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Camping with Kids

Camping at its very best can be a challenge for even the most experienced of us. You can have the best gear and all the skills and know needed to thrive in the wilderness and guess what…it can still rain and ruin your trip.

So guess what happens when you go camping with kids in tow? The challenges associated with camping seem to multiply instantly and may quickly begin to feel overwhelming. That doesn’t need to be the case though. These simple tips may be just what you need to help ensure that your family camping trip is a wonderful experience for all instead of a stressful tension filled weekend away.
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Lets start by getting some of the ugly truths out of the way. If you are bringing children along on a camping trip, especially young ones, you can forget about ever being able to sit quietly and relax in nature. The same can be said for any schedule you may have made or the notion that a one mile hike should only take x amount of minutes. The notion that your kids will remain clean the whole time is also a concept best forgotten. Do yourself a favor and leave all of these ideas at home where they belong.

I can clearly recall a family camping trip several years ago when, after setting up the campsite, I made a critical mistake of attempting to sit in the sun and meditate a bit on what I wanted to cook for dinner that evening. I wasn’t two minutes into my attempted relaxation before I began to hear familiar refrains of:

  • Dad, he called me dumb!
  • Dad, I’m bored. 
  • There’s nothing to do here.

I have no clue why I was surprised to hear my childrens’ near immediate complaints about being stuck in nature. This was by no means our first family camping outing.

After giving my usual responses:

  • You wouldn’t like it if someone called you names.
  • Why don’t you two read a book together? 

I capped it all off with what I feel is my best answer to date:

  • I don’t know what to tell you. This is camping. Just go play in the dirt or something.

The tips I provide here are ones that have worked for me as a parent. I can by no means take credit for these ideas as many are inspired from what my own parents and grandparents did before me. Adapt these as needed for what will work best for your family.

Bring Games: Games! The ones you loved playing as a kid that don’t require batteries or the internet. I’m talking about board games and cards. The ones you may not have played in years but used to love when you were a kid. Take this opportunity to teach your children games that your parents or grandparents taught you when you were a kid. This is especially helpful if you get stuck in the rain or are trying to wind down your evening.

Bring Books: Books are easy to carry and chances are you already have a bunch of them that you have been meaning to read. Dig a little deeper and find the books that you liked as a kid. Use the chance of being cut off from the technological world to encourage your kids to read some of the same stuff that you loved when you were their age. Even if you have little ones, books can be a great chance to get everyone to relax together and enjoy the moment.

Kid Friendly Snacks: On our last camping trip, my wife and I made an entire meal out of a selection of fancy cheeses and meats. This was an adult weekend free from children and dogs so we spoiled ourselves! Should the kids have come along, the closest we would have come to a fancy cheese and meat platter would have been string cheese and pepperoni slices.

Why the drastic change? If you drop half of a string cheese in a muddy puddle, you are out all of maybe thirty cents. The same can’t be said for half a round of brie. Bring snacks that your kids like and are easy to eat sitting in a folding chair or on the move. If you take the time to prepackage snacks in individual servings, it will be even easier for you to get your kids what they need without any substantial delays.

Get Them Involved: While you may know how to set up a tent or gather firewood, your kids may not. Include them in what you are doing and show how you do it. Be open to their own interpretation of how they would do these same things as long as they get the job done.

Be Prepared to Give In: Now I am not saying that you need to just let your kids run crazy and scream like wild animals. Just be prepared to let go a little more than you might at home. They are going to be on the move constantly and will be running, swimming, and biking way more than they may at home. You have to realize that they will get dirty and will remain dirty until you head home. Campground showers are a nice amenity, but they only cover the basics.

So where is all of this going? I guess the best advice that can be given for camping with kids is to be prepared. Make sure that you have things that you know they will like and some things that you hope they will like. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t have the same affinity for Crazy Eights that you once had.

Also be prepared and patient when things go wrong because they will. I have camped on far more occasions than my children and know tips and tricks beyond anything they could imagine, and still I am amazed at how quickly things can fall apart. Ever lose a fire even though you did everything the exact same way you had 100 times before? Ever lose a fire even after writing an article detailing foolproof ways to successfully light one and having it published on a popular blog? I sure did. It happened a little over a month ago and all I could do was shake my head and start over.

Camping with children is by no means an exact science. You should expect them to complain about being bored and about hating bugs. They will be perpetually dirty and will ask you dozens of questions about things you might take for granted. Don’t let it get to you. Just remind them that this is camping. They will forget all about being bored once they start playing in the dirt.

2 Responses

Joe Gleason
Joe Gleason

August 08, 2016

Those are all great suggestions! I can not believe I forgot to mention wipes!!! I totally agree that everything you bring camping should be stuff that can handle getting wet/dirty and can’t break too easily. Dollar store stuff all the way if your local one has some options that are appealing to your kids. Thanks for the comment!


July 06, 2016

Fun read. Thanks for it. However, I’ve since learned to bring wipes and more wipes. A bag to put trash in and the used wipes. Bring empty tin cans and wooden and metal spoons for the kids to play with. Stuff they don’t have to be “careful” with. A ball to play catch. Old shoes that can get dirty.

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