Pick the Right Site
Find a park or campsite within three hours’ drive of home, and you’ll be able to leave after lunch and arrive with enough daylight to pitch the tent without having to pull out your headlamp (though we recommend you keep one handy in the glove box—not the bottom of your duffel—just in case). The app Camp and Tent keeps updated info on more than 21,000 tent-only campgrounds in the U.S. Hipcamp is also good: It aggregates public campgrounds and private land—think of it as Airbnb for tents. For ease of adventure, look for campgrounds with hiking and mountain-biking trails that leave right from camp to avoid the hassle of driving. Water is also a sweet diversion: Ponds, lakes, or gently flowing rivers offer ample opportunities for swimming, fishing, and paddling.
National parks will be crowded on summer weekends and holidays, so if you’re able to break away midweek, that's even better. Whenever possible, book a site in advance. Although it takes away some of the spontaneity, you’ll avoid being shut out or driving endless loops around the campground, squabbling over the “perfect” site. Many national and state parks reserve sites up to six months in advance through recreation.gov, and it’s possible to cancel within 48 hours for a full refund. First-come, first-served sites will probably be taken by Friday morning, so get a jump on the weekend and arrive Thursday; chances are good you’ll score a sweet spot.
The first 12 hours are all about settling in and figuring out your systems—the last thing you want to have to do is break down the tent and leave just as you’re starting to relax. Stay at least two nights—three if you can swing it. To streamline your setup, consider doing a dry run in your backyard. Set up the tent, spread out sleeping bags and pads, and light the whole rig with the Radiant 300 Rechargeable Lantern for a night under the stars without leaving home. Keep everything organized with a few Gear Tie Reusable Twist Ties. With a grippy rubber exterior, these strong and bendable wires are ideal for everything from keeping sleeping pads tightly rolled to bundling canoe paddles or fishing rods together to hanging your lantern in camp. Pro tip: Don't forget a reliable headlamp for those late-night bathroom runs. We'd recommend the rechargeable INOVA STS PowerSwitch, which features multiple brightness modes so you can easily toggle between 280 lumens and something a bit dimmer.
Do not skimp on coffee. Snow Peak’s stainless steel percolator or titanium press, real half and half, good grinds (and more than you think you need—the best part of camping is lingering after breakfast in the sun on your second or third cup), and insulated tumblers from Klean Kanteen will help you win the morning. And as the saying goes: If you win the morning, you win the day.
Pitch the Perfect Tent
Your tent is your temporary home, and it’s worth splurging on a big one like Big Agnes’s Wyoming Trail 4, a two-room tent with matching sleeping pods separated by a roomy vestibule—ideal for gear, dogs, or even a couple of camp chairs, should the weather go south. With the kids in their private quarters and you in yours, you won’t care if they stay up late reading by headlamp or the light of the Radiant 3-in-1 LED Mini Flashlight, which pulls double duty as a small but powerful lantern. And don’t forget a tarp. Any standard-issue one will do, but a fancy one like MSR’s Outfitter Wing can be a saving grace. With two poles and multiple guy-out points, you can quickly set the wing up anywhere you want (picnic table, camp kitchen) and adjust it quickly to ward off the noontime sun or a fast-moving storm.
Bring Your A-Games
Bikes and scooters are mandatory for dispatching kids to do laps around the campground loop—often paved, usually quiet—while you stretch out in the hammock for a snooze. Outfit the kids with NiteLife LED Necklaces and the SpokeLit LED Wheel Light and you’ll be able to easily keep track of your brood when the sun starts to set. When it does, the Flashflight LED Flying Disc transforms a beach or meadow into an impromptu frisbee match.
The More the Merrier
Round up the whole gang—your friends, your kids' friends, and any furry friends. Bringing your kids' friends along on an outing is the best way to get the kids to hike farther with less fussing—they’ll be so engrossed in counting lizards or hopping rocks to notice the miles clicking by under their feet. (M&M's work, too. Never discount the power of a bribe in the backcountry.) And don't forget about entertaining Fido. Keeping him occupied with the Glowstreak LED Ball, the coolest fetch ball we’ve ever seen, will be just as much fun for him as it will be for the rest of your crew. It turns on with a simple bounce, auto shuts off after 10 minutes of inactivity, and floats. Remember: Many campsites are spacious enough to hold several families, or reserve two side by side and import the whole gang from home.
Don’t Stress About Bedtimes
Campfires, ghost stories, stargazing—all the best action happens after dark. Let go of normal schedules; no matter how many s’mores were consumed, kids will crash when they’re tired—and rarely before the sun goes down. A well-stocked plastic camp box filled with geology books, astronomy guides, and ghost stories provide stellar campfire entertainment. Pro tip: Download the free stargazing app Skyview Point. All you have to do is point it at the nighttime sky to identify constellations, planets, and satellites—and turn every kid in the group into a budding Carl Sagan.
Nite Ize, a Boulder-based gear manufacturer for 28 years, crafts products with the goal of making outdoor pursuits safer, more fulfilling, and more fun. With a focus on cutting-edge product development and innovation, they have introduced countless outdoor essentials, including Gear Ties, S-Biners, Figure 9 Rope Tighteners, and light-up products for the whole family, even the furry members.