There are two simples rules to follow to get your kids to enjoy camping. The first: leave the iPad at home. The second: encourage them to get out and explore. To find out what essentials should absolutely be in your backpack if you're camping with kids, I spoke with my friend Ryan Allred, a river guide and father extraordinaire, who has successfully adventured with his children for years. Here are his top six gear picks.
National Geographic Bird Guide of North America ($12)
“Kid-specific animal observation books have offered our girls hours of entertainment,” Allred says. He suggests turning observation into a game. See how many different species your kids can find or see which ones they can spot the most frequently.
Bushnell 8X21mm PowerView Binoculars ($16)
These binoculars will help with the observation game. And they’re inexpensive enough that you can buy two—or not worry if the first gets destroyed. When your kids lose interest, throw them in your own pack for day hikes.
The North Face Sprout Backpack ($35)
Your child probably has a school backpack, but tell her this one is intended just for hiking. That will help her get excited for the trail. Allred likes the Sprout because it’s small, but still lets his daughters carry their own water and some extra clothes. When his kids aren’t hiking, Allred sends them out with the bags on scavenger hunts.
Disc Craft Beginner Disc Golf Set ($25)
This piece of gear is less about the discs, and more about the course, which you should have your kids set up using natural features.
Princeton Tec Amp 3.5 ($30)
Every kid loves a flashlight. See if yours can spot wildlife at night with this inexpensive model from Princeton. We like the Amp 3.5 because it has a long battery life, sturdy build, and a 100-lumen output. An included nylon lanyard helps ensure it doesn't get lost.
NRS Jester ($715)
This is a big investment, but one that’s given Allred’s kids hours of enjoyment out on a lake. This model is small enough for his first- and third-grader to maneuver, and if they get tired of paddling, it doubles as a floaty.