Showing results for 
Show  only  | Search instead for 
Did you mean: 
Welcome REI Co-op Members!
We're glad you're here. If you can't access the Co-op Members section of the community,
click here for instructions on how to join the section that's just for you.

UpFamily Car Camping: Toddler Containment and Tent/Shelter Purchase

I have an 18 month old toddler, another baby on the way, and plans for a third baby to round out the clan. Our existing Alps 3 person tent isn't going to cut it much longer for family car camping. I'd like to buy something that we can stand in and will last, so I've settled on a Nemo Wagontop, but I'm unsure of which tent size and whether I need an additional shelter to act as a toddler play pen. My toddler will sleep in a pack & play, but otherwise hates to be isolated in that small space away from the adults. He has started to figure out zippers.
Do you see the need for an additional play pen structure outside of the tent or should I fill that need with a multiroom Wagontop 6p or 8p instead? If you recommend a separate toddler play pen, I'd rather buy something that adults would fit in comfortably like a screened canopy rather than a baby-sized pen for 2 reasons: 1. Toddler is okay with being contained if we are there. 2. Canopy would be useful after the toddler phase is over.
Basically it comes down to 1 massive tent vs. multiple smaller tents/shelters for a future family of 5.

We live in Atlanta and mostly camp in the north Georgia mountains if that helps.

3 Replies

@Armsdale Thanks for reaching out!

Congrats on your growing family! I have two not-so-little-anymore ones of my own (7 and 4). We have spent a lot of time camping across Alaska and we have some insight into what has worked for our family. In terms of livability space, we have found that our family needs a tent that is +2 for our family. So we use a 6 person tent for our 4 person family and that allows us to sleep comfortably and sill have room for some gear in duffels and, of course, some toys for the kids. We also have a dog so that factors into the equation as well.

When our kids were little, we used an REI Co-op Screenhouse shelter. It has visibility in all directions, via mesh on all four walls, and is floorless so you can move it over a picnic table if you want. We would lay a mat down and let our little one play in there (on the mat if he wanted, but more often then not he was content to explore the grass and dirt). It worked (and still does) for our family when we're camping. It also provides protection from bugs, which is a definite perk here in Alaska. You can also purchase the REI Co-op Screen House Rainfly for some additional protection.

One consideration: if your little one has a penchant for opening zippers this shelter may be pretty easy for them to get out of. However, it is also big enough for two camp chairs, a side table, and still has plenty of room for a child to play in. Over the years we have spent camping with our kids, we have found it to be one of our pieces of gear that makes every trip with us. 

Hopefully this helps!


At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

@Armsdale We've only gone camping with ours once so far when she was about... 9 months? I think. So I can't comment too much on play areas outside the tent since she wasn't terribly mobile yet, but I can 100% recommend the Base Camp 6 , super spacious even with the pack & play, my 5'11" wife can stand up in it. It's certainly heavy and won't be going backpacking with it, but for car camping its perfect.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

@Armsdale second vote for the REI Screenhouse, as @REI-JohnJ suggested! We've had ours for years and found it extra helpful when our kiddo was young!

An alternate tent suggestion would be the REI Kingdom tent (6 or 8). This tent is great for a number of reasons, but one specific feature your family might appreciate is the center divider wall that allows you to essentially divide the tent in half!

Have fun camping with those little ones! I found time always went so fast because our kiddo could be occupied for hours with dirt, sticks, grass, rocks...

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.