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Leave your electronics and worries behind to take your kids on a camping adventure. It’s never too early to start camping with your kids. Nature delivers a full-on sensory experience, and a family camping trip is a great way to initiate the younger set to the joys of being outside.
Camping can open their eyes and awaken their senses to their natural environment. Everything brings on new excitement and wonder. It truly is a fun thing to do. Here are some tips for getting started and making camping with kids a good experience for everyone.
14 Tips for Camping with Kids
Practice at home
If camping is completely new to you or your kids, pitch a tent in the backyard or even inside your home. Let them hang out in it and sleep in it so they become comfortable with a new sleeping environment.
Once they are comfortable, you can try overnight camping at a local park. If things don’t turn out as well as you had hoped you aren’t far from home to pack up and try again another time.
Let them help pack
Giving the kids the responsibility of packing their own camping gear can add some excitement to the camping trip. You can always double check their bag before leaving home.
Before leaving you can encourage them to that if they get something out of their bad to always put it back in their bag for safe keeping. Some experts even suggest each child have their own color for easy identification.
Picking your site
Before you start packing, think about where you are going. It is safe to say that camping with kids brings extra considerations that may not come into play when camping with only adults.
Pick a campsite that will have all the amenities your family will need. If you have little ones you might opt for a site that is fairly close to a bathroom. Perhaps the campground has water features (such as a beach or a creek), you may want to choose a site that isn’t right on the water if you are worried your kiddos will run right in.
If you’re hoping to be secluded you might want to look at the volume of sites around you. Seek out a campground with large sites or book two sites next to each other to help prevent the all-night party crowd from keeping your kids up at night.
The more experienced your family campers are, the more adventurous you can be. Give yourself a break the first few times you go camping with your kids.
Give yourself enough daylight to get everything set up and ready to go. You can even get the kids involved with a chore, like gathering, kindling or helping unpack the car.
When you’re cooking dinner, let your kids help you prep or cook the meal even if you feel like you can do it faster without them. Part of the fun of camping with kids is to teach them the basics of camping. This can be anything from pitching a tent, making campfire smores, washing dishes, setting up camp, etc.
What to eat
One of the highlights of camping is sharing meals around the fire. Roasting food over the fire using long roasting sticks doubles the fun! Let your camping meals be easy and fun with minimal cleanup.
Some ideas for meals could be, scrambled eggs kept in a mason jar, pancakes, sandwiches for lunch, hot dogs, skillet meals, or tin foil dinners. Of course, don’t forget to bring a ton of snacks for your kids. Bring some that aren’t messy.
The afternoons can be long when camping with kids. Plan ahead to chase that boredom away with fun games, hiking, printables, scavenger hunts, water play, etc. If you are camping in a more developed campground there should be a bulletin with a list of activities happening. You also might be able to rent bikes or a boat depending on where you are.
Organize your gear
The last thing you’ll want to do is be rummaging through your things looking for gear. You can solve this issue by organizing your gear in totes, boxes, or bags. You can put all the sleeping bags in one tote, kitchen supplies in another, flashlights together, etc. This will make finding your gear that much easier.
Here are some ideas of what to pack (and the categories to use when putting them in your bins!) A more detailed list is below.
- Cooking stuff (pans, silverware, spices)
- Non perishable food (dry goods, cans, cereal etc)
- Hygiene things (soap, body wash, face towels, wipes, toothbrush)
- Clothes (Make sure to include those camp jackets and easily sheddable layers)
- Kid stuff (toys, entertainment)
- Camping specific things (sleeping bags, tent, lanterns)
Before you leave the house try to anticipate anything that might happen or something your kids will need. If your little one sleeps with a specific blanket, bring it. If your child is a light sleeper, bring noise cancelling headphones or something that will help them get a good night sleep.
If this is your first time camping with kids, your children might have several questions on what the sleeping arrangements will look like. Answer the questions so they know what to anticipate and what the night will look like.
Try to stick with your normal bedtime routine as much as possible. This along with answering any of their questions will help with their anxiety about sleeping away from home and in the great outdoors.
Lastly wear them out. This is generally pretty easy since there is so much to explore, but those activities you planned early will get rid of plenty of energy too.
Pack a favorite toy
If you’d like you can have your kids bring a few of their favorite toys with them. It’s likely that your tent is going to only have enough room for sleeping. Instead of letting your kids trample all over your stuff, bring a small extra tent they can keep these toys and play in.
Honestly try to keep these toys to a minimum. There is so much to explore outdoors, give them a chance to dig in the dirt or cut down some branches.
Have a positive attitude
Camping with kids is always an adventure. Things are bound to change. Instead of dreading this fact, embrace it when it comes along. Your family will feed off of your energy. We want these experiences to be filled with joy and fun.
