Camping with Kids: How to Prepare for Your Next Family Outing

I often say that camping is an activity that anyone can partake in. Young, old, male, female, it doesn’t really matter who you are or what your level of experience might be – there’s an option for you. However, I know there are plenty of parents out there who want to go camping with their kids, but are hesitant to try it because it seems risky or stressful. 

While it’s certainly different than camping without children, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone involved. All you need are a few tricks and some good planning to make your next outdoor adventure a hit with the young ones, while also being able to enjoy it yourself. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Go on a backyard trial run to familiarize your kids with camping and gauge their comfort.
  • Make the campsite feel like home to help the entire family relax.
  • Prepare and plan activities to keep kids engaged – both adventurous and educational.
  • Avoid overloading the day with tiring activities.
  • Establish rules for children regarding wandering and exploring in the wilderness.

Practice at Home

If it’s the first time your kids will be camping, it’s always a good idea to do a test run in the comfort of your backyard (or other nearby location). The new environment and sleeping arrangements can be stressful for the little ones. That’s why practicing at home can be a great opportunity for them to get used to the new setup, as well as help you determine whether it’s a good idea to go off and do the real thing in the first place.

When you’re out on your trial run, let them help pitch the tent and put together their sleeping area. Kids don’t like to be left out, so finding ways to include them in the activity will start to foster positive feelings around this hobby.

Choose Your Campsite Carefully

a wooden sign in the forest that says campground on it

If you’re bringing your kids out to camp for the first time, it might not be ideal to see how they handle a backpacking trip or other dispersed camping areas. Having comforts around like a toilet, shower, and more advanced cooking options will make the trip a lot smoother than it might be otherwise.

Even if your kids are older, I always recommend making your first camping trip somewhere with a few more creature comforts. My first night in a tent was in the mountains in a foreign country, and let me just tell you…that was quite a shock to the system. Enjoyable, but perhaps not the best way to get eased into this amazing pastime!

Find a good campsite to take your family out to for the weekend, and do your best to make it feel like home to your kids. They’ll be glad you did, and so will you.

Be Flexible

Have a plan, but be open to altering that plan as various situations rise up. With kids especially, curve balls are bound to come at you, and being able to field those challenges will make sure you continue to have an enjoyable time in nature.

Sometimes there will be things that you want to do that your kids don’t, and you may have to take one for the team in order to keep everyone happy. The detailed schedule you had written out may go up in smoke thanks to a number of different factors. Learning to be okay with this is important for maintaining a healthy atmosphere. 

Make a List of Activities

kids biking with parents

You may notice a theme as you continue reading this article, which is… Be prepared! Camping isn’t something that you want to do with little to no prior preparation in the first place, and that’s even more true when you’re bringing kids into the equation. 

Nature can be a phenomenal teacher when it comes to ecology, weather, geology, and many other topics. Consider taking this time to educate your kids by turning your camping excursion into a field trip. If you’re familiar with survivalist techniques, this could be a great opportunity to pass them down to your children. Or if you’re also a novice, maybe it’s a good time to learn together! Explore how to build a campfire, make your own temporary shelter, forage for food, or anything else you’d like to try out. I guarantee your kids will have a blast doing it with you, and it’ll make for a great bonding exercise. If survivalism isn’t really your thing, or if the weather happens to turn sour, bringing a couple of board games is always a good idea.

Stay Balanced

A full day outside is exhausting for most adults, so you can imagine how much more so it is for kids. Spending the day going on hikes or swimming in the lake is all well and good, but try not to pack too many tiring things into one day. Sit back and relax, read a book, or take a nap so that you and your kids have enough energy to tackle the other things you want to do.

Find Ways to Include Them

kids cooking over a campfire

As I mentioned earlier, kids like to feel included. Finding ways to let them help out will make them more excited about the trip overall, leading to a more pleasant experience for everyone involved. 

Depending on their age, let them be in charge of packing their own clothing and other personal items. Duffel bags are great for this sort of thing because of how easy it is for them to just toss their belongings inside, zip it up, and be on their way. Consider giving your kids the responsibility of managing this on their own, but don’t be afraid to double check their work to make sure nothing is forgotten!

