When we think of camping with kids, we picture a happy family making lasting memories around the campfire (see stock photo above).
However, the reality can be bored, hungry, wet, miserable, mosquito-bitten kids constantly asking to go home.
To avoid that nightmare, here are our 5 tips for fun and stress-free camping with kids:
5 Tips for Stress-Free Camping with Kids
So you want to take your kids camping, but you are worried that it is going to be more stressful than relaxing?
Being prepared will ensure the experience is as fun and stress-free as possible for everyone.
If you have experience camping, then you likely already know how to plan for a basic camping trip. You still need to adjust your plans to make the trip more kid-friendly, but the basics will be the same.
If you are new to camping, you’ll have to do some extra planning to make sure you know the basics.
Whether you’re camping with toddlers or teenagers, planning for your kids’ first camping trip is very important. The details might vary a bit for each age group, but the overall concerns will be the same.
We recommended getting your kids involved in the planning process. When camping with kids for the first time, the trip will be much more smooth if they’re excited about it and have thought it through beforehand.
Tip #1 - Buy the right size tent and practice setting it up
Buy a tent that’s big enough for your family’s needs, but don’t get one that’s too big.
It’s better to have a couple of smaller tents than to have one giant tent.
The giant mansion-style tents are more difficult to set up and break down. If you’re not already familiar with setting them up, they just cause stress, and you don’t need to add stress to your camping trip.
If you’re car-camping, a Coleman 4-person Sundome is a good option. It’s easy to set up and break down, and it’s roomy enough for up to four people. If you’re only planning to camp with your kids once or twice a year, the Sundome is an excellent option.
If you’re hiking into your campsite, you might want to invest in a more lightweight tent. However, lightweight tents are also more expensive.
If you’re planning to start camping with your kids regularly, it might be worth the investment in a higher quality tent such as the Nemo Wagon Top 4 person tent. To find the right tent for you, check out our Best Tents Buying Guide & Reviews.
No matter what tent you buy, practice setting it up and breaking it down at home before the camping trip. If you’re new to setting up tents, they can be a little more difficult than they seem. Most tents will come with instructions that are super helpful. Don’t be afraid to reference the instructions!
Tip #2 - Activities: Make sure your trip isn’t boring
When selecting your campsite, choose a place that has amenities that your family will enjoy. This could include walking trails, places to swim, playgrounds, fishing ponds, etc.
Planning your activities ahead of time will go a long way in making your trip enjoyable for the whole family.
If this is your first time camping with kids, you might be surprised at how quickly they get bored just sitting around the campsite. For adults, unplugging and enjoying some time with nature is great! Kids need a little more than that.
If your kids aren’t used to spending time outdoors entertaining themselves, you may need to give them some ideas. Come prepared with some campsite games or some activities for them to do.
This doesn’t need to be elaborate. Some ideas for campsite activities include:
- Get them involved in collecting firewood and building a fire.
- Have them help set up the tent.
- If they have their own tent, make it a race to see which of you can set up your tent the fastest.
- Have them help prepare dinner.
- Teach them how to make s’mores.
- Tell campfire stories.
Be prepared to teach them how to find entertainment in the woods. Encourage them to bring a book or a sketch pad if they enjoy activities like that.
You can also let them bring video games or play cell phone games, but decide before the trip how much time you want your family to spend in front of screens during the trip. Screen time can quickly turn into a battle if you haven’t stipulated the rules and the goals for the trip beforehand.
Tip #3 - Packing: Prepare for weather and activities
Before you go on any camping trip, double-check the forecast. Make sure you know what the high and low temps for each day will likely be and make sure you know what the rain chance will be.
When packing for the temperature, make a note of the overnight lows.
If your kids get cold overnight, you will be stuck trying to keep them warm all night long.
Make sure you bring enough sleeping bags, blankets, etc. to keep them warm and comfortable overnight. During the day, have them wear whatever they would normally wear when playing outside in that weather. Don’t pack anything that you don’t want to get dirty! Assume that everything you bring on this trip will get a little dirty.
If there’s a high chance of rain and your family isn’t used to camping in the rain, you might want to go ahead and reschedule your trip.
Trying to get kids accustomed to camping is not easy if it’s raining. Camping in the rain is only fun if you already know what you’re doing. If there’s a low chance of rain, make plans for what you will do if it rains to stay dry and still have fun while the weather passes through.
