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One of the best ways to unwind with the family is to take a family camping trip. Both younger and older kids still dig it, even if it seems they would rather remain glued to their electronic devices. The key to a successful adventure is in your trip planning, and we are here to help. Use the following tips and our ultimate camping checklist to ensure camping with your kids will be memorable for all.
Tip #1: Choose Your Campground Wisely
Your campground will be your home away from home for the duration of your camping trip, so make sure it’s a good one. Though you can find loads of exciting and unique campgrounds across the country, a good campground offers the amenities and activities that interest your family the most.
Do you have a budding equestrian, amphibious child or even a star-gazer? There are campgrounds to fit a variety of preferences. You can find campgrounds built around lakes, on islands, within volcanos, near observatories or even at dude ranches. Do some research and locate a campground that is most favorable for your bunch.
Also, pay attention to the layout of the ground at your campsite if there is a chance for rain. Look for a site and is a little elevated and won’t be in the path of any running water. You definitely don’t want to set up camp and later find a stream running through the middle of it. If you think you might get rain, you can find more tips for camping in the rain here.
Tip #2: Ensure Adequate Sleep
If your kids are anything like mine, they morph into teary and angry little trolls when they’re tired. With increased daily activity, you can plan on troll-time arriving much earlier at the campsite than it may at home. That’s okay! You’ve got just what everyone needs to fall and remain peacefully asleep for the night.
If you are tent camping, we highly suggest investing in a decent air mattress or sleeping pad for each camper. If you have never slept on the cold, hard ground, well, just don’t. Every single joint in your body will thank you for it. Though it seems the kids can sleep just about anywhere, a comfy pad or mattress under their sleeping bag keeps them warmer and therefore, asleep longer.
Noise can quickly erode the chances of a good night of sleep. There are many amazing sounds in the wilderness, but they are much louder than you may think when you are right in the middle of it. Small animals, crunching leaves, crickets, bullfrogs, snoring partners, and other campers can be disrupting. Bringing along some earplugs can assist with dampening any distractions.
Finally, lights will put the brakes on your sleep faster than a speeding bullet. Of course, you can’t do much about the rising sun at ungodly hours. However, you can use eye masks to keep the light out until you’re good and ready to rise. If you happen to be in an RV, make sure to close your black-out blinds before retiring for the night. Also, if it is possible when choosing your campsite, pick one that is located far away from amenities like washrooms or other well-lit facilities. This will also give you a chance for a better view of the night sky.
Tip #3: Plan Meals in Advance
The first few times I took my clan camping, I packed mostly hotdogs, buns, and chips. I even tried to church up my main staple by bringing along condiments for my hotdogs like chili, cheese, onion, relish, and mustard. The gang was pretty receptive on the first day, but by day two, no one wanted to look at a hotdog no matter how dressed up it was. Camping food does not have to be difficult or involve eating the same thing for days with advance planning. You can find all kinds of foods designed specifically for camping. You can even find self-heating meals, which makes life simpler for you. If you are concerned about nutrition, you can easily bring along your own foods, as well.
We definitely still consume hotdogs (because roasting), sandwiches and chips on our camping trips, but we also do a fair share of actual cooking on-site, too. I chop up vegetables and chicken in advance for an easy stir-fry over the fire. One of my favorite dishes is a beef stew I cook and freeze in heavy-duty freezer bags prior to our trip. While camping, we defrost it during our day’s activities and enjoy the hot stew warmed over the campfire by night.
Having a camping kitchen, of sorts, is extremely beneficial and can boil down to a single cast-iron pot or pan and cooler for food storage. Camping stoves are fairly inexpensive and can give more even heat when cooking things like eggs or bacon. They are a great addition to a camp kitchen and save you from relying on campfires for every meal.
Tip #4: Bring Extra Clothing
If you have reserved your campsite at a location with washing machines, score! Otherwise, pack clothes that can easily be worn more than once. Moisture-wicking athletic clothes are handy because they dry quickly should they become wet or if they require hand-washing. Clothing options will vary depending on your planned activities and the time of the year.
