With 13,000 public campgrounds in the US and Canada (and that doesn’t even count private ones or go-pitch-a-tent-in-an-abandoned-field ones), we have good reason to believe that the oftentimes thought of extinct act of camping does still, in fact, exist. That there are still families who own a sleeping bag and a canteen and aren’t afraid to put down the smartphone for a night or two warms our souls. So, as the temperature starts to thaw, the kids begin to remember what grass and trees are, and Mom and Dad are finally ready to tackle that New Year’s resolution of “spend more time together as a family”, it’s time to circle a weekend on the calendar and go good ol’ fashioned camping!
We won’t let you take ol’ fashioned camping too literally, though. In this day and age, even basic camping gear comes with bells and whistles. We’re excited to show you what the camping gear industry looks like today, and what essential – yet oh so cool – products are out there to give your family-friendly camping excursion a modern and just-like-home feel.
While we think souped-up, half million dollar campers are cool and all, there’s nothing that quite gives you that authentic camp-like feel than struggling to set up a tent. Our top pick for a family of four tent comes from Big Agnes, a brand that, for the last 15 years, has been providing outdoorsmen, campers, and those who have adventure running through their veins, with a wide selection of top quality gear, apparel, and accessories that make living, breathing, and playing in nature a comfortable and convenient experience.
Their new Big House 4 tent comfortably accommodates up to four sleepers, with details and extra add-on features that will make this tent the best McMansion in the forest. There’s a laundry list of the specs on this tent, so we’ll just touch on a few favorites that give this camping essential a thumbs up in our book.
Kid-friendly is a must when it comes to camping gear, and you can’t beat the roomy interior, “kid proof” door, and the numerous wall pockets for stashing iPads, coloring books, midnight snacks, and extra Pull Ups. There are two large, zippered doors that open easily and can be closed with just a mesh window for feeling the evening breezes, or with the fully enclosed layer for protection against rain, cold, or the bright moon. Set up is easy with color coded webbing and buckles, Velcro tabs, and something called “pre-cut guy lines” – which props to you if you know what that means, if not, just follow the directions and remember that you came camping to relax… Deep breath in, slow breath out.
When the sun sets and you’re low on visibility, but the baby needs changing, the kids want to read, and Dad can’t find his pocketknife, you need some lighting in that sweet tent of yours that’s not overbearing and harsh, but is just enough to do the trick and create an ambience of relaxation and togetherness.
Simply hook up the battery operated or powered by any USB source mtnGLO Tent Light Accessory Kit to the interior of your tent and enjoy the strands of durable LED lights encased in lightweight nylon tubing that will illuminate your outdoor living space.
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The Sleeping Bag
The glorified sleeping bag is a must for every camper, young and old. And far have they come from the flimsy, character-ridden, slippery bags that you had when you were a loved-to-sleep-on-the-floor youngster. Get your kid a good sleeping bag this year, one that will make his camping trip warm, comfortable, and rave-worthy.
The Wolverine 15 from Big Agnes is a junior sized bag – fitting guys and gals up to 5 feet tall – that boasts a unique and ultra-functional integrated pad sleeve, that allows a camping pad (similar to a thin air mattress) to attach to the sleeping bag, taking away the problem of slipping off a pad in the middle of the night while tucked in your sleeping bag. This mummy shaped bag is ultra cozy and insulated, with a hood cinch cordlock for blocking out sister’s snoring and keeping heads snuggly warm.
No longer do you have to sleep on a hard, bumpy surface while camping, waking up to aches and pains that make the next day’s hike no walk in the park. We mentioned a camping pad above, and this little product is an outdoor sleeping necessity, especially for those of us who are accustomed to catching our zzzzz’s on a California king, Tempur-Pedic mattress. We have two options that are top notch in the sleeping pad world.
The Insulated Air Core Ultra from Big Agnes is the ultimate space saving, compact sleeping pad that features double rip-stop nylon for extra durability, insulation for warmth on both the top and bottom of the pad, larger outer chambers that keep you cradled in the center, and easy valves for inflation and deflation.
