Camping with kids is an outdoor getaway idea that's affordable, offers the ability for families to connect with nature, and for those parents with unvaccinated children looking for a COVID-safe adventure this summer, you won't find a better option than popping a tent in the great outdoors and eating dinner under the stars each night. Plus, camping with kids gives you an excuse to eat s'mores. Need I say more?

Now, it's absolutely true that preparing for and setting up a camp site is a lot of work. I'll get to more of that in a moment, but like many endeavors, I think you will find a family camping adventure to be worthwhile in the end and a pretty cool way to make memories with your kids.

5 tips to a calmer family camping trip from parenting expert (an avid camper), Laura Linn Knight:

  • Plan meals ahead: Meals are always the most stressful part of camping for me. I want to make sure that I bring enough food, and I also don't want to pack the whole kitchen sink. Find a few ingredients that will work for multiple meals. Having an overview of your daily menu will save you a lot of time and energy once you arrive.
  • Bring layers and an extra trash bag for dirty clothes: Camping with kids means dirty clothes and often warm days turn quickly into cold nights. Be prepared with layers so that your children can keep playing while you are cooking dinner over the fire. Reuse clothes for as long as possible, but have an extra-large trash bag nearby so that clothes can easily be saved for the washing machine when you return home. And always be safe and check clothes and kids for ticks before bed.
  • Have a special camping toy bag: We have a bag of toys that lives with our camping gear. We never bring the toys into our house so that they stay novel for our trips. They include outdoor toys like binoculars, a bug catching kit, buckets and a pretend camping stove. We also have a few books for reading at bedtime and stuffed animals for snuggling with.
  • Get comfortable: If you are camping in a tent, bring a comfortable mattress and extra layers to put on top of your sleeping bag. Remember that temperatures drop at night and so be prepared for chilly nights. Also, keep a flashlight on hand with a pair of flip flops next to the tent door for middle of the night bathroom trips.
  • Break the rules! Part of the fun is doing things you wouldn't normally do at home. Camping is a time to let loose and not worrying about staying up late and telling extra stories. Plan to let your kids play in the dirt, search for bugs and stay up a little later than normal.

If this is your first experience camping, I'd suggest trying it in your backyard first. Then, if all goes well, start by looking up established campgrounds that offer "car camping" (where you're assigned a specific space and park your car close to wear you set up your tent). State parks often have these camping sites as well. And if you're lucky, there might be a lake or pool for swimming and water activities, as well as hiking trails. When searching, check user reviews, especially when it comes to the cleanliness of bathrooms and the availability of items like firewood, fire starters and a camp store that may have necessities you didn't realize you needed when packing.

It is true that it's hard to pack lightly for a camping trip. First of all, you're literally bringing along the roof over your head, as well as everything you need to sleep comfortably (sleeping bags, pads, pillows) and eat, as well as dishes, utensils and what you'll sit on while you're eating (though most camp sites provide a picnic table). It is... a lot.

The good news is that there are tons of multi-functional and useful camping items out there, and if you and your family get to be regular campers, you'll soon discover what it is you need and what you can live without. And who knows, if you're established campers looking for new camping necessities, you might find these here, too.

We've gathered a list of items you may need if you'll be camping with kids this summer. The great outdoors are waiting for your family. What are you waiting for?

Coleman Cabin Tent

Coleman

$259

Cabin Tent

Okay, if there’s one thing I don’t like about camping, it’s setting up the tent, which always seems to take longer than it should (so many poles to hook together!). Enter the new Coleman cabin tent, which purports to set up in 60 seconds. Amazing! I also like the large size for families and room divider, dark room technology for keeping little ones sleeping and not waking up as soon as the sun comes up, and its hinged door design. This Coleman tent was also rated the best family tent overall by America’s State Parks .

This Amazon reviewer said: “It’s comfortable for a full size plus a twin sized air mattress. It sets up and takes down very easily – sets up in less than two minutes with one person, and less than five minutes to get it stuffed into the carrying bag. It fits in my subcompact car. It stayed dry through 5 straight hours of heavy rain. Too heavy to hike any real distance with, but excellent for car camping with kids.”

