By Jennifer Carroll @twinningtheweekend
Looking for the perfect gift for the outdoorsy family in your life? I’ve got you!
My husband and I share a love for all things outdoors. From wakeboarding to biking from snow skiing to pickleball – we like to dabble in a little bit of everything. We especially enjoy hiking and camping. We’ve hiked more than 70 miles in Banff National Park, backpacked in the Rocky Mountains, and trekked in the Great Smokey Mountains with twins in tow.
On our adventures, we’ve learned that quality gear can make all the difference – particularly when you are camping with kids. Over the years, we’ve built up our stash by shopping secondhand and by adding gear to our Christmas gift lists.
Camping gear is the perfect choice for the family who loves to spend time outside. Big-ticket items make a great family or group gifts. And, hopefully, it’s something the recipient will enjoy for years to come as they make memories with their family.
“Darkroom technology” in this tent blocks 90 percent of sunlight – making it ideal for kids who still need a midday nap or early bedtime. The largest versions (eight-person and ten-person) have enough headroom for you to stand up and change clothes, which doesn’t seem like a big deal until you’re trying to wrestle on a damp swimsuit while laying on your sleeping bag. This tent is pretty heavy, but it’s perfect for car camping adventures.
Not much has changed over the years for this camping classic. With sturdy wind-blocking panels and push-button ignition, nothing can get between you and your morning coffee. These portable stoves can be placed up, out of reach of young ones and are typically allowed in camping areas where fires are prohibited. You can even use the burner to toast s’mores in a pinch – say your firewood is soggy.
Now, this is super practical, but storage bins are a lifesaver for car camping trips. We have a whole “bin system” that works well for our family. Our largest bin holds our sleeping bags, camping mattresses and pillows. Next, we have a toy bin. This holds toys (mostly old ones) that just come out on camping trips – balls, digging tools, etc.
Then, we have a camp kitchen bin. This holds cooking utensils, our stove, paper towels, trash bags, etc. On top, I’ve taped a plastic sheet protector that holds a list of everything that should be in the bin. As we run out of something, I mark on the list. Finally, we have a food bin. This is where I put any food that doesn’t belong in the ice chest. At the end of the evening, it’s easy to shove this bin back in the car or into a bear box. The bin system simplifies packing. I store the sleeping bin, toy bin and camp kitchen bin in an out of the way spot in our garage. When it’s time to pack, I really just need to focus on packing food and replacing an item or two in the kitchen bin.
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If you are a minimalist, camping mattresses may seem like an unnecessary luxury. But, in reality, a mattress is there for warmth as much as comfort. On cool nights, particularly in the spring, the ground temperature is colder than the outside air. Even with a good sleeping bag, you can lose body heat quickly. This is especially true for our kids who experience more body heat loss than we do. A thin mattress or a yoga mat folded in half will help insulate your body from the ground. You’ll notice there is a wide range of prices when it comes to air mattresses. Leave the expensive mattresses for thru-hikers and backpackers who are counting every ounce of packed weight. High-end mattresses cost more because they are designed for winter camping and/or they are made with incredibly lightweight materials. An entry-level mattress (I’ve even seen them at COSTCO at the beginning of summer) will do just fine for basic camping trips.
Hiking carriers open up a whole new world of outdoor adventure. I used an Ergo Baby Carrier with my twins around town, but I still think a hiking-specific carrier is worth it. (We bought ours second-hand.) The Deuter carrier is far more comfortable for you and your kiddo. Hiking carriers transfer the weight of your child for better balance and back support. This is particularly important as your child gets older and for longer treks. You don’t want all of their weight on your shoulders. Back ventilation keeps you and your child cool. Plus, it has space for food and water. snack, sing and sleep in their carrier along the trail. The Deuter carrier even has a kickstand that allows you to set your pack down without taking them all the way out. Now that our kids are older and can hike on their own, we carry a hiking carrier as an “insurance policy.” If someone needs a break or has a meltdown, they can hitch a ride and come down when they are ready to walk again.
Whether you’re headed for a hike or headed out for recess these lightweight puffer jackets from Primary are hard to beat. They’re warm, windproof, and packable. Plus, they come in a wide range of bright colors. You’ll need a fully waterproof outer layer if a lot of rain or snow is in the forecast. However, these jackets are perfect for a fall campout with cool mornings and evenings. All of the clothes we’ve purchased from Primary have held up incredibly well. These jackets definitely have what it takes to be handed down to siblings or cousins.
This map of the U.S. National Parks from Etsy is a unique way to track your travels. The foamboard option comes with pins that you can place on each of the 63 parks after you visit. You can also customize your map by choosing your size, color or by adding your family’s name. It’s a fun gift that allows you to document your adventures and plan for the next one.
These waterproof sleeping bags come in all kinds of colors and a variety of lengths. At just $25, they don’t break the bank even if you have multiple kids. These won’t be warm enough for winter camping, but they are perfect for fall, spring and summer.
An adjustable drawstring at the top keeps your pillow in place and a separated zipper allows you to poke your feet out of the bottom if you get too warm. Best of all – there is no rolling required. When it’s time to pack up camp, simply stuff the sleeping bag back into the stuff sack provided. (My 4-year-olds can do it!)
Socks get a bad rap as a lame Christmas gift, but I’m here to tell you, no one will complain about these merino wool socks from Smartwool. Wool socks are ideal for hiking, skiing and even running. That’s because they help regulate the temperature in your feet by wicking away sweat and moisture – keeping your feet comfortable and blister-free. If they do get wet, wool socks dry much more quickly than cotton. Best of all, wool socks don’t stink. Avoid complaints from your tent mates and wear wool socks!
Trekking poles are a game-changer. I can confidently say poles are my favorite piece of equipment. Instead of solely relying on your legs and feet to do the walking, trekking poles allow you to incorporate your arms and shoulders as you hoof it uphill or make your way back down. For me, trekking poles have really helped with my knees. Poles reduce the impact on your knees and give you extra support on slippery terrain. If you are carrying a pack (especially one that wiggles – i.e. a toddler) poles give you extra balance. Since they are adjustable, family members can share. We let the twins use a single pole when they need a little extra pep in their step.
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Jennifer Carroll @twinningtheweekend
Jennifer is a mom to four-year-old twins and a very large Weimaraner. Before kids, she worked in television and advertising. She paused her career to be a stay-at-home mom only to discover she loved freelance writing. You’ll find her family camping, chasing cows or at the lake on weekends. Follow their adventures at @twinningtheweekend.