I did a lot of camping before I had kids. However, camping with little ones is a completely different experience! Here are some tips to make your family camping trip a little easier, especially if it is your first!
Be organized and have a packing list. True story: I was so frazzled one camping trip, I forgot to pack the tent. It helps to keep track of what you are packing!
For first time campers, don’t be too ambitious. Plan a short trip, and you may not want to venture too far from home. You may end up cutting your trip short or modifying it.
Get the kids involved. Get them excited and part of the decision-making process, whether you plan meals or activities.
Go over camping safety and rules. Everything from remembering your campsite number to respecting nature. Stay on trails, no littering, stay quiet during quiet hours, and so on.
Comfortable sleeping arrangements. Although I may have been willing to sleep on a sleeping pad years ago, now we all spring for air mattresses. This way, we know the kids are comfortable, and I can get a decent night’s sleep myself (especially considering how early the kids tend to wake up on camping trips!).
Extra clothes and shoes. Be prepared for changes in weather as well as other possibilities for needing extra clothing. I remember going on a camping trip where I brought winter hats on a last-minute whim, and boy am I glad I did – my kids woke up freezing cold, and the hats made them wonderfully comfortable. Don’t underestimate how chilly it can get at night. There are so many possibilities on a camping trip – clothes get wet, dirty, and more – so bring plenty of extra clothing! An extra pair of shoes can be great too.. a wrong step in mud, a puddle, a pond, etc. can mean your child is down a pair of shoes.
Flashlights, lanterns, and headlamps. I’m not sure you can have enough of these. Between the kids staying up late in the tent, 2am runs to the bathroom, and my littlest convinced that there were bears lurking in the woods, sources of light have been very useful. Not only are they a necessity for completing tasks in the dark, the kids use their lights a lot for things like reading and more. They use their own headlamps for trips to the bathroom, and it was a lot easier than trying to juggle flashlights and lanterns. At nighttime, we have even used a nightlight in the tent (a lantern with an orange light or a LED light with a nightlight setting).
First Aid & Suncreen, bug spray, After-Bite, etc. Be prepared for a variety of basic camping situations. You want your kids to be comfortable, not sunburnt or bug bitten. It has been a lifesaver to bring an anti-itch stick when we go camping, which helped offer some relief for the kid’s bug bites. We usually bring children’s Tylenol and Motrin and whatever other basic medicines may come in use (including our Epi-Pen Jr and allergy medicine) as well as a good first aid kit, stocked with band-aids and more.
Prepare for bad weather. If you are in the midst of a camping trip and you end up with rainy weather, have a contingency plan. This could be activities the kids can do in the tent, to a day trip into town.
Prepare quiet activities. It can be a challenge for little ones to understand quiet hours when it isn’t their bedtime yet, or perhaps they are a very early riser (especially when the sun can wake them up very early). Although I prefer to be completely unplugged while camping, electronic media can be a lifesaver for parents of younger kids (those who are too young to read). If you have a little one that is up really early, and you need to keep them entertained for a couple hours before most people are waking up, it can at least be a back up. I have brought our iPad or digital books that I rented from our local library (as well as kid’s headphones). Older kids can read or entertain themselves other ways, such as card games, crafts (such as friendship bracelets), and so on.
Lots of water. We bring a large water cooler with us, which is great to have right at our campsite. We set it right on our picnic table and it has a handy spout. It has so many uses, from drinking water to washing hands, to wiping up messes. Although there are often bathrooms or a spigot nearby, it helps to have water at a moment’s notice, without having to travel every time you want water.
Food. We generally pack a good cooler of food. Plan a few meals, such as subs and breakfast. We bring milk for dry cereal, snacks for when we want to hike on local trails, and more. Although you can certainly go out with cooking meat, pancakes, and so on, you can also stick with foods that don’t need to be cooked – sandwiches, fruits, etc.
Activities. Make sure you know what activities are available for kids – including things like playgrounds, nature center, water activities, children’s programs, hiking, day trips, and more. I also bring some activities for the kids to keep busy, which don’t necessarily have to take up room, such as books, coloring, nature scavenger hunts, small games, and more.
Good luck camping, and feel free to add your own tips and tricks in the comments!