Though you don’t want to overpack, you should have a variety of options including warm coats, rain gear, swimwear, long pants, pajamas, shorts, and shirts. A beanie is always a great item to have on hand because it helps you retain heat on cool evenings, mornings and even while you sleep. Let’s not forget extra shoes and socks because kids always manage to get them wet, even when there is no water in sight. If you have a baby in the mix, all bets are off. You will most definitely need extra everything since babies and toddlers have an innate magnetism toward dirt.
Tip #5: Do not Forget the Essentials
We are not talking about cell phones here. Your essentials are the things you need on a daily basis like any regular medicines, eyeglasses or medical devices. With my extreme allergies, forgetting to pack my antihistamines would completely ruin our trip, or me, or both. Likewise, items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, diapers, bottles, sippy cups, cleansing wipes, and whatever else you deem necessary for daily life should be taken along.
Tip #6: Entertainment
Yes, your kids will totally dig camping, but it’s always a good idea to have back-up entertainment plans. Certainly, you’ve chosen your campground with all the amenities your family could dream of, but you never know when a storm might pop up rendering you all cozied up in the tent or RV. Maybe, one of your little loves requires a rest day from too much activity or injury. Being prepared is a must.
Board games and card games pack fairly well and are always a favorite for my kids. You could bring along binoculars to get a closer look at birds or other wildlife right from your campsite. There are cool devices that allow you to look at underwater life if you’re near a lake or pond. Drawing paper and supplies are easy to keep on hand for the artists in the family.
If you’re able to have a campfire, you can roast marshmallows, sing songs around it, or play games including Charades, Twenty Questions or Telephone. Whether you had hopes of spending your days on the hiking trails or kayaking the river, downtime will come and having a plan for entertainment will keep the kids from longing for their electronics.
Unfortunately, we can make this thorough checklist of camping supplies because we have been on the forgetting end of it more times than I’d prefer. The problem with forgetting items is that you often don’t know you have forgotten anything until you need it. This problem exacerbates itself when it is late at night, the forgotten item is essential, or you are miles from a convenience store.
Fortunately, you can benefit from our prior mistakes. This list covers the basics of the items we find necessary when camping with kids and explanations of these items if needed. Previously mentioned items might not be listed.
- Water—many campgrounds do provide potable water, but it is best to always have your own. One gallon per person per day is generally considered necessary, but you might not need that much with kids.
- Matches—or lighter for starting campfires, stoves or grills
- Blankets, pillows and other bedding
- Your family’s essential items
- Cookware and dinnerware
- Wet Wipes—for cleaning small messes or freshening up when running water is not available
- Individually-wrapped snacks like granola bars
- First aid kit
- Acetaminophen or other pain relief
- Anti-itch lotion
- Hats and Sunglasses
- Large trash bags—they can be used as ponchos if caught in the rain
- Scissors or pocketknife
- Bug spray and sunscreen—bug-bitten, sunburned kids make the worst camping buddies
- Play-yard or Pack and Play for small children
- Toilet paper—even if your campgrounds have facilities
- Camping lantern or flashlight
- Backpack or small personal bag for daily excursions
- Locking cooler to keep wildlife out of your food supply
- Portable camping toilet—especially if the facilities are far away
- Kid’s safety whistles on lanyards in case they get separated from the family
- Glow sticks
- Outdoor toys
Camping with Kids
With this checklist and camping tips, your venture into the great outdoors with your kids should be a piece of cake. Always remember that what works for one family may not be suitable for another, so adjust lists as you see fit. Now, it is time to load everyone in the car and unwind from the daily grind.
Megan Woodruff is a wife and mother of 4. She blogs regularly about family camping over at Tents n Trees. She enjoys getting out with her husband and kids, enjoying nature, and making great memories as a family.