According to the American Camping Report kids who don’t go camping before the age of 15 become dramatically less likely to ever go camping in their lives. This is quite an interesting stat because it means parents have a bit of a choice to make; take the plunge and go camping with kids so that they are exposed to the activity or, if they don’t, there’s a real risk that the tent door will be closed to their kids forever.
So it seems like a no-brainer. But camping with kids isn’t necessarily the easiest thing in the world. It can certainly be daunting the first time round. But hopefully with the pointers in this article, you can make it a smooth ride and give your kids that outdoors bug!
It all starts by getting the kids excited about it long before you get going. If they’re quite young, you really can’t talk about the trip too much. And don’t sugar coat things! Tell them about all the stuff you think are going to be difficult.
Not in a bad way!
But if you think the dark nights are going to be challenging, tell them it’s going to be really dark. Talk through any worries they might have. And then get them super excited about using torches and headlamps and glow sticks!
Here’s what we did with our little ones. We made a list of all the things we anticipated being problematic. We thought about how to raise each issue with them. And we thought about how to make it exciting.
So the torches was one angle. Sleeping in a tent was another potential hurdle, so we got set up in the backyard for a dry run a couple of weeks before we left.
It might sound cheesy, but every worry was an opportunity to make things adventurous and fun.
We were also able to introduce camp rules before we left which really helped.
I understand that older kids and teenagers are a different kettle of fish. But even still. We all have our anxieties and our desires. Being upfront and working through them before getting out into the boondocks really smooths the ride.
Get them involved
I’m a great believer in letting my kids have a say in our family plans and activities. I don’t believe in pandering to their every whim. Far from it. But they have their likes and dislikes and they certainly have their opinions! When we acknowledge these things and engaging with the kids, my wife and I tend to get better results than when we don’t.
I’m certainly no child psychologist, but giving them a say in things does seem to give them a great sense of ownership and a greater sense of anticipation. And that usually seems to translate into them having a lot more fun.
If you’re looking for more info on how to involve kids in planning a holiday, I thought this article in the Wall St Journal had some very interesting guidance.
In my main piece about family camping, I suggest that you ask for the kids’ help in choosing where to go. Other ways of getting them involved could include:
Planning the meals
Choosing and testing the gear
Looking at maps
Making a list of activities (including maybe introducing a few new games)
Basically, any time the adults have a decision to make, it’s an opportunity to get the kids involved in some way. It may be quite a lot of extra effort, but it will totally pay dividends in the long run.
Which leads me to my next tip...
Take your time
When I was a young, independent, solo traveller I would either do absolutely nothing (it’s harder than you might think) or I’d go 100 miles an hour trying to cram as much cool stuff into my itinerary as I could. Sadly, family life means that neither of those is an option. It’s been quite a learning curve I can tell you!
Here’s the thing. You don’t want the kids to get bored. You do want to exhaust them. But not too early! It’s a bit of an art form. But again, considering your itinerary in advance and having a strategy should really help.
First off, be really wary about packing too much into the days. You’re on holiday after all!
Every family has their own rhythm and it’s definitely worth thinking about how you might translate that into a camping scenario. You’re not going to be able to replicate your home routine, but you can certainly draw inspiration from it.
So if anyone is still napping during the day, be sure to pencil in a siesta. Hitting those meal times and snack times is going to save you a world of pain. So make sure whatever you’re planning takes into account the sort of rhythm that your kids are familiar with.
But my main tip is, slowing right down can be a really amazing experience. For example, my two are fascinated by anything that moves. So going on a gentle forest walk looking for bugs can suck up hours without having to expend vast amounts of energy. A book to identify creepy crawlies and a magnifying glass is all it takes.
And that means me and mom have enough energy to enjoy a few tasty beverages after the littles ones have gone down for the night!
Hello darkness, my old friend - actually no, bring torches & lanterns
How exactly can the adults enjoy some grown up time around the campfire and also avoid being woken up in the middle of the night? There’s definitely a few things you can do to reduce the chances of nighttime awakenings.
Make sure the kids are the right temperature
Nobody enjoys running too hot or too cold at night. If you’re worried about the cold then start from the outside in. Make sure there is proper insulation between them and the ground. Nothing saps your heat quite like direct contact with the ground. Assuming that’s sorted, make sure you’re using a sleeping bag rated for the temperature and in good condition. You then might consider a sleeping bag liner. And you may want to dress them in thermals instead of PJs.
But all that is pretty heavy duty.
For those hot nights, make sure the tent has good ventilation (and that you’ve opened the vents!). Make sure the sleeping bag isn’t too warm. And you may want to invest in a tent fan. Especially if you’re hooked up to electricity, there’s no good reason not to make your stay as comfortable as possible.
If you get the temperature right, the chances are better that they’ll sleep through the night.
Make sure they’re comfortable
It’s not just the wrong temperature that can keep the kids up. Any sort of discomfort will do that. The most cause after temperature would be whatever it is they’re sleeping on. This is one of the reasons doing test runs is so important. You can basically go down several routes: sleeping pads, camping cots and air mattresses. Whatever you choose, make sure they’re comfy and in good working order.
Ever woken up on a deflated air mattress? Not fun, is it!!
How to handle midnight tinkles
For younger kids, it’s worth thinking ahead about this. No dramas necessary, but thinking it through will make things much more efficient in the event.
