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We went camping with our kids for over a decade, and it was one of the best things we did as a family. Time in nature fostered a lifelong appreciation for the outdoors and the environment.
The kids were rarely bored and loved camping, but we discovered that some things made camping more kid-friendly. At times, that meant packing extra gear. But mostly it was little things that helped keep them busy and curious and content.
In this article, we share what we learned from camping with our kids. Below, find kid-friendly camping tips and essentials to keep them happy, entertained, and comfortable on your next camping adventure!
Practice camping with your kids first!
Before you go on your first camping trip, try it out by camping at home or close to home for a night or two. This experience will help you decide what you need to take along, and it helps kids learn the ropes.
The basics of kid-friendly camping
Safety at the campsite
First things first, you want to make sure your campsite is as kid-friendly as possible. Because you don’t want to turn your back and worry your kids will stumble into a cluster of poison ivy or take a nasty fall.
But you can’t control everything. So it’s helpful to set some boundaries on where the kids can wander – and where they can’t (if they’re old enough to understand). For example, use objects like trees or picnic tables to define campsite boundaries. Or you can use string if needed.
Fire, water, falls, and poison ivy, oak, and sumac are significant camping dangers. As kids get more camping experience, they’ll get used to the rules and these dangers. So it gets easier in time. But until they know the risks, parents need to supervise and help them understand. See the National Park Service website for more on camping safety.
Some other safety considerations:
- Fire safety and campfire perimeter.
- No food in the tent. Whether it’s bears or raccoons, you don’t want unwelcome visitors.
- Don’t eat things you find in the woods, ever.
- Stay on the marked trail when hiking.
- Wild animals are wild, even the cute ones. Educate on the wildlife around where you’re camping.
- Pets should remain on a leash.
- Camping stove safety.
- If kids are allowed to leave the campsite, tell someone where they’re going, and go with a buddy.
Don’t forget these camping essentials!
To keep kids safe and comfortable, take along the following:
- First aid kit
- Bug repellent
- Poison ivy treatments
- Snakebite/Bee sting kit
Involve kids in camp chores
Maybe don’t call them chores, though. Kids like being in charge and helping out. Depending on their age, they can help plan camping trips, pack up, set up camp, clean the campsite, wash dishes, and prepare food. Make it fun! The more they can take part, the better.
Pack what kids need to stay comfortable
Keep the weather in mind! Pack a comfortable sleeping bag and layered clothing so the kids don’t get too hot or cold. The more comfortable they are, the happier they’ll be. And if they have a particular clothing item or blanket, it’s probably worth taking along. If they’re old enough, ask them what they think they should pack for the trip and help them make a list.
Anticipate kids’ needs
You know your kids better than anyone. So think about their routine and individual needs when planning your trip. For example, do they have a special toy or blanket? Will they need a place to use the bathroom nearby? Do they wake up early or like to sleep in late? Do they need a cozy place to retreat and rest?
Half the fun is the camping food!
When we ask our kids what they liked about camping, food is at the top of the list! Of course, kids love being part of planning and cooking camp food, but they enjoy eating it just as much.
What’s most memorable is the food they get only when camping. Things like S’mores, hot dogs, french toast, and anything cooked over the campfire! So do a little meal planning (with the kids) to have what you need for some fun and tasty camping meals.
Recommended Reading: Easy Camping Food Ideas: 10 Simple No-Stress Camping Recipes
With camping, having a place for everything – and returning it to its place so you can find it next time – is a huge help. Clear plastic totes and mesh bags will help you find what you’re looking for (don’t forget to label them too!)
Make camping with kids an adventure.
It doesn’t have to be epic to be fun. Kids enjoy having unscheduled time to play and relax away from the distractions of everyday life. And if you camp in a new area, it’s fun to explore all the parks and other things to do in the new place.
Here are just a few of the many things to do with kids when camping:
- Hike the trails at a leisurely pace to see what you can see (stop and smell the wildflowers).
- Do a night hike with flashlights or lanterns.
- Have a special backpack with binoculars, a nature journal, magnifying glass, and a snack.
- Do a nature scavenger hunt.
- Go fishing or swimming.
- Listen to the birds (and identify bird calls).
- Catch (and release) fireflies or frogs.
- Ride bikes.
- Rent a boat or kayak.
- Creek stomp (our kids loved to make little dams out of rocks).
- Find unique rocks.
- Attend local nature programming.
- Look for constellations.
- Identify plants and animals.
Extra camping fun for kids
In our experience, a few fun items can make camping even better for the kids! Here are some of the things our kids loved!
- Marshmallow blaster
- Glow in the dark anything, like glow sticks and party favors
- Sand & water toys
- Water blasters
- Net or pop up bug house
- Games like this one and this one
- Walkie Talkies
- Activity books
- Nature books and journals
Camping with toddlers and babies
Little ones can go camping too! Our kids started camping when they were one year old. Of course, it wasn’t as often, and it looked different then than it did when they got older. Still, it was an enjoyable and memorable experience.
Toddlers need more supervision at the campsite than older kids. There is more risk of them wandering off or getting into the fire or poison ivy. So, you definitely have to be on your toes, especially if there are safety hazards nearby.
If you have a wanderer, you might want to write the site number or your phone number on their hand or arm. And you could also tie bells on their shoes to keep track of them.
It’s also super helpful to have a safe area, like a portable playpen or small screened tent, with favorite toys and snacks. They can be secure, and you don’t have to watch them like a hawk.
Here are some extras you might want if you’re camping with toddlers or babies:
- Portable outdoor playspace or screened area
- Child Carrier Backpack
- Baby sling
- Little camping chair or a travel high chair
- Portable potty
Camping with kids? It’s worth it!
There are always times when things don’t go as planned with camping. And, sometimes camping with kids feels more like work than a retreat for family bonding.
We learned that the more we went camping with the kids, the easier it got. Plus, as the kids got older, it got even better. Until they were teenagers and didn’t want to go anymore.
But that’s the thing. The struggles are often forgotten and the unexpected adventures create memories. One day, your kids won’t want to go camping with you anymore. But the stories and memories of camping past are remembered well into their adult years.