First impressions matter the most. Make your first trip camping with kids a great one with these simple tips.
In a world where screen time rules all, the thought of camping for some kids can sound, well, not fun. If your child has never been camping, the thought of sleeping outside in the wilderness with no cell phone data doesn’t sound very enticing.
I mean, how am I gonna play Fortnite? How will I know when my favorite YouTuber drops a new video?
These are thoughts that are probably scrolling through your child’s mind the moment this scenario is proposed to them. Your children will also be very cautious about why you’re so excited about a seemingly boring idea.
Understand though, you know why and how this will be so great, you’ve done it a 100 times and have memories going all the way back to your own childhood experiencing the freedoms of the great outdoors. Your first trip camping with kids will now be the time to pass the outdoor adventure spark down to them.
You’re creating little adventurers of your own in a time when it’s not so common among kids. Follow the steps below to make your first trip camping with kids a successful one.
Before You Go Camping With Kids:
The whole theme of this big new adventure needs to be FUN and EXCITING. Now don’t get me wrong, planning, packing, and setting up a camping trip with kids can be exhausting, stressful, and just plain…..well, not fun.
But. that’s your issue Mom and Dad, get over it, you gotta suffer silently on this one and remember it’s for the greater good of the kid’s memories, setting them up for a lifetime of adventure and openness to getting outside, not your own personal relaxation time. That’s not what camping with kids is about.
Checklist Items When Camping With Kids:
On this trip, there are a couple of things you know you need, and you will pack them before heading out……some things go overlooked though. Now, these things aren’t really required but they will make your life a bit easier.
- Water – 5 Gallon Jug filled at home (you may have a hard time finding more on the road).
- Food- Meals, snacks, and S’mores (more on this later). Something like this here.
- Sunscreen – It gets hot and the sun time will sneak up on you. You don’t want to be fried by the sun on day 1.
- Bug Spray/Thermacell/Citronella Candle: Bugs love campers, we leave crumbs everywhere we go. Mosquitoes seem to find us every time. Bring these to help deal with them, click here.
- Tinder (not the app) a fire starter: On top of a lighter or matches, it helps to have a fire starting substance. You find some on your own or you can bring some pre-made tinder, but it definitely helps as your kids watch you struggle to start a fire. This is an easy go that has worked for us for a few years now, click here.
- Flashlights- We forget how important they are in regular life, but nature has no light switches other than the sun. Bring flashlights and Bring batteries, oh and kids love them at night. We bought this 5 pack of headlamps and the kids keep them on when its dark. We have had them for 3 years now and they still work. You can’t beat it for $20. See the pic below.
- Wet Wipes- whether for your butt or cleaning off an eating utensil, they come in handy, just don’t use them in that order.
Setting Up Camp:
Remember 3 seconds ago when I was preaching to you about not making this trip stressful and not fun?
Well, I’m about to really irritate you because now you just pulled up to your campsite and it’s time to unpack and set up, quite literally the only time on the camping trip I drop more cuss words in an hour than any other time in history, ok, that’s an exaggeration but you get my point. This part is not fun, to me.
From tent poles smacking you in the face and mosquitoes biting your ankles to the “Oh no! the dog is chasing a rabbit!” Things can get hectic at this moment. It’s the camp set up that often is the highest stress point.
I recommend just remembering that going into it and being prepared, that will help you be mentally ready and hopefully not a freakout point where you’ve already given the kids an impression that camping sucks because mom and dad are mad the whole time.
Take your time, remind yourself that this moment is supposed to be hectic and just embrace it, it will make life easier for everyone and keep this trip going in the right direction.
Things To Do When Camping With Kids:
Survived the setup? You’re not fuming mad and the kids are not crying? Awesome, because this is where the fun starts. So, the camp is set up, the dog is chilling and the kids are looking at you now with a very confused look on their face saying “ok mom.
We did it, we’re camping but, what do we do now?”. Now is the time to start some real camping adventures. This is where your pre-planning from earlier will pay dividends. Grab your bikes and go for a trail ride (levels Green….and maybe Blue only please).
