Camping With Kids – Gear Thoughts, Season 2

Ben goes camping with a lot of kids and tiki torches.

Last year, a friend mentioned that he thought it would be fun if myself, a mutual friend, and all our kids went camping. That’s 3 dads, and 5 kids, this year from 4 to 8 years of age. All of us have varying levels of camping experience, and we all brought along a ton of gear. I made a short video about this last year, this year I’ve decided to write up some thoughts on the highlights of the gear I took, and some items we needed.


Last year we didn’t end up using my tent, but this year we did, and really put it to the test. We slept the three dads and a dog in the tent, with ample room. The greatest part of this tent is the height, allowing me to stand up fully in the tent — I cannot emphasize enough how magical that is.

The big test for this tent was the weather. This is a “summer” tent in that it is not really designed to withstand major rain and storms. Well, that wasn’t the scenario we had, we had near constant rain for 2.5 days with light wind. By the end of the rain the tent material was still dry on the inside, but was beginning to worry me that it might start to give way to the water. Luckily it did not.

However, the bottom is another story. An ill placed tarp meant that the unexpected rain shower caused a small run of water to get between the tarp and the tent floor. After which, even with adjusting the tent and tarp, we never recovered from. Luckily this was only at the front edge of the tarp, and under a foam mattress which it had no adverse effect on. Still, oops. Two thumbs up for this tent, would buy again, might buy another larger one or one size smaller and do two tents when I take just my family. You can fit 4 in it, but I prefer a little more room.


Typically I bring tarps just for the bottom of the tents we are using. Since the ground can be very hard, this helps to keep the wear off the tent, as well as (hopefully, but not this time) the water out of the tent. For this trip I made a last minute decision to buy an extra 10’ x 12’ tarp, and use my larger more “seasoned” (read: small holes) tarp as the base for my tent. As I mentioned above, this wasn’t a great decision for the tent, but I was glad we had an extra tarp as we rigged it over the fire sitting area so we could stay warm and try.

It was about half the size we needed, but it was still a savior. You better believe that next year I’ll have a much larger tarp with me. For $20-30, it’s a no-brainer to pack. I’ll also be fitting my current tarp to the footprint of the tent to avoid the water issue.

Sun/Rain Shelters

Last year our campsite only had room for one sun shelter, a large 12 x 12 Coleman pop up (something like this). We used that again, and added in a seriously aging Caravan pop-up that my dad gave me. Again, these were both a godsend. Allowing us to store gear and eat in a dry area.

The Coleman performed like a champ, and could be put up by just two people and taken down by two people with ease. The Caravan, however, had me considering trashing it before we left. Water pooled at the corners, and started to drip through when it pooled. It also required all three dads, and two kids, to attempt to get it popped up. It took all 3 dads to put it away. It’s 10+ years old, these have come a long way since this was purchased. Next year, I’ll bring something new.


We had a hell of a time with fire this year. The wood that we brought was not nearly as dried out as we thought, with the centers still a bit green. And the logs split rather large. It took us a hell of a long time to work out a way to keep the fire going and keep it hot. Ultimately I was glad someone brought a splitting maul, as splitting the wood into smaller logs, burning them in a pyramid, and adding copious amounts of oxygen was the only way to have a good fire.

This was mostly down to the wood, but it showed a gap in the gear we brought: a bellows. If we had something we could use as a bellows, it would have made a world of difference. I’ve already ordered one of these for next year.


I really toned back the knives I brought on the trip this year, a big accomplishment for me. I brought only three: Bradford Guardian 4 and 3, as well as my Benchmade Griptilian. I used everything except the Guardian 3. The big task this year for the Guardian 4 was slicing veggies for dinners, and it did so like a champ. It took some getting used to, but eventually you learned how to work with the blade thickness. Luckily the razor sharp edge aided the setup greatly.

Next year, maybe take the Guardian 5 instead of the 4, as that would allow for easier slicing, but really the 4 was fine. I could have left the 3 at home too, but baby steps for me.

The Griptilian was perfect. I love this knife so much. It was put to use rigging guy lines to help divert rain, hanging the tarp — and then removing all of that. Still razor sharp, no rust despite being out in the weather the entire time.