If you’re car camping and you’re unfamiliar with setting up a tarp, it might be worth bringing an E-Z UP that you can use as a small shelter.
Also, make a note of any specific activities that you’re planning on doing with your family during the trip. Bring clothes appropriate for the activities and clothes that will be comfortable for sitting around the campsite.
For example: if you’re planning to go fishing, you should bring a change of clothes so that you and your kids don’t spend the rest of the day smelling like fish.
Tip #4 - Food: Prep it well and store it properly
Easy to Prep Food
Unless your family (including the kiddos) are experienced campers, bring food that’s easy to cook and easy to clean up.
It might seem like a fun idea to try out a Dutch Oven for the first time or try to make some cool camping meal that you saw in a YouTube video, but camping with kids is not the right time. Bring something easy to make and that the kids will enjoy.
Go-to breakfast options:
- Muffins or other pastries. You don’t have to keep them cold, and you don’t have to cook them. You can easily bring your family’s favorite pastries and eat them for breakfast at whatever pace you all wake up.
- Cereal and Milk. You only need to keep the milk cold, and you can bring whatever brand of cereal and whatever type of milk your family enjoys most. The clean-up is easy, and your kids will already be familiar with the meal.
- Instant oatmeal, grits, or Cream of Wheat. This will require heating up water, so you will need a camp stove and a pot.
Go-to lunch options:
- PB&J sandwiches. No refrigeration is needed, but they can be a little messy. If your family doesn’t eat peanut butter, you can sub it for another type of nut butter like almond or sunflower.
- Deli meat with cheese sandwiches. You will need to keep the meat and dairy items cold. However, it’s easy to make and doesn’t require a lot of clean-up. You can also add vegetables to make it a little more healthy, or you can sub the meat for hummus.
Go-to dinner options:
- Hot dogs (or veggie dogs) cooked over a fire. The hot dogs will need to stay cold, but the rest of the meal won’t. You’ll need to bring skewers or something similar to roast the hot dogs if you don’t want to use sticks. This can be a bit of a messy meal, so set some guidelines with your kids on where they can eat and how to prep the meal.
- Any one-pot-wonder meal. You’ll need a camp stove, a pot, a spoon, and some water. This type of meal can be cooked easily in one pot and usually requires pasta. Options include spaghetti, mac n’ cheese, couscous, etc. You’ll just need to cook the pasta, drain the water, and add the sauce/meat/veggies. Done! Clean-up can be a little more involved, especially if anything burns in the pot.
Food Storage Plans
Your food must be securely removed from your campsite overnight, so you don’t attract animals. If you are in bear country, this is VERY important!
If not, you still don’t want raccoons getting into your food. They’re loud, and they make a huge mess.
Double-check the type of animals that live in the area where you’ll be camping and research food storage recommendations specific to those animals.
Don’t let your kids bring food in the tent with them!
This includes snacks during the day. If you get food and crumbs in the tent, you can attract animals.
Tip #5 - Unique planning: knowing your family’s quirks
Nobody knows your family better than you do, so use the knowledge you already have when planning for the trip.
Think through some of the things that would stress you or your family out on a camping trip.
If you prepare for the issues that are specific to your family, you will reduce your stress level on the trip. As you’re making these plans, talk through them with your kids to get them onboard beforehand.
Do you have a little one who refuses to go to bed without a specific teddy bear? Make a plan for how you’re going to keep that bear safe and dry when it’s not bedtime, so it comes back home with you.
Is one of your family members scared of bugs and would freak out if a bug got in their tent? Make sure your kids understand the importance of keeping the tent zippers closed when they aren’t actively getting in or out of the tent. Kids tend to leave the tent zippers open, and that’s just an invitation for bugs to get in the tent.
If any members of your family have specific medical issues that could become problematic on the camping trip, make plans for what you will do if those issues arise. Likewise, double-check that you have packed any medications that are needed daily or as-need (Ex: inhalers, Epi-Pens, etc.). We recommend packing these in a first aid kit such as the Surviveware Small First Aid Kit or you can follow our guide on How to Make Your Own First Aid Kit.
There are bound to be surprises whenever you leave the comfort of home to sleep outside. Then, add in the unpredictability of kids, and it can be overwhelming.
However, with the right preparation, camping with kids can be an enjoyable, stress-free time together that creates long-lasting memories.
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