Kids feel about camping the same way they feel about candy corn, scary stories or walking in the rain: They either love it or hate it. And I was on a mission to make sure my kid loved camping.
For my 3-year-old's first-ever camping trip, I planned on taking him, sans spouse, to a gorgeous lakeside spot in the Catskills. It was earlier this autumn, just as the leaves started turning brilliant shades of reds, oranges and yellows. I was already envisioning years of camping trips across the country with my famously energetic boy — paddling canoes to island campsites, exploring nature together, toasting s'mores over roaring fires — all that good stuff.
But I also worried that he might end up in the hate-it camp. And if you've ever tried to introduce a young child to a new vegetable, you know that, with some experiences, you get one shot. So I was driven to make sure everything went perfectly his first time.
Having camped with non-campers both young and old, I’ve observed that people of all ages who hate camping tend to complain about the mosquitos, the dirt, the food and the weather. But after decades of personal experience and secondhand kvetching, I'm convinced that almost all of it really comes down to one thing: a bad night's sleep.
My 3-year-old was going to sleep like a baby on his first camping trip, if I had anything to say about it. And that meant getting the right kids' sleeping bag.
The first requirement, of course, was that it be warm enough. I wanted a proper three-season bag, something warm enough in case it got chilly but still usable in the spring and summer. I also needed something that was plush enough to be comfortable on the ground on its own. (I had no illusions that my kid, an active sleeper, would remain neatly on his sleeping pad through the night.) You can get kids' sleeping bags almost anywhere, from Walmart to L.L.Bean, Target to Cabela's, but they tend to be either intended mostly for indoor use or overpriced, especially for something that most kids will outgrow after a few years.
The REI Co-op Kindercone 25 Sleeping Bag checked all the boxes and then some. It was rated to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, probably a bit toastier than needed on a 50-degree mountain night, but its mummy shape and hood meant that he could sleep with it zipped open without just falling out of it immediately. It was also comfy enough that it didn't matter where in the tent he ended up by the morning — and the synthetic fill would help alleviate the dampness that's always an issue when you're camping. Or dealing with toddlers.
Best of all, the Kindercone came with a built-in cinch sack that doubled as a length adjuster, meaning that he'd be able to use it well into his big-kid years. And it was almost half the price of comparable sleeping bags from other brands.
Sleeping bags always take up a lot of space, and this was not a small bag just because it was for kids — rolled up and packed away, it was not that much smaller than my ancient, four-season adult sleeping bag. I've lived out of my 85-liter backpack for months at a time, and the Kindercone took up more room in there than all my clothes combined for my longest trips. (Granted, I pack light.) Since it was just him and me on this trip, that meant I had to jettison some of my own comfort items to make way for his good night's sleep.
But in the end, it was all worth it. Did I end up waking up with a tiny foot on my face? Yes, the Kindercone didn't cure his sleep dancing. But he slept soundly enough that he didn't stir at all when a couple of curious black bears started making a racket tramping around the bushes right next to our tent. And the next day, as soon as I rolled his new sleeping bag up for the trip home, he asked when we could go camping again.
Other kids' sleeping bags to consider
Most kids' "camping" experiences these days probably take place in pillow forts, so if you want an indoors-only sleeping bag, or if you want your kid to sleep in style — and under the aegis of a fancier brand name — then these kids' sleeping bags may be worth looking at instead.
The Kids' L.L.Bean Adventure Sleeping Bag 30 comes in a brilliant azure, is rated to basically the same temperatures as the Kindercone 25, has a roomy mummy shape and fits kids up to 5 feet. Plus, it's L.L.Bean, so naturally it's monogrammable!
Strictly for indoors sleepovers and not actual outdoors camping, this Wildkin sleeping bag earned 4.6 stars from nearly 750 reviews on Amazon. It is easy to clean and rolls up for simple storage. Plus, it comes in the kinds of vibrantly colored designs that may actually convince a young'un to settle down for some quiet time.