Camping with kids is a test of a marriage. There is a ridiculous amount of planning, packing and set up required to keep everyone comfortable enough to ever want to go back to the woods again. And sometimes, despite your best efforts, camping can kind of suck. In theory, camping is a fun and inexpensive way to unplug and connect with your family. But, like anything to do with kids, camping with kids means planning ahead and organizing a lot of stuff. As my kids get older camping has become a lot easier in some ways, and strangely more challenging in others. Here are my top tips for getting everyone to the campsite without losing your mind!
Choose a Kid Friendly Campsite
There are several books and websites devoted to local campsites that are family friendly. My favourite is Jayne Seagrave’s local series, Camping with kids. Ask local families, or go to your nearest outdoor recreation store and check out the book section. In my opinion, especially for novice campers, kid friendly campsites have some kind of toilet facilities, access to drinkable water and a round-the-clock ranger on site. And based on experience, sites that are prone to bear and cougar sightings become less desirable with infants and toddlers as well. When our kids were really little, we favoured a campsite that was a short drive to a small town with restaurants, supplies and a medical clinic. And if you want to camp in our part of the world, you’ll need to be organized moths in advance just to get a reservation. You can connect with BC Parks Discover Camping here.
Make a Re-usable List of Camping Supplies
Keep the list year after year so you don’t go insane trying to think up a new list each year. Keep it stored with your camping gear so it’s ready to go as soon as you start hauling everything out to pack up. Laminate it, wrap it in cellophane or keep it in a ziplock bag so you can check off each item as it gets packed and not have to re-write the list for next year. Download a free PDF copy of my Ultimate Car Camping With Kids List list here. Once you’ve got everything organized to go, get some drawer type storage and label, label, label. This honestly makes a world of difference in your day to day sanity in a camp kitchen. And if you are camping with any little ones who are transitioning to toilet use, I highly recommend bringing a portable potty. It’s just easier than hiking to the pit toilets every hour and in the middle of the night…you’ll be so glad you have it! And you know what else is a must have for any camping trip with kids? Mabel’s Labels 411 bands. They are waterproof, childproof and just like those wristbands they put on you at the swimming pool, impossible to get off without scissors. The wristband won’t protect them from predatory animals, but it does give me peace of mind to know I’m really just a phone call away if they get out of sight! And one last tip: If your site has power, I bring along a small fan. It’s great for white noise, if your site is near any late night partiers, and it keeps everyone just a little bit cooler in a hot stuffy tent!
Get Some Good Camping Gear
Beg, borrow or buy some good gear. It will make all the difference in your willingness to ever do this again. And everyone is happier and sleeps better with a good mattress and a pillow. In my camping world, bedding takes up about 60% of our available space to pack, so don’t save it until the very end to pack, but do look for nooks to stuff soft bedding into (under kids feet, between kids in the back seat or behind their carseats to act as a barrier against the projectiles you’ll be jamming in at the last minute) We picked up some super comfy air mattresses and just make the beds up with fitted sheets and a duvet. It is kind of cheat camping, but we’ve got the van, so why not bring the comfort?! And I save all the plastic wrapping that comes with any large purchase so I can store and transport the camping bedding while keeping it dry and clean. One day, I dream of buying these tree tents and leaving all the gear behind, but for now we bring pretty much everything, plus the kitchen sink…
Plan Some Easy Campfire Meals
Go through the process of visualizing all the food prep and write a list of everything you’ll need. S’mores? I’ll need marshmallow sticks to cook the marshmallows with, wet wipes to clean up sticky hands and some twist ties to make sure the bag is closed tight for the night. I’m not a gourmet campfire chef, but I do like to cook as much as I can ahead of time and freeze it for the journey. I’ll make chilli, freeze it, and then use the frozen food as an ice pack. It saves space in the cooler and keeps everything else a bit more food safe. And now that we go pretty far off the grid when we camp, I need as much room in the cooler as possible! If you really want to keep things cool, check out these personal fridges that plug into your car! They are not outrageous in price, and really make a difference when camping off the grid and daily ice is not available.
Plan For Activities and Campsite Fun:
Safety first, but be sure to let kids take risks and stretch past their comfort zone. These jib lines are hours of forest fun for the unimpressed older kids and these glow in the dark bubbles might be the best thing I’ve seen all day. We stick with old fashioned glow sticks, but they are especially fun to tape onto clothing and dance around in at night!! Truth be told, you don’t need a lot to entertain kids in the woods or at the beach. Nature does a great job of entertaining them for you! If you can, just let them be. Without structured activities or games to play, kids are ingenious at inventing ways to play in nature. Richard Louv wrote a fabulous book, Last Child the Woods, and I highly recommend it or Vitamin N as pre-reading for your camping trip with kids! Glow sticks, talent shows, jib lines, wood carving and starting campfires are all kinds of unique experiences for city kids that memories are made of and will stay long after the summer is over! And don’t forget it is totally Ok not to plan anything and just let your kids find the fun. If you’re unsure about the difference between risks and hazards in unstructured play, read this related post on risky play.
Camping With Kids
Want more ideas on keeping everyone organized and happy while camping? Come follow my Camping with Kids board on Pinterest. It is packed full of other people’s genius ideas!