For some parents, it can be plenty challenging just to take young children on a trip to the mall. Then there are those who take their tiny hikers into the wilderness.
The outdoor gear industry is ready to help with a wide range of easily packed camping items that both parents and kiddos can enjoy.
Not that you need lots of gear. New Yorkers Amy and Paolo Marini, both avid rock climbers, have camped in the Catskills with their 5-year-old, Lorenzo, and family friends with 5- and 2-year-olds. Just getting a leafy site by water provides ready entertainment, Amy says.
“Little more is needed other than swimsuits, butterfly nets and maybe water shoes to guarantee hours of afternoon fun,” she says.
For hikes with very young kids, she advises packing a pair of trekking poles, as backpack-style baby carriers can throw off your center of gravity.
Vermont-based writer, photographer and outdoor enthusiast Berne Broudy, who blogs about hiking and camping, recommends the Thule Sapling Elite as a carrier. Adjustable and well-padded, the pack has a built-in reservoir sleeve and lots of pockets for phone, snacks and diapers. Plus, says Broudy, “Kid-focused features include a sunshade to keep your cargo cool, and a mirror to monitor your passenger’s mood.”
Or consider the Piggyback Rider, a lightweight yet sturdy strap-on carrier that lets kids 2 years and older — up to 50 pounds — stand on a bar while they’re securely strapped to your back.
When the day’s adventures are over, next up is mealtime and some rest.
Sleeping bags that provide a warm, safe and size-appropriate snuggle spot are easy to find now. Kalee Thompson, senior editor for product-review site The Wirecutter and a longtime camper with her two boys, tested several bags over a couple of weekends, with her kids and several others ranging from infant to 9 years old.
She gave REI’s Kindercone top marks: “It’s inexpensive and warm, comes in cool colors, and should last all the way from toddler to tween.”
She also liked the Kelty Big Dipper, which has a roomier shoulder area and a zip-open foot that’s handy as the child grows. For preschoolers, the Kelty Woobie is sized for those under 4 feet tall. It’s got dual zippers and a soft-finish cover.
These are all mummy-style bags, more form-fitting than a standard square sleeping bag. And while some companies, like Big Agnes, make double-wide, mummy-style bags for two sleepers, you may prefer just making two big square bags into one. Especially if you’ve got squirmy sleepers, or someone has to get up during the night.
Or consider Sierra Designs’ zipperless Backcountry or Frontcountry bags, which are more like lightweight but cozy comforters.
Marini cautions family campers about one thing: “We brought a couple of extra regular cotton pillows and a blanket, thinking we might get cold. These were a big mistake, as the material became heavy with dew in the morning. … Synthetic materials are a must for the outdoors regardless of the season. Cotton gets damp easily and takes forever to dry.”
When they are just camping, not backpacking, the Marinis bring an ALPS Mountaineering Double Wide Synthetic sleeping bag from REI, which is square and heavy, but large and cozy enough for two adults and a child to fit in nicely. An air mattress that could be filled off the car battery, and inflatable pillows, kept everyone comfortable, she says.
For midday naps, KidCo’s PeaPod, at Camping World, is a lightweight, portable bed with a mesh cover for air flow and insect screening, and removable, washable sleeping pad. It folds up nicely into a totable storage bag.
Marini recommends a two-person hammock for lounging, and she travels with beach chairs rather than traditional camping chairs, saying the kids prefer the higher, adjustable backs. L.L. Bean’s got a sturdy, kid-size beach chair, as well as the Packlite and Low Rider camp chairs that sit close to the ground.
“We love our three-person Nemo tent,” Marini says. Nemo makes several lightweight, easy-to-set-up tents for small and large groups. The Wagontop, for example, is tall enough for parents to stand up in, and the larger sizes have dividers for privacy, and vestibules to stow toys and supplies out of the weather. Matching floor sheets or “footprints” act as protective barriers.
The Marinis camp with an MSR Pocket Rocket mini stove that uses canister fuel, and they pack ready-to-heat meals, oatmeal, sporks and stackable bowls.
At Target, there’s the Summer Infant Pop N’ Sit booster seat, with a safety harness and removable tray, and folds and stows in a carry bag. Ciao! Baby’s portable high chair is available in different colors at various retailers; it unfolds and locks quickly, and has a cup holder.
Thin microfiber towels made for camping absorb well and dry quickly. Fox Outfitters’ come in several sizes from washcloth to bath towel, all with a handy loop for hanging.