Coleman Skydome Tent

Coleman

$114.99

Skydome Tent

Alternatively, if you’re looking for something a little more low profile (or your kids are older and want their own tent) the Coleman Skydome tent is a great option. Like the Cabin tent, it sets up super easily given the pre-attached poles and still offers plenty of cozy space and headroom. (The 4-person version can fit a queen size airbed inside.)

Morrison Outdoors Wearable Sleeping Bags

Morrison Outdoors

$84.95

Kids Wearable Sleeping Bags

Just remember, when you’re sleeping outdoors, it can get chilly at night. Billed as “the ultimate kids camping companion” by Morrison Outdoors, the Big Mo 40 is the first sleeping bag with adjustable sleeves designed for kids ages 2-4 years old. No matter how much they kick and roll, this wearable sleeping bag won’t come off and will keep little ones warm and cozy all night long. Prices start at $84.95

Decathlon Quechua Kids Sleeping Bag

Decathlon

$29.99

Quechua Kids Sleeping Bag

If you’re looking for a more affordable and versatile option, you could go with this smartly designed kids sleeping bag. Designed to grow with your camper thanks to an expandable foot section that lengthens the bag by 12 inches, they can get use out of it until they fit the 5-foot mark. And instead of a stuff sack that’ they’re guaranteed to lose, this one folds up into an attached pocket that can double as a safe place for their stuffy to snooze.

Time Concept Smile LED Lantern

Time Concept

$14.99

Smile LED Lantern

Could we talk about how cute this lantern is for a moment? The Smile lantern includes an LED bulb that gives off a soft light beam, which is perfect if your little one needs a little light when it starts to get dark outside. Its hat has a hook for hanging up in your tent, and its lightweight construction is easy for your child to carry. Just don’t forget to bring extra batteries in case you need them!

BioLite AlpenGlow 500

BioLite

$79.95

AlpenGlow 500

If you find you’re getting more serious about your camping adventures, a hard-working lantern is in order. One of our family’s favorites is the AlpenGlow 500. The small but mighty rechargeable lantern has five modes including dimmable cool and warm white, candle flicker and even colors that change when you shake it. It’s like your own little light show!

Stuffed Puffs Marshmallows

Stuffed Puffs

$13.49

Stuffed Marshmallows

Streamline your s’mores game with Stuffed Puffs, marshmallows with milk chocolate already inside. Kind of genius, right? All that’s missing are the graham crackers. And while any ol’ stick will do, we also really like these wood-handled telescoping s’mores sticks. And as for actual meals, we love the yummy (and easy) ideas from Fresh Off the Grid . Campfire nachos, anyone?

Rainleaf Microfiber Towel

Rainleaf

$11.99

Microfiber Towel

You only have to smell a mildewed towel once to know you never want to repeat that experience. And because finding a place to dry towels can be a little tricky in the great outdoors, I love this highly-rated microfiber towel found on Amazon. They come in a variety of sizes and colors and dry impressively fast.

Guava Adventure and Travel Set

Guava Family

$344

Lotus Adventure & Travel Set

Well this has got to be one of the cooler multi-purpose travel companions for baby that I’ve ever seen, and it’s perfect for camping. Like Superman, it’s a pack-n-play! It’s a travel crib (with a cool shade to make the space darker)! Its a mosquito and bug shield! Love the organic cotton sheet and quilt it comes with, too.

Veer basecamp

Veer

$189

Basecamp

Another product we love for safely containing little adventurers is the Veer Basecamp. Sure, they can hang out in tent, but do you really want your sleeping arrangements trampled and littered with crumbs? I think not. Instead, this durable kid-sized hangout offers a place to play, chill and hide out. The fabric offers UV protection and it literally opens in one quick motion and closes back up just as easily. Whether you’re camping, hitting the beach or just hanging in the backyard it’s a summer must-have.

LL Bean Kids Basecamp Chair

L.L. Bean

$34.95

Kids Basecamp Chair

LL Bean has long been known for sturdy camping supplies, and this camp chair is no exception. Says one reviewer, “My daughter only had one child-sized chair so I ordered a chair so they would have one for each boy. Quickly decided I should order another so they would each have a new chair. They love them and the chairs are very well made and going to be worth every penny!”

