Five Tips For Camping With Kids

Those of us who grew up camping have rosy memories of running barefoot through pebbled streams, sleeping in tents beneath a canopy of stars and roasting marshmallows by moonlight.  Some of the best summer memories of childhood were made beneath giant trees, on a bed of pine needles eating hot dogs and hobo dinners, singing around campfires and talking in giggly whispers to our tent mates until the wee hours.

Why wouldn’t we want to create those memories for the next generation? Because twenty years later we realize what went into those camping trips on the “grown up” end and the mountain of details, packing and potential for disaster looming just behind the next rain cloud.  So what’s a parent to do?  Forego the rosy camping memories in favor of the more predictable Comfort Inn?  Of course not.  Consider the following as you prepare for the family camping trip of a lifetime and you’re sure to recreate the dream for the next generation… just don’t forget to pray against the rain.

Inspired for an around the world trip? Let us help with a FREE BootsnAll Account. Sign Up

1.  Location, location, location

tent

If there is one thing that will make or break your camping trip with kids, it’s where you choose to go.  A five day hike into Yosemite to wilderness camp, packing it all in and leaving no trace might be an unforgettable high with your adventure seasoned teens, but it could quickly turn into a nightmare with any but the most intrepid of the younger set.

Rule number one of camping with kids:  Check your expectations at the door, and consider what would be fun for them. Start small: like in the back yard.  Pop a tent on the lawn and roast a marshmallow over the grill.  Move on to local campgrounds with plenty of amenities (pools, playgrounds and candy bar bingo are always big hits with the under twelve crowd).  “Camping” does not have to be synonymous with “deprivation.”  Many campgrounds have entertainment profiles to rival a four star resort.  Do your homework, consider your audience, and choose your location accordingly.

Last but not least, don’t be afraid to go home.  Sure, our best camping stories involve temperatures so cold there was ice in the tent, water so deep our tent felt like a water bed, wolves howling and green snakes… oh, and being rear ended on the way to the laundromat, but that doesn’t mean it was fun! In retrospect, we should have bagged the whole trip and come home, or at least checked into that Comfort Inn.

>> Find the best family campgrounds and the best cities near National Parks

2.  Gear

hilleberg

The biggest deterrent for most parents to camping with kids, especially little ones, is the copious amount of gear that is assumed to be needed to make the experience a success.  Yes, kids are a gear heavy proposition, whether you stay home or go camping, but it needn’t be as bad as you imagine.  More than a little of the charm associated with camping is simplifying life, doing without and making it up as you go along.  Apply the same rule for your weekend camping trip that you would a ‘round the world backpacking trip:  less is more.

The basics:  a tent, a sleeping bag & maybe a therma-rest mat; that’s all you really need.  For most families, a weekend warrior tent from your local adventure store will more than fit the bill.  Contrary to popular marketing campaigns, your kids do not each need a color coordinated flash light and firefly catching box, a “camp pillow,” or their own, character-themed tent.  The only piece of gear I wouldn’t leave home without if camping with a toddler:  a solid hiking backpack that can double as a stand alone containment unit (high chair).  Beyond that, it’s fun to do without… you’re camping, remember?  Use a mason jar to hold your fireflies.

>> Check out ten gear items you need for any camping trip

3.  Food

marshmallows

Some kids are notoriously difficult to feed, even with all the amenities in a modern kitchen and the best of pre-processed, boxed “kid food.”  Camping is a wonderful opportunity to encourage that sense of adventure and branch out a little in the nutritional department.  What kid doesn’t like packaging up a little piece of hamburger and few slices of potatoes and carrots in tin foil and poking it down into the coals of a campfire to cook?  Is there anything that says “childhood camping trip” like Jiffy Pop burned slightly over a campfire?

Remember your goal: to make the kids fall in love with camping and have fun!  Now is not the time to insist on a balanced diet, you can bat nutritional clean up when you get home.  Break out the hotdogs and roasting sticks, gorge yourselves on marshmallows and teach the fine art of creating that perfect brown shell.  Make use of that picnic table and keep a supply of “drive by” food on deck for kids to snag on the run between swimming and bug catching.  Don’t forget to pack a few “comfort foods,” flavors that will be very familiar and comforting to a child who is beginning to feel a little out of his element… just in case.

4.  Entertainment

tug

So you’ve arrived at the campsite, you’ve set up the tent, unpacked the car, and now the kids are standing around looking at you as if to ask,  ”What do we do now?”  And you’re staring back.  The answer: “Anything you want!  We’re camping!”  Go swimming, rent boats, take a hike, build fairy houses out of sticks and pine cones, ride bikes, throw horse shoes, play badminton, do anything, do everything. The only rule is to have fun!

Of course, it’s always good to have a few “secret weapons” in your back pocket for when enthusiasm is waning and you sense imminent mutiny.  A treasure hunt tops the list of old standbys.  Create a list of 25 items to be gathered (by teams if possible) and provide a prize to the winners.  Make sure a few of the items will be hard to find in your location of choice.  Hide away a new card game to break out in the unlikely event of rain or boredom, but make it a good one that everyone can play.

