The Best Camping Essentials with Kids

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Camping can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming in terms of all the gear you need. Camping with kids adds a whole other dimension. Here are some of the best camping essentials with kids that are terrific to have on hand. If you choose to purchase, REI is a fantastic one stop shop that has just about every family camping essential you can think of, along with employees and resources ready to help you make it a wonderful experience.

Here are some of our very favorite kids camping essentials found at REI and beyond – I hope this helps with narrowing down the necessities for camping with kids!

1. Best Shoes For Camping with Kids

Whether in a tent or RV, camping can get dirty or buggy! I always like to make sure my kids have solid footwear to keep their feet protected and safe around camp and beyond. I especially like ones that are weatherproof in the event of rain or other wet weather conditions, or even just water areas nearby. REI has a great selection of kids camping shoes and hiking shoes and carries our favorites that we’ve used for years and passed down to multiple different kids.

Here are our favorite sturdy sandals that are also great for hiking and water play, all found at REI:

I love that that type of kids hiking sandal is easy to get on and off even for my 3 year old so we don’t typically bring any sort of flip flops to put on to walk to the bathroom. If we’re planning on doing some hiking while at camp, here are our favorite hiking boots for kids by ages:

2. Merino Wool Base Layers for Kids Camping Essentials

We love merino base layers for many reasons, but especially when camping! They are perfect as pajamas for the whole family, and can also be layered under other clothing if it’s cold. I love that they wick moisture and can be reworn without smelling, and are great for temperature regulation. Plus, they provide about 50 UPF sun protection, while cotton is only about 5 UPF!

REI carries a great assortment of wool base layers. Here are a few different styles and brands we love:

  • Babies: Unfortunately, REI does not currently carry baby sizes but my favorite little merino set for babies is actually this one. So soft, 100% merino, holds up great, and reasonably priced. This one from Iksplor is also really thick and high quality – great for colder temperatures. (Use code LOCALPASSPORTFAMILY for an extra 10% off.)
  • Toddler wool base layers: REI has this great little toddler merino set, but it’s low in stock. Iksplor has a few good options for litte ones! Iksplor top, Iksplor bottom (these are thick and sooo great for cold weather; code LOCALPASSPORTFAMILY for 10% off)
  • Kids wool base layers: Smartwool bottom, REI Co-op top + bottom (great for warm and cool weather), Iksplor top + bottom
  • Men’s wool base layers: Smartwool top, bottom, quarter zip
  • Women’s: Smartwool top + bottom,

3. Headlamp and/or Lantern for Camping with Kids

Headlamps are our favorite for camping, whether in the RV or for tent camping with kids! They are so useful inside the sleeping area to find something at night, to walk to the bathroom, to find any food left out from after-dark s’mores, and so many other uses. My kids each have one of these simple, great headlamps – it’s a perfect headlamp for kids. Dan and I have this extra powerful headlamp; this one is similar and has excellent reviews.

A lantern can also be really helpful if you want a stable light source to set up on a table or in a tent. This is a great one that is rechargeable by USB/solar/hand crank, or here’s a simple and functional one that is also collapsible (great for backpacking). REI has tons of other options for headlamps and camping lanterns, as well.

4. Warm Sleeping Bag & Pad When Camping with Kids

With using our RV so much more than tent camping these days, I thought we wouldn’t have as much use for sleeping bags, but it turns out we still use them a ton. M loves sleeping inside hers in the RV, and our older kids sometimes do, as well. It certainly makes it easier to pack up and keep things tidy, and they don’t get nearly as dirty as blankets. Plus, they’re perfect for taking out by the campfire to snuggle inside of on chilly evenings.

We love these REI Co-op kids down sleeping bags that are rated down to 25F. They stay sooo warm, even with only a single layer of clothing. And I love that they accommodate sleepers up to 5’6″, so I can use it, as well – it’s a great bag that is a bit cheaper than most ones marketed to adults.

If you’re tent camping or sleeping on the ground, be sure to pack a great pad on which to sleep. Here’s a high-quality one at a reasonable price.

