Camping with kids can be a blast, if you’re prepared.
Believe it or not, taking the kids for a camping trip is a bit like taking them hunting for the first time.
Sure, you don’t have to worry about teaching them about firearm safety, and camping doesn’t quite require the same level of discipline and concentration across the board as hunting does, but there are definitely similarities.
Therefore, if you want to take a family camping trip with young kids, you are going to want to handle the preparation and follow through in many of the same ways as you would in getting the kids psyched for a hunting trip.
These tips should help you to do so:
1. Lay the groundwork
Just like with hunting, you will want to start your family camping preparation by laying the groundwork and getting the kids excited for the upcoming outing. This shouldn’t be terribly difficult: most kids like the idea of sleeping in a tent, eating hot dogs and s’mores around the campfire, telling ghost stories, and spending time with family. Stress those aspects to build anticipation, whether by reading your kids camping-themed books in their favorite picture or chapter book series (there are plenty of options here, from Arthur to the Berenstain Bears) or by pitching a camp in the backyard and having a family campout with snacks, glow sticks, and more.
2. Involve your kids in the planning and shopping
Unless your kids are very young, they will probably appreciate being involved in the planning stages for a camping trip. Take them shopping and let them pick out camping essentials like sleeping bags and beach towels, or let them pick out activities to participate in around the campsite. While you may be planning on roughing it, some family camping establishments have a range of fun things for kids to do, from waterslides to miniature golf. Such activities may seem to you like things that will take away from the rustic escapism of camping, but for getting kids to fall in love with the pastime, they function perfectly.
3. Bring a crib
There’s not really an agreed upon age for when to start taking your kids camping. Some parents wait until the school years, when kids are becoming gradually more independent and self-sufficient, to head out into the woods. Sometimes though, like if your kids are spread out in age, finding the right timing can be difficult. It may be that you have two children between 5 and 10 and then a toddler, and want to experience an innocent, throwback family camping trip before the older kids lose their sense of wonder for such outings.
As a rule of thumb, though, if you are bringing a young child who is still sleeping in a crib at home, then you are going to want to bring a portable crib on the camping trip. For children who are already sleeping in their own beds, the transition to sleeping bags and ground pads or air mattresses isn’t too tough. For toddlers still in the crib phase, however, it may be too much to ask, so pack a portable crib and make sure you have a tent big enough to accommodate it. Otherwise, you might have to wait a few years unless you want a nightmare experience with minimal sleep and overall low spirits.
4. Stock the snacks
If you’re like us, you’ve survived on solo camping trips with little more than beef jerky, trail mix, canned beans, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and water. If you are bringing the kids, however, you are absolutely going to need to revamp your game in the food department. Simply bringing along burgers or hot dogs for dinner isn’t going to be enough: kids need frequent snacks and drinks throughout the day, which means you’re going to be lugging a pretty weighty cooler into the woods with you. Consolidate food wherever you can, replacing cardboard boxes with plastic bags to save weight and space, and plan portions or rations for the entire trip. You need to cut a balance between having enough food to keep the kids happy, but not so much that your food supply is impossible to transport from point A to B. This step, frankly, might be the most difficult part of camping with kids.
5. Bring toys
Another reason to try to keep the weight down on the food side of things is that you will also need to pack games and toys to keep your kids interested. Don’t go overboard here: maybe have each child pack a backpack with his or her favorite stuffed animal, a book or two, and maybe a few other games or toys. Time moves differently in the woods, and while you might be able to keep yourself entertained by hiking and exploring, your kids will want some hours of concentrated playtime. If you are near a lake or pond, swimsuits and sand or water toys are essential. Sports items like Frisbees or a baseball and a pair of mitts are great for catch games, while playing cards can keep everyone occupied for hours.
Want your kids to be entertained for a whole camping trip? Find another family to join with you on the fun. Whether relatives, neighbors, or parents you’ve met at school, group camping trips are great for a few reasons. Most obviously in this scenario, the other family will bring kids of their own and your children will have a group of their own to play and explore with. You’ll grab some quality time with the other adults while the kids are off doing their thing, and you guys can even share packing responsibilities to cut down on excess items.
7. Don’t forget the first aid kit
This holds true for any camping trip, since having Band-Aids, antiseptic cream, painkillers, and other first aid essentials is never a bad idea. However, since your kids are more likely to end up with cuts, scrapes, and bruises than you are, remembering the first aid kit for a family camping trip is even more important than usual.
Photos: bagsinstock.com (top); dustgeorge.com (above)