Hi! Today I'd like to help you out with some tips for planning your next camping trip that includes members of the under-eighteen crowd. For many folks, the idea of taking your kids camping is terrifying. It shouldn't be! Camping with kids does require a little extra planning and packing, but if you do these things, you will have a great time on your next trip... I promise!
I first camped with my daughter when she was six weeks old. We made a lot of changes after that trip, but it was still a lot of fun! Plan on having one adult do the setup while the other one watches the kids, and one adult cook while the other one watches the kids... you get the idea. Keep things simple as much as possible and you'll have more time and energy to enjoy the great outdoors.
Here's my personal list of tips that will help. For a comprehensive packing list, sign up for the Riveted Oak Designs Newsletter get access to printable lists that will help you plan your next adventure.
- First, practice! The best way to make sure that your trip will go smoothly is to do a trial run. For most kids, sleeping outside in a tent is the scariest part of camping, so set up the tent in your backyard and have a stay-at-home camp out. Play in and around the tent, and let your kids help you set it up and roll out their sleeping bags. Make sure that you are excited and enthusiastic, and they will follow your lead. This is also a great time to make sure that you don't have any leaks in your air mattress (don't forget to pack the patch kit). Invest in a battery operated nightlight if you have kids that are at all afraid of the dark. There are a lot of great options that don't cost a lot of money. If your kids are used to ambient light, camping will be REALLY dark, and the comfort of a nightlight will be a neccessity.
- Get your kids their own appropriately-sized gear (see picture above). Not only is this a great way to help your kids own the camping experience, but it's also good for safety. Each kids should have their own chair, whistle, and flashlight. The chair is a great way to keep them safe around the fire ("you have to sit in your chair if you want to be near the fire!"). The whistle should be worn by them at all times and used if they feel unsafe or get lost. The flashlight will help with the fear of the dark and also if they get lost.
- Get each kid a headlamp. This is a great way to keep them entertained and is less complicated than having them manage a flashlight in the dark. The novelty will help them to forget that they are scared. Don't forget extra batteries...they will drain quickly, even with LEDs.
- Let your kids bring security items. Blankets, stuffed animals, and a battery powered nightlight will all help your little ones sleep better in an unfamiliar situation (speaking of sleep, don't if you have a kid that still naps, DON'T skip them when you're camping). Let them bring other favorite toys as well. This will also help an unfamiliar situation feel less scary. Set a limit though, or your car will be overflowing with toys.
- Got a baby or a crawler? Bring the pack 'n play. You can throw it on a tarp or blanket and not worry about your little one crawling around in the dirt. If it's extra sunny or the mosquitos are brutal, bring a fitted sheet. You can put it over the top of the pack 'n play to provide shade and keep the bugs out.
- A new toy or two can be magical on a first camping trip, even if it's just a frisbee, ball, or other small outdoor toy. A new bedtime story can help the nighttime transition go smoother. This is money well spent. If you're on a budget, hit up the 99 cent store. Small toys, glow sticks, activity books, art supplies... you can even find small organizers that will keep the car organized for your trip.
- Don't forget the sunscreen and bug repellent. Adults know how to avoid the sun and bugs if they forget these crucial items, but kids don't know better, and their skin is so much more delicate. A sunburn or a lot of bug bites will ruin a trip faster than anything. If you have a kids with allergies or light skin, it can even land you at the doctor's office. Don't let this happen. Make sure you use products that are meant for little ones, because many adult products aren't appropriate for sensitive young skin.
- Leave the screens at home. Kids should be out getting dirty, not watching movies in the tent (unless it pours rain, of course). The only exception I make to this rule is with teenagers. If they are in one of their moods, let them go hang out in the car for a while with their phone or iPad. Give them a time limit though. Make it long enough for you (the parent) to have a glass of wine or a beer. You've earned it for taking a teenager camping.
- Make a nature craft kit. Paper and crayons for making rubbings of leaves and bark, glue and cardstock for nature collages, and a sketchbook and colored pencils for drawing the scenery and animals and plants are great to have. Add whatever you have laying around the house, and let the kids create with the natural materials around them.
- Don't plan overly complicated meals. You'll be tired after a long day of communing with nature, and so will your kids. You don't want to be eating after dark, and your kids don't want to wait an hour for dinner. Precook and prepare ahead of time as much as you can, and then all you have to do is reheat your meals. Want tacos? Shred a rottisserie chicken into a bag and bring tortillas, salsa, and your favorite fixings. Heat up the chicken and some beans and instant rice, and your meal is done. Think EASY. Premarinated meats and bagged veggies are also great for camping.
- Pack outfits by day. Get a box of gallon ziplock bags and put a complete outfit in a bag: everything from socks and underwear to pants and a shirt. Bring one of these per day, plus an extra. Worried about running out of clothes? Don't worry, kids can wear stuff again. You're camping after all, what does a little extra dirt hurt? Wash the clothes (and the kids) when you get home. Until then, just give'em a good wipedown with baby wipes before pajamas and bed each night.
- Don't forget to plan for all kinds of weather. If it ends up being freezing all weekend and all you packed was shorts, your kids are going to be cold and cranky. Pack accordingly and a change in weather won't be an issue. Don't forget that it gets cold at night, expecially in the mountains and the desert. Warm hats and winter jackets are often necessary, even though it may have been 80 degrees that day.
- Engage you kids! Plan a scavenger hunt, take a hike, play "I spy", go wading, go fishing, hunt for bugs... the sky is the limit. Don't forget to let them help set up camp and prepare meals, even if it's only setting the table. Kids will get excited if you are excited. Share your love of the outdoors with them and they will learn to love nature as much as you do.
So there you go! I hope your next camping trip is a blast. Don't forget to pack the camera! Do you have any tips for camping with kids that I didn't cover? Share them below in the comments.