I’ve only been camping twice in the last 15 years and I have never been camping with kids, which makes me the very last person you should ask about taking your family camping. But don’t worry, I interviewed my friend Alex, whose car is basically a campsite on wheels. Her weekends (read: most of her spare moments) are devoted to fun and the outdoors. She’s the kind of person that will be planning her next trip while she’s on a trip (think enneagram 7). Alex is also the kind of person that will go backpacking…by herself.
She’s dragged me along on many of her adventures and has officially been nicknamed “fun Aunt Alex” in our family. However, I have yet to go camping with her, much to her and my children’s disappointment. But I promised her I would go on a camping trip in return for her advice to share with you all. So, without further delay, here are Alex’s best tips for camping with kids.
After choosing your campsite, your next step will be to determine what your packing list should be. Alex suggests asking the following questions before getting started.
What are your goals for the trip? Adventure? Relaxation? Are you hoping to explore, white water raft, horseback ride, do a ropes course, hike, etc? Then you probably won’t need to pack as much “stuff” for comfort. Or, are you wanting to spend your time hanging out around the campfire, playing games, etc? Then you might want to pack more things, food, drinks, and activities. Here’s an easy way to think about it: Pack less to do more and pack more to do less.
What will your environment be like? Will you be close to water? Will you be near hiking trails? What is the terrain like? Will it be comfortable to sleep on the ground or will you need hammocks? Will there be facilities available or are you roughing it?
Are your children mobile? This will determine what you’ll need to pack for them and even what you’ll be able to do. If they aren’t mobile, you will definitely want to pack a pack n play. You’ll use this for sleeping at night and containment during the day.
Must-Have Packing Items for Every Camping Trip
No matter your answers to the above questions, there are a few items that are must-haves for any campsite.
- Tent large enough for movement (3-6 person tent)
- *Tents for a family should usually be for 8 people or smaller to fit on a primitive campsite
- Sleeping bags
- Change of clothing for each day
- 1 set of clothes for a cold night (just in case)
- Camp chairs
- Cooler with food/drinks
- Supplies for s’mores
- Portable propane stovetop
- 1 large pot that can be used to heat a full family meal and boil water
- Plates, utensils, cups
- Can opener
- Firestarter of preference
- Deck of cards
When planning your trip, break down the activities by hour. That way you can create a packing list to support each activity.
- Saturday morning
- 7 am Breakfast
- Pack: cooktop, stove, utensils, cups, instant coffee
- 8:30 am Hike
- Pack: Sneakers/hiking shoes
- 10:00 am Waterplay
- Pack: Swimsuits, pool floats, nets, towels
- 7 am Breakfast
These are the kind of tips you will only get from an experienced camper
Cooking from scratch takes a long time. So, do yourself a favor and premake as many meals as you can and label each container accordingly. That way, all you will need to do at mealtime is reheat. This will be helpful for “hangry” kids who might not have the stamina or patience to wait for you to cook every meal from scratch.
Use separate coolers for food and drinks. The drink cooler will be opened more often and therefore will lose the cold air quickly.
Always keep food (coolers, dry goods) off the ground. At night, use a bag like this and hang your food high in a tree away from your campsite to keep bears away.
Camp near water! This will keep your children entertained all day long. Buy nets, buckets, fishing poles, and gadgets for the kids to explore that water surrounding you and all will be well. Alex’s favorite water campsites are Crabtree Falls Campground and Abrams Creek Campground.
If you have young kids or babies, bring a baby pool as a safer water source for them. Be sure to bring buckets and, if you have older kids, they can haul the water.
If you run out of ideas for the kids, a scavenger hunt is always a hit!
Other Tips For An Easy Camping Experience with Kids
- State park campgrounds will always have facilities with showers, playgrounds, and anything you could need for babies or small children. These conveniences may be worth it to make camping a little easier if you have young kids.
- If there are no facilities, a 5-gallon paint bucket (with a hole on the lid) works well as a portable bathroom.
- If you plan to play in the water, wear old sneakers instead of water shoes. They always work better and your feet won’t slip around in them.
- Always print or screenshot your directions before leaving.
- Create organization by tying a parachute cord from tree to tree and hanging your supplies up with carabiners.
Above all: Relax, have fun, and be prepared to make lots of memories.