As anyone who’s dragged themselves out of a tent for a pee you’ll know that you need to know where you’re going, have light to find your way, have footwear easy to access and possibly need to stay warm during your trip.
So, make sure when they go to bed they have their shoes or camp slippers close by. Make sure they have a torch on hand. And here’s a good tip I heard from someone: instead of using a pillow, you can stuff a pillow case with their jacket and kill two birds with one stone (they can take it out and wear it if they need to stay warm and you don’t have to carry a pillow with you).
Everyone knows where everyone is
If you’re smart, you won’t be camping all together in a single room tent. I mean, I love my kids to bits. But I need some privacy. So yeah, a two or three room tent is a must for me!
The downside (and this only really applies to younger kids because teens just won’t care) is that kids might freak out a little if they wake up and don’t immediately remember where they are.
So what I like to do is just show my little ones where everyone is sleeping. I’ll let them practice working the zips. And just generally make sure they’re really familiar with the setup. That way I hope (and it is just a hope) that if they wake up, they are more likely to try and get back to sleep than panic (thereby waking up the whole family).
And so far so good. Sometimes it works and sometimes we all end up sleeping huddled together...
Pack a favorite toy
I think most kids love new stuff (which is partly what makes camping so exciting) but they also feel comfortable with familiarity. A cuddly toy is a great way of bringing an element of familiarity to the party so it’s generally a good idea to pack a couple.
Organise Gear with Clear Plastic Bags & Tubs
One of the things that all professional survivalists and bushcrafters will tell you is how important it is to have a well-organised camp. It may sound pedantic but it sure does save you time and energy!
The bigger your tent and site are, the less organised you need to be. And conversely, the smaller your site, the more organisation will be required. But it makes a lot of sense to have a system, regardless. You don’t want clean, dry clothes mingling with dirties. You really want to be able to lay your hands on cooking utensils when you’re in the middle of cooking.
It really is worth investing in camp storage. So break everything down into small chunks and make sure to pack into bags and tubs that are see-through. You won’t regret it!
Set up a Wash Station
Obviously it’s amazing to be outdoors in the dirt. But it’s really important to impress on the kids to maintain good hygiene. There are loads of different ways to do water management. But even if there’s a shower block, I’d recommend having a wash station next to your tent.
For a few bucks you can get collapsible water containers that hold 1-2 gallons and do the job. I also like those portable water butts that hold a lot more water.
Wipes, Hand Sanitizer & Handcream!
And more than having a water station, make sure you bring plenty of wipes! Hand sanitiser is useful, though I can take it or leave it (soap is pretty effective!). But the one luxury I’ve grown to find essential over the years is handcream. Maybe y’all are different from me but I find that my hands get really dry when I’m outside. Being able to moisturise makes life so much more comfortable.
The act of camping can be really time consuming in itself; keeping everyone fed and maintaining an organised site can be challenging, especially with kids running around!
But hopefully you still have plenty of recreation time. It’s really worth doing as much planning ahead as you can here, particularly if you are camping with younger children. In my experience trying to do planning while the kids are yelling is seriously tough. But if you have a bank of go-to plans then these situations are much easier to control and make for a much more enjoyable experience all round.
It may not sound like entertainment to you and me but a lot of kids really love chores if you can sell them on it. The younger they are (within reason) the more likely they are to want to do things that grown ups do.
Have a think about simple camp chores that they can get involved in. For example, my youngsters enjoy fetching water, and so having a small container at the water station means they can carry it and help out that way. They also love peeling veg. Even a 2-year-old can have a go at sweeping a tent floor…
If you make a small list of daily chores before you arrive on site, you’ll have several ready-made ways to occupy the brutes when they start to get restless.
Advanced Day Trip Research
This is another thing that’s well-worth spending a few hours on before you leave. I’m not suggesting you map out every hour of every day (I mean, you can do that if you want). But it is really handy to have a go-to list of day trips to choose from.
I like to find 1-2 places we could visit for each day of a trip (so for a 5-day trip I might draw up a list of 7-8 day trips).
That way if we really wanted to go somewhere else every day of the trip, we’d always have a choice.
Of course, that’s not how it works out because we stay in camp a lot. But having pre-planned options takes a heck of a lot of pressure off!
Some camps have organised activities. Again, well worth researching these before you arrive and have a loose idea of any you might like to do.
But do not forget that with nature on your doorstep there’s loads of stuff you can do yourself within walking distance. Our family loves to go foraging, for example. All you have to do is educate yourself on what’s in season, make sure you can ID plants and go try find some! It’s an awesome way to interact with nature.
And there’s no need to limit yourself to edibles. Kids love collecting leaves, sticks, shells, stones… There’s a host of arts and crafts sites out there to get inspiration from and when camping you have access to so many natural objects and textures.
So once again, before you leave, have a think about these sorts of things as well as walks, picnics, bird spotting etc. I always try hard to spend a bit of time educating myself on the flora and fauna of an area (as well as the natural history) so I can talk to my kids about it. Unfortunately for me, they now remember more of this stuff than I do which is seriously embarrassing!
Crafts & Board Games
Just because you’re camping and outdoors doesn’t mean that you’ll need (or want) to be outside all the time. A deck of cards and some simple board games can go a long way if the weather turns or if you just want to kick back for a lazy day.
So I think that’s 7 top tips that make our family camping trips a lot easier and more fun. If you have a question or would like to add anything, please drop a comment below!