Must-Have Sensory Bin Accessories | tactile activities, hands-on learning, sensory materials, learning through play, sensory exploration

Are you new to tent camping? Check out these family camping essentials!


I didn’t grow up camping.

In fact, I went camping for the first time in college! Thankfully, my friends didn’t mind sharing their gear — since I only had my duffel bag and a sleeping bag. 

When our girls were little, we found an affordable tent at our local thrift store. We camped in our living room, in our backyard, and at quite a few campgrounds before we decided to upgrade to something a bit roomier.

This summer, we took a ten-day trip around the western United States, camping at National Parks along the way. Since we could only bring what we could fit in the trunk of our Honda Civic, we had to focus on the true essentials.

Before we left on our journey, we did a trial two-day campout at a local state park. After the first night, we decided to upgrade our sleeping bags and grab a base layer to wear under our PJs for the second night. (I underestimated how cold it can be in a tent after the sun goes down, even in May.)

Check out our first family camping trip at the Ingalls Homestead in DeSmet, South Dakota.

I wouldn’t say that I love tent-camping, but my kids sure do. Plus, it’s an inexpensive way to travel, which means I can upgrade to a nice hotel room after a few days of roughing it in the tent. 😉

Family Camping Essentials
Must-Have Sensory Bin Accessories | tactile activities, hands-on learning, sensory materials, learning through play, sensory exploration

There is so much gear available these days, and it can be so overwhelming to know exactly what you need — especially if you’re a camping newbie.

Sensory Play Gift Guide for Kids

Hopefully our list of family camping essentials can get you started!


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Must-Have Sensory Bin Accessories | tactile activities, hands-on learning, sensory materials, learning through play, sensory exploration

I was a little nervous buying a tent online, but this Campros tent has been perfect for our family. We have used it in the rain more nights than not, without a single drop getting inside!

Unless you are traveling to somewhere with snow on the ground (or backpacking to your campsite), you probably will be just fine with a bottom-tier sleeping bag for most of your family camping trips. Between the air mattress and the extra layers at bedtime, I was totally comfy in my 40°F bag.

There is enough room in our new tent for FOUR twin size air mattresses. While I normally have no issues sharing a queen size mattress with my husband, we both sleep better on a twin when we’re camping!

We did not have room in the car for full-size pillows. These little inflatable guys come in a pack of two and are so compact.

(I am a back/side sleeper, and found them to be totally comfortable.)

We used to use a battery-powered air pump (since we don’t always get a campsite with electricity), but we were going through expensive batteries so quickly! I decided to invest in a rechargable pump instead, and it’s been a great choice.

Our kids were given a battery-powered lantern several years ago, and it’s perfect for camping! 

More must-haves for family camping:



I don’t mind roughing things for a few days, but I want to be safe! We bought a solar-powered phone charger before we left, and it worked great for the nights we camped without electricity. Plus, it has a built-in flashlight, perfect for overnight trips to the restroom with kids.

Eating off of paper plates lost its appeal after the first few nights camping. Having a set of dishes for everyone makes life so much easier — especially when you’re having a car picnic by the trailhead.

We keep a handful of caribiners attached to our backpacks all the time. (You never know when you’re going to need one!)

These water bottles fit in backpacks and keep ice and water COLD. (A must when you’re traveling through warmer climates.)

The camping stove was one of our first purchases, and it’s terrific. (I don’t mind eating over the campfire sometimes, but it’s nice to have options.)

Since we were tight on space, a small, soft-sided cooler was perfect. We stopped by the grocery store every few days to stock up on fresh fruit and veggies, lunch meat, cheese, etc.

Don’t forget these items — dishpan/tub, dish soap, washrags, cutting board, and paring knife! I would also HIGHLY recommend a two gallon water jug (with spout) for ice water. 

Hopefully, you won’t need a first aid kit — but better safe, than sorry! On our 10-day trip, we needed the ice pack and a large band-aid.

(Make sure to replenish used items before the next trip.)

It was cold and wet for much of our trip. Warm, dry wool socks were such a treat every night at bedtime. (Get one more pair than you think you’ll need.)

These quick-drying towels fold up nice and small. We got a different color for every family member!

We traveled from Montana to Arizona on our 10-day trip. And I wore these zip-off pants nearly every day! (Get two pairs — you won’t regret it.)

I did order from the men’s section to get the exact measurements I wanted.

A fleece base layer was perfect for cold nights! (If you buy in early spring, you can usually find some nice in-store deals.)

I always keep a Chilly Pad in my backpack. We ended up buying extra while we were gone because the kids wanted one, too.

Everyone says you need layers! But what layers do you need?

  • On top: waterproof puffy coat, fleece zip-up sweatshirt, UV-protecting long-sleeve shirt, quick-drying athletic tops, quick-drying sports bra
  • Bottoms: fleece leggings (not tights), zip-off pants, jeans (optional), sweat pants for sleeping, athletic shorts, quick-drying socks, waterproof shoes
  • Accessories: fleece hat, UV-protecting hat/ball cap, sunglasses, waterproof gloves

Oh, and don’t forget: sunscreen, bug spray, a hammer, bungee cords, clothespins (5-10), handkerchiefs (bright colors), sweep broom/pan for the tent, and trash bags!

(We attach bright handkerchiefs to our tent/rain fly ropes so the kids don’t run into them.)

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