5. Warm, Easy Clean Blanket

In addition to a sleeping bag, put a blanket or two for extra warmth on your camping packing list for kids! I love the Rumpl blankets available at REI because they clean up and brush off really easily and are insulated to stay really warm. They’re a terrific outdoor blanket! I also love the kid version and use it all the time to wrap around the baby in a carrier.

6. Pillow

An inflatable pillow can also be really helpful if you’re trying to pack minimally or are backpacking to your campsite and is definitely something to add to your list of camping essentials with kids. Otherwise, we just bring normal pillows from home when we’re in the RV.

7. First Aid & Hygiene Supplies (Including Sunscreen & Insect Repellent!)

First aid and hygiene supplies are some of the first things we pack and make sure we don’t forget for any sort of travel, but definitely are camping essentials with kids or not. Here’s a list of all our first aid supplies that we pack.

Here’s a great little first aid kit that’s perfect for day hikes. Here are some other favorites that we always include:

8. Packing Cubes & Large Zip Up Duffels/Totes

Packing cubes are helpful for any sort of family travel, and it’s definitely one of those camping essentials with kids that just helps keep things a bit more organized in and out of the tent. We’ve been really loving these REI Co-op expandable packing cubes because they fit tons in them and pack down small.

This REI Co-op large soft-sided zip-up bin is also excellent for storing and keeping camping gear organized. It’s perfect for sleeping bags and pillows, or to throw in hiking backpacks and poles.

9. Baby Wipes for Your Kids Camping Checklist

I’m pretty sure I’ll continue to purchase baby wipes until my youngest is in college. They’re just so useful for wiping up hands, faces, or even doing a quick waterless bath. Just be sure to gather any wipes and pack them out, without leaving anything at camp.

10. Weatherproof Outerwear

There’s only been one time when I’ve tent camped in the rain, and it was rather miserable. It POURED, we couldn’t do anything, and our tent leaked. Not the most fun!

We were all really wishing we at least had great outwear so we could go outside and not get soaked to the bone and have our clothing totally wet. I highly recommend packing weatherproof outerwear with you! We especially love the entire REI Co-op line of rain gear – it is durable, comes in sizes from baby to adult, and protects really well against the elements (we’ve used them in rain, snow, and they even work great just for wind!). Here’s what we use:

11. Outdoor Picnic Blanket

In addition to a blanket for warmth, I love having a picnic blanket to sit on outside. These little folding pocket blankets found at REI are perfect to take along for any sort of adventure because they pack down really small and still have great waterproofing protection. If you want something a bit softer and thicker but that still folds up small for ease of carrying, this outdoor picnic blanket is fantastic – it’s waterproof on the underside, wipes down easily, and packs up so small. It’s great for sitting down toddlers at camp or for any hiking.

12. Insulated Mug

It’s always great having a few mugs to use around the campfire to keep warm things warm and cold things cold. We love these REI Co-op insulated mugs as well as this Yeti one.

13. Tent

There are almost as many types of tents as there are places to use them! REI has a huge selection of quality tents depending on your family size, budget, and weather needs.

14. Quick Dry Microfiber Towel

We LOVE having a couple quick dry towels with us when camping with kids in an RV or tent. They’re great for showers, swimming, or we recently had a kiddo use one as a blanket on our inflatable boat. It was perfect because it dried quickly after! These from REI Co-op are my favorites – I love the ribbed texture, they’re very absorbent, and dry fast.

15. Day Pack

I always have my kids bring a day hiking backpack as one of our kids camping essentials. It’s of course useful if we’re doing any hiking, but they’re also great for containing the kids stuff. They can each put their packing cubes of clothes inside, and keep their Kindles, any small activities, snacks, first aid supplies, etc. It keeps everything organized and it makes it easy to store contain their things to store in the car instead of a tent. (You never want store food clothing that smells like food, any scented items, etc. inside a tent, especially in bear country!)

