Are you new to camping, or new to camping with kids? Do you want to give camping with your kids a try but don’t know where to start? Well, you’re at the right place. This guide will give you some pointers to make your first camping experiences positive for both you and your kids.
1. Start in your backyard
If this is your first time camping with your kids, especially if they’re young kids, don’t make it hard on yourself – camp in your own backyard. If you live in an apartment or other dwelling without your own yard then you can skip right to step 3. But if you have the luxury of camping in your yard, start there. If anyone has to use the bathroom, it’s right there and familiar. If you want to make the cooking part easier, you have your full kitchen at your fingertips (+1 for ease of coffee making in the morning too). If it’s not working out and you need to bail, just plop your kid into their bed.
2. Camp somewhere close to home
When you’re ready to up your game from your backyard, try the closest campground to you. This may vary wildly based on where you live, but if you can find a campground that is 30 minutes or less away from you start there – you don’t need to make a whole journey out of it. Forgot something important? No worries! Jet back home to get it or have someone drop it off to you. Want to get takeout instead of cooking? Grab it on the way to the campground or run out to get it.
3. Keep to your routine
As much as possible, keep to your routine when you first get your kids into camping. You don’t want your kid to get over hungry by eating later than usual or over tired by going to bed much later than normal. That can cause grumpiness and put a sour spin on everyone’s experience. Does your kid have a preferred blanket and pillow? Use those instead of a sleeping bag. Does your kid have a favorite stuffed animal? Bring that with you. Do you drink coffee every morning? Make coffee camping so you don’t get grumpy either!
4. Choose the right time of year
Don’t camp for the first time when it’s either too hot or too cold. Trying to get your kids into camping when it’s a sweltering 90 degrees at night probably won’t work. Trying to sleep when it dips below 50 degrees is also fraught with challenges. I don’t know about you, but my kids toss and turn and work their way out of their sleeping bag in the middle of the night. When it’s too cold, I worry they’re not warm enough which affects my own ability to sleep because I’m constantly checking on them. This will vary based on where you live, but pick the best time of year where the temperatures are mild – preferably nights above 50 degrees and days below 90 degrees.
5. Bring entertainment (screen-free!)
Without some planning, kids may find camping boring. You can go for a hike or go fishing, but that’s not going to consume your whole day. Bring extra entertainment such as:
- Table games to play
- Yard games to play
- Kids’ own toys
- Books to read
- New toys and activities (think dollar store!)
This will give you something to fall back to when there is any down time. Keep your kid engaged!
6. Make food easy on yourself
Don’t plan some elaborate recipe to make camping – you’re just setting yourself up for failure. Keep it simple! Macaroni and cheese made on the camping stove and hot dogs over the fire will do just fine! There’s also no shame in getting takeout if you’re not up to trying your hand at cooking while camping. While eventually you should try to make your meals to really experience camping, don’t make it hard early on.
7. Get a bigger tent than the numbers suggest
When buying your tent for family camping something important to keep in mind is that the number of people a tent says it can hold is a pretty tight fit – think sardines in a can. For example, we are a family of five but we use the Coleman Tenaya Lake 8-person tent. If doesn’t feel big once we’re all in there with all of our gear. But I could not imagine the five of us not feeling overcrowded in a 6-person tent. So my advice here is buy bigger. Assuming you’re car camping, then just go big. Are you a family of three? Get a 6-person tent. Are you a family of four to six? Get an 8-person tent. Scale up accordingly. If I’m just camping with one of my kids though, for whatever reason, I’ll stick to a 2-person tent to keep it easy.
8. Embrace the suck
I love camping. But I won’t lie to you, there are parts about it that suck. Doing dishes while camping. Having to take your kid to pee in the middle of the night. Dealing with a kid who wet the bed while camping (yes, it has happened). You name it, something is going to suck about the experience. But that’s ok! That’s actually part of the beauty of camping. Remember how blessed you are to be bonding with your kids, introducing them to something amazing, and enjoying the beauty of nature together. It’s not meant to be comfortable. It’s not meant to be easy. But you and your kids will never forget these experiences. Your kid will never look back and wish you hadn’t camped together, so all the suck that it comes with is 100% worth it!
9. Prepare for the weather
If it’s supposed to rain make sure you put the rain fly on your tent and have rain gear for you and the kids. Wet gear and wet clothes will ruin your camping experience. You don’t have to let the rain stop you – put on the rain jackets and rain boots and go for a splashy washy walk! Play games or read books in the tent. See Eureka’s guide – 11 Tips for Camping in the Rain. On the other hand, don’t let the rain ruin your experience if you’re a beginner. Don’t be afraid to bail on your trip if it looks rainy all weekend, or to head home if the rain is too much and everyone is miserable. You can try again on clearer days. The same applies for other weather challenges.
10. Tell campfire stories
Campfire stories are a time-tested way to make your kids love camping. If you grew up camping, you know what I’m talking about. Plan ahead and have some stories in mind so you don’t have to tell them on the spot. For example, I told my kids over the fire the story of John Colter – the mountain man who traveled with the Lewis and Clark Expedition and was the first person of European descent to experience what is today Yellowstone National Park. It all came from my head from when I read John Colter: His Year in the Rockies many years ago. And you know what? They were captivated by the story and were full of questions, which I did my best to answer. You could tell stories from history like this, or Google any number of fictional campfire stories to tell. Just try not to scare them before bed!
Get out there!
Now that you’ve read this article, what are you waiting for? Plan your first or next camping trip! Your kids will always remember these times and thank you for decades for giving them these experiences.
What are your top concerns or biggest challenges about camping with kids? What do you love about camping with kids? Any tips you’d share with our readers? Comment below!
I am by no means an expert – I am just speaking from my experiences camping with my kids. More tips can be found all across the web, so see below for some links to other helpful pages on this topic:
Tips for Camping with Kids – REI
Beginner’s Guide to Camping – Kampgrounds of America (KOA)
19 Tips for Camping with Kids – Parents.com
This is a great post; I really enjoyed reading it and thinking back over the last decade or so. I have been camping with my son Tom since he was a Tiger Cub Scout (age 6), and everything above rings true for me. We have certainly evolved in our abilities and our kit. I think I was very fortunate, but I believe the only thing that ever truly sucked was when Tom was super little, he would be running amuck through the woods with a burning stick or whatever while I tried to set up the tent (note to self – next time build the fire last). My wife and daughter are very supportive of our pursuits, but they are not campers, so Tom and I have had to figure out our routine as just the two of us, and as a result, we have become a great father-son team IMO. These days we’re both avid backpackers. Tom is 16, and he has been an Eagle Scout for almost 2 years. Time flies. My best dad move ever in camping with Tom was one muggy night back in 2014 or so, I suggested we put the fire out early, grab our flashlights, and head down to the creek and pond to look for critters. We found a snapping turtle and saw snakes, tree frogs were jumping up our arms, and we had an absolute blast. This ritual became so much a part of our camping experience that as one of the older Scouts, Tom now leads the younger boys on nighttime hikes down to the lake on Troop campouts. What fun. You’re right, I will never regret this – it’s become a huge part of our lives. Nothing better than camping with your kids 🙂
Thanks for sharing your experiences! Reaffirms that any “suck” is well worth the memories that last forever.
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