Meal time can also be a great way to get them in on the action. If you’ve got a fire going, most kids will love putting their food on a stick and cooking it over the flame. Whether it’s marshmallows, hotdogs, or veggies, letting them cook some of their own food will keep them entertained for awhile.

Go with the Flow

kid on a paddleboard

It’s easy to find things to get upset about when you’re camping. Maybe the rain soaked your clothes, or made it difficult to prepare dinner. Perhaps you realized you forgot something back home that you needed or would’ve been nice to have. The mosquitoes won’t stop biting, it’s too hot at night to sleep, going to the bathroom is uncomfortable…you get the idea.

There are countless things that can go wrong or put you in a bad mood, so I’m going to say this bluntly: you’re camping. By design, no matter what you do, it will never be as comfortable or convenient as your home. Your kids will pick up on your bad mood and make it their own, adding to the unpleasant nature of the trip.

Try to keep a positive attitude and see everything as a learning experience. Kids are going to get dirty, equipment is going to get soggy, and temperatures are going to be unpleasant from time to time. But at the end of the day, there’s always something to laugh about in it all, as long as you keep a good perspective. 

Stay Organized

Already an important aspect of camping, organization is even more vital when hitting the trail with kids. You’ll be more preoccupied with them than anything else, meaning it’s quite possible to forget a few necessary items as you run out the door. Take some time to pre-pack a day or two in advance, and make a checklist of everything you want to bring with you. 

Find Creative Ways to Have Fun

group of people around a lake at sunset

I love the type of camping where I can just spend all day trekking through nature, enjoying the beauty before making camp at the end of the day. However, your kids might not be so easily entertained, leaving them bored and restless instead. 

If you find that the children are in need of some fun and excitement, think of different ways to be creative with what you have on hand. Shadow puppets on the tent wall? Riding bikes? Going on a boat ride? Even making s’mores around the campfire can be a fun experience. You know your kids best, so it might be worth creating a list of fun things to do when it’s time to lighten the mood.

Keep a Routine as Much as Possible

Children like routines and predictability. Suddenly mixing things up like the environment, food options, and toys can be a stressful ordeal if everything is new and different. That’s why it’s important to keep things as similar as possible to the way you usually do things back home. Go to bed around the same time, bring a few toys, make a cozy sleeping arrangement with familiar blankets and so on. All of this will foster feelings of safety and comfort, leading to a more stress free and enjoyable trip for everyone. 

Prioritize Safety

bear walking in the woods

Kids typically have a bad habit of digging into things that they shouldn’t, or wandering off the moment you take your eyes off of them. This can be bad enough in a normal environment, but in the wilderness, there are different variables to consider.

Before you even leave for your camping trip, establish a set of rules for your kids. If they’re older and responsible, perhaps you’ll feel comfortable letting them wander out of sight if they stay close to the campsite. Maybe the edge of the clearing where you can keep your eyes on them is the extent of their freedom. How do you feel about letting them go to the bathroom alone and out of sight? Is there a river or water source nearby that you’re concerned they might fall into? Figure these things out beforehand, and lay out the ground rules clearly with your children.

Another good idea is to have them bring a whistle wherever they go. No matter how much you trust them, unexpected circumstances come up where they might need to call for help. Whistles are easy to use and easy to hear from a long distance, making them ideal for this sort of scenario.

Final Thoughts

If you were an avid camper prior to having kids, don’t feel like you have to give up your passion just because you’ve got some extra responsibility! And if you never were much of a camper in your youth but want to give your children that experience, you certainly can.

Take the time to properly prepare and learn as much as you can about camping before heading out with your family. And once you’re out there, don’t forget the most important thing… Have fun!

Meet the Author!

By the age of 20, Spencer had already tackled some of the most famed mountain ranges in Europe, Asia, and North America. His mission is to help others accomplish their own outdoor-related goals, even within the time constraints of a 9-5 job and a busy life schedule.

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