Camping With Kids: The Essentials

Can you remember the first family camping trip with your kid? Ours was very memorable in many ways. We had fun but it ended up being colder than we were planning. My son slept maybe 3 hours and that only came after crying (we did try to put him down early so our fellow campers didn't have to listen to crying late at night). Trying to set up camp was a challenge as my son didn't realize the dangers of the road and to top it off the ranger station was closed when we arrived so we couldn't buy wood. Funny enough, all these year later I laugh about the struggles and smile about the good times.
Camping With Kids: The Essentials
He slept on the way home because he didn't sleep the night before. 
Thankfully we didn't give up despite set backs and we have gotten a lot better at planning and executing our trips. Camping as a family has brought more unexpected "adventures" than I ever thought possible. I love camping but my husband, on the other hand, isn't as big of a fan. Honestly he hates it, but we still camp fairly regularly so I can't complain. Lucky for me he realized early on that there is something special about spending time as a family in nature and away from technology (you can read more about that here). But we, me especially, had to learn a "new" way to camp and have had to make a few adjustments. Here is how we have learned to make our trips more fun and less stressful.

Camping With Kids: The Essentials

  1. Leave your expectations at home. I can genuinely say we have enjoyed most of our camping trips but they are different than camping without kids. If you expect them to be the same you will be disappointed. We don't always get to spend as much time around the campfire because the kids are having a hard time falling asleep or we don't get to hike as long because a child is tired, from not sleeping the night before. For me, camping is camping and I love it in any form I can get it. 
  2. Be flexible. It is important to have a plan but you will go nuts if you have to follow it completely. I learned this one the hard way. On our road trip a couple years ago we got off late the first day and we had to miss a couple activities. I was bummed but the trip wasn't completely ruined; we still got to see a lot of awesome sights. I got over it and enjoyed the rest of our trip. 
    Camping With Kids: The Essentials
    We didn't get as much time in the White Mountains as I wanted but I didn't let my disappointment ruin our trip.
  3. Equipment. There are quite a few family camping check-lists out there but my favorite is The Ultimate Family Camping Checklist from Bring The Kids. It is comprehensive but simple. I do have a few favorites that I feel really make camping with kids more comfortable. 
    1. The first is a large tent. We have a Big Agnes Flying Diamond 8 (aff. link). It is a two room, 4-season tent and is a tad on the pricey side. The tent I had before this one was a Walmart brand and lasted 5 years with heavy use. I love our big tent because it gives us a place to hang out if the weather isn't great and it is much more comfortable because we all have room and aren't on top of each other. 
      Camping With Kids: The Essentials
      The bugs were horrible at the campground and a large tent gave the kids a place to play.
    2. Quality lighting. It is one thing to be without light when you only have yourself to take care of but an entirely different one to take care of the child. Buy decent quality flashlights/lanterns and always bring backups and extra batteries. We have a Black Diamond lantern (aff. link) and Dorcy flashlight. We love them. 
      Camping With Kids: The Essentials
      The kids love our flashlight too.
    3. ORGANIZATION!!! Keep your gear clean and organized and restock after your camping trip, not when you are trying to prepare for your next. We use buckets to tote some of the miscellaneous items we need. I inventory and restock before putting them back into storage. This has made preparing for camping trips much less stressful for us and we forget far fewer items. 
    4. Clothing is key. As I mentioned above, if you don't pack the correct clothing your trip will be way less than enjoyable. If it is cold, layer up with fleece, hoody and gloves. If your kids don't keep their gloved on, tape them. Wear long pant and good shoes. Even when it is warm, we wear pants if we are going to be out exploring. They protect your legs from bugs, thorns and falls. There are plenty of inexpensive light weight materials available. Shoes don't have to be expensive but they need to protect your toes. 
      Camping With Kids: The Essentials
      We layer the kids up when camping. Our favorite is a sleep sack.
  4. Entertainment. In general we don't bring toys. We involve our kids in everything now they are old enough now to start learning the basics. Even when we have brought toys they don't get played with for very long; sticks, trees, and rocks are much more exciting. When my daughter was little we brought a walker so she could push herself around the campsite without getting into too much. We used a stroller for my son when he was young but he got bored pretty quickly. I highly recommend bringing something to put a toddler in for when you can't be running after him/her.  If you want some ideas for camping games/activities check out these on Go Adventure Mom; they don't require any extra equipment. Or has two very creative options: a DIY hammock and swing.  
    Camping With Kids: The Essentials
    He liked the stroller but got bored quickly if we weren't playing with him. 
    Camping With Kids: The Essentials
    The walker kept my daughter happy, mobile & gave her a place to eat.
  5. Don't give up. Camping is somewhat of an art. There is a lot to learn and, what's more, you have to learn or relearn to do it with new people when you get married and have kids. It took my husband and I a little time to get into a rhythm of setting of camping while managing the kids, especially when they were younger. If your trip isn't what you were expecting the first time, evaluate and adjust accordingly. There are soooooo many amazing resources our there for new campers. Here is a post I wrote for First-Time Campers
  6. A good sense of humor. This is absolutely essential. I don't know how many times we have been camping and forgot something important or can't get the fire started because of "green" wood or there are tons of bugs. Even if you don't "joke" about it at the time, the ability to "let go" is ESSENTIAL. Being able to find the good in all situations makes or breaks the trip. 
Your turn. What are your "ESSENTIALS" when camping with kids? 


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