5 Top Tips for Camping with Kids

By Bethanie Hestermann

Camping is one of Americans’ favorite ways to experience nature, and what’s not to love? There’s relaxing in a hammock by day, cooking meals and sharing laughs around a crackling campfire, and sleeping under the stars by night. So many Americans go into nature to unplug, unwind, and connect with themselves and others. But what about those of us who have kids? The experience can be a little bit different, to say the least!

Why Camp as a Family?

Camping with kids is great fun, but there’s significantly less relaxing involved. Depending on your kids’ ages, camping as a family can require a lot of extra effort to get out and “live the simple life”. So, is it worth all the effort?

Research suggests that children benefit from spending time in nature. In one 2019 study focusing on what families gain from outdoor adventures, researchers found four key themes related to family wellbeing:

  • Health and fitness
  • Quality, undirected time together
  • Positive personal development for children
  • Family bonding based on mutual shared experiences

Tips to Make Camping More Manageable with Kids

If you want to tap into the amazing benefits of quality family time in nature but feel a bit overwhelmed by the thought of taking your family camping, here are some tips.

Tip 1: Pack smart

You do not need to bring a ton of toys—in fact, you shouldn’t, see tip 4—but you should consider bringing some items that will enhance your outdoor experience as a family. Some ideas include: a star chart, binoculars, walkie-talkies, glow sticks, bug catchers, a magnifying glass, animal books, a frisbee, and a board game or card game that’s age appropriate for the youngest member of the family (so you can all play together).

In terms of gear, make sure everyone has a pair of hiking sandals or boots (depending on the weather and the terrain). If there’s a river, stream, or lake nearby, go for hiking sandals that double as water shoes, so the kids can go in the water if you come across it on a hike. Generally, you should also pack two outfits per kid per day, because dirt and mud will happen. The weather may also change drastically from hot to cold throughout a 24-hour period, so it’s good to have options for both.

Tip 2: Protect your kids from the campfire

Campfires are a staple of most camping trips, and your kids are going to want s’mores (you will too), but kids and an open flame makes for a dangerous combination. Before you go, pick up a pet exercise pen from Amazon or a local pet store and use it to surround your campfire. Consider buying some extra stakes to make it sturdy. This adds a line of defense between your kids—who are most likely running around constantly—and the fire. Nothing can take the place of a parent’s watchful eye, but a physical barrier can give you some peace of mind.

Tip 3: Foldable rocking chair

OK, this one is golden for families with babies and toddlers. Invest in a rocking chair that folds up and you won’t be sorry! Nap time gets a little weird when you’re traveling, but being able to nurse or bottle feed your baby in a comfortable rocking chair or rock your toddler to sleep can help so much.

Tip 4: Let the kids get bored

For reals, let them get bored! They may complain at first, but being bored will force your kiddos to come up with fun things to do. Maybe they end up trying to find fairies in logs, looking for tadpoles in the stream, or making up a totally new game. It’s all part of the fun!

Tip 5: Enjoy the little moments

Lower your expectations just a smidge, assume there will be some rough patches, and make a conscious effort to enjoy those little moments. These are the moments that will get you through the hard work of packing and unpacking … and maybe also that time your kid was screaming because she didn’t want to bathe in cold water. You probably won’t remember THAT moment anyway; you’ll remember the look on her face when she hopped across the creek by herself and it hit you how big and brave and beautiful she is.

Ready to Pack up and Go?

Who’s ready to wrestle those kids into the car for a couple of nights in nature? Camping with kids may not be the idyllic, relaxing nature experience you had before starting your family, but it’s an experience that’s definitely worth having.