These kids hiking backpacks from REI are our VERY favorite kids day packs. They’re roomy, perfect fit for kiddos, and have lots of pockets for storage. We love them! The 18L size is great for kids 8+ (and is even a good size for smaller adults who aren’t planning to carry much on a day hike – I’ve used it comfortably). The 12L size is perfect for kids 4-8ish. For younger kiddos, I love this little hydration pack that has room for a couple little snacks. It works great even for independent 2 year olds up to adult who just need some water and a bit of food (I’ve also used this one in a pinch when I wanted to just easily carry some water!).

Here’s our day hiking backpack checklist for kids!

16. Wool Socks

Just like wool underlayers, wool socks are for sure in our list of kids camping must haves. They’re amazing for keeping feet warm, dry, and comfortable. My favorites for all ages are Darn Tough and Smartwool, and REI carries a whole assortment of those, REI Co-op brand wool socks, and several other assorted brands.

17. Satellite GPS Device

We’ve been in a situation driving in our RV when we broke down and didn’t have any cell service. Boy, were we so very thankful to have this little mini satellite GPS device found at REI!! It was literally a lifesaver to be able to contact family and a mechanic. Worth every penny. It’s now also something we take with us on every single hike – it’s really important to have some form of communication in the outdoors in the event of an emergency.

18. Water Filter or Filter Water Bottle

Some campsites have clean drinking water, but not all do. I always recommend being prepared not only with extra water, but also with a way to filter any water you find in a stream or river. This Grayl filter water bottle is fantastic because it filters a larger quantity quickly, so you don’t just filter while sucking (which takes forever). It’s not super heavy, so my big kids easily carry one when traveling, as well.

This backpacking filter bottle is very lightweight and great if you’re trying to pack more minimally. REI has a number of other options for bottles or filtration tablets, as well.

19. Sun Protection

A hat is a camping essential with kids or adults! Be sure to check the weather beforehand to find one that’s most appropriate. I’m not a huge hat wearer, but will sometimes throw on a basic baseball cap for the sun (this one from REI is adorable for kids). I also love this cute little sun hat for babies!

Sunglasses are also important for protecting eyes. This is my favorite pair for myself – they’re great because they’re narrow and stay on my head. This is also a great, inexpensive pair. Our 12 year old likes these for baseball, and Daniel wears classic Ray Bans. There are hundreds of options of different brands and styles available at REI!

A sun hoodie is a final great item for sun protection! I love when my kids and Daniel wear them so it protects their necks and arms without having to constantly reapply sunscreen. These are great ones for men, women, and kids.

20. Thermacell Camping Mosquito Repellent

This little device available at REI is one of my favorites to repel mosquitoes while camping. It’s for sure a camping essential with kids, especially in buggy areas. It’s so nice to set up and then have a radius where bugs aren’t coming. I especially love it when camping with babies so I don’t need to put repellent on them nearly as much!

21. Compact Camp Chairs

We always like to bring along a few camp chairs when camping with kids in an RV or in a tent – they’re perfect for sitting around the campfire for stories or eating meals. Here’s a great lightweight camp chair, or here’s a cute and functional camp chair for kids. Here are lots of other camp chair options, as well.

22. Portable Power Bank

Electronics don’t always come to mind in terms of camping essentials with kids, but it’s definitely important to have a way to make emergency phone calls or possibly access a map (though you should always have a physical one handy, as well). But batteries die quickly! We’ve used this portable power bank many times and it charges quickly and can fully charge a phone a couple times. I also really love this tiny little portable charger that plugs directly into a phone.

If you need something larger and more powerful for an RV, for instance, this is a great one at REI that can power multiple devices.

23. Food/Snacks

Don’t forget plenty of food! Protein bars, easy-prep meals, dried fruit, and more are all great things to have on hand.

There you have it! All the best camping essentials for kids without requiring tons of gear. REI is definitely the place to shop for all these camp essentials if buying new. There’s tons of inventory available in store and online so be sure to check before kicking off camping season!



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