I’ll never forget our first camping trip with the kids. My wife and I were quite comfortable in our usual outdoor gear, including fleece layers, water resistant pants, wool socks with hiking boots, and a raincoat. And while our kids were probably better dressed for the conditions than most their age (18 months and 3 years old), they did still get cold and wet due to their limited wardrobe. We’ve since learned what camping clothing works best for kids at a reasonable price and have shared those recommendations below, including a few creative ways to use the clothes beyond camping.
Rain Jacket / Winter Coat Combo
A wet kid is a miserable kid, especially if it’s also cold outside. A rain jacket is the most important clothing item to have on a camping trip.
Ponchos rip easily and traditional (aka cheap) kids rain jackets are water resistant at best but rarely waterproof. Neither of these options breathes easily to let the inside moisture escape.
The Columbia rain jacket (also available in girl colors) is a great jacket at under $100. It’s waterproof, windproof, breathable to let the sweat out, and folds down to a very small size for putting in a backpack or similar.
Pairing this sort of waterproof shell with a fleece jacket (also available in girl colors) is the perfect layering combo. Your kids can wear only the rain jacket for minimal warmth or water protection, the fleece alone for moderate warmth, or both for a very warm and waterproof combo! The two combined are also perfect to use with snowsports, like skiing.
Jeans can be the worst sort of pants to bring camping. They get wet easily, dry out slowly, and are not very breathable for sweat.
We love the convertible pants (or what we call “camping pants”) for their water resistant and breathable material combined with a 2-in-1 shorts/pants combo for saving packing space. These sort of pants can be quite expensive, especially if your kid grows out of them in only a year, but White Sierra makes a great Youth Trail Convertible Pant for $30. We buy gender-free colors like tan and white so that our oldest can pass them down to his younger sister.
Roll Up Shirts
I personally love these shirts for outdoor activities since the lightweight materials provide sun and bug protection while still letting plenty of breeze through to stay cool. You can optionally roll up the sleeves to convert into a more traditional short sleeve shirt when needed, another 2-for-1 packing benefit! For kids, Columbia makes an affordable and durable roll up shirt option in both boys and girls designs that works just as well for a swimsuit cover-up as it does on a camping trip. Like with the convertible pants above, we try to buy non-gender-specific colors to get multiple years use from more than one kid. Light colors are also cooler in the sun.
Just like with the rain jacket, keeping feet dry is paramount on a camping trip – and kids are no exception. While certainly more expensive than some of the cheap shoes kids can wear around the house or in the backyard, Merrell makes a fantastic line of waterproof sneakers that are a great value considering their water shielding capabilities combined with great tread for hiking and general durability to last a long time. We are frequently able to have both kids wear a pair of shoes before either passing them on to friends and family or selling them at a garage sale at a great price given their high quality.
Dry feet means keeping the water out while letting the sweat breath. This requires skipping the cheap cotton sock variety and opting for high-quality wool socks for your kids. Darn Tough is my brand of choice for both me and the kids thanks to a decent price with a lifetime warranty. As an added bonus, your kid’s shoes will smell much better with this type of breathable sock.
When playing in lakes or streams, kids need full toed sandals to keep their regular shoes dry while protecting their feet from rocks and other hazards. We love Merrell’s Hydro water sandle since it holds up great over years of use and dries out relatively quickly when coming out of hte water. Our kids wear them alone and with a quick drying wool sock.
Full Brim Bucket Hat
A full brim bucket hat provides valuable sun protection for a kid’s face and neck. The Columbia model our kids use no longer includes a chin strap but is an otherwise great option with breathable mesh, a sweatband, and an adjustable drawcord. We’ve also used the Sunday Afternoons hat that has some more creative designs and does include the chin strap.
Stocking caps are especially useful for keeping your child’s head warm at night while sleeping. Any simple option will do, but we like the Carhartt kids stocking cap since there are multiple color options at a great price. We store the beanie inside each of the kid’s sleeping bags so that it’s always there when needed.
Eye protection is useful for both sunlight (especially when reflecting off a nearby lake) and stray fishing hooks or lures. Polarized lenses help see through the water better for boating and fishing activities. To keep your kid’s shades from ending up at the bottom of that lake, this combo of supposedly unbreakable polarized sunglasses with included strap and case is a great choice at under $15!
The Everest Luggage Sporty Gear Bag is what we use for holding all of the above clothing and more. Dual zippered side compartments, a large main storage area, and mesh pockets all offer easy organization while a removable shoulder strap makes everything easy to carry. Over 10 different color choices make identification of each kid’s and parent’s bag an easy task.
That’s the basics of what clothing we bring for the kids on each camping trip. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below.