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Camping with Children: Tips for Making Your Family Camping Trip Fun and Safe
Family camping is an incredible experience
Camping with children adds both thrills and complications to the tenting experience. Seeing nature through our kids' eyes, teaching them about the outdoors, and sharing the excitement of sleeping in a tent are some of the joys we seek from family camping.
What we don't always anticipate is the amount of work and stress involved. Just keeping an eye on younger children while setting up the tent can be a major difficulty!
Parents have the challenge of doing many of the same tasks at the campground that we do at home but under more primitive conditions. There are also a number of chores specific to camping that may feel overwhelming to those with limited camping experience.
Fortunately, some good planning can go a long way in helping to make your family's camping trip enjoyable for everyone.
What is your experience?
Do you enjoy camping with children?
Choose Your Campground Wisely
It is important to consider what kind of camping experience you and your family want. Would you prefer to stay in a tent or a cabin? Are you looking for particular amenities? Just about every campground has at least a small playground, but some also offer swimming pools, miniature golf, weekend entertainment, or indoor game rooms. These extra features can make for a fun vacation.
But if your family would prefer a quieter camping trip with an opportunity to explore nature, then look for a less touristy campground that has access to hiking trails, either on-site or nearby. There are some areas that have boating available at the campground or in the vicinity, where you can either rent or bring your own watercraft.
Before making reservations, verify the size of the tent sites and how close they are to neighboring sites to ensure it is a comfortable arrangement for your family. Prior to your trip, practice setting up the tent, lighting the camp stove, and testing any other equipment as needed. Practicing at home is a good way to check that the equipment is working properly and that you feel confident using it. This, in turn, helps to reduce the stress level and increase the fun when you’re at the campground.
Camping with Children - A few items to keep them occupied and engaged
These are some inexpensive camping "extras" that help connect kids to the outdoor experience in a fun way.
A small gadget that goes a long way. This has 6 functions, including an emergency whistle, compass, and thermometer. None of these are very high-quality features (it's more of a toy), but it's something that helps kids to get excited about camping.
If you want a higher-quality compass -- one that's not a toy -- Suunto has several excellent models at a reasonable price. You can use only the basic function to determine direction, but it's also good for orienteering, geocaching, and other activities. I have a couple of Suunto orienteering compasses, and I've been very happy with them!
Kid-friendly guide to common outdoor animals and plants. Part of a series of nature books. There are other books that focus on areas such as astronomy or animal tracks.
Toys and Other Supplies for Kids on the Camping Trip
In addition to all of the details involved in any camping trip, traveling with children brings its own set of requirements. The kids need toys and activities to help keep them occupied during quiet times at the campsite and in the tent in the event of rain. Bring along a variety of items that are able to withstand exposure to dirt and moisture.
Some toys that can be fun to take on family camping trips are balls, bubbles, toy cars and trucks (construction vehicles are especially fun at tent sites), shovels and pails, books, card games, Mad Libs, activity books and blank notebooks with pens, markers, and crayons, and board games that don't have too many pieces. Some families like to bring along a small "play tent" where the kids can play with their toys. If excessive dirt finds its way into the play tent, it's doesn't create the problems of having that dirt in the sleeping tent.
The children should each have their own sturdy flashlight when camping. This adds to their excitement and enthusiasm, and the flashlights frequently come in handy. Kids may also enjoy having items like a magnifying glass, compass, binoculars, and other tools to explore the great outdoors. Bring along other things that complement your children's interests, such as books about local plants, wildlife, or astronomy. Have plans in mind for places to go or things to do in the event of excessively wet, hot, or cold weather.
Here's my article about family hiking
- Hiking with Children
Family hikes provide opportunities to spend quality family time together while enjoying nature and getting exercise. Here are some great ideas about how to make your hike with kids both safe and fun.
Out of respect for your time spent with nature and with your family, as well as for the experience of other campers, don't use (or overuse) electronic devices!