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Our other top pick for camping sleeping pads is a more luxurious, yet larger footprint of a pad. The Dreamtime Sleeping Pad is Therm-a-Rest’s take on a camping mattress, and it comes as close to sleeping in your own bed as you can get. Featuring a three-layer system, including a self-inflating mattress, foam pillow top, and fleece cover, with a protective cover that can easily be removed for cleaning, it’s easy to sleep like a baby in the wilderness solo, or attach another Dreamtime Sleeping Pad to yours with the integrated straps, making it easy to cover the tent floor with one bed the kids are actually allowed to jump on!
Therm-a-Rest has been passionately creating products designed to make exploring the world a bit more comfortable. Since 1971, when they designed the world’s first self-inflating air mattress, to today, where they offer everything from tents and sleeping bags to seating and cots, they stand behind their top quality and innovative products that are all proudly built in the USA.
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When one thinks of camping (at least one who actually enjoys camping), they probably think of relaxation, connecting with nature, and being in solitude and peace. Even if the whole family is there, you can still catch a few afternoon zzzz’s if you come prepared with some kickass hammocks, one that even allows a kid or two to join you in your post-hike catnap.
When it comes to buying a hammock – or anything really – you want to take your business somewhere that really focuses and perfects the product they’re selling. Especially when it comes to hanging in midair from a tree, you want to be sure you’re safe enough, and bonus points if there’s a level of comfort and style to your tree bed too. The outdoorsmen at Eagles Nest Outfitters (ENO) know a good hammock, because that’s all they do! Creating and selling hammocks and accessories, this Asheville, North Carolina company, started by a brother duo, makes the coolest swinging beds we’ve ever laid in.
You’ve already got enough crap packed up in the station wagon, so finding the most travel-friendly and smallest footprint products makes camping life way easier. ENO’s TechNest Hammock stuffs into its own bag about the size of a small DSLR (we’re shameless photography nerds, and we know it). Grab the even smaller Atlas Suspension System sack so you can actually hang the thing and you’re good to go. This hammock is every bit of nylon luxury; with the ability to hold two people – up to a crazy 350 lb limit, it’s incredibly lightweight, breathable, and soft, with triple stitched seams and integrated carabiners.
If you have the all-American family of four plus a dog or two, then one hammock isn’t gonna cut it. Grab ENO’s ultra popular DoubleNest Hammock and Helios Suspension System for another top-quality nylon hammock that gives you and the fam a comfy place to rest while watching the sunset over the firs. This guy holds, of course, two people (or your clan of kids) up to 400 lbs, and comes in a dizzying amount of color combinations. The DoubleNest rolls up into a space saving compression sack that’s actually attached to the hammock, so no worries of losing the bag amongst all the other things you have to keep track of, like, you know, the kids…
Don’t think of a hammock as a camping luxury item. It’s a necessity. Just think; it’s another sleeping option for the teenager who can’t take another night of being kicked in the face by his toddler brother. Full circle… solitude and peace. You’re welcome.
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Pull up a seat around the campfire for a roasted marshmallow, an acoustic singalong, and a spooky ghost story. Forget about digging through the forest for a large and sturdy enough log to use as makeshift seating; bring your own space saving chairs for the ultimate in campside comfort and style.
For the minis in the group, give them something more on their level, such as Big Agnes’ Helinox Chair One Mini, that is super quick to set up and comes in a selection of different colors. Featuring polyester fabric and mesh cutouts on both sides and the back for maximum air flow, this little chair packs a big punch in a small fits-in-the-palm-of-your-hand size package. Complete with a carrying case, convenient grab handles, and boasting an impressive 200 lb weight limit for an itty bitty one pound chair, your kids will be carrying this all over the campsite, finding the perfect spot for an afternoon book read or for watching Dad grill the fish he just caught.
The kids have a super sweet seat, but don’t let them have all the fun. Therm-a-Rest’s Quadra Chair is just as cool! Coming in a container shaped like a really, really big bullet that’s actually part of the legs, this space saving sling camping chair is just what you need for cozying up fireside. Made to withstand Dad’s big boned body or a couple of toddlers nestled up on Mom’s lap, the 300 lb weight limit, sturdy base, and aluminum poles make this chair a durable one. And the mesh side pocket is perfect for keeping camping essentials handy. So, pull up a seat folks, this party is about to get started!
Besides sleeping among bears and beetles and fishing all morning and hiking all afternoon, eating is a huge component of the camping experience. While it might be liberating and a rush for some to cook outside a conventional kitchen, others may find it terrifying.