Create a cozy environment
Just because you are camping doesn’t mean you can’t be cozy and comfortable. You don’t need to go crazy with buying camping gear, but there are a few items that will make your experience so much better.
You can consider packing air mattresses and pads, inflatable couches, kid-size camping chairs, or any other kids camping gear. You might also want to consider letting your kids have their own flashlights or glow sticks.
When camping with kids, it is important to talk with them about safety rules around the campsite. You can discuss what is okay and not okay to put in a fire, how to act around fires, the buddy system, the boundaries of the campsite, what to do if they get lost, etc.
It is important to keep them prepared and know what to do in any situation.
Dress for the season
Every season brings new advantages (and challenges) to camping. Make sure you are dressing appropriately for the weather. It might be hot during the day, but evenings could get cool. You can bring extra blankets for cold nights, cozy jammies, or extra layers.
Don’t forget lighting
The latest camping lights have extra functionality, like charging electrical devices or repelling bugs. No matter what type of light you choose, make sure you have multiple sources and extra batteries.
Keeping your campsite lit will also help your children get around when the sun goes down. Hopefully they have their own flashlight, but if not having small lights around the site will help them see at night.
Campsite Gear Checklist
This is a list of basic items that you should have with you at the camping grounds.
- Tent, stakes, poles
- Tent footprint
- Sleeping bags
- Ground pads
- Extra blankets
- Repair kits
- Camping chairs
- Flashlights, headlights or lanterns
- Lantern and lantern fuel
- Waterproofing spray
This list will vary depending on the weather and the resources that are available on-site.
- Weather appropriate daytime clothes
- Swimming gear
- Extra layers
- Jackets, hats and gloves
These gear will depend on the activity you are partaking in.
- Hiking boots
- Water shoes
This list will equip you with all food-related necessities.
- Meals and snacks
- Baby food
- Cooler with ice
- Water bottles
- Food storage containers
- Stove and fuel
- Pots and pans
- Roasting sticks for marshmallows
- Plates, spoons, forks, knives, cups, mugs
- Cutting board
- Cooking utensils
- Biodegradable soap
- Sponge, dishcloth
- Portable coffee making device
- Extra bin for washing dishes
- Table cloth
- Paper towels
- Aluminum foil
- Trash bags
This list includes necessary items for personal hygiene.
- Baby wipes
- Toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss
- Hand sanitizer
- Soap and shampoo
- Toilet paper
- Moisturizing lotion
- Hair brush
- Plastic washbasin
- Washcloth and towel
- Map and compass
- First-aid kit
- Prescription medication
- Insect repellant
- Pet supplies and food
- Fire extinguisher
- Safety whistle
- Fishing equipment
Camping with an infant
This is an infant-specific list that is only applicable for infants and toddlers.
- Portable crib
- Baby monitor
- Baby fence
- Warm blankets
- Child reusable water bottle
- Snack containers
- Diapers and baby wipes
- Diaper disposal bags
- Diaper rash cream
- Baby backpack carrier
- Breast pump (if need be)
- Child sized sleeping bag
Camping in warm weather/summer
- Beach towels
- Lightweight clothing
- Tarp or canopy
- Lightweight sleeping pad
- Extra water
Camping in cold weather/winter
- Long-sleeved clothing
- Wind-proof coats
- Winter gloves
- Wool cap or synthetic ski cap
- Thermal underwear
- Throw-away hand warmers
- Extra socks
- Sleeping bags and extra blankets
- Insulated pad
- Energy snacks
Camping in the rain
- Rain coats/ jackets / ponchos
- Rain boots
- Rain pants and gaiters
- Clothing lines
Fun & games
- Glow sticks
- Travel sized board games
- Coloring books & crayons
- Scavenger hunt list
- Soccer ball
- Sand toys
- Hacky sack
- Guitar and song book
How to Build a Campfire with Kids
A roaring campfire is half the fun of camping—that is if you can get the darn thing lit. (Pro tip: Buy wood at the campsite. Many don’t allow you to bring from outside their forest.) Follow the advice of Tom Kimmet of REI for fire-building success:
- Bring some newspaper for kindling, and pack more than one source of fire, like matches and a lighter (in case one fails you). Fire-starters such as nontoxic Lightning Nuggets can also help start your blaze.
- Make a square using four large pieces of dry wood. Then put a pile of crumpled newspaper in the middle.
- Create a tepee shape of smaller wood pieces (#2-pencil size) inside the square of logs, directly on top of and around the newspaper kindling.
- Crosshatch mid-size pieces through the tepee in a #-shape.
- Light two or three sides of the bottom edge of the crushed paper to start.
- Keep adding to the # as needed to keep the fire going.
- Before you go to sleep, drown your fire with a 5-gallon bucket of water.
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