Here's some of the gear we found handy this time around for the infant:
- the Bumbo seat - set up outside the tent, as a place for the baby to hang out while grown up hands are busy
- some kind of baby carrier - for when nothing else will do! I've recently gotten my hands on an Ergo, and I like putting the little one in it on my back. Another favorite is the Moby Wrap, though that's front-only. Sometimes, a baby just needs to be held, even when you're in the woods.
- down suits (when the weather calls for it) - our infant is still too small for the suits we have, but since it's getting warmer as summer approaches that's OK. She'll fit in them in the fall. We have two suits that we purchased on eBay a few years ago. The one on the left is Patagonia synthetic down, size 12 months (though it fit Big Sister until about 18 months). On the right is an REI goose down + synthetic down, size 18 months, which fit Big Sis until she was 2.
REI infant suit pros and cons: same thing with the fold-over hand pieces ... can be a good thing or a big challenge. The suit is pretty puffy so it can be hard for toddlers to figure out how to walk. There are two zippers, one down each side, which make diaper changes easier. The loft on the REI suit keeps the kid even warmer, and the hood does a better job of staying in place (it has a little bit of elastic on the forehead part)
Helpful gear for the 2 1/2 year old:
- Kid-sized camping accessories like a folding chair and a headlamp - our rationale behind this is that our kids need to feel like they have a part in the experience too if they're going to develop a love of camping. Giving them their own gear is a little way to make it "theirs."
- tiny potty seat - Lilla children's potty from Ikea for $4.99. I did not bring it this time around (we were squeezed in there!) but will definitely bring it on future trips.
Activities for kids:
- collecting sticks for the fire (entertain them for longer by having them sort sticks by size or length)
- whittling - obviously an activity for older "young kids" but a 4 or 5 year old may be able to handle a little pen knife with some adult supervision. My sister-in-law gave her 4 year old a bar of soap and a butter knife for whittling.
- flashlights - kids don't need direction with a flashlight. Just give it to 'em.
- food preparation - since a big part of camping is food, why not let your little ones help in that too (if you're not going crazy by the time mealtime rolls around). Put trail mix ingredients in a jar and have them shake it up, for example, or let them sprinkle salt and pepper on your potatoes before you wrap them in foil.
And, last but not least, something for the sweet dog ...
- check to make sure the site allows dogs. This can be trickier than you'd think.
- bring documentation of rabies vaccination, even if the campground doesn't mention it on their website. They may ask you for it.
- pack up the dog's food and water in your car when you're not at the site, even if you're just going down the hill to the bath house. Nothing worse than squirrels finding their way into your tent ...