People say that you cannot go camping with kids. That it will be a nightmare. It’s dangerous. No one will sleep. Yes, I won’t lie, camping with kids is a lot of work and more challenging than without children, but if you plan accordingly, take your time and enjoy the wonder through your child’s eyes you will have a wonderful time. And even if you don’t, they will! Follow these tips for your next camping trip and you will be well on the way to a successful camping with kids experience.
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Camping with Kids: 7 Fantastic Tips for a Successful Trip
One of our very first camping trips with young kids was with my son’s preschool class. It was 20 something families most of whom had never even been camping. I hadn’t camped since I was a kid myself, but I was ready to start camping again and saw this as a great way to get back out there. As you can guess, we learned a lot along the way. Now after many years of camping with my son in state parks and national parks and everywhere in between, we have nailed the essentials on what makes a successful trip camping with kids. Trust me, these are all tried and tested through blood, sweat and tears. Oh and of course, so much fun too!
Rent or Borrow Your Gear
If you are looking to go camping for the first time and not sure if you will like it, we highly recommend that you rent or borrow your camping gear for the first time. This not only saves you money, but also helps you really test out what you will need and like going forward. At this point, we have several extra tents as we have gone through this process of testing out our camping supplies trying to figure out what was best for our family. Obviously things evolve with older kids or new babies that come on the scene.
Plan to test out a few sleeping bag options, sleep mats and more. There is no right sleeping bag, so get what works for you and the type of camping you plan to do. Regardless, considering getting a warm sleeping bag and/or bringing extra blankets. This post with our top 40 car camping essentials outlines everything we take camping with us now including our tent, our sleeping mats, cooking supplies and more. You can use it as a camping checklist of sorts.
Go Car Camping at a Local Park
For your first camping experience (and maybe ALL of your camping with kids trips) it’s a good idea plan a close car camping trip. Maybe this is the type of camping you have always done, or perhaps you are the type that prefers to hike into the woods and camp in seclusion. But, for your first outing with little kids, we highly recommend that you go car camping in close proximity to your home. You want to make it as easy as possible to set up camp, get things from your vehicle, store things, etc.
Car camping sites also typically have toilets and running water which is pretty great to have with kids. Once you have mastered car camping, and you and your kids are more confident (and able to carry more supplies), venture further off the local trails for backcountry camping.
If you are in California we have an amazing list of glamping locations as well as traditional camping spots in Southern California to get you started. When you are ready, we also have you covered on some fantastic California backpack camping spots.
Get Yourself Organized
One of the biggest hassles of a family camping trip is loading in and loading out. Organize yourself in advance and this will be much easier. For car camping, the easiest way to organize yourself is by using storage containers to hold your necessary supplies. One for essentials (flashlights, lighters, tape, first aid kit, garbage bags, baby wipes, etc), one for cooking and kitchen supplies and one for entertainment.
For a detailed printable packing list, check out our post Family Camping Packing Checklist. That post gives you a great checklist, but here we show you exactly what we take with us on each and every campount including things you should consider bringing on your next campout. Depending on where you are going, don’t forget the insect repellent and even cream for poison ivy.
The picture above is how my car looked on our very first camping trip with kids. After that one, I learned quickly how useful it is to have storage bins with all your necessary supplies. After each camping trip, I wash everything and repack the boxes so they are ready to go for our next outing. My two bins include kitchen essentials in one and everything else in the other.
Go with Friends
Everything’s better with friends and camping is no exception. The best ways to go camping with kids is to join in with other families. At least one other family helps reduce the burden on your whole family for cooking and child care, not to mention the kids will entertain themselves for longer if they have a little gang.
Camping with friends is a great opportunity to bond admist beautiful scenery, while allowing younger kids to have some autonomous time as well. While out camping, you can explore nearby trails, check into the local visitor center and try out a different way of spending time together.
That said, part of the fun of camping is that you will meet other children while car camping, so never fear if you can’t recruit anyone else to go on this adventure with you. Trust me kids love being around other kids while exploring the great outdoors and will find ways to have loads of fun regardless.
Plan Meals in Advance
Another major obstacle for many families while camping with kids is figuring out the camping food. Planning meals in advance helps cut down on this stress. Organize your meals so that you do not always have to cook over a fire or a stove. Bring simple items for breakfast and lunch; think simple fixings for sandwiches, hot dogs, bagels and cereal to cut down on washing dishes too.
After many years of camping going the easy route, we have finally found a few delicious, easy camping meals that are crowd pleasers, but simple to make too!
INSIDERS TIP: When packing your cooler, put the items you will need last at the bottom and the things you need first at the top. If you can, consider taking two coolers – one for drinks and quick access snacks and one for your mail meals. Also freeze water bottles that can be used as ice to keep the cooler cool, but also double as drinks on your last day.
If you go with friends, a great option is to organize a potluck theme or assign meals to each family so it is not too overwhelming, especially for new campers. Also think about how to reuse leftovers or make simple snacks into lunch. Some of our favorite camping meals include: dutch oven nachos, salmon in foil packets, tortellini with a side of shrimp and veggies and of course s’mores!
Toys & Entertainment
As much as you want the kids to just enjoy the great outdoors, sometimes they will get bored and need other things to entertain them. Pack a few kid friendly items to help ease boredom when it sets in at the camping area. Think of items to help them connect with nature such as a nature scavenger hunt, bug catchers, magnifying glass and binoculars. Outdoor energy releasers like bubbles, water guns, kites, balls and scooters/bikes are great to get the wild energy out.
Don’t forget to include art supplies in your entertainment box for when everyone needs some down time as these are great camping activities. We love to paint rocks, collect sticks to make wind chimes and more. Also pack glow sticks, projection flashlights and kid size lanterns for after dark fun.
Pro tips: Have a backup plan for your outdoor experience in case of rain or extreme heat. We love board games at night or during the heat of the day.
You can find out all of our favorites on our family packing list post!
Glamp It Up When Camping with Kids
A benefit of family camping trip in the car is that you can load more into your car than you would normally carry on your back. Add some sparkle to your night by hanging up solar powered fairy lights. These say camping fun more than anything we have seen. Don’t forget hands-free lighting options like headlamps or solar lanterns for your tent.
In the name of comfort and a better night’s sleep, pack the air mattress, your pillow from home and a duvet for snuggling under. Having your own bedding helps make you feel more at home, even in the wild. Love your coffee? Pack a kettle and a french press with your gourmet grounds for a perfect wake up call.
Go for it, Try out Camping with Younger Children!
Camping with kid will always mean a little more hard work, but the rewards are even better. Creating family memories and a love of the outdoors will be cherished for a lifetime. The beauty, hiking, roasting marshmallows over the campfire and telling ghost stories will be worth a little less sleep and smokey clothes! We have always had such a great time camping with young children no matter how little sleep we get and how dirty our kids are.
When heading out for your first time camping, look plan well in advance, make backup plans, set ground rules for your child’s behavior or sleep and plan on creating a great experience for the entire family.
Have you tried camping with kids yet? Let us know what you think! Our favorite camping trips are in national parks – what are yours?
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