I used to go camping with my parents while growing up. But my wife had no such camping experience. We did so much camping together when we had no kids. When my daughter was about three-year-old, I had proposed to take our daughter camping. She got terrified of my idea of camping with our young kid. She was so stressed and overwhelmed with my plan that she declined it forthwith.
I managed to convince her that camping with our kid would be fun, and she didn’t need to be so anxious. I assured her that it’s going to be simpler than she thought.
She accepted after only she came back home that she had a wonderful time and how much fun our daughter had in the wilderness. Now she is the one who pushes me for camping with our kids at least 3-4 times every year.
I am going to share my experience of camping with kids in the following article to have a great time in the wilderness.
Table of Contents
Planning & Preparation
Kids are born curious, and their questions never end. They are imaginative by nature and would flood you with multiple queries. The meaning of camping to them may not be the same as you have.
Call your kids and take out a map to announce that you have planned to go camping with them. It’s imperative to get your kids involved in the planning and preparation of the trip. Their involvement will make them even more excited and absorbed. Discuss with them the location you have in your mind. Finally, picking up a particular area may be a joint decision for your family.
You may ask them to make a list of food or snacks they want to eat and include a few favorite foods from each one’s list. They should have a say on the list of activities during camping.
As soon as you reach the campsite, take a round of the site with your kids. Then brief them about how far they can go and their limit of movement. It’s essential before they start roaming around the camp for their safety and security.
You may get disappointed seeing the kids running around in the open space or fighting among themselves while you’re struggling to set up the tent. You can give the grown-up kids basic training about how to set up a tent or how to build a campfire at the backyard of your home before you set out for the trip so that they can help you in these works. Younger ones can collect the tinder/kindling, if permitted and fetch the water from the nearby pump to fill the water bottles.
Check the weather forecast before you leave for the trip. Your family may find it challenging to handle the bad weather like heavy rain or scorching heat. Kids may not be able to sleep in such weather. After any such bad experience, they may decline to go camping with you in the future.
My above advice on the weather shouldn’t be a pretext for you to postpone or call off your plan. You may not ever have perfect weather. So, check the forecast and listen to your intuition.
You may consider inviting the family of your friends to join you on the trip you have planned. It’ll be even more helpful if they have some camping experiences already. Everyone in the family will have a company and can share happiness and face the troubles together, if anything comes by, during camping.
Pick Your Perfect Campsite
Camping with kids means going to breathtaking parks like the Grand Canyon, Zion, or Yosemite for many parents. I have no doubts that those parks are mind-blowing. However, what we don’t realize is that our kids may be as delighted in the parks located in our area or state. It’s highly likely that they may enjoy more in the local parks as they spend less time traveling and more time to play.
You may not be aware that your country, city, or state has quite a few great campgrounds. These are perfect for family camping. You can easily make the reservation as many people don’t know about these beautiful local parks like you. You may get the information about these parks by visiting their website or giving a personal visit.
You’ll be surprised to find out that some of these state parks have great locations. Many of these parks are located nearby to rivers or lakes. It gives more options for entertainment to your family. Some of them also have amenities like ranger programs, music and rain dance, etc.
People tend to be more cautious when it comes to camping with kids. You want to avoid a campsite located very close to the water as you would be concerned about your kids running into the water. You may also like to have a bathroom nearby as your kids may not be comfortable doing the potty in the open. Some parents book two sites side by side so that their kids don’t get disturbed by the fellow campers doing the party at night.
If you’re anxious about your camping trip being cut short due to things getting out of hand, explore a park near home or start small, with a quick one-night stay.
Don’t go camping with your kids in the wilderness, if you aren’t feeling confident about it. As mentioned above, start with a single night or two in your local park. You may even do your first camping with kids in one of the camping resorts near your house. Many of these camping resorts offer some fantastic entertainment options for children like swimming pools, kids’ movies, children’s play area, arts & crafts, etc.
Avoid booking the campsite that would take more than 3 hours to reach. You shouldn’t start your holiday being worn out and late in the night. Kids take time to adapt to a new environment. If you have decided to travel a long distance, you should take a break midway. Stay in a motel so that you can have food, and your kids get some break to play.
You may visit the website of KOA Kampgrounds for information on campsites suitable for camping with kids.
