacos, and of course hot dogs!

Musical Instruments

What’s a campfire without campfire songs? Toy musical instruments like harmonicas, maracas, tambourines, and even whistles are a must-have for tent camping with kids. I also use them when the kids are hangry and I’m preparing food. I ask them to show me how they feel in music. These are also a great tool to create memories around the campfire!

A private area just for kids, this child-size play tent was under $50 and has come camping with us for three seasons. It comfortably fits six kids and all their play-time needs.

Play Tent

One of the first things I packed on our very first camping trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes was a play tent. It was an immediate hit with the kids and is the very first item I set up each trip. The kids don’t sleep in it, but it is the highlight of their camping experience and the center of their play. Allowing them a space of their own gives them ownership of their camping adventure.

Rainy-Day Bag

Even if you aren’t expecting rain, having a rainy-day bag of new toys, games, coloring books, DIY 3-D bubble makers, chalk, and even watercolor paint can be a life saver. Like the “I’m Bored” Jar, you can whip out the rainy-day bag to help keep them engaged in outdoor adventure. I like to have each of my kids pack a small backpack of toys and books, and I pack a special one of my own with new-to-them games and trinkets for the trip.

My go-to runner rug and laundry bag, essentials for camping with kids. Makes it easy to keep our tent tidy and laundry when we return home a simple chore.

Rug or Door Mat

My first year camping with kids, I had trouble navigating how to keep the remnants of earth out of the tent. Last year I decided to bring an old runner rug to line the entry way of the tent. This was a game changer and easy to implement as it felt like a reminder of home: shoes off! Shoes are placed on the outer edges so less dirt ends up in the tent. I also found it easier to dress the kids in slip on shoes while on-site.

Handwashing station and dishwashing station. Potable water at campsites may be unappealing, but is safe to use for washing hands and dishes. This inexpensive water jug with spout has a bar of soap inside a pantyhose hanging from it. Super easy and convenient for kids to use.

Other essentials we feel you can’t go without:

  • Changing tent: also good to use with the portable potty for privacy in the campsite.
  • Clothesline to hang wet clothes and towels: this is also good for hanging kitchen utensils to keep the animals away. Simply place them in a basket that can be strung up by the clothesline.
  • Coffee: however you make it, it will be a priority.
  • Duct tape: came in handy when our play tent and a pair of shoes both ripped!
  • Hand washing station: I like to place a bar of soap in the foot of a pair of panty hose to hang from a water jug. You can hang the water jug from a tree or set it up on a crate for easy access.
  • Portable potty
  • Small dust pan and broom.

Jumping in is easier when you have the advice of friends and seasoned campers. Check out local community groups online, and don’t forget your friends and these tent camping must-haves on your next outdoor adventure!

Some of the best memories are made outdoors. Whitney reflects on what she learned from growing up camping every summer.

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