Zip Ties

On a whim I threw in a ton of zip ties to take, and we used about 12 of them to rig a tarp over the fire. Could we have done it with the rope and paracord we had? Hell yes. But did the zip ties work just as well, and make the entire thing faster? Fuck yes. Did I mention it was pouring down rain when we did it? It was.

A Van

Last year we took a truck, a boat, and a Toyota Highlander. This worked fine, but strategic packing was needed on the Highlander, as well as a roof cargo box. This year, I asked to borrow my dad’s company van, which is a Ford Transit E350. We put in two rows of seats, which allowed everyone a seatbelt in case we needed to go somewhere (and we did). More than that, we had tons of storage in the back with easy access. We kept all the food which wasn’t in coolers in the van, and this made the campsite far more secure to raccoons then it was last year. Two thumbs up, would van again.


I’ve been reading a ton about camping with quilts over sleeping bags. The thinking is that they are lighter because they forgo some material (where your back is) and a zipper — but they are also more comfortable because they can be used in many different ways. Some people on Reddit had recommended the down blankets Costco sells in the fall (for like $20) as a good entry item to make into a quilt, but only for warm weather. Intrigued I picked up a couple and took one on this trip, in addition to a synthetic down blanket made by Kelty, as I was worried about being cold.

It worked out well, and I’ll do it again for sure. Couple of things: I didn’t dress warm enough the first night. The Kelty was way warmer, but only because it was long enough for my body. But this became an even more crucial item for us this trip.

On the second night one of the kids threw up. They did this in their sleeping bag, on the pillow, the mattress, and partially on the sleeping bag of the kid next to them. Being the savvy dads we are, we promptly washed the velvet topped mattress and set it out to dry in the rain. Swapped in the mattress myself and another was sleeping on, and threw away the pillow, and sleeping bag from the kid who puked. The kid who had partial puke, we ended up cleaning the one spot, and flipping the bag around so they were sleeping on a clean end of the bag (one of those zips open flat sleeping bags with double zippers). The father of that kid gave up his sleeping bag, and pillow, and I shared my extra blanket. The mattress we were sleeping on was on a cot frame, so we slept on the cot.

Problem solved. The next morning we went to the store and bought some new sleeping bags, yay for that van.

Here’s the thing, I won’t be camping like this again without some sort of backup in case of puke, because had I not been testing this out, one of the dads would have been sleeping without a sleeping bag, and that would have sucked.


This lantern was fucking great, going to get another to keep in each tent. Just the right amount of light, and it’s great to leave on until you go to bed so you don’t have to fish around for a flashlight when you are in the tent.

I also toned down the flashlights I packed this year, it was a painful memory, so best not to dwell on it. I took the ArmyTek Wizard Pro, and a Surefire E1B-MV Backup I am testing out. Both were great, the ArmyTek was a godsend when dealing with the puke incident. The SureFire was my go to the rest of the time, with a red filter over the beam to keep the light pollution down. Would take both again, they were great, and after 3 nights both still have plenty of juice in them.

The Barebones lantern I brought last year came again, and is still recommended. It did die this year, so I’d plan on needing to recharge after 2 nights, but I am not sure how I would do that while out camping.

Odds and Ends

  • Tiki torches came this year as a way to keep our larger camp site bug free. Added bonus was the light they put out meant you rarely needed a flashlight outside of the tent at night.
  • I can not recommend any Coleman brand drip coffee makers, we had a hell of a time with the one last year, and a new model this year as well.
  • We have got to come up with some system for storing the shoes in a reachable area for the kids outside of the tent, to mitigate muck getting into their tents. I am all ears if anyone has advice.
  • I practiced some adjustable line knots before this trip. That made a huge difference with all the rigging we had to do. Need to do more of that.
  • Brought a hatchet, didn’t use a hatchet. Splitting maul while huge, vastly better and safer.
  • Ground was super hard, and we started to run short on the “good heavy duty” stakes. Need more of those.
  • I brought my new RTIC cooler, came home with everything still cold and ice still in it. Fantastic cooler.
  • I need to work out a charging system. So much of our stuff needed power, and not a lot, but small battery backup packs are not enough. Going to look into the Goal Zero stuff. Recommendations welcomed.

That’s it for this year, I’ll write up some of the interesting clothing challenges I had on this one over on Everyday Wear if that’s your thing. Any advice is appreciated, I am far more used to backpacking with adults than car camping with kids. Though, amazingly, they never once complained about the rain. So we did something right.

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