I have listed a few parks here for you to consider for your next camping with your family –
Practice Before Trip
Consider doing some practice runs before the trip. Set up a tent in the backyard of your house along with your kids. You can even do the same in your home or apartment. They will start learning how to set up the tent. Allow them to spend some time and sleep in a tent. It would help the kids feel the new surroundings and imagine what the actual camping is going to be like.
You can even plan a short trip to your neighborhood park over the weekend before taking your family to a big campsite. You may write down what mistakes you have done and how to rectify next time, anything that you forgot to carry, or you can improve upon, and so on.
Pack The Right Gear
As mentioned earlier, you must get your kids involved in each stage of the trip as much as possible. Packing of the stuff shouldn’t be an exception. Encourage them to give their inputs. They’ll admire this gesture of yours, and you can use it as an occasion to train them about the basics of packing for camping. Explain to them what they should and shouldn’t carry along with them to the camp.
Brief them about the weather they are likely to have at the campsite to help them choose the right kind of clothes. If your kids are grown-up, ask them to prepare their list and pack their own stuff. Make sure that you cross-check everything before you leave.
If you don’t want to spend much money buying the camping gear for your kids, you may consider renting the same from one of the reputed stores. It makes sense for many people from a financial point of view. Moreover, it allows the testing of different kinds of gears before you finally buy them.
You can make use of the checklist we have prepared to start with the packing process here.
Bin or Cardboard Boxes
It’s crucial to organize your camping stuff by following a few backpacking principles before starting your trip. It would help you locate your things effortlessly whenever you need them at the campsite. You should tag each item with the name for identification. It’s the very first move towards a pleasant camping experience.
You can use transparent plastic bins or cardboard boxes for packing. Prepare a list of categories for your stuff like Food, Toys, Kitchen, Bathroom, Clothes, Tent, Sleeping Bags, Entertainment, First Aid, etc. Items for each category will go in a separate bin or box. For instance, pack toys and clothes in two different bins. You shouldn’t fumble around in the bin bags or boxes at the campsite.
As stated before, tagging the items with their name will make your life very easy, not only during the trip but also after returning home. Mark each bin with the name of the item category. It’s going to help you locate a particular item without difficulty and put it back in the same bin so that you don’t have to arrange it again at home. It would save a lot of your time.
Start with picking up a tent spacious enough to accommodate your family. If you have grown-up children, you may consider bringing individual tents – one for children and another for adults. Your privacy-hankering teenager would love to have a separate tent or at least a separate screened room for themselves. Kids love it when their parents aren’t around, especially when they’re playing and having fun. They’ll feel a sense of liberty in having a separate sleeping section. It’ll be even more fun if their friends or the kids from your friend’s family join them.
It’s a great idea to bring an extra small tent for your kids to use as a play space. It helps you keep the sleeping area tidy. Most importantly, your kids will love the space allocated for them to play and have fun. It can also be of great help in the rainy season.
The footprint of the tent shields you from the moisture of the ground. It makes your stay inside the tent even more comfortable by covering the ground. So, you may want to buy a footprint if your tent doesn’t have one.
Your kids may get frightened under the open sky in the wilderness. It’ll take a few campings before they start enjoying the starlit sky in the night. For the time being, you have to bring the sleeping gear to the campsite.
You want every member of your family to be cozy and relaxed in their sleeping gear. The sleeping bag is even more essential for your kids to stay warm. You should check the weather forecast and see if the nighttime temperature of the campground matches or is close to the temperature mentioned on the sleeping bags.
You would find that some kids are content with sleeping bags only, but few may demand an air mattress or cots. Arrange sleeping items accordingly if you can.
It may be tough to find a quick and easy fix to keep your young babies warm at night. You may want to try a sleeping bag made exclusively for babies to regulate body temperature through the night.
In some places, you would find that nights are unexpectedly chilly even though it’s hot during the day time. You should bring a few extra blankets to handle such weather.
Your little ones may insist on packing their favorite blanket or pillow. You can allow them to do so. There’s nothing wrong with carrying pillows or your favorite blanket from home.
You don’t have to completely ignore your daily routine, but you must try to be a little bit flexible with bedtimes. You would find it hard to make your kids sleep in time. They would love it if you allow them to stay awake for more time.