Third, pack a book.  Not a boring book – and not a schoolish book.  A real, living, breathing adventure book that will blow their socks off,  such as  Eragon, The Princess Bride, or Treasure Island (yes, those are actually books as well as movies and the books are far better).  Read around the campfire, and in the darkness in your tent… and to chase away the rain, should it find you.  Leave the Gameboys at home.

5.  The Hallelujahs!

Judah camping

Perhaps the most important thing to pack when camping with kids is your sense of humor.  By day three somebody is going to hit the wall and throw a temper tantrum, the baby might cry all night, the three year old will probably pee the bed, and who knows, you might even have four pukers in one tent at two a.m.; it’s happened to us.  There’s no way to “make it all better” at those moments, but there are a few items in my “Mama kit” that are known to come in very handy at the worst moments.  I call these the Hallelujahs, not to be confused with the Hail Marys which are what you say just before you need a Hallelujah. Why the Hallelujahs?  Because they are an answer to prayer and will make you rejoice :

  • Anti-bacterial wipes.  We’ve used these for everything from disinfecting the peels of questionable fruits and veggies in a pinch in third world countries, to cleaning up vomit, to mopping the floors of our tents. Oh yes, and they can be used as intended to wipe snail slimed hands before handing over a piece of watermelon.
  • Ziploc Bags: Snack containers, ice packs, the place to pack your emergency pair of dry socks, “waterproofing” for your cell phone on a rainy afternoon, diaper blow out containment and what I had the kids fill with toys to pack for the trip:  one ziploc bag, that’s all you get.
  • Coke.  We discovered this one, quite by accident, camped outside of Vienna, Austria.  We were sitting on our tarp, hot, tired, demoralized on several levels, four months into a year long camping adventure, sipping cold Cokes, the nectar of life, the blood running through the veins of most Americans, at least.  He summed it up perfectly for us, our friend Pirate Scott, as he cheerfully tramped by to his tent.  ”Coke is good for morale!  Cheers!”  And so it is.  Maybe it’s not Coke for your family, but find out what it is, and pack it.  Hallelujah.

>> Read why travelers should never leave home without duct tape

Get ready for more outdoor fun with these other articles on camping and the great outdoors:

Photos by: 1 – katstan, 4 – JPhilipson, 2 – Tony Miller and may not be used without permission , all others by Bryan Powers and may not be used without permission

Featured


Leave a Comment

Older comments on Five Tips For Camping With Kids

JR_TheDriftersBlog
02 August 2010

I couldn’t agree more on a lot of this! To be honest I never really thought about your number one tip, the importance of a kid friendly LOCATION. I especially loved the advice of starting off small in your backyard. Why not?

Love it Jenn! Camping with kids is so much fun.

LilaBear
25 October 2010

I first went camping when I was four months old. My mum was so concentrated on not forgetting any of my stuff she forgot to pack the bag with her own clothes in (fortunately it was just for a long weekend!) It was also extremely hot and I got heatstroke. It didn’t put my parents, seasoned campers, off taking their kids camping. Much of our camping has been out in the middle of nowhere, with no running water and no toilets. We would dig our own toilet and had to take all our water with us. We’ve been camping like that ever since I was about ten and my youngest sister was three, and thirteen years later now I’m married we still go camping like that with my family! We created our own entertainment. We would take games and stuff but we spent most of our time off scrambling over rocks, up hills, building ‘cubbies’. The only rule was that we were within yelling distance of the campsite. We sure wouldn’t stand around saying “what do we do now” because we knew if we asked that we’d get given a job to do! ;)

Of course there were many times that we camped in National Parks where we did have amenities, or in commercial campsites, but our best memories came from camping out bush. Good times.

We never did camping touring holidays though. Camping was for going to one destination and staying there for seven days. If we were going on a touring holiday we took the caravan because, as my dad said, there was no way we’d be putting up and pulling down two or three tents whenever we stopped, especially if we just wanted to stay there for one night and stopped for the night at 8pm in the dark. A waste of time that could be spent driving to our next destination! The caravan was much faster to set up and pack up :)

WT
03 March 2011

Great tips Jen! I loved camping as a kid and love it as a mom!!

We’ve been on an open-ended non-stop world tour as a family for the last 5 years ( 39 countries on 5 continents on 23 dollars a day so far) and although we use every mode of transportation for cargo ships to camels and every mode of lodging from couch surfing to 5 star hotels …we have really loved camping all over Europe in our RV!

The RV makes it sooo much easier than a tent as we basically just have to park and enjoy. LOVE having nature as our living room and because we travel very slowly, it’s a very green and cheap option.

We’re in Asia for the winter now, but our RV is stored in Spain so it makes an ideal and cheap vehicle/home/storage unit for traveling Europe in the summer…where we are headed next after India. ;)

Have you seen the BIG tents that Dutch families love to camp with all over Europe with just a car?

http://www.soultravelers3.com/2010/06/big-tent-camping-in-europe-glamping-european-style-frugal-minimalist-luxury-backpacking-flashpacking.html