Camping with kids can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be! Camping with your kids can be a fun and memorable experience that everyone loves! My family grew up camping every summer and it holds some of my fondest childhood memories. My husband and I have continued the tradition with our kids. We even camped when our twins were little babies and we had three kids under three years old!
Let’s talk about how to keep kids entertained, safe, and clean (ish), as well as how to stay warm and happy while camping. Get ready to pack up the family and head on out to the great outdoors! You’re in for a fun time!
Benefits of camping with kids
There are so many wonderful benefits to camping with kids. It gets them away from screens and out into nature. Camping is also a great opportunity to bond as a family and create memories that will last a lifetime. Additionally, camping can teach kids important skills like survival instinct, responsibility, and resourcefulness.
Challenges of camping with kids
Just as there are many benefits to camping with kids, it does not come without its challenges. A few of the main challenges include:
- Entertainment. There are only so many hikes and nature walks you can take, and at some point, the kids are going to get bored.
- Staying clean. Let’s face it, kids are messy! When you put them into a situation where they are living and breathing dirt, it get’s even worse!
- Staying warm. Kids get cold easy!
- Planning and preparing meals is more difficult outside. When you are trying to feed kids it gets tricky outdoors!
Tips for happy camping with kids
Now that we’ve discussed some of the benefits and challenges of camping with kids, let’s talk about how to make it a success! Below are some of my favorite tips and tricks for camping with kids:
Expect something to go wrong!
I know. I know. Here we are just getting started and we’re already expecting something to go wrong. But, if you expect that something will go wrong from the moment you leave, you’ll be better prepared to handle it when it does. And it will. I promise it will.
Just remember, the things that go wrong help make your trip memorable for you and the kids. Think how many times you’ve said, “Hey remember when we got that flat tire?” or “Remember that time it rained during our whole hike?” The unexpected is always more memorable than the “perfect” trip.
If you’re flexible with your plans, you’ll be able to roll with the punches when things don’t go as planned.
Make a list…and then check it twice!
Packing is always the toughest part of any camping trip. Making a list is always helpful when packing for any trip. But, when camping with kids, it is essential. You’ll want to make sure you have everything you need to keep everyone comfortable, safe, and entertained.
One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is by have a several clear storage bins that are our camping bins. Each bin has a list of what is inside the bin taped to the outside of the bin. That way you know exactly what is inside. Using clear bins for this also helps you know what is inside.
Our family likes to keep a few categories of bins ready for any camping trip. These include:
A kitchen bin. This includes things like:
- Can opener
- Knives and utensils
- Cups and plates
- Paper towels
A hygiene bin. This can include:
- Baby wipes
- Dry shampoo
- Toilet paper
A clothing bin. This is a bit more obvious, but it includes things like:
- Pants or shorts
Involve your kids throughout the process
If you involve your kids in the planning process, they’re more likely to be excited about the trip. Ask them what they want to do while on the trip and try to incorporate some of their ideas into the plans. This will help them feel like they have a say in what is happening and that their opinion matters.
When it comes time to set up or take down camp, involve your kids there too! Our kids have always loved setting up the tent, building a fire, and helping with dinner. It’s a great way for them to feel like they are contributing and it helps the process go faster too!
Set up the right zones
Just like we try to keep special bins for different needs in our camp, we also like to set up zones in our campsite. Here are a few of the zones we set up every time we go camping with our kids:
Kitchen station, this is where we can easily find our cooler full of food, kitchen bin with the needed essentials, and a table or workspace.
Handwashing zone for general cleanup of our messy kids. This can be a small table with some baby wipes and a trashcan nearby. It should also include soap and water for washing hands.
Shoe zone. This is typically right outside the tent or camper where we can stow messy shoes before we move into our sleeping area. We lay down this easy to clean rug in that area so we can take off dirty shoes and still step onto a clean surface before entering the tent.
Sleeping area. This is pretty easy to imagine, but we like to remind ourselves and our kids that we don’t play in our sleeping area. Not only does this keep that area clean, but it also avoids the problem of having our kids in and out of the tent all day long.
We’ve used a variety of methods to keep our kids comfortable in their sleep areas during camping. Our babies have just used a pack n play in the tent. Our older kids currently sleep on these amazing bunkbed cots!
We also like to set up a battery operated sounds machine like this one when we camp with our little kids. It’s helped us push back those dawn wake-ups with our kids to a more reasonable time!
Play area. You know that super fancy washable rug we talked about? Our kids love using it as a play area too. We’ll set up our shade canopy like this overhead. We also have a small kids table like this that is easy to transport and is a life saver when it comes to meal or craft time!
Having these zones helps everyone know where things are and keeps the campsite more organized. Plus, it’s just one less thing to worry about when you’re trying to enjoy your trip!