If your small kids are used to the bedtime stories, you must continue with that even when you are camping. Maintain the sleeping time of your babies as close as possible. You can carry the white noise machine if you use it back home. You can read more about how to camp with a baby.
Food & Beverage
It’s always been fascinating to cook over a campfire. Cooking food at the end of the long roasting sticks over the campfire is like icing on the cake. It may not be the same when you’re camping with your kids. You want to cook something fast and straightforward on the campsite when kids are around.
Get your kids involved in the menu planning. It would make them ecstatic about the trip. Ask them to write down the foods and snacks they would like to have. You want to prepare the same lists for adults. Then make a comprehensive list and try to do the mise-en-place as much as possible before leaving. Mise-en-place can be marination of meats, chopping the vegetables, getting the pancake batter ready and keeping in a container, and so on.
As soon as you conclude the menu planning, write down the ingredients or other materials like spices, tools, seasoning, flavor, utensils, etc. If you’re planning to roast the hot dogs, you must not forget to pack the ingredients like ketchup, mustard, buns along with skewers. Don’t forget to carry an opener if you have planned to store the foods in cans.
You should spend some money on containers made for camping. It could be salt & pepper shakers made of plastic. The locking lids of these unique shakers don’t allow it to spill.
Try to include the snacks listed by your kids as much as possible. Just remember that these snacks should be as healthy as possible. I always include snacks like bananas, apples, oranges, cucumber, carrots, raisins, cheese sticks, etc. My kids love trail mix, which many people consider as one of the simple camping foods.
Cooking anything on long sticks is ideal in the wood as your kids can enjoy it while keeping a safe distance. Hot dogs have always been a favorite camping meal, but you can give a twist to it by mixing it up with pepper and Italian sausages.
Kids will love French toast. You may try piggy burgers with bacon, peaches, and basil. You can make mushroom kebabs or grill the fruits like peaches, plums, or even pineapple. You may like to cover the veggies like sweet potatoes, beans, carrots, tomatoes, etc. with foil and cook directly on the bed of coal. No camping is complete without s’mores.
Kids love surprises. Pack some sweet and dessert without letting your kids know about it to give them the surprise.
Make sure that you and your kids stay hydrated. It’s highly likely that your campsite will have the water resources but never take a chance when camping with the kids. So, you must pack enough drinking water. You should also pack different canned juices, sports drinks as kids are likely to refuse to drink plain water after some time.
It’s a good idea to pack some juice powder that you can use to prepare lemonade, juice, iced tea, etc. It doesn’t take much space in your bag and is very easy to use. Mix it with the water, and it’s ready.
- Use a small container with a lid to protect the matches from moisture.
- Fill 2/3rd of the jugs with water and keep in the freeze to form the ice. You can use the ice in the cooler. It can also be used as drinking water when it gets melted.
- Bring a few packets of chips like Fritos or Doritos. These chips work great as fire starters. You can use these along with your kindling to light the fire. It’s more effective than the usual methods we use.
You want to check the climate of the campground area and the weather forecast before picking up the dress for your kids. You can pack a rain jacket if there is a forecast for rain.
Temperature is unpredictable at times. You never know when the temperature would go down suddenly at night, even if you had a warm-weather day. So, dressing in layers is very important.
You can go ahead with the light layers for the kids. Lighter wear is light in weight. So, you can carry it easily. Layers help you stay warm when you have a cold night. Kids can put on an extra layer as they’re likely to feel much colder than adults. You should have, at the very least, two dresses for a single day.
After perspiring throughout the day, your kid’s dress will get dirty. They can’t sleep with that set of clothes. So, you’ve to carry a different set of clothes to use as sleepwear.
Don’t forget to pack a swimsuit & a towel for everyone if there is a river or lake near the campground & have a plan to swim. You should also bring water shoes for your kids to protect their feet.
You want to pack a waterproof windbreaker jacket that will protect you from the rain without being cumbersome.
You want to pack a couple of pairs of shoes and socks that the kids can wear in the cold evening to protect their feet. Footwear should be rough, yet lightweight and comfy. Your kids should be able to take off or put on the shoes smoothly.
Kids love hats. It’s a great idea to pack some hats for them. It’ll protect their head from the sun.
Read this article on how to dress kids for the outdoors to learn more about clothing.