Sure, you can have a cell phone for necessary calls. And there are some great apps for birdwatching, stargazing, and plant identification. But being distracted by playing games on devices really does take away from the camping experience.
My Flashlight of Choice - Let's shed a little light on the subject!
It is important for each kid to have a flashlight on a camping trip. This increases both safety and excitement for them.
This is the brand of flashlight I have, and the camping model (shown here) is extra-sturdy for the outdoors.
What I really like about it is that it is solar-powered with a battery backup. This basically means that it will not leave you without light due to a dead battery right when you need it most. These are reliable, both for camping and home use.
This is the kind of flashlight I have. I love that it's always powered up from the solar panel, so you don't have to worry about running out of juice. (It even has a battery backup, just in case it's left in complete darkness for months on end!)
Review safety rules with your kids at the campground
Even more important than bringing all of the toys and supplies you'll need on the camping trip is reviewing rules and safety precautions with your children at the campground. Begin with a walking tour to help everyone get a sense of the area. Show the kids where the bathrooms, playground, campground office, and any other important landmarks are located.
Explain what rules are. Must the kids be with a parent at all times? Are they allowed to go to the playground by themselves? If you are tenting with other families, are your kids permitted to go into another family's tent?
Review typical safety rules from home that apply to life at the campground, particularly never going with a person you don't know and asking permission before going anywhere outside your specified boundaries. If poison ivy, ticks, bodies of water, or other environmental dangers are an issue, educate your kids about these concerns as well.
Have Fun on Your Camping Trip - Great for both home and travel
When we go camping we bring toys and games that are weather resistant, can get dirty, and/or are inexpensive. That way, if they're destroyed or lost on the camping trip, it's not too stressful an ordeal for the kids or me.
These are also the items we tend to bring with us on other traveling adventures!
You can't go wrong with Mad Libs! Lots of laughs, easy to bring along, inexpensive, and a lesson in grammar to boot!
We also bring a deck of Uno cards.
...And bubbles because wherever there are bubbles, a fun time is to be had!
The More, the Merrier!
Camping with other families can increase the fun and decrease the stress
Because of the amount of work involved in a "simple" family camping trip, it can be much more fun - and easier on the parents - to go with another family or a small group of families.
This provides many more options for activities. One parent might take several kids to the playground while another goes on a walk with others, leaving a couple of parents at the tent site to tackle chores while a baby naps.
Having other families on the trip gives kids the opportunity to play with friends and allows a little time and space for parents to re-energize before launching into the next fun activity.
All of My Hiking and Backpacking Articles
- My Hiking and Backpacking Articles
These are my articles related to hiking, backpacking, and other outdoor activities. I am an experienced backpacker and thru-hiker, and now enjoy hiking and camping with my children.
A Word About Tents
There are many, many different family tents on the market, and the models change annually.
When choosing a tent, think carefully about what your family truly needs. Remember that the larger a tent is and the more rooms it has, the more difficult and time-consuming it is to set up and take down. Single-room, dome-style tents are the easiest to manage.
Tent descriptions tell you how many people can sleep in the tent. This number is based on the maximum number of sleeping bags that can be arranged in the tent, with the occupants sleeping very snugly together. If you want to have some gear and supplies with you in the tent, then get a tent that can sleep one or two more people than will actually be in the tent. A tent listed as having a 6-person capacity will fit 4 people very comfortably. If only two people are going, a 3-person tent will fit the campers and some of their supplies.
Good tents keep water out (unless it's a total deluge), allow for air circulation with plenty of mesh on the body of the tent, and have a fly that attaches to the outside of the tent body to protect from rain and provide some privacy.
A good quality tent that is easy to set up and take down helps the whole camping trip go more smoothly. Practice putting the tent up at home so that you'll know just what to do at the tent site.
A Fulfilling Experience
Camping with children can feel like a labor of love. Though it is quite a lot of work, it is also an amazing experience, sometimes bordering on the magical.
Sharing the love of nature with children, exploring the outdoors with them, and spending time together makes family camping a tremendously rewarding activity for parents and children alike.