One of the most fun experiences you can have as a parent who loves the great outdoors is introducing your little ones to camping, hiking, and more.
Learning to appreciate nature at an early age, as well as the basics of outdoor safety and survival, can set a child up for a lot of success. While it can be a lot of fun to share your love of nature with your kids, there are also challenges that come along with family camping. With these tips in mind, your kids (and you!) can rest easier, stay safe, and have more fun on your next trip.
General Family Camping Hacks
To start off, let’s look at the big picture, and some general camping ideas to keep in mind during your next family camping trip. The good news is that natural wonder is going to do most of the work for you! If you can make sure your kids feel safe, involved, and engaged, it’s easy to have fun, learn, and bond as a family when camping together.
1. Involve Kids in Some Decisions
The key to having the best camping trip possible with your kids, no matter what their age, is making sure they feel engaged and involved with the process. If you can convince them that this is something they want to do and have some say in, it’s a lot easier to go along with the plan.
Otherwise, you’ll be spending most of the time trying to convince them to pay attention, stop complaining, or see the value in the natural world around them. So the first step is to make sure you involve them in some decision-making when you’re getting ready and out on the trail.
2. Be Flexible and Understanding
On the other side of things, you should also approach your child’s first camping trip with reasonable expectations. They may not love it right away, and it can take some time to figure out how to have fun together as a family.
You know your children best, so listen to them, pay attention, and be ready to understand when they get stressed out, tired, or bored. With this guide in mind, you can avoid a lot of the common pitfalls, but children of any age can always throw you a curveball.
3. Anticipate Challenges
On that note, an integral part of the first-time camping experience is to anticipate potential challenges you may run into. Think about stress points in your everyday life with your child and then integrate solutions into your camping checklist.
For instance, a picky eater might need additional food options to try. Or for kids that are potty training, you might want a travel toilet to encourage them to use it. Make sure to bring kid-safe insect repellent and consider other safety issues like potentially poisonous plants.
4. Stay Organized
This one might sound a little silly. As a camper or backpacker, you know that organization is key to a smooth trip even without kids. As a parent, you know that being perfectly organized with kids is nearly impossible. So the trick here is to organize as much as you can beforehand. Especially if you’re planning on camping as a family often, organizing everything you need into set totes, packs, and bins can help.
You should organize items by type and when you’ll need them. So, bug spray, sunscreen, and your first aid kit need to be accessible anywhere: on the trail, at a campsite, in the car. Items like sleeping bags and cooking materials can be stored by type for easy unpacking when you make camp. The more specific you can get the better!
5. Take Advantage of Childlike Wonder
One plus side of camping with kids is that everything is new to them! That means they’re often naturally excited about seeing new things, exploring new places, and learning about camping and hiking from you. So use that to your advantage!
Enjoy the time without kid’s TV shows to watch and try to connect with them as much as you can. Camping can be an excellent bonding activity and simply sharing what you know about nature, trail etiquette, and more, is often enough to make a family camping trip a big success.
Getting Ready: From Food to Fun
Still, there’s a lot you can do to ensure everyone has fun. One refrain here will be to prepare, prepare, prepare. Anything you can do in advance will make it easier when you get out on the trail. Things may still change and surprise you, but you’ll reduce the potential problems that might turn up.
6. Practice At Home
One way to iron out the kinks before your next camping trip is to “go camping” at home first. Whether you do this out on a lawn, or even in an indoor play area if you don’t have outdoor space at home, a practice run can make family camping a much easier endeavor.
You can anticipate many different problems that may come up, but for a truly stress-free camping experience, you should try it at home first. You may be surprised what your child finds difficult or stressful! And once you know, you can prepare for it in advance.
7. Pack Foods They Like
While a camp kitchen doesn’t offer the greatest variety of food options, camping food has gotten a lot better than it used to be! There are tons of ready-made camping meals available now, and some that even cater to kids specifically. One trick here though is just knowing what your kid likes to eat and involving them if possible in meal planning.
For instance, they may be more likely to eat the healthy parts of a meal if you let them pick which veggies to go with. But it can also help you figure out what they’re most likely to eat on the trail. After all, one of the biggest limitations of camping is having a set amount of food to choose from. Consider packing some fun treats, like marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers for s’mores or other campfire favorites.
8. Help Them Pack
For young children, you’re most likely packing for them. But as young as possible, you can try giving them a packing list to work off, as well as a duffel bag or small backpack to fill. You should of course check their work later and help them understand the list as much as you can.
This is one of the important lessons you can teach just by involving them in camping trips early on. So even if they’re not ready to pack on their own, let them help and be part of the process if you can.
9. Dress in Layers
It’s always a good idea to dress in layers if you’re going out into the wilderness. You always want to have more options than necessary for levels of warmth and wind protection. After all, the whole idea of going camping is to be (somewhat) out in the elements.
So a key part of any successful camping trip is staying safe, warm, and dry. This is especially true for little ones! Even if you’re not cold, they might be, so have the right layers for the season of your trip.