If you’re not sure what that means, check this write up of the Mountain Bike trail Rating System. The last thing you want to do is go on one of the “more fun” trails only to have your 8-year-old son flying down a hill, eventually lose control and tumble 15ft getting covered in dirt and gravel (ask me how I know……he’s fine, relax).
Take a hike on a scenic trail, explore a hidden cave or go to an information center and have the kids play with all the exhibits and talk to the Rangers, it’s lots of fun for them and often have air conditioning! Also, if you’re visiting the National Parks, each one participates in the kid’s Passport Program which will give your child a National Park “Passport” to take to each park and get stamped by a ranger.
It’s fun for the kids and my kids look forward to each new stop partly just for this feature. Check it out here. One key point is to not over-do-it here.
It can be tempting to want to do it all at this point but if you’re sticking to a schedule and shouting about how we all need to hurry up so we can get to the next destination or trail, it can quickly suck the fun out the door. Allow your kids to actually soak some of this stuff up.
I mean, let’s be honest, most kids these days have never ridden their bike off a paved road in the suburbs. It’s just how life is these days. So this all may be new for them and it’s important to take your time and allow everyone to enjoy it.
Once everyone is back from the typical activities, now’s a good time to allow the kids to run around (or relax) as they please. Let them play a device, yep, I said it and ill say it again, let them play a device!
Listen up you fun suck, this is new to them and its a time to make memories, they are stepping out on a leap in the faith of you and this whole new experience, its all foreign to them in the beginning. When there is downtime, let them revert back to comfortable space and decompress a bit, if that means playing Angry Birds on a phone for an hour, so be it.
Again, don’t ruin their experience to fulfill your own expectations when camping with kids for the first time.
Food When Camping With Kids:
Lunch and snacks can be the easy part, you know the drill. Water/Juice, chips, Lunchables or Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Don’t overdo it and don’t feel like you need to perform in these areas. Keep it simple, likely your kids have no expectations here.
Dinners can be easy, burgers over the camp grill, hot dogs on a stick or even a pre-made dinner from home that you re-heat, again, not that important to the kids…….but we’re getting their parents.
After Dinner: This is one of the biggest things kids look forward to. Your kids may have never camped and may be cautious of this whole experience. However, they know EXACTLY what to expect at night: A fire and a S’more.
Hey mom/dad, I don’t care if your Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free, a Carnivore or a Vegan, give your kids a fire and a S’more. This is essential, it’s necessary, and means the difference between success and failure. Well, maybe it’s not all that serious…..but maybe it is.
My kids have been camping nonstop since they could walk, it’s just a part of their life. You know what they expect and have seen in every book, movie, YouTube Video, and picture of camping? A fire and a S’more. So don’t screw this up.
If you forgot to add this to your grocery list, then no worries, every gas station within 50 miles of camping sites already knows you forgot it and they are happy to sell you these 3 ingredients of a Chocolate bar, a bag of marshmallows and a box of Graham Crackers for $43.
Shell out the cash, give me the S’More, and be the camping parent champion.
It matters more than you think.
Sleeping When Camping With Kids:
This is an overlooked time in camping that’s great. No tips here, it’s just sleeping, but know this: Sleeping bags are just fun for kids. Something about the texture, the cocoon design, and the whole scene, kids just like giggling and cuddling up in sleeping bags. It’s also a time we are not used to in life.
No one is looking at their phones, you can hear nature outside, and often, kids will really communicate with you in an open thought process, more than other times.
Something about the decompressing of their anxiety from the day, the adventures you took on the mountain bike, or just being away from “normal life” kids will talk with you, giggle and well, be kids. Bedtime when camping is a happy life moment, enjoy it.
You Did It! You Successfully Went Camping With Kids!
So there you have it! You’ve done your planning, you’ve picked your location, the homework is done! The kids are tucked in their sleeping bags and are dreaming of new adventures. Give your partner a high five and if you doing it as a single parent, pat yourself on the back, you rock!
Mike is a Colorado resident, a combat veteran, and a former Police Officer, and an avid outdoorsman. Mike has camped, hiked, and Overlanded all over the United States. From backpack Elk Hunts on Public Land, solo truck camping to Multi-week Overlanding adventures with his family, Mike is very familiar with these outdoor topics.
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