Tips for Camping with Kids that’ll have you creating life long memories and enjoying camping in no time – whether you’re an old pro or a camping newbie!
This post has been sponsored by Coleman®. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Over years and years of making mistakes I’ve learned a lot about what to do and what not to do when camping with kids. Save yourself the expense of learning from your own mistakes and learn from mine instead!
Stress free family camping
This guide has all the essential tips for easy, stress-free family camping that I’ve learned over the years. From what gear to bring, including the coolest new camping products (hello, Coleman® Dark Room Tent!) to how to find and reserve a camping spot. And how in the world to keep (even the most tech-obsessed!) kids engaged and having fun in the woods.
But first, you might be asking why go camping in the first place?
Benefits of camping
Camping has so many benefits!
Even though it hasn’t always been easy, we continue to go camping with kids year after year because of the benefits. Although I would never recommend taking a newborn camping, like we mistakenly did when my firstborn was only 1 week old, I do believe camping is something all kids and families should experience.
It’s good for your health
Fresh air and sunlight positively impact mental and physical health in so many ways, and is something that most people just don’t get enough of in their daily lives.
After time in nature negative obsessive thinking is reduced which in turn reduces anxiety and depression symptoms. Spending days outside in the sunlight can stabilize melatonin levels in the brain, which helps people feel generally happier and more energized. And the increase in oxygen from fresh air helps your body to function better and increases serotonin levels, making you happier!
“In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says, — he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad with me” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Plus the absence of technology and removal of distractions camping the ultimate opportunity to destress, clear the mind, breath in and just be.
If you have a hard time dealing with the thought of doing nothing then take the time to learn a new skill, play a long-forgotten game, or practice a hobby that you just never seem to have time for. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll bring a stack of magazines and all the cookbooks you’ve been meaning to read ?
It’s the ultimate family bonding exercise
