People say that you cannot go camping with small kids. That it will be a nightmare. It’s dangerous. No one will sleep. Yes, I won’t lie, camping with kids is 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 and you will be well on the way to a successful camping with kids experience.
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 small kids, go car camping. 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 path for backcountry camping.
One of the biggest hassles of camping 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 kits, garbage bags, etc), one for cooking and kitchen supplies and one for entertainment. Check out Outdoor Families Magazine for a great post outlining what to include in your car camping storage bins. The only addition I would make is tape. Travel without duct tape is asking for trouble! For a detailed printable packing list, check out our post Family Camping Packing Checklist.
Go with Friends
Everything is better with friends and camping is no exception. Go with friends if you can. At least one other family helps reduce the burden on your family for cooking and child care, not to mention the kids will entertain themselves for longer if they have a little gang. 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.
Another major obstacle for many families while camping are meals. 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, bagels and cereal. If you go with friends, organize a potluck theme or assign meals to each family so it is not too overwhelming. Also think about how to reuse leftovers or make simple snacks into lunch.
Toys & Entertainment
As much as you want the kids to just enjoy the great outdoors, they will get bored and need other things to entertain them. Pack a few items to help ease boredom when it sets in. 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, 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. Also pack glow sticks, projection flashlights and kid size lanterns for after dark fun.
Glamp It Up
A benefit of car camping 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. 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.
Camping with kids will always mean a little more 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!