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We're a family of 4 - two adults, one toddler and one infant (5 months) recently moved to the US for a year. We'd like to go camping for a few long weekends this month and next on the East coast (as far North as Acadia) but need to buy gear because we've left most of our stuff at home. Can anyone provide some recommendations for essential kit? Currently I'm looking at:

  • 6 man tent
  • Air Bed
  • 2x adult summer sleeping bags
  • sleeping bag liners
  • sunshade, picnic blanket, bug spray, head torches, stove, etc.

I don't know what to put the kids to sleep in, though and not sure about sleeping mats, etc for them. Can anyone advise me?

  • 2
    I would recommend making your way to a reliable outdoors shop (like REI or such, just not Walmart...). Often, the employees there can give you pretty good advice on what gear will work the best for your situation. Yes, they probably will try to up-sell you to more expensive gear, but if you listen to their general advice before making your own decision on what to buy, you'll have gained some valuable perspective and experience. – pheidlauf Aug 19 '14 at 20:30
  • If you're car camping you could probably use a travel cot for the infant - they usually fold down easily and since you'll have a car with you the weight shouldn't be an issue. Have seen car campers use them often. – Aravona Aug 21 '14 at 7:45
  • I don't think we bothered with a travel cot when camping - swaddling worked when the babies were really small, and sleeping at the doorway (so they would have to climb over you to get out) worked once they could move – Rory Alsop Aug 21 '14 at 8:54
  • In the end it was ... OK. The mats suggested below were great, but our toddler got a bit freaked out waking up in the night somewhere very new and needed to sleep right next to us. It ended up better with me on the mats with her and my spouse on the (large) airbed with the baby. Important to get everyone sorted for the night before it gets dark, it turns out. Cloth nappies would have been a terrible idea -- what are you thinking? – emmanx Sep 16 '14 at 14:40
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We used Outdoor/Indoor Protective Flooring interlocking Mats inside the tent ($20) (above ground sheet) insulates, soft enough to sleep on. Toddlers like this from experience (good for naps too)

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thermal rest (roller mat) $30 -$200 each depending on climate enter image description here

Baby can sleep with lots of cotton blankets wrapped up

This mother blogs about it http://adventurousparents.com/2013/06/09/10-tips-for-camping-with-a-baby/

note:take extra nappies/diapers...

  • Possibly cloth nappies might be a good option here depending on the facilities where they are car camping. Some places have laundrettes where you can wash your clothes (these can be common on campsites with static caravans) - a cloth nappy would be better for the environment in this situation, as less non-biodegradable waste. – Aravona Aug 21 '14 at 13:48
  • I like the mats idea. – Tom Collins Aug 23 '14 at 0:14
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You don't mention budget, but a couple things I really like when car camping are:

  • Beautyrest air mattress (about $100). Can be very firm if you like that, and the edges don't collapse like most air mattresses do. It's like a real bed. Does require A/C close by.
  • A tent tall enough to stand in.

I'll rough it while backpacking, but I like to be comfortable when car camping.

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We car-camped with our 5 month old using a yoga mat as a sleeping pad wedged in above our heads in a two person backpacking tent. It was summer and in California, so we weren't worried about moisture from touching the sides. We were worried about having him sleeping in anything too soft, because that's against the recommendations for infants (suffocation, etc.). If you do this, make sure to have baby's feet facing your spouse, because whoever is on the foot end could get kicked in the head all night by a squirmy baby.

This year I tried sleeping in a tent one night with the same kid, now 1+ year old, and I gave up because he wouldn't sleep, and just screamed for like 2 hours straight. Luckily this was a test run in our back yard, so we just went back inside to our regular beds.

Cloth diapers would be more virtuous, but we didn't want to have to drive home with dirty diapers (we were camping on national forest land, not in a campground with wash facilities). We just tossed the dirties in the bear-proof trash at the trailhead in the morning.

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The most important advice is get a good quality 6-person tent. You don't want to deal with leaks and broken poles with 2 young kids while camping. Since your children are still napping, you want to make sure the tent has great ventilation and look at a tent fan as well. There are a ton of reviews to check out. We are both car campers and backpackers, so we try and have as much gear as possible that is good for both. My wife and I use a 2 person backpacking quilt with sleeping pad straps. The kids both have good sleeping bags from REI. We treat our gear with Permithrin and go with picardan for spray in the Northeast (especially for the ticks). My kids sleep on my old Army Closed foam mats, but your infant will need pack and play or a portable crib.

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