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8 Tips for Camping with Small Children - and Enjoying It!

Last summer, I ventured out for the first time on a camping trip with my seven-year-old. We had a great time, and this year, I feel like I am ready to conquer camping with all three of my children. I have visions of a family-focused adventure: hot dogs and s’mores by the fire, fishing and swimming in a lake, slow hikes through a beautiful wooded park. No electronics, no distractions. I just know that my seven-, five- and three-year-old are going to love it, too - once they stop complaining about no video games, movies, and having to walk more than five feet, that is.

In preparation for this adventure, I interviewed a group of mothers who have years of ‘camping with kids’ experience. I have collected their best advice and suggestions on how to reduce the stress and have a good time while camping with the kids. I now feel confident about our upcoming adventure.

1. Do a trial run. One thing all the moms agreed on was that it’s important to test the waters before you take the plunge. Pitch a tent in your back yard for an overnight camping trip. Or find a park that is close enough to home that if you really had to pack it all up in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning, you could.

2. Try to borrow as much gear as you can. Camping equipment is expensive. Until you know that this is an activity that your family will want to repeat, don’t buy a bunch of gear. Find a friend with camping gear (start with friends who have a child in Boy or Girl Scouts) and see if they have any gear you can borrow for your trip.

3. Make lists. You don’t want to forget the tent poles, bug spray, or swimming suits, so be sure to have a list and check it twice when packing. Lovetheoutdoors.com offers a comprehensive camping checklist at lovetheoutdoors.com/printer-friendly-checklist.htm.

4. Make food simple. Faith C., mom to two tweens who have been camping since they were toddlers, says this is a big part of not being overwhelmed while camping with little ones. Faith’s favorite easy camping recipe is ‘eggs in a bag.’ “Eggs in a bag are a super simple way to have breakfast. You get good quality Ziploc bags, crack open the number of eggs you want into the bag, add cheese, bacon, sausage, peppers, onions, etc. Boil in a pot. It turns out like an omelet!”
she says. Other simple food ideas are hot dogs, taco salad in sandwich bags, and tin foil meals.

Stacey M., mother of seven and writer at Staceys Mothering Moments, says, “S’mores may seem like a good idea until placed in the hands of children. Then they are just an ooey gooey nightmare. And don’t ever buy the gigantic roasting marshmallows. They may be great for grown-ups, but they are not so great for kiddos.” An alternative to that mess: graham crackers with Nutella and some mini marshmallows.

5. Air mattress! This was stressed by several of the mothers. Who cares if you feel wimpy, it will be difficult to enjoy your trip if no one sleeps. An air mattress or camping pad will make a world of difference in how much sleep you get.

6. Fight off the inevitable Im boredwith some pre-planned activities. A few ideas are nature walks and hikes; a scavenger hunt; start a collection of leaves and/or rocks; sing songs around the campfire; play with bubbles; tell stories; make an outdoor craft; play I Spy, bean bag toss, horseshoes, etc. Make easy bird feeders with peanut butter, pinecones, and birdseed. Play tic-tac-toe in the dirt… the options are endless.

7. Bring extras. Stacey M. points out that extra socks are something no one thinks to bring until they realize they need them. Also, be sure to have plenty of wet wipes, hand sanitizer, bottled water, etc. Bring lots of large plastic zip bags. They are good for so many things: food items you don’t want wet in a cooler, storing utensils and other items you want to keep away from flies, collecting items on nature walks, storing toiletries, and more. Be sure to bring sweatshirts and other warm gear for cold overnight temperatures. If camping with babies and young toddlers, keep them warm at night with several layers of clothing (preferably fleece or wool), thick socks, and a hat for sleeping.

8. Keep it simple and have low expectations. Just try to relax and enjoy yourselves. If the kids would rather play in the lake all day than take a nature hike, don’t fight it. If you’d rather eat hot dogs all weekend than prepare anything fancier, eat hot dogs! Go with the flow and enjoy your trip. With the right attitude and a little bit of preparation, camping with children is not only doable, but can actually be enjoyable. Fill your kids’ memory makers with fun and laughter, and everyone will have a great time. Unplug and enjoy each other with no distractions. 

Alexa is the mother of three kids and a rambunctious puppy. Camping is a new hobby for her family, but one they hope to enjoy regularly.

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