Camping with kids is a wonderful experience. The kids love it, you all get away from the daily routine (and screens!) and it encourages plenty of exploring, connecting with nature and imagining.
We took our first family camping trip when our eldest child was about one. If you’re new parents, I recommend camping either before your baby can crawl, or after they start walking. In my experience with our second child, it’s a bit of a hassle dealing with a baby crawling through the dirt, and is much more enjoyable when they’re on two feet.
While camping with kids is a lot of fun, it pays to be as prepared as possible to make it the best experience it can be. So, here’s a list of tips to get you started.
WHAT TO PACK
Along with everything else you’ll be packing for your camping trip, I recommend you also consider the following when bringing along little ones.
- Clothes – a great hack for packing camp clothes for kids is rolling up a whole day’s outfit together and tying a band around it. This means there’s less rummaging through bags and it’s easy for kids to dress themselves! Make sure to pack items that are rugged and hard-wearing, as one thing is guaranteed – the kids will be covered in dirt in no time.
- Backpacks for each child – packed with a water bottle, lunchbox, whistle attached (just in case!), sunscreen, hat, special toys, and so on. Get the kids to help pack their own backpacks before the trip, taking some responsibility for their own belongings.
- Headlamp and glowsticks – giving them their own headlamp gives them a feeling of autonomy (glowlights are also endlessly fun, as well as practical).
- Baby wipes and hand sanitiser are both essential, especially when camping remotely with no showers or handbasins.
- In case of bad weather, make sure you have some games and activities packed to use inside the tent or under the tarp, like card games, colouring sheets and books. Try to avoid anything with very small pieces, like Lego or puzzles, as these can be easily lost.
- Food – think about how you can get the kids involved in camp cooking, which is all part of the experience. Easy stuff for kids to help cook includes veggies and sausages on a grill over the fire, and of course toasted marshmallows for dessert. I recommend packing decent lunch boxes for the kids to use on any trips away from camp. Stackable tiffin tins (inexpensive stainless steel lunch boxes from India) are great for this purpose.
CHOOSING A CAMPSITE/LOCATION
Think carefully about your kids’ ages and what they’ll enjoy doing while camping. If you’re camping in hotter months, obviously somewhere near water is great as water play will take up much of the day! Fishing is another fun, low-fuss activity kids can get involved with.
Also, think about the types of facilities you want available at the campsite to make your life easier! Do you want a running shower and proper toilets, or are you happy with roughing it a bit more? Consider whether you want to be near other families for the social aspect, or somewhere that is more remote and secluded for some quality family time.
What about your campfire and its proximity to the tent? Some campsites will have a designated fire pit right in front of your tent, others will have communal fire pits further away. It’s something to consider when putting young kids down to sleep while you stay up longer – you’ll still want to be close by.
Most places worth camping at will likely be a fair drive away from where you live. Try to engage the kids beforehand on where you’re going – like showing them a map and some photos – to keep them interested along the way. Think about your playlist or audiobooks when on the road.
Stop often for stretches and snacks and show the kids how far is left to go on the map. Allow ample time in your plans for these impromptu stops as it can add a lot of time to your journey. For example, if you estimate that it is a two-hour drive to camp, add at least an hour to your planning!
WHEN YOU ARRIVE
Try to arrive at your campsite with plenty of daylight left, allowing you time to set up camp, start a fire and get dinner organised. Have pre-dinner snacks ready to go for arrival at the campsite. There’s nothing worse than trying to get set up and prepare dinner in the dark with hungry kids!
If you know you’re going to arrive late in the day, pack a pre-cooked dinner that just needs heating up.
GET THEM INVOLVED!
Once you arrive at the campsite, get your kids to help set up. Give them small and manageable age-appropriate tasks. Our kids love collecting sticks and leaves for the campfire, and this activity can keep them busy for ages.
Depending on age, setting regular daily/nightly jobs for the kids is a great way to give them a sense of accomplishment and contribution to the camp. For example, it can be someone’s job to collect fresh water, set up the camp chairs or help prepare dinner.
It’s important for kids to know the ground rules when it comes to camping with others, taking care of the campsite and being responsible for their safety. Make sure to explain some basic camp etiquette and rules when you arrive:
- Tell them not to run through other people’s campsites.
- Remind them to keep quiet after waking in the morning (not everyone gets up at the crack of dawn!).
- Set boundaries around the campsite for where you’re happy for them to explore.
- Educate them on fires and how to keep safe around them.
- Explain that the camp needs to stay neat and tidy (just like at home, right?!).
To make communication fun, you could bring walkie talkies. Having glowsticks for the kids is also a great way to keep track of them when the sun goes down. They will love them too!
About this story:
This is an excerpt from Tent Life – A Beginners Guide to Camping and a Life Outdoors, by Doron Francis.