Spending time outdoors as a family is fun and makes wonderful memories. But camping with kids can be stressful for parents. Keeping baby out of the sun and rain, making sure a toddler doesn’t wander off into the woods while adults are setting up camp and entertaining all ages without electronics are just some of the challenges to scale. We asked local adventure experts — from backpacking whizzes to go-to glampers — for their top gear picks. With these items, get ready, set and go to your best summer yet!
Family fit: Papa Hubba NX 4-person Backpacking Tent
Recommended by Andrew Magnussen of Second Ascent in Seattle
“A family of four could use two two-person tents, but there’s something special about bringing the whole family together under one roof. Mountain Safety Research is a local Seattle company. The Papa Hubba NX tent allows you to comfortably bring the whole family together without sacrificing weight, space and durability. Coming in at just under 6 pounds, the Papa Hubba gives you the option of taking the kids backpacking or car camping.”
Where to find it: Mountain Safety Research
Bio: Raised in Chattanooga, Tenn., Andrew Magnussen moved to Seattle in 2011 to be closer to the Cascades, and he is the marketing and events coordinator for Second Ascent.
Chill time: A hammock
Recommended by Lauren Braden, writer for Northwest Trip Finder
“A piece of family-friendly gear I love is the ENO hammock (DoubleNest for the whole family, or SingleNest for a few small kids). It’s easy to set up in a campsite and although some people sleep in it, we just like to have ours for lounging, reading or napping. For family camping when space is at a premium and it feels like you’re always on top of each other, it’s great to have a few safe places for kids (or parents!) to steal away some alone time.”
Where to find it: Amazon.com; search “Eagles Nest Outfitters.”
Bio: Lauren Braden is a Pacific Northwest writer who focuses on recreation and local travel. She blogs here.
Bunk it! Bunk cots
Recommended by Jacob Stone, salesperson at the outdoor store Cabela’s in Lacey
“One thing we sell lots of, year after year, are Cam-O-Cot bunk beds. These are two twin cots that can be used separately or as bunk beds. They are a great space saver in the tent or cabin, where floor space is at a premium, since kids like to bring all of their stuff on camping trips. They are easy to set up and take down, and each one supports up to 400 pounds, so they can be used for years. Cots are more comfortable than sleeping on the ground, and what kid doesn’t love bunk beds?”
Where to find it: Cabelas.com; search “bunk cots.”
Bio: Jacob Stone has been with Cabela’s for almost three years. He was hired for his camping and outdoor expertise. He grew up backpacking and hiking with the Boy Scouts, going out almost every weekend to hike or camp. Stone has hiked and camped throughout the Cascades, Idaho and Montana.
Pop and play: Pop-up canopies
Recommended by Azur Koteen, owner of the vintage camper rentals Gogocamper
“I worry when camping with kids about exposure to the elements. Rain, sun or wind can ruin a trip. A pop-up canopy offers protection and extends your living space, and if it starts raining, you can move stuff underneath, instead of having to throw everything into the tent or camper. If you are going to use one most weekends, I recommend investing in a sturdier one with a good bag and wheels.” amazon.com, search “pop-up canopies.”
Where to find it: Gogocamper.com
Bio: Azur Koteen is a native of the Pacific Northwest and grew up playing outside. Gogocamper is a reflection of his love of the outdoors. He has “an awesome wife” and an incredible 3-year-old boy.
Peace, man: Campers
Recommended by Harley Sitner, owner of Peace Van Rentals
“Kids don’t care about sleeping on hard ground, but parents like the comfort of campers. It’s warmer, too, because the heat doesn’t escape from a hard-walled structure like it does from a nylon tent. Packing up to go is more expedient, because if you own a camper, you can just keep it stocked and packed [and most rentals are stocked for you]. If you have bad weather, you have a place to retreat. The camper itself is like a built-in Pack ’n Play; kids can explore, hang out and hold secret meetings inside.”
Where to find it: PeaceVanRentals.com
Bio: Harley Sitner is a dad to a 6-year-old and owns and operates a VW camper van repair, restoration and rental shop in Seattle called Peace Vans.
Neat nets: Butterfly catchers
Recommended by Dylan Tomine, author
“The best piece of kids’ camping equipment we own? I was going to suggest any number of amazing new gear options, but as I thought about it, something else came to mind: a cheap, drugstore butterfly net. These have been the source of more camping fun for my kids than anything else. Hours of traipsing through the woods and water on the hunt for bugs, minnows, tadpoles, crabs and shrimp, all of which become temporary residents of small plastic containers before being carefully released. So the next time you’re headed out, try the butterfly nets. Your kids will love ’em.”
Bio: Dylan Tomine is the author of Closer to the Ground: An Outdoor Family’s Year on the Water, in the Woods and at the Table.
Slacking off: A slackline
Recommended by Langdon Cook, author
“For entertainment, bring a slackline, a friendlier version of a tightrope that you can find at most outdoor stores. String it up between two trees and the kids will play on it for hours. Parents will be tempted, too. Walk or bounce. See who can get the farthest. It’s a great way to occupy the kids, especially when you need some adult time or during cocktail hour!”
Bio: Langdon Cook is a dad, writer, instructor and lecturer on wild foods and the outdoors. His books include The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America, winner of the 2014 Pacific Northwest Book Award, and Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager.
Baby boom: 3 must-haves
Recommended by Shanti Hodges, founder of Hike It Baby
Shanti couldn’t stop at one favorite item, so she gave us three:
“I love the Summer Pop ‘n Play Portable Playard. We used it as a playpen, and — with a camping mat inside — as a Pack ’n Play. I just pop it open, throw in a few toys and then let the kids play inside. We called it our baby jail! It’s great for when you need a safe place for toddlers, especially when you are setting up camp.”
Portable highchair: “One of the biggest struggles camping when you have an infant or toddler is where to put them for mealtime when hanging in the dirt. You don’t want them to crawl away (blanket) or fall over (kid camping chair), so the solution is a portable high chair that folds up small enough to take to the beach, on a camp trip, to a festival.”
Onya Baby carrier: “I also love the Onya Baby carrier. It’s a soft-structure carrier, but the lumbar support is more like a frame carrier, so you won’t have a sore back after setting up camp while wearing baby. “I can even crawl in and out of the tent while wearing it. The nylon material on the outside is treated, so that water, throw-up, mud, whatever brushes right off, and the damp doesn’t seep in.”
Bio: Shanti Hodges is the founder of Hike It Baby, a nonprofit organization that started with a few mamas getting out to hike and is now one of the largest new parent hiking groups in North America.