Fun Camping: Keeping Campers Happy
Take a deep breath! After all that prep, you’re ready to go and excited to head out on a peaceful trip with kids in tow. When you step out the door, however, the camping adventure truly begins. Remember: stay flexible! Even with perfect planning, things might not go exactly as expected. Keep these tips in mind to make sure the trip goes smoothly and that your little campers stay happy on the trail.
10. Find A Kid-Friendly Campsite
One thing you might consider when camping with kids is whether it’s worth it to be close to some amenities. Restrooms, a water pump, and handwashing stations can all be handy when you’re camping with kids. While these things may not be necessary for a solo trip, they can make taking care of (and cleaning up after) kids a lot easier.
You can also camp at sites with attractions like playgrounds, play areas, or even natural features like lakes. This gives you some built-in entertainment and somewhere for kids to run around without wandering too far.
11. Embrace Dirt
That said, a little bit of mud can be okay! Kids are messy, and especially so when the cleaning options are limited. Get them hiking and camping gear that’s okay to get a little muddy, and be ready for lots of clean-up along the way. This can be a good moment to teach them about caring for, cleaning, and maintaining gear, too. Dirt getting everywhere is just part of camping with kids.
12. Safety and Survival Lessons
You can teach them other important hiking, camping, and survival lessons too! One of the most engaging activities for families on the trail is to learn together. One of the most fun camping ideas is to try out different DIY fire starters with older kids. You can teach them a little bit about wilderness survival with just a little tin foil, kindling, lint, or even steel wool and batteries. It’s fun and a fire safety lesson all at once.
13. Share the Load
In the “general hacks” section, we talked about how involving your kids in decision-making and planning can make for a great camping experience. The same goes for camping responsibilities, chores, and other things. The more you can get them involved in the plan, the more fun they’re going to have and the more they’ll focus on the trip.
For kids that aren’t big enough to carry their own pack yet, you can still put a few snacks in a small backpack for them to carry. While they may not be able to carry a water jug with enough for the day, giving them kid-sized water bottles to carry can help them feel involved, responsible, and interested in what’s happening.
Overnight Camping: How to Handle Bedtime
Bedtime can be one of the toughest parts of camping with kids. But with a little planning and some clever parenting, you can bedtime in a tent stress-free and fun.
14. Familiar Bedtime Routine
One of the most important tips for camping with kids is to keep a familiar bedtime routine. Going to sleep in a strange place and after an exciting day can be difficult for children. This is especially true if they’re not comfortable or if you change their sleeping schedule too much. So try to keep to the same schedule, and do whatever you can to mimic their at-home bedtime routine.
15. Build A Cozy Sleeping Space
Comfort can make a big difference. An inviting and comfortable sleeping space will make bedtime go down easier than an uncomfortable set-up. Look out for kid-sized sleeping bags that they can set up themselves, and make sure the quality is good enough to keep you comfy. Bringing along a stuffed animal, or comfort blanket can also help a lot.
16. Add Some Special Touches
You can also make bedtime special with touches like glow sticks, string lights, and other gear for kids to use themselves. Having some control over lights can make them feel safer and more comfortable. It can also be fun to show them how to set up or sleep in a hammock if they’re old enough. This can make bedtime a bit more exciting and appealing as well.
17. Going Potty at Night
Going to the bathroom in the middle of the night can be hard for kids, especially if they’re still potty training. Having a small travel toilet to set up right outside the tent can make it easier, as can gear like headlamps or other lights that make it easier for them to see in the dark.
Make Camping Fun For Kids
So finally, let’s look at fun activity ideas that can take your family camping trip to the next level. Instilling a lifelong love of camping is as easy as keeping these great tips in mind.
18. Pack A Toy
While there are a lot of fun ideas out there for games, activities, and crafts on the trail, bringing a toy can go a long way towards keeping kids happy (and quiet). Pick a favorite toy that’s easy to carry and bring it along. This can be great for entertaining your kids while doing things like cooking, setting up tents, or anything else where you need them out of your hair.
19. Nature Crafts
Use the world around you to help provide fun activities while learning about nature. From simple games like “I Spy” to more involved activities like a campsite scavenger hunt, there are tons of games you can play on a family camping trip. Try looking up printable bingo cards or other small games to keep kids happy and entertained on your trip.
20. Invite Some Friends
The ultimate way to make a camping trip more fun for your kids is to let them invite a friend or two along! After all, most kids are more excited to spend time with each other than just mom and dad. You’ll still get some bonding time, and kids can entertain each other pretty easily. It can be a bit trickier to anticipate the needs of someone else’s child but bringing along friends can help your kids love camping.
It’s never too early to start camping with your kids! Of course, you should be careful to pack the right outdoor camping gear for your family and have backup plans in case something goes wrong, but with a little forethought, understanding, and care, camping with kids can be tons of fun.
Let the great outdoors speak for itself and look for teaching moments wherever you can. But most of all, just enjoy the time together, the campfire songs, the challenges, and everything that comes with a well-planned family camping trip.
Bonus tip: Check out this great video for a few easy craft and game ideas!