Kelty Low Loveseat Chair

Kelty

$139.95

Low Loveseat Chair

Another seating option that’s perfect for families, we love Kelty’s low love seat. It’s got enough room for two people to get cozy and since it’s low, even the family dog may be tempted to hop up and snuggle.

Camelbak Kids Mini Mule Hydration Pack

Camelbak

$55

Kids Mini Mule Hydration Pack

Hitting the trails? Make the trek a little less whiney and a lot more hydrated with a kid-sized version of Camelbak’s popular Hydration Pack. In addition to toting 1.5 liters of water it also has pockets for them to stash small essentials or the rocks they always insist on picking up along the way.

Coleman Xtreme Portable Cooler

Coleman

$79.99

Xtreme Portable Cooler

Contrary to popular belief, a Yeti cooler isn’t required for camping. If you want something that’s a little lighter and far cheaper, we suggest this one from Coleman. Like its more expensive counterparts, it will keep ice cold for up to 5 days at temperatures of up to 90 degrees. And hey, cup holders are never a bad thing. Holding up to 100 cans, this is a good size cooler, too.

Haba Binoculars

Haba

$20

Binoculars

These expertly-crafted binoculars for kids from Haba magnify 4x! With rubberized lens guard bumpers and soft and adjustable eye-piece spacing, these binoculars are comfortable to look through and use. And who knows what you’ll see on the other end!

buzzpatch

BuzzPatch

$14.99

Mosquito Patches

One unfortunate thing about camping in the summer? Mosquitos. BuzzPatch offers a way to deter mosquitos from your little one with their natural stickers that are non-toxic and DEET free. Slap a sticker on your kid’s t-shirt and they’ll be mosquito-free for up to 8 hours (mosquitos find humans by sensing the CO2 being emitted. The Buzzpatch scent creates a virtual shield by “camouflaging” your kids from mosquitos) Genius!

Per the BuzzPatch website: kids 0-2 need only 1 sticker, kids 3-5 need 2 and kids age 6+ to adults need 2-4 patches. A lot better than spraying bug spray everywhere, especially when it risks being inhaled or getting in your child’s eyes.

Off Clean Feel Insect Repellent

Off!

$7.49

Clean Feel Insect Repellent

Of course if you’d rather go the traditional route, we like the Clean Feel aerosol from Off. Not only does it do a great job keeping the swarms at bay, it also doesn’t leave you with that nasty sticky feeling. Of course we prefer that to being eaten alive, but when you’re sleeping on the ground and not necessarily washing off to go to bed, every ounce of comfort helps.

oxo tot 2-in-1 go potty

OXO Tot

$20.99

2-in-1 Go Potty

There are lots of great reasons to go camping—but access to great bathrooms is not among them. Help your little one out with this travel potty that’s easy to tote, dump and clean, and folds up easily for compact storage. (It can even be used without the legs as a potty seat on a regular toilet when you’re out and about.) Pro tip: It’s handy to keep this in the back of the car for roadside emergencies with little ones who are still working on their potty training.

Summer Infant Pop N Sit Portable Booster

Summer Infant

$34.99

Pop ‘N Sit Portable Booster Chair

If your little one can’t quite reach the top of a picnic table, help them pull up a seat with this handy travel high chair. A better bet than chairs designed to clip onto the sides of tables (which may be too thick), this fits inside a bag for easy transportation and then unfolds to put baby at table-level with their very own tray.

Convertible from a high chair to a booster and featuring a machine-washable cover, the Pop N’ Sit is great for campers up to 3 years old.

merrell kids shoes

Merrell

$45

Little Kid's Trail Quest Jr.

If you’re planning on adding an easy hike to your camping agenda, make sure to outfit your little one in the right shoes. Merrell’s Little Kid’s Trail Quest Jr. are sporty and stylish, with great support for little feet. They’re also machine-washable and have an anti-stink lining! And of course, your kids can coordinate with you, as Merrell is a longtime trusted brand for hiking shows with plenty of hiking options for adults too.

A version of this article was originally published on June 10th, 2021. It has been updated.