If you’ve ever thought that camping with young kids is impossible, think again. We have some tips that will transform your camping escapades into the stuff of family legend. So, buckle up, grab your marshmallows, and prepare to embark on a journey filled with laughter, excitement, and dirt-dusted fingers as we explore the world of camping with young kids in tow. Let’s dive in!
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What’s a Good Age to Take a Child Camping?
This is entirely up to personal factors. A good age to take a child camping depends on the child’s individual readiness and the parent’s comfort level. However, generally, children as young as 3 or 4 can start with short camping trips close to home, while older children may be ready for longer trips and more challenging hiking or outdoor adventures. RV camping can also be a bit easier to navigate with younger children (vs tent camping). It lends itself to more amenities, clean spaces, storage, and shelter from the elements. It’s important to make sure the child is prepared and comfortable with the experience and that safety precautions are taken.
Tips Before You Go Camping with Young Kids
Choose a Family-friendly Campground
Look for a campground with amenities such as playgrounds, clean restrooms, and easy access to potable water. Consider proximity to home in case you need to make a quick exit. Your first trip may be more along the lines of “glamping” rather than camping, but that can help you figure out what works for your family. Sure, everyone wants to make a BIG trip to one of the national parks, but save that for when your kiddos have gotten more used to sleeping and adventuring in the great outdoors.
Practice at Home
Set up your tent in your backyard and spend a night or two sleeping outside “practice camping” with your kids. This will help them become familiar with camping gear and routines before heading to the campsite.
Pack Appropriate Clothing and Gear
Ensure your children have appropriate clothing for the weather, such as rain gear, warm layers, and extra socks. Even if you’re summer camping, look up how low the temperature is expected to drop at night. Don’t forget essentials like sunscreen, insect repellent, and a First-Aid kit. Does your tent have a rainfly? Are you prepared with other rain gear, tents, shoes, and moisture protection in case of inclement weather? Make a camping checklist before you venture out!
Bring Comfort Items
Pack your child’s favorite blanket, stuffed animal, or pillow to help them feel more at ease and comfortable in the tent. Older kids will likely do fine with a sleeping bag, but a portable crib will be the safest, most convenient option for the little guys.
Plan Kid-friendly Meals and Snacks
Choose easy-to-prepare, nutritious, and familiar foods that your kids will enjoy. Bring plenty of snacks and water to keep them hydrated and satisfied throughout the day. Speaking of meals, try to grab a campsite that has a picnic table. It’ll make mealtimes a lot easier–especially for the little guys who aren’t so steady holding plates in their hands.
Don’t forget to store trash properly and remind the kids that remnant, improperly stored food can attract hungry animals to your campsite. If your kids are animal lovers and this notion gives them a small gleam in their eyes, please remind them that the animals will be neither friendly nor cute.
Choose Your Gear Wisely
One of the biggest mistakes a parent can make is spending top dollar on gear for a first-time trip. Sure, you might end up LOVING camping and making it your new family activity. But equally plausible is you decide it’s not your cup of tea (at least not until everyone’s old enough to walk or pitch their own tent). Until you figure that one out on the first family camping trip, skip the trip to REI and try to borrow as much gear as you can, or at least buy it used.
Tips for Your Camping Trip With Young Kids
Engage in Age-appropriate Activities
Plan activities such as hiking, scavenger hunts, or fishing that are suitable for your child’s age and abilities. Bring along toys, card games, board games (skip the ones with 1000 pieces), or art supplies for downtime at the campsite.
Establish a Routine
Stick to a daily schedule that includes regular meal times, structured activities, and a consistent bedtime routine. This will help your child feel secure and maintain a sense of normalcy. Don’t be too hard on yourself if the routine gets disrupted (because, spoiler alert: it will). Be prepared for the inevitable, “Okay, new plan!”
Teach Camping Skills
Involve your child in setting up the camping tent, building a fire, or prepping meals for some campfire cooking. Not only is it an opportunity for family bonding, but it can also help them gain confidence and a sense of accomplishment. Again, keep age-appropriateness in mind. The youngest ones can help gather kindling, leaves, or sticks for the fire. Have them help plan and prep meals before you go, too!
Teach your child basic safety rules, such as staying close to adults, not wandering off, and avoiding wild animals. Equip them with a whistle and a small flashlight for emergencies. Make sure they know how to identify and find your campsite among other people’s campsites should they get lost (i.e. our tent has an orange top).
Be Patient and Flexible
Understand that young kids may need time to adjust to new surroundings and experiences. Be prepared to modify your plans or cut your trip short if necessary to accommodate your child’s needs.
15 Things You Should Consider Packing When Camping With Young Kids
Need a camping with kids checklist? This is a great place to start.
- Age-appropriate sleeping gear: Ensure a good night’s sleep for your kids by packing sleeping bags or blankets suitable for the weather, as well as comfortable sleeping pads or air mattresses. For babies and toddlers, consider bringing a “pack-n-play,” which works for sleeping and keeping the baby safe when you need two free hands.
- Kid-friendly camping chairs: Bring portable, foldable chairs designed for kids so they have a comfy place to sit and relax around the campfire. This is one of those kid camping gear items you might want to borrow before buying.
- Clothing layers: Pack clothes suitable for various weather conditions, including rain gear, warm layers, extra socks, and a sun hat.
- Entertainment: Bring along age-appropriate toys, games, and campsite activities to keep your kids engaged and entertained during downtime.
- First Aid kit: Always have a well-stocked first aid kit on hand, including band-aids, antiseptic wipes, insect repellent, sunscreen, itch cream (bugs and poison ivy), and any necessary medications.
- Kid-friendly tableware: Pack reusable, easy-to-clean plates, bowls, cups, and utensils. Bonus points if you have the ones designed specifically for young children.
- Snacks and easy meals: Bring plenty of kid-approved snacks and simple, nutritious meals that can be cooked over a campfire or on a portable stove.
- Hydration: Ensure your kids stay hydrated by packing reusable water bottles and a water purification system or plenty of clean drinking water. Nothing worse than dehydration.
- Baby wipes and hand sanitizer: Keep hands and faces clean with baby wipes and hand sanitizer, especially before mealtime.
- Comfort items: Don’t forget to bring along any special items that provide comfort for your kids, such as a favorite stuffed animal or blanket.
- Portable potty or toilet: For young kids still potty training, a portable potty or toilet with disposable bags can make bathroom breaks much easier.
- Child carrier or hiking backpack: If you plan on hiking or backpacking, a child carrier or hiking backpack designed for young kids can make the experience more enjoyable for everyone
- Headlamps or flashlights: Give your kids their own headlamps or flashlights, so they can safely navigate the campsite at night.
- Insect protection: Bring bug spray, citronella candles, or mosquito netting to protect your family from pesky insects.
- A camera or smartphone: Capture the memories by bringing a camera or smartphone to document your family’s camping adventure. But remember–your trip isn’t just for Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok. A successful family camping trip is one where you get to unplug and enjoy quality family time with each other, away from all the distractions and conveniences of your day-to-day lives. Take some photos for sure, but try to live in the moment as best you can.
Ready, Set, Camp!
Well, the truth is–camping with young kids is like assembling IKEA furniture in the wilderness – there’s laughter, frustration, and the occasional missing piece. But armed with these tips, you’ll hopefully be prepared. So, pack those marshmallows, grab your sense of humor, and embrace the chaos as you create memories and family traditions that’ll last a lifetime. Happy camping, intrepid adventurers – and may the s’mores be ever in your flavor!