It’s a brilliant idea to bring a hanging clothes organizer. Use it to hang all your clothes. It doesn’t only help you organize the clothes but vacate the bin packed with the clothes. Then you can use it as a laundry hamper by throwing everybody’s dirty clothes.
It’s going to make your life so easy after you return home. You don’t need to do the sorting of soiled clothes from the bin. All the clothes in the bin will directly go into the washing machine.
You would find that baby wipes don’t work out at some point in time, even though you have to pack a lot of them as you’ll need it from time to time. So, you want to bring a flat baby bath or plastic tub for grown-up kids.
Get the bin filled with water early in the morning and leave it in the sun to heat for a warm bath. Don’t forget to cover it to protect it from dust and insects. It’s essential to give your kids a proper bath so that they can have a sound sleep. Adults can use solar heated camp showers.
Security Safe Box
Stashing away and storing the important stuff like your mobiles, chargers, keys, electronic goods, wallets, etc. are very important for safety and convenience. You tend to get messy as soon as you reach the campsite with the kids scampering around. Stashing these items in a single place and packing them together will help you locate them with ease. You can use a Security Safe Box for storing the valuable stuff safely.
As soon as you reach the campground, do a briefing with your kids to define the rules and restrictions they have to follow. Explain to them the limit of areas they can roam around. You can use fallen trees or any other landmark that the kids can identify quickly to set the same. It’s quite unlikely for the kids to find themselves in trouble if they don’t go beyond the limit you set for them. Make it clear if they are permitted to visit the campsites nearby. You should also let them know if they can go to the bathroom all by themselves.
Check if there is a stream of water or a road nearby and advise them if they can go there alone or have to accompany some elders.
You must not take fire safety for granted, especially when camping with kids. Make sure that your kids maintain a safe distance from the pit of the campfire. You must not allow them to put anything into the fire without your permission.
They must carry a headlamp or flashlight with them at night. Teach them what they are supposed to do in case they lose their way. You can give a whistle to each of them and ask them to wear around their neck. Train them that they should try to look for a tree closer to them, relax and blow their whistle for a certain amount of time. You have to blow the whistle back to send the message out to your kids that you are reaching there.
You can carry some glow-in-the-dark stoppers and glow-in-the-dark ropes. If you stick out these things, nobody will ever stumble upon your tent in the dark.
Try to find out if there is any landline in the campsite as you may need to call 911 just in case there is an emergency.
You can either put together your first aid kit or buy a readymade first aid pack from the market or online. Besides the first aid kit, you can include bug spray, sunscreen, tick puller, and some medicines your kids may require.
Draw the attention of your kids to the potential threat like venomous ivy. Instruct them clearly not to feed or reach out to the wild animals. They must observe before they put their feet or hands. They should put on long trousers tucked into the socks.
You want to bring the LED camping lanterns with a magnet base to place inside and outside the tent. It would help you find something you are looking for in the tent when outside is fully dark.
Activities,Games & Entertainment
Your kids would love the rocks, dust, insects, etc. in the beginning. Then the time will come when they will start telling you that they’re bored. You need to have some innovative plans in advance when they reach this stage of getting bored.
You can check with the NPS authority about the national parks’ Junior Ranger program at the time of booking. Most of them offer this activity program at free of cost. They have different kinds of activities suitable for the kids of 5-13 years of age. They essentially allow the junior campers to join the ranger. Juniors have to do multiple nature-based activities following a workbook. Thereby, kids get to know the park and earn the badge of Junior Ranger after completing the book.
Many state campgrounds also offer many activities for kids under the supervision of their trained staff. These activities are as entertaining and enjoyable as the ones provided by the national parks.
You’ll be surprised to see many incredible things happening during camping that generally doesn’t happen very often back home. Kids are more likely to come up with new games of their own when exposed to nature. Children who aren’t active in the sports ground may suddenly become very active in proximity to nature and other children. Consequently, they end up making some new friends.
They love to explore nature with their new friends. Like elders, kids also make many friends very quickly during camping. You should not be surprised if your kids insist you to hang on for some time during the hike to watch wild animals playing around.
Hiking is one of the significant activities during camping. But it becomes challenging when you do it along with your kids. To make it intriguing, you have to be a little bit creative. You can involve them in playing some games while hiking like identifying flowers, birds, bird’s nest, clouds, etc. and reward them for that. Your kids may also play a game of collecting a particular wildflower or sticks that resemble a slingshot or stripe rocks.
