Kids and camping go together like peanut butter and jelly.
There are no two things that are more perfect together like kids and being outdoors. So, the question to ask yourself is, why wouldn’t I take my kids camping?
Camping with kids is a completely different experience than just camping on your own. There are lots of ways that you can create a camping experience that is perfect for the whole family.
And, if done right, camping with your kiddos can lead to a life-long love of being outdoors and experiencing nature.
Kids and Camping – A Long and Storied History
Kids and camping have a long, well told history.
We see examples of kids enjoying the outdoors, and experiencing the joy of camping in so many books, TV shows and movies. It’s seems like a natural and logical activity for kids.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin, one of our favorite classic novels is filled with camping, classic TV shows like The Andy Griffith Show, The Little Rascals and many other family TV favorites, frequently show kids on a camping adventure.
For kids today, Harry Potter and his friends have a couple of camping adventures, showing that camping is for all kids, in all sorts of different places. Kids and camping are the perfect combination.
Not only does camping offer a bit of freedom, but most kids love to play outdoors, get dirty and have adventures. There is no better way to experience all of these, than with a great camping trip.
As adults, we look back fondly on our childhood camping experiences as the places where we first learned to love nature.
Our own histories tell us that camping helped us learn basic survival skills, how to make the most of our supplies, and live modestly and in connection with nature. The opportunities we had as kids to enjoy nature through the fun of camping, should be a history we pass on to our kids.
As we think about including our kids in their first camping adventures, we look back to our own experiences and how our parents introduced us to all of the wonders of sleeping outdoors.
If you’re ready to start camping with your children and need some reminders about how to start the process, or maybe you are new to camping and want to make an outdoor adventure a family experience, we’ve come up with some helpful advice to make your family camping adventure, fun and successful for every member of your clan.
Before You Hit the Road
Let’s get real here, camping with kids can add some extra steps to your camping preparations, and kids often have different needs when it comes to camping than the experienced camping adult.
We put together a list of considerations, and helpful advice that you should keep in mind as you are getting ready to camp with your kiddos.
And even if you’ve camped with your kids before, we may have some thoughts and ideas that you may not have considered. So, pull up your camp chair and get ready to camp with your kids!
Your Kids’ Boundaries
This is really important to think about before you hit the road.
When you are planning your camping trip with your kids, you really need to know what you can expect from your children, how much “outdoors” they can handle, and if you can safely push their boundaries, without a complete meltdown.
Some kids are ready for anything, and you could safely make a first camping trip a backcountry overnight adventure. Some kids just struggle without some basic “luxuries” like a bathroom or a bed.
Know what your child can handle and work with that. If you can get away with a full on minimalist adventure, we think that is a great opportunity to connect with nature.
However, if you need to slowly work into the camping experience, try a tent spot or camping cabin at a developed campground. This is a great way to start introducing the most particular of kiddos to the great outdoors.
Get Your Kids Involved
Don’t let your kids get away with all of the fun, while you work hard at setting up camp.
Make sure that you delegate set-up tasks to every member of the family, before leave the house.
Maybe your child is old enough to help set up the tent, that’s a great way to learn about building a stable “home”. If your kiddos are smaller, perhaps they help by rolling out sleeping bags or setting out chairs.
Kids take more ownership of the camping experience if they are given the opportunity to participate and contribute to their home away from home.
Kid Friendly Meals
Let’s face it… feeding kids can sometimes be a challenge, especially if you have a picky eater.
The great thing about camping is that it the perfect time to make “kid friendly” foods for the whole family.
As you are planning camping meals, consider foods that your kids can cook themselves. Hot dogs and bratwurst are great camping foods that kids can cook on their own. Boxed macaroni and cheese is an easy to pack and easy to make meal.
Bring plenty of sandwich supplies like lunch meats, peanut butter, jelly, cheese and chips for easy lunches. Burgers and chicken can also be great options.
If your kids aren’t picky and they are up for an interesting experience, try some freeze-dried camping meals. They are easy to pack, easy to prepare, and offer a great learning experience for your children.
Family Friendly Activities
Now, we can easily spend our camping adventure relaxing by the fire, with a good book and a cold beverage, but your kids aren’t probably as relaxed.
You’re going to want to plan some kid friendly activities to keep your kiddos entertained.
When you’re packing, make sure that your camping supplies include some simple games like a deck of cards or UNO that everyone can enjoy. If you have space, bring with ladder ball, corn hole or badminton to set up around camp.
Once you have those fun activities packed, make sure you plan some activities like hikes and walks that will allow your kids to experience the outdoors.
