Summer is officially upon us and in the Pacific Northwest if you don’t have camping plans every weekend then you’re not really living. It’s true that a family camping trip creates the most incredible memories, but for many parents of young kids packing for a camp trip can feel like it’s more work than it’s worth. Yes, you need to bring an ungodly amount of stuff, but like anything else regarding kids, get organized with a little prep, set your expectations super low, and you just might have a surprisingly good time. Here’s a few tips to approach camping with kids like a seasoned pro.
Beginner's Guide To Camping With Kids
Getting the gear
The #1 reason camping feels intimidating Is due to the amount of equipment you'll need to haul with you. Camping gear can definitely be expensive, which is why most people acquire items over time. That way you can thrift items and invest in others once you have a better idea of what works for you.
Don't have any camping gear? No problem! There are plenty of companies that rent everything you could ever need. Check with your local outdoor/sporting goods store or visit this article from Conde Nast Traveler on Where to Rent Camping Gear.
Location, location, location
For your first camping trip pick a location within 2 hrs of home in case you need to bail. Maybe even do a practice run in your backyard before venturing out into the forest. Start small with 2 nights max until your crew gets the hang of it.
Some sites we use to find campsites are recreation.gov, hipcamp, and campendium. Pro tip: a lot of popular camp sites book up fast. I typically go on right when reservations open and book a few summer weekends at our favorite spots. The rest we just wing and look for areas with first come, first serve. But in peak summer months you'll need to get there early Friday if you want a shot.
Plan for everything, but keep your options open
The success of your trip depends on how worn out your kids will be when it’s time for bed. Pick a campsite with activities nearby so you can go for a hike or take a swim without a huge to-do. Bring bikes or scooters for a jaunt around the campground. Diggers, dump trucks, little shovels and a mish mash of art supplies are fun to have on hand to turn your nature finds into artwork.
Embrace the dirty
Your kids will be beyond dirty and so will you, but just know there will be a bath in their near future. Until then, have a water jug and hand soap station for washing hands before meals or a quick face wash before bedtime. If your little one is crawling, then maybe bring a pack and play for stress-free playtime. Wet wipes are essential, but you knew that already.
A little food prep goes a long way
Cooking over a camp stove is part of the experience, so I don’t recommend cooking all meals ahead of time. However having a few items prepped cuts down on dirty dishes tremendously and who wants to do dishes when camping? Examples of foods I like to pre-cook are bacon, noodles, a hearty pasta or quinoa salad of some sort, veggies for snacking, a cocktail mix, etc.
Bye bye bedtime routine
Sleeping in a tent is verrrry exciting and sometimes a tad bit scary for kids, so don’t be surprised if they’re suddenly more energized at bedtime than you’d prefer. Plus, there’s no such thing as blackout curtains in the wild and in the summer months the sun sets pretty late. So unless you plan to go to bed at 8 pm, don’t expect your kids to. Rather than fight the process, bend the bedtime rules so the whole family can enjoy a few stories around the campfire.
The up-all-night-crying fear
I had a somewhat irrational fear that my kids would be awake all night creating high pitched screams that would echo throughout the entire campground. Rest assured mama, your kids will be so tired after the days adventures, sleeping will most likely be a non-issue.
However, if your child does happen to have a massive crying sesh in the middle of the night, it's ok - promise. Campgrounds are packed FULL of families with young kids (and the friendships kids make at campgrounds is something magical). If your kid is crying, I can almost guarantee he/she is not the only one. You're surrounded by people who understand your situation because they've been there before. Honestly, no one cares. And even if they do...you'll never see them again :)
What to pack:
- Pack n play/mat for babies
- Baby carrier (stroller if there’s even terrain)
- A stuffy/blanket for comfort
- Activities (card games, coloring books, markers)
- Travel high chair, the ones that hook onto a table are great for picnic tables and securing your baby in place somewhere
- Leave the technology behind (or at least in the car)
- Tarp/ground cover
- Sleeping bag or bedding of choice
- Sleeping pad/mattress
- Pillows (extras if you’re nursing at night)
- Bath/beach towel
- Fire starter (lighter/matches)
- Camping chairs
- Bug spray
- Hand soap/sanitizer
- Wipes (for hands, faces, booties)
- Paper towels
- Dish towels
- Cooler (it's nice to have 2, one for drinks, the other for food)
- Plates, cups, utensils, spatula
- Aluminum foil
- Picnic tablecloth
- Citronella candles
- Dish soap & dish brush
- Water jug
- Patch repair kit
- Camp stove
- Pot and pan
- Cutting board
- Knife or multi tool
- Trash bags
I love camping, but I'm not an animal. Here are a few additional luxuries I pack so I don't look and feel like Sasquatch:
- Face wipes because I'm an adult and deserve something better than baby wipes
- Fancy body wipes (love these and these)
- Dry shampoo
- Roll-on lavender essential oil
- Downloaded meditations/sounds to drown out noise
- I keep one clean outfit for the drive home to feel slightly less gross
- Outdoor speaker
- String lights
- Fancy coffee because instant coffee isn't going to cut it (although I just tried a Starbucks instant latte and it was amazing). I love pourover coffee and these look amazing for camping
- I have yet to find an inflatable pillow that isn't awful so I bring a real pillow