“How am I supposed to pack everything I need to cook my family our usual 5-star delicacies in the wilderness?!”
“How do I even boil water, let alone whip up a tofu egg white omelet for my gluten-free, vegetarian phase eating teenager?!”
Calm down, ‘rents. You don’t have to be Mick Dodge in order to eat among the trees. Put down the chef’s hat for a weekend, and have a little simple fun with food. Google “camping friendly meals” and pick up some of our favorite camping kitchen gear to make outdoor eating a piece of cake – no, really, you can eat cake while camping…
And you thought you were subjected to hotdogs on a rusty iron grate over a weak fire that Boy-Scout-drop-out Dad made, huh? Oh, no, no, no… look what camping cooking wonderfulness this modern age has brought us.
Since 2012, the creative souls at BioLite have been outfitting hobby off-the-gridders and poverty-stricken countries with revolutionary energy products that combine cooking, charging, and lighting in safe, affordable, and portable packages. With their Energy Bundle, you’ll be cookin’ up chicken, grillin’ up fish, and drinkin’ some joe, all while keeping your devices fully charged and your campsite fully lit, even during midnight cake-makin’ sessions.
This bundle includes five innovative products:
- BioLite’s first product that put them on the map, the award-winning CampStove, made even better the second time around with the CampStove 2 – a smokeless, wood-burning campfire stove that turns fire into electricity, letting you cook food and charge your phone at the same time (say wha!), with the new model offering 50% more power, a smart LED dashboard, and an on-board battery.
- Portable Grill attachment that turns your CampStove into a wood-fired tabletop grill
- KettlePot that does more than just make you tea – cook in it, pour out of it, and use it to carry and store your CampStove
- PowerLight Bundle that is a system of rechargeable lights, including a 3-in-1 handheld torch/lantern/powerbank and two overhead daisy-chain SiteLights
- Harnessing the power of the outdoors never looked so sleek with the SolarPanel 5 – a lightweight and slim 5-watt panel that charges everything under the sun – you like that, huh.
And if you thought that wasn’t enough, BioLite has even more add-ons and systems to make your campsite the brightest and most energy efficient one this side of the Appalachian!
Okay, now who’s ready to load up the Yeti and get your foodie on under the stars?!
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An all-purpose pan is every camper’s necessity in the back country kitchen. Durability, compact design, easy clean up, and high temperature compatibility are all must-have features for a camping kitchen pan, and the Ceramic Flex Skillet checks off all the boxes. Made by the engineers and outdoorsmen at MSR (Mountain Safety Research), who since 1969 have been designing reliable and uber safe climbing equipment, in addition to all things outdoor, this skillet boasts a non-stick coating and a convenient fold up handle and will make your early sunrise pancakes and bacon perfection.
If you need a cooking pan on the deeper side, for boiling water or making Grandpa’s famous Campout Chili, then snatch up the Base 2-Pot Set, also from our friends at MSR. This nesting set comes with two non-stick aluminum pots (1.5L and 2.5L) and a strainer lid. There is one handle that folds up the same way the skillet – mentioned above – does, making for a convenient space saving design. The coolest part is you can remove the handle from one pot, and just pop it onto the other pot! When dinner is done, wipe them out, stack the pots and the lid together, and the handle folds over and snaps onto the lid, keeping everything tidy and together. Come on, admit it, cooking at a campsite is way more fun than cooking at home in the kitchen, eh?!
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Hanging out campside requires a lot of things, but proper hydration – in whatever form you deem necessary – is a must. There’s no need to buy the red solos when you can get your drink on in a reusable, insulated, and convenient tumbler from our friends in Oregon at Hydro Flask. Known for their ridiculously well-insulated bottles that keep both cold and hot liquids cold and hot for hours upon hours, Hydro Flask has been rapidly expanding since their beginnings in 2009, now including over 100 products in four different categories.
Most recently, they launched their new tumblers, in two sizes and a multitude of awesome colors. With a narrow cupholder-friendly design, an insulated press-in lid featuring Honeycomb insulation, their famous TempShield insulation that’ll keep your kombucha cold for 24 hours and your morning coffee hot for 6 hours, and BPA and phthalate-free stainless steel construction, these tumblers are perfect for the whole family to sip from all weekend long.
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Photo Credits: Dani Nicole Photography