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For a long time I was intimidated by the idea of camping with my family. It just felt like so much work, and there were so many opportunities for things to go south. In fact, a few years enough we decided to attempt it, and had the WORST camping trip maybe ever. (Hiking in all our supplies, piles of biting fire ants everywhere, extreme heat that didn’t let up even at night, food that took too long to cook…I could go on, but I’ll spare you.). It took five years for me to gather the courage to try again (and to get over the trauma), but we learned from our mistakes, tried again, and had the BEST time! Here are our tips for family camping success:
- Be picky about weather. Obviously you can’t control the weather, but plan your camping trip for a time of year that typically has mild weather wherever you’re going. Nothing can ruin a camping trip faster than extreme heat or pouring rain. That said, there’s a pretty wide range of acceptable weather, but try to plan for a time that’s likely to be in that zone.
- Bring what you need to sleep comfortably. When you’re camping with kids, there’s no need to earn any badges of honor by “roughing it”. Bring an air mattress or a memory foam pad (ours isn’t exactly designed for camping, but we love it so much that it’s worth strapping to the top of our van). Extra blankets, and a battery operated sound machine. We also recommend a tent that is rated for MORE than the number of people you have. We have this “12 person” tent for our family of seven, and it gives us plenty of space for a pack and play and some extra room to spread out. Whatever your family needs to sleep as comfortably as possible will be well worth the effort!
- Simplify meals. Outdoor cooking can be a ton of fun but also a real headache. Someone recommended I pre-cook and prep as much as possible beforehand. We did taco salad for one meal, and I pre-cooked the taco meat and froze it in a bag. I also pre-chopped the lettuce and tomatoes, and had cheese and other toppings portioned out in small containers. It made everything come together so quickly, and gave us more time to have fun hiking, biking and playing together. We invested in a decent camp stove, but also did some cooking (like roasting hotdogs) over the campfire. And don’t forget lots of snacks. Camping can really work up an appetite (and you don’t want any hangry kids ruining the experience).
- Camping is dirty business. I have no problem with a little dirt, but it’s nice to have the supplies on hand to clean up when it’s time. I’d recommend a small broom and dustpan to sweep up the dirt that kids will inevitably track into the tent. Garbage bags are a must (even if there are dumpsters on hand, you’ll want to collect trash at your site before tossing it.) A good multi-purpose cleaner (we use the all-natural and super powerful Force of Nature cleaner and highly recommend it) and paper towels, and plenty of baby wipes (even if you don’t have a baby) for those dirty and sticky hands and faces.
- Bring a re-useable, wipeable tablecloth. Many campsites have picnic tables on-site, but you MIGHT not want your kiddos eating off them. Consider bringing paper plates and disposable utensils, depending on the camping situation and the number of children you’re camping with.
- If you have a baby or toddler, a high chair is awesome to keep them off the ground for meals and time around the camp fire. We use this one from Ikea that comes apart really quickly and is easy to transport. You can also get a camping style high chair like this highly rated model.
- Pack clothing and camping supplies in clear plastic totes. It’s nice to be able to quickly see what you’re looking for, and to snap lids back on to keep things clean and dry.
- Camp at a drive-up site. Unless you’re serious backpackers, it’s not a good idea to book a hike-in site. Believe me. We know.
- If you have bikes, and there are bike trails available where you are camping, it’s worth the effort to bring them. It adds a lot of fun options, and a break from walking and hiking so kids don’t get too worn out (err…whiney).
- Bring games. We packed some simple card games, like this fun twist on traditional Uno, and also played some trivia games around the camp fire (here are some fun trivia cards if you have Harry Potter fans in the family). Bubbles and sidewalk chalk are also super fun and can keep kids entertained while you’re cooking, setting up or taking down camp, or during other down time and glow sticks are always a hit after dark or as a night light.