First Time Camping with Kids? 5 Tips!

It’s that time of year when parents with young children are beginning to plan that very first camp trip with their young child.  Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve read a ton of articles about camping with kids.  What can possible be added to the discussion?  I have a few extra tips for that very first overnight camp trip specific to camping with a baby, toddler, or preschooler.

  1. Stay local:  Road trips are always a little stressful when traveling with little kids, so why not keep the “road trip” out of that first camping experience?  I recommend finding a campground within an hour drive from your home.  And make reservations, if possible, so there’s no reason to stress about getting to the campground early enough to secure a site.  Or worse, getting there and finding there are no spots available at all.  Well, guess that wouldn’t be a crisis, as you’d get to enjoy a day trip to somewhere beautiful and have a short drive home!
  2. Keep it short:  Make your first camping trip a simple one night adventure.  It’ll give you an idea of what future, longer trips will be like, and also give you a (relatively) painless way to learn from the experience.  You’ll find out if your tent is large enough for your family,  if your sleeping pads are comfortable, and if your sleeping bags will keep you warm enough.  You’ll also learn never to go camping without the mosquito repellent or the sunscreen, two things that you can survive one night without, but not two!
  3. Make mealtime easy:  I know for many, the cooking over the campfire or on the Coleman is what makes camping fun.  But here’s a radical idea… why not skip cooking altogether?  If you’re heading out for a simple, overnight trip, it’s super easy to either pack food that you prepared at home, pick up some take-out from the market on the way out, or bring items that can simply be cup up and served.  Think pasta salad, a fresh-tossed vegetable salad, a vegetable platter with hummus dip, a fruit salad or cut fruit, a cheese with french bread, or sandwiches.  For breakfast, consider bagels and cream cheese, cereal, or fruit and yogurt.  Ensure the food you take stays fresh and safe by packing everything in a large cooler full of ice.  Of course, if you’re a coffee or tea drinker, you’re going to need to haul the Coleman out to at least boil water!
  4. Simplify:  Camping does require a lot of stuff, but not as much as you might think.  Skip bringing a ton of toys for your child.  My boy has been completely entertained for a couple days of camping with the sticks he found in the camp site, a shovel and bucket, a dump truck, a ball or two, and his bike (or Skuut bike when younger).  There’s something about riding bikes at a campground that kids love!  And keep activities simple, too.  This isn’t the time to plan a lot of sightseeing activities or a long hike.  Hang out at the campsite, lazily explore trails near and around the campground, or find a pretty location to have a picnic.
  5. Seriously consider sleep and potty needs:  Still in diapers?  Pack extra, and you can’t have enough wipes with you while camping.  They’ll come in handy not just for diapering needs, but also for cleaning dirty little bodies and wiping up sticky spills.  Using a toilet?  They might not want to use the one at the campground.  I recommend bringing along the training potty, even if your child isn’t using it anymore.  As for sleep, it’s pretty tough to get those much-needed naps in when trying to put your child to sleep in a bright tent.  Tents also tend to get pretty hot during the day, adding to discomfort.  Consider alternate sleeping arrangements.  Can your child nap in the car on the way to the campground, or on the way home?  Each child is different, and what works for one may not work for another.  Consider your own child, and work around their specific needs.  Same goes for nighttime sleep.  It’s tough for a child to fall asleep in a tent when it’s still light out.  But if your child isn’t getting enough sleep, he or she may be crankier than normal, perhaps putting a strain on the enjoyment of the outing.

Once you’ve survived that first camp trip with your kids, you’ll have the confidence to do more on your next outing.  For that one, plan fun meals, head out for several nights, and explore farther from home!

Have fun!

For more “camping with kids” suggestions, especially about gear and safety, check out these articles!


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