We’ve been camping for years with our kids. It’s some of our favorite family memories together. It helps that Jared is a mountain man, for sure. But there are a bunch of tricks we’ve learned over the years as our family has grown. I’ve shared ideas before on backpacking with kids, a few basics tips, and a post on Cup of Jo. With summer camping getting started, I thought I’d share an updated post on camping with kids. A real comprehensive guide to what you need to know and what gear you’ll want to make camping fun and easy (i.e. no serious planning) for the whole family…
Car camping, but not in campgrounds. With kids, we usually opt for car camping. Finding a spot within a 2 minute walk of the car is the easiest. We usually don’t camp in campgrounds (too crowded for us), but instead find spots in national forest or wilderness areas (you can find our more about camping in those areas here although each area is different). Obviously, this isn’t for everyone. It makes the drive more difficult since you have to drive around a find a spot instead of knowing exactly where you’ll be sleeping. Jared is a master at this though. He gets a general idea of what national forest or wilderness area he wants to go and we drive around to find the best spot (privacy and close to water is ideal).
Camping food (without the intense planning). We are pretty spontaneous campers and don’t bring any food out of the house at all. We just grab our empty cooler, and then stop on the way at a big box store that will have food, ice and other necessities that we need to stock up on (like the ax we can’t find, another flashlight, more paper towels, etc). There always seems to be something that needs to be replaced each time we go.
Easy meals that don’t require a lot of ingredient and that you can pick up on the way are: pancake mix (they have some in a bottle now where you just add water and shake!), sausage, eggs, fruit, carrot sticks, hot dogs and buns, boxed noodles or mac and cheese, bean and cheese quesadillas, grilled cheese hot cocoa packets, oatmeal, pb + j for lunch. Of course, s’mores supplies and other filling snacks as well like bars, pretzels, trail mix, and jerky. And don’t forget about the boxed wine if you drink, the ice, and water. We also use about 1 galloon of water per day of camping for drinking, cooking, cleaning.
I do love a tin-foil dinner though! One of these days I’ll have to make those, but it just always seems like there’s so much other stuff to do when we’re trying to get out the door camping that grabbing food on the way seems way more manageable.
Something to play with and something to read. Sometimes we bring a ball or frisbee. Other times we stop and pick up a fun outdoor toy on the way (maybe at the store when you’re getting food). For reading, spooky tales like this book is fun as a family, and be sure your older kids all have a book as well for quiet time in the evening.
Devices. It may sound lame to bring your iPad camping, but up until Henry was three or four this was the only way we got him to sleep! We’d face the iPad down at the top of the tent where the mesh is so he could lie down and watch it while he fell asleep. Also be sure to let your older kids stay up and take photos of the stars with a long exposure (there are iPhone apps for it too). They’ll flip out!
Adventure Walks. We love to look for animals, signs of animals, small treasures, pretty colors (‘let’s find something from each color of the rainbow’), really big or really small things (biggest leaf, smallest flower). If there are a lot of large sticks you can try to make a fort, even! Or take turns floating things down a stream (Henry’s favorite).
Let them run wild. This is their chance. Let them pick up bugs, get dirty, throw huge rocks in the water, scream “echo” up the canyon 10 bazillion times. Remember that just yesterday you wouldn’t let them throw a soft pillow in the living room too close to your face so this is their chance to be a real kid!
1. Camping chairs to sit on. One for everyone!
3. Somewhere to put the baby. You’ll want to put her down on something too, especially when there are jobs to do and you need two adults to help. Bring her carseat from the car, a bumbo, Gathre leather mat, or a baby swing you can hang from the tree!
4. Enamel cups for hot cocoa, coffee, and boxed wine.
5. A camping stove + cast iron skillet. if you don’t want to do all your camping on the fire (which can be fun, but stressful with kids sometimes). We save the fire for hot dogs and s’mores.
6. A bigger-than-you-think-you-need tent. Reminder: tent sizes fun small. So a 4-man tent is really comfortable for 3. And you want to be comfortable so for car camping, be sure to bring…
7. An air mattress + pump. No reason why you can’t be comfortable car camping! We always bring our air mattress.
8. Night activities: Lots of flashlights and head lamps. And other fun night time stuff like glow sticks and sparklers.
9. Poker sticks for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows (and poking at the fire).
10. Beanies and warm jackets, even in the summer. It’ll make such a difference especially in the cool morning.
11. Keeping baby warm at night. For babies and summer camping, we like 20 degree sleeping bags that you can zip up together and putting baby in-between. So one bag with a left side zip, and the other with a right. We also bring extra blankets and swaddle blankets to wrap them up (and don’t forget the baby’s hat!)
12. Pillows from home. Great for the long car rides too.
13. French press. Nothing is better than a cup of coffee and cocoa in the morning when you’re camping!
Are you planning any camping trips this summer with your family?
Photos from our family trips to Saddlebag Lake right outside of Yosemite, Sonora Pass, and Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Park (just last weekend).