Entertainment while camping with kids
Being outside is amazing for kids. They easily play outside creating all sorts of fun games and activities. But, sometimes they need a little help getting started or they might need some ideas for when they’re feeling bored. Here are a few of our favorite things to do while camping with kids:
- Hiking. Whenever possible, invite family or friends with kids to come on your camping trip. Hiking and camping is so much fun with friends!
- Building forts. Our kids have spent more than one long afternoon building nature teepee’s and forts.
- Scavenger hunts/Nature walks (Go grab our free printable here).
- Bike riding. Don’t forget the helmets!
- Star gazing. Bonus points if you can fit a telescope in your camping gear!
- Playing in the creek. Just make sure to pack extra clothes!
- Making s’mores!
- Easy crafts that our kids can do independently. Last time we went camping, I honestly just walked through the dollar store for a few easy crafts that wouldn’t require much planning or effort from me. The kids loved it!
- Games. We keep a small game bin in our camping supplies. It has face cards, Uno cards, and a few other easy games we can play together as a family.
Depending on where you camp, keeping your kids warm can be a challenge. Where we camp, it’s usually hot during the day but cold at night. We’ve found a few ways to help keep our family comfortable in those conditions.
Dress in layers. You’ll never regret having an extra jacket or coat packed in your camping gear. Include a wind breaker or rain jacket/poncho if you have one! That way you can dress for colder weather in the morning and evening and strip off layers as it gets warmer.
Invest in a Buddy heater. The first time we used a Buddy Heater, we were so grateful to have the heat. We were camping for a week with our small kids and it rained most of the week. The Buddy Heater was simple to use, it uses easy to find small cans of propane, and can really take the chill off before you jump into your sleeping bag.
Put babies and little kids to sleep in a snowsuit. I know it sounds silly, but we have several kids who were just not able to stay in their sleeping bags as toddlers. Instead of worrying about them rolling around all night and getting cold, just dress them as if they are headed for the snow and they’ll probably be about perfect in cooler temperature nights.
Bring more than one pair of shoes. Our kids have never been able to keep one pair of shoes dry for a whole camping trip. They like to wade through streams, get muddy, or accidently pee on them while trying to squat while using the restroom. Save them from cold feet by bringing and extra pair of shoes!
Hand warmers. Give your family an extra boost of warmth with a hand warmer. We’re not always the best at remembering to bring hand warmers, but our kids love it when we do!
Are your kids scared of the dark? Mine are. A forest campground that seems perfectly great during the day will really scare them at night. Here are a few types of light that we like to bring along during our family campouts.
Flashlights. You can spend a lot of money on really nice flashlights. Which is great for adults. Our young kids tend to lose or drop flashlights a lot. Because of this, we usually pick up one flashlight per child for just a dollar or two. We write their names on the flashlight and that is their flashlight for the trip. If they lose it or break it, then they have to wait for someone else to help them when they need a light.
Glow sticks. Our kids love having glowsticks at camp. They make for fun night games, and a bit of extra light when they are moving around. As a mom, I love glowsticks because it helps me keep track of all my kids walking around in the dark.
Headlamp for those times you need both hands free (like when you’re cooking dinner or nursing a baby).
Lanterns. Having a nice, bright lantern is perfect for camping as a family. The hands free light is great for night-time activities or just sitting around and chatting near the fire.
Inexpensive solar lights. Solar lights have become one of my favorite camp lights. We pick up a few from the dollar store and stick them in the ground near tent strings/poles, and along walkways to help make the area at night.
Meals for Camping With Kids
The easiest way to make sure everyone is happy with meals while camping is to plan ahead. I like to make a big batch of something at home before we leave. Then we just have to reheat it at camp. This can be anything from spaghetti, to chili, or even enchiladas.
Planning ahead means that you don’t have to worry about food as much while you’re camping. It also usually means that you have less dishes to do while you’re camped out! There is nothing worse than trying to cut up meat or vegetables for a meal with inadequate space or tools while your kids are fighting because they are hungry!
Another easy way to make sure everyone is fed is to bring along a few easy to make foods. Hot dogs, BLT’s, S’mores, and pre-made sandwiches are all great options.
Snacks. Even if your family doesn’t snack much at home, having a lot of snacks at camp can make all the difference. We love easy snacks like applesauce cups, granola bars, and trail mix!
End with a plan
When you’re packing up to leave, it always helps to have a plan. This can help avoid the dreaded “I can’t find my shoe!” meltdown.
We like to start by having everyone put their shoes on by the door of the tent. Then we have a quick cleanup of our sleeping area. We stuff all the sleeping bags and pillows back in the storage bag, and put them by the door.
Next we move on to any toys that were brought along. All the balls go in one bag, all the cards in another, etc. This way when we get home we can just put everything away in its rightful place without having to sort through everything. Finally, we make sure that the fire is completely out and all the food is put away.
Do you have any tips or tricks for camping with kids? We would love to hear them! Leave a comment below. Happy camping!