We recommend packing a few field guide books (animals, plants, flowers) to help your children better understand the world around them, and to be more aware of their surroundings.
Finally, books are a great way to chill out at the end of the day, or if the weather is crummy, so make sure that your camping supplies include a book or two for everyone in the family.
And, while camping should be fun for everyone, you may also want to include some learning experiences beyond the nature hikes. Camping is a great time to teach kids about outdoor skills like fishing first aid, orienteering, survival, and knot-tying to name a few.
Find fun ways to help your kids learn these skills, like a scavenger hunt or a game that reinforces outdoor skills, but is also fun and entertaining.
Sleeping outdoors, where it can be really dark, can be scary for kiddos.
So make sure that you have plenty of options to make sleeping outdoors more enjoyable for everyone.
First, make sure that you’ve got a comfy place for your kids to sleep. Air mattresses make a first time camping experience more comfortable for your kids. A warm sleeping bag and a comfortable pillow is also important for making a comfortable sleeping arrangement for your kids.
If your kids are concerned about it being dark, invest in some small solar lights that will charge during the day, and give off a low, but reassuring light at night. Then, sleep close to your kids, until they are comfortable.
Make sure they know where you are, and that they can wake you if they are scared. Especially for first time campers, the dark combined with new noises can be unsettling.
Camping Clothes for Kids
Your kiddo is going to need some decent gear to get through their first camping experiences.
Some basic suggestions: avoid light colors, and buy durable.
Kids are tough on clothes in general, so make sure you bring items that are going to stand up well to rough and tumble. Here are some essentials that your kiddo needs in their camping wardrobe.
- A good hat – Bring along a good sun hat that will protect their face and ears. You’re going to be outside a lot, so make sure their face is well shielded from the sun.
- Trekking Pants – We love trekking pants for us, so they’re going to be great for your kiddos, too. These pants are easy to layer over long underwear, and convertible trekking pants are easy to swap between shorts and pants for those cool mornings and evenings and warmer days.
- Long Sleeve Sun Shirts – Yes, a regular long sleeve shirt will do, but look for a couple of long sleeve sun shirts that are rated UPF 30. These shirts are usually light and breathable, but give great protection from the sun.
- Wool Socks – Keep feet dry, warm and safe with a pair or two of good wool socks. Depending on the time of year that you’re out camping select a weight that is season appropriate.
- Hiking boots – We like a boot with a higher ankle for our kids. Giving good support to feet and ankles protects your kiddo from twisted ankles that can quickly end a camping trip. Make sure you waterproof boots or buy boots that are waterproof to keep feet dry and warm.
- Sandals – Flip flops or good hiking sandals are a must for camping. They are easy to get on and off and are great for night-time bathroom runs or just hanging out around the campfire. They are also good for playing in the water.
Cool Kids Gear
Just like us, kids love cool gear.
So, make sure that you equip your kids with fun, and practical gear that they will want to use.
Here are our suggestions for cool camping gear that your kids will love.
- Flashlight or headlamp – Make the dark of night just a little more comfortable for your kiddo. Make sure that they have a cool, easy to use flashlight or headlamp. We like the Intellinotion CREE headlamp. It looks cool, is easy to use and has plenty light for any kiddo.
- Binoculars – A handy piece of equipment for the whole family. Binoculars help your kiddo see those far away or particularly tiny critters on your nature hikes.
- Firestarter – If part of your camping adventure includes teaching your kids survival skills, make sure your kiddo has their own Firestarter, so they can practice starting a fire, under your careful watch.
- Backpack – Give your child the opportunity to carry their own gear. Get them a cool backpack, complete with a hydration pack and plenty of pockets for all the stuff your child might want to carry along.
You may be a camping expert, but your kids are likely not.
They deserve every opportunity to learn and become successful campers. Remember that for the first time camper, a long time away from home can be overwhelming.
For your kids, that means that for the best experience, start small, start close to home, and keep your first few adventures to just a couple of days or a long weekend.
Keeping your first few adventures manageable for everyone, means that you are more likely to create a love of camping and the outdoors, in your kids.
Camping is a great way to get your children outdoors. Kids love to have adventures, especially if they are outdoors and give them a bit of extra freedom.
Camping is a great way to give your kids a bit of extra room to run, while at the same time giving them a greater appreciation of the outdoors and our environment.
We’ve given you some of our best suggestions for making a camping adventure with your kids fun and successful for everyone. We hope that they inspire you to have an amazing experience connecting with your child in the great outdoors.