Car Camping and Overlanding with Kids: 5 Tips To Keep You Heading Out in the 4Runner for More Adventures
Camping with kids can be an amazing experience with your 4Runner if you have the right gear and follow these 5 kid-approved tips. Depending on the age of the children will depend on what gear you need and how prepared you will need to be.
This is a general overview of camping with young kids however, it will give you a good idea of some stuff to plan for even if your little ones are outside the “young kids” age range.
In any case, this is a useful reference point whether you are Overlanding or camping with kids along with a plethora of gear essentials to bring that will improve your experience
Start with Doughnuts
Nothing says, “this is going to be special” to your kids as you head out on a camping trip in your 4Runner like a pink box of sugary goodness.
Regardless of what state you live in, there are doughnuts or some type of special treat on a shelf somewhere along the way waiting to join you on your adventure. Again, depending on the age of your kids, a special treat will hype the kids up for the ride and give them something to look forward and for the duration of the journey getting to your destination. If it’s not doughnuts, try to find something else that will keep them busy or distracted along the way so they aren’t asking you “are we there yet” every 5 minutes.
Once you head out with the aforementioned box of doughnuts, pull over and enjoy some views on the way to the campsite. It will be tempting to just think about the destination and not the journey. Remember, this is about you and your kids so slow down, take stops as often as possible and enjoy the ride.
In most cases, you turn every pit stop for the kids (or you) into a memorable moment.
Plus, once you park for a moment, you get to catch a glimpse of your rig. Specifically, your 4Runner being out where it was meant to be: on a camping adventure WITH your kids.
Set up camp like a champ!
Once you arrive at camp, the first thing you should do is set up camp. Whether you’re sleeping in a ground tent, rooftop tent, or in your rig it’s always easier in the light of day. Plus, it’s always more enjoyable to have it done before you start cooking your first meal.
Therefore, set up all the chairs, camp lighting, and everything else you’ve managed to pack into your rig right away. Remember, you’re just setting the scene for all the memories to come.
Some of my favorites items that help make a rad camp setup are:
- Trekology Portable Camping Chair: Check Price
- Infant Booster Seat and High Chair: Check Price
- BioLite SiteLight Variety Pack: Check Price
- Camping Rugs: Check Price
Pro Tip: Set up the tent first and your kid(s) will immediately want to go inside. This leaves you some extra, interrupted time to finish setting up the rest of the camp.
If you’re ready to make the leap to a roof-top tent, check out our guide on hard-shell vs soft-shell tents and also our full in-depth review of the Go Fast Campers RTT as well.
Prepare food that everyone loves
Though a whole world of possibility exists in camping cuisine, two things need to be considered: your cooking skill and your kids’ pallet.
In fact, I’ve got friends who do a three-pot shrimp jambalaya on their three-burner Camp Chef Pro 90. Their kids love it. If you can pull that off go for it. They do all their prep work at home and bring everything in Ziploc bags or containers.
The more you can cut, chop, dice, and pre-package at home – the less work you have to do while at camp. Pre-packing cut veggies and pre-cooked potatoes, for example, can make for one really easy set-up and dinner.
If you want to go full-on Chef Gordon Ramsay, go for it! Just plan out all your meals, do all your prep at home, and make sure you’ve got everything on your checklist. Cover all the categories of fuel, cooking equipment, utensils, ingredients, and beyond.
If you want to get inspired or expand your recipe Rolodex, check out the recipes from the crew over at Fresh Off the Grid.
However, you might have a kid who could care less about the menu that you want to prepare. No worries. That’s where it’s essential to know what your kids’ favorites are. All my son wants to do is roast a hotdog on a stick over the fire. Oh, and eat s’mores, lots of s’mores.
When we’re camping with kids, we make food fun and hassle-free for them.
If you ever want to venture out and get creative with your S’mores recipes, there’s a great book to bring along titled, So Much S’More to Do.
Note: You get bonus points for using S’More as a pun while you’re making your S’Mores at the campsite.
Pro tip: make hot chocolate with mini marshmallows as a nightcap around the fire. I heat milk up (don’t cut corners with water instead of milk…your kids will thank you) in a kettle over my Snow Peak Baja Burner. The kids have their drinks and we have ours around the multi-color campfire, recounting the memories from the day.
These are always the most magical moments that stick with me. When I pack it all up in my Front Runner Wolf Pack storage boxes, I can’t help but have a smile on my face.
Sleep not cry like a baby
The goal here is warmth and comfort.
The great thing is that in addition to a sleeping bag, there are plenty of things from home that you can bring along. For example, items like blankets or comforters give it that next level cozy feel. I’ve even gone so far as told my son in the early days of camping that he could bring seven of his stuffed animals.
We literally packed a separate duffel bag and he got to choose which ones he wanted to bring (it ended up being every one he owned). As a three-year old-kid, that made sleeping in the middle of nowhere feel safe and sound.
Lastly, whatever you do, DON’T FORGET your pillow. Regardless of how epic everything else on the trip is, a forgotten pillow puts a damper on the fun fast…take my word for it!
Pro tip: Since you’ve got a 110v outlet in the back of your 5th Gen 4Runner, get an AeroBed. All you have to do is plug in and inflate. Whether it’s inside your ground tent, in the rooftop tent, or inside your rig, just lay it out exactly where you want it. Then, inflate it and watch the hard ground transform into a glamorous worthy mattress.
With kids involved, your ultralight camping pad will come nowhere close to the level of comfort an AeroBed like this.
When you wake up for your day or day(s) of fun, make it an adventure. Of course, get your kids involved in everything you do.
Preparing a fire turns into a game of collecting the perfect size kindling and logs.
Waiting for the food to finish cooking turns into a game of surround the entire campsite in a ring of rocks or sticks or just doing what they think is fun.
Going on a hike turns into a game of identifying types of trees, birds, or plants.
Doing some wheeling with the rest of the crew turns into an opportunity for your kid(s) to be in charge of communications on the radio.
The possibilities are endless when you are away from distraction and with your kids in the great outdoors.
Pro Tip: If you’ve got a kid that loves gadgets or doesn’t want to leave a screen, commission her or him to be the director of the video for your trip. Grab a phone or a GoPro and let them capture the memories as they happen.
Who knows, they could become the next Jimmy Chin. Or you go next level and have your video of the last trip projected onto a portable screen.
As you plan for your next trip, utilize these five tips (especially the doughnuts and pillows) and you’ll be well on your way to a lifetime of memories through camping with your kids.
Camping with Kids Checklist
This could be an entire post on its own but here are the basics:
- Dress Warm: Clothes that are appropriate for expected AND UNEXPECTED weather.
- Cutlery: Already prepared food AND every piece of equipment used to prepare and serve the food. (Common forgotten items include plates, cutlery, cups, mugs, napkins, and fuel to cook)
- Cooking: Whether you’re into cast-iron cooking or stove-top cooking over a burner, make sure you’ve got all your gear and cooking fluid stored and ready to go.
- Cooking Accessories: You may want a portable table, cutting boards, dish towels – just look in your kitchen. As much as you can bring with being as compact and lightweight as possible is usually the goal.
- Storage: My preference is to store everything in the Front Runner Wolf Pack storage boxes, however, the Zarges Boxes are panning out to be quite the new camp box contended.
- Sleeping Area: Ground Tent or Roof-top Tent that you double-check for all the poles and pieces for it to be functioning properly.
- Sleeping Comfortable: Sleeping bags, AeroBed or sleeping pad, blankets, and pillow
- Getting Clean: Soap to clean pots, pans, and dirty hands: Campsuds
I hope this list can boost your confidence in either getting out in the wilderness with your kids for the first time or getting back out there after a previously difficult trip.
Bottom line, get out there and create those memories that will last a lifetime for you and them.
Great tips for camping with kiddos – my boys are getting to an age where we want to get them outdoors more so I love all the ideas.
Question – what is your setup on your 4R in the pictures above? Do you have a level or a lift (and if it’s a level have you noticed any negative in roll and nosedive that make you wish you’d done a lift)? What size BFGs are you running? I have a 2018 TRD Off Road and am trying to decide how/where I want to put my money… It’s my DD and at most I’d see some winter snow/ice along with mud/forest type trails (no big rock climbing). Wheels have been on my list, but seeing yours with the stock wheels may have changed my mind (it looks great in the pics). Thanks!
So excited for the adventures and memories to come with you and your little ones. I’ve got a trip to Baja with my 7 year old next month where we are going to build a house with a group…AND camp. So excited.
The specifics related to your questions on my rig (also a daily driver) are:
Lift – I have Old Man Emu springs up front (2884) and rear (2895e) that achieve a 2.5” lift that has gives it a level look and eliminates any nosedive when breaking. I also have Bilstein 5100 shocks up front and the base level Icon shocks in the rear. I did all the work myself with a friend. It’s been a great, firm ride that corners well and has given me the ground clearance and ride that I’m looking forward off-road.
My BFG KO2s were 265 70r17 (stock size) and almost everyone who saw them assumed they were bigger than stock. I LOVED THEM. They were great off-road but perhaps more importantly we’re very quiet on highway and provided for a comfortable ride.
I just upgraded in size to the Falken Wildpeak MTs 33s and will be writing a review on those soon!
Thanks Drew – sounds like a fun trip you have planned!
I’ve been waiting to wear down the stock tires before making any wheel/tire mods… Originally thought about just going with a level kit – I want to get rid of the rake and gain a bit of height – but at this point, I’m thinking it’s better to take the money I was planning to spend on aftermarket wheels and put it into a lift with a better suspension instead (plus new tires).
I would have guessed your KO2s were larger than stock too. Glad to hear you liked them, and will be interested to read your review on the Falken MTs… I ran Falkens on my old 4R (2005 V8 Sport) and LOVED them. With your lift did you have any rubbing with the 33s? Any trimming or BMC needed?
Love your thinking!
I also removed the center caps on the wheels and it was enough of a subtle difference that it feels less “stock” than with the center cap and the Toyota logo. That’s always an option to consider as you can remove and re-install in a matter of minutes.
With the KO2s, I had to do some very minor trimming of the fender as it rubbed at full turn in reverse…so minor was the trimming that you wouldn’t notice.
With the 33s, I have had to simply push the fender liner forward inside the wheel well…took about 10 minutes total. NO BMC, which I was very thankful of!
I’ll include all pics in the review coming soon!
Love these tips!