You can carry a guide or nature viewing guidebooks. It’ll be helpful to identify wild animals, plants, or any other thing they discover. Don’t forget to click the photos of everything that your kids find out.
Try to pick up a trail that’s favorable for your family. Don’t forget that your kids have got small legs. They might find it challenging to keep up with you. Take as many breaks as they want. Let them use the binoculars during the break. They are going to love it. They can have the snacks they’re carrying in their backpack. If you’ve got a small kid, you can put them on your backpack kid carrier to have a short nap while you’re walking.
Camping with your kids is incomplete without playing some camping games together. Uno and Matching Games are top-rated among the kids. Following are some of the best camping games –
- Nature Tic-Tac-Toe
- Sleeping Bag Race
- Scavenger Hunt
- Mosquito Bites
- Question Ball
- Paper Plate Toss
- Flashlight Hide-and-Seek
- Pass the Water
- Duck, Duck, Splash
- Water Gun Target Practice
- Beach Ball Race
- Add to the Story
- Family LOVE
- Two Truths & a Lie
Check here for more such games and how to play them.
You may get enticed to bring a lot of toys, books, etc. It’s better to keep simple. Bring a limited number of toys so that your kids can chill out more in a natural environment and raise the bar of their creativity.
Here are a few toys that you may bring – Bubbles, Chalk, Coloring Books, Crafts, Binoculars, MIni Telescope, Magnifying Glasses, Squirt Guns, Bug Catcher Case, etc.
Even though I discourage bringing electronic gadgets to the campground, it’s impossible to abandon them altogether. You can store the audios of some stories that you can give to your kids to listen to when they are on their bed. There are quite a few great free apps available for your mobile that you can install on your smartphone. SkyView is one such app that your kids would love to use to find stars.
Having bikes during camping is an incredible idea. Don’t forget to wear helmets. You must follow the traffic rules and be considerate of your fellow campers. You kids will love it if you decorate the wheels with lights.
Another exciting outdoor activity is geocaching. Some state or national parks have the option to play geocaching, a game to find the hidden treasures. You place some objects which are not part of the park, and others have to find them out using an app or phone.
It’s time to come out of your comfort zone and try something new. You may try a fishing or ropes course or even kayaking. Your kids are going to have a great time trying these new things.
Allow Space to Your Kids
Some parents find it difficult to grant their kids the freedom they want to have during camping. You must avoid commanding or monitoring them too much. Allow them to explore new things. Nothing wrong in giving guidance or safeguarding them, but you must provide them with the liberty to take chances or get messy.
When we allow our kids to take risks, they develop conviction, resilience, focus, self-restraint, and anxiety management. You can motivate them to push to their limits.
Teenagers may turn out to be annoying at times. They may not like to rough out like you. Give them some space. Don’t create a scene if they want to sleep or roam around of their own. You may allow them to bring a friend or two if they wish to. The most frustrating thing for many parents is to find their teens engrossed in their smartphones most of the time. Talk to them and set a reasonable time limit for them to use the phone.
- Try to explain to your kids why they should be humble, courteous, and polite with other campers or even with animals while camping.
- Ensure that the kids don’t create much noise during sleeping time at night.
- Learn to deal with the inconvenience. You won’t find your bathroom attached to your bedroom. You may not even get the running water. In such a situation, you’ve to set an example by your proactive attitude. You’ll see that your kids are following you.
- Some kids are boisterous. Don’t scream at them too much. Bribing the kids is a fantastic idea. Offer them a few dollars that they can spend themselves if they don’t shout. Tell them that you would deduct a dollar or two every time they create a nuisance. It has worked with my kids.
Even if you plan & prepare to the best, everything may not work out the way you have intended. The highlight of going camping with your kids is that you create experiences. You may not be able to achieve the best experience in your initial few campings, but you’ll know where you went wrong. You can rectify these mistakes on your next trip.
Be calm, tolerant, persistent, and receptive when you are camping with your kids. Take it easy. Leave aside a rigid time table and have fun.
Finally, I would like to remind you that you must bring a good camera to capture the beautiful moments of your family. You’re going to create some of the best stories of your life during these trips. The photos you take during the camping are going to stay for life. Your kids will cherish these moments forever.