THE BLOG
08/03/2013 10:52 pm ET Updated Oct 02, 2013

Family Under the Stars

I woke up one night out of a deep sleep worrying that my kids had never been camping. Our children, Topanga and Jaco, are 7 and 9! I grew up camping with my parents and some of my fondest memories of childhood are those times spent under the stars with my family.

I immediately started planning our first camping trip. I chose Vermont for its beauty and because we can get to it in under 3 hours. When embarking on a new experience with the kids, I try not to make the ride too long!

It is important to do a little research when looking for a place to camp and state parks are a great place to start. I found the most gorgeous campground, Coolidge State Park in Plymouth, Vermont.

When we arrived at Coolidge and got our tent set up I was instantly reminded of how much I love the woods. The fresh air is so clean and the night time noises are both comforting and magnificent. We spent three days on our first camping adventure.

In order to camp comfortably, you do need to have the proper gear. A little investment initially, will go a long way toward camping in comfort for years. After a few trips, the gear will have paid for itself. Once you've purchased some basic equipment, camping is relatively inexpensive and you can secure a beautiful campsite for as little as $20 a night.

Camping is SO much different than it was when I was little. The stars and the moon are the same but the equipment has evolved tremendously. The gear made sleeping just as comfortable as in my bed at home!

After lots of research, here are my picks for the best in camping gear. These recommendations are for car camping in neutral weather and not for extreme cold conditions:

REI Half Dome 4 Tent - This not huge, but spacious enough tent was perfect for our family of four. We like to be comfortable and close.

Kelty Super Nova Double Sleeping Bag - I LOVED how this double sized bag allowed my husband and I to snuggle and not have to be separate.

Kelty Big Dipper Youth Sleeping Bag - Our kids slept like babies in these great sleeping bags.

Kelty Lowdown Chair - As its name clearly states, this chair is low to the ground and allows you to cozy up to the fire. It is durable and even has an attached bottle opener.

When tent camping, there is one piece of equipment that is a MUST above all others: a sleeping bag pad. The pads available today are so amazing. They self-inflate! This means no more pumps with batteries and time spent wrestling both the pump attachments and the pad nozzle, you simply open them up and they fill on their own. They are also not like the old style and uncomfortable air-filled mattresses; they are more like a real bed mattress.

Exped Mega Mat 10 - This is the ULTRA of pads. It is extremely comfortable. I highly recommend it and felt like I was sleeping in my bed at home.

REI Camp Bed Pad - This is another great pad. It had similar comfort at a lower price. These were perfect for our young kids.

Snow Peak Lantern - This lantern is small and really cool looking but also puts out an amazing amount of light. There is even a candle mode where you can turn down the brightness if you like.

Primus Stove -The first stove on Mount Everest was, in fact, a Primus stove. We cooked everything on this stove from steel cut oatmeal to veggie kabobs.


Kelty Collapsible Cooler
- This collapsible cooler keeps food really cold without all the bulk. Filled to the brim with ice and our Whole Foods perishables purchased on our way to Vermont, everything stayed cold and, when empty, we could fold it up and save on space!

REI French Press Coffee Pot - Everyone loves their coffee in the morning especially on a crisp, cool morning in the middle of the woods. This makes some of the best coffee you will ever have. All you do is fill the pot with almost boiling water and press down. This nicely sized pot also makes enough for everyone!

In addition to all this great gear, don't forget to bring:

Quarters for the shower
Flip flops or waterproof shoes (also for the shower)
Wipes (since you may not be near running water)
Clothesline for hanging wet clothes and towels

On this trip, my family bonded as we hiked, swam underneath a waterfall, went tubing, made s'mores and talked about life. We listened for coyotes, spotted a baby bear, walked in the rain and told scary ghost stories. Camping will definitely become a family tradition, especially with the proper gear to keep comfortable under the stars.

Check out Sandy's new book Peace Salad. You can also keep up with Sandy by becoming a fan of Peaceful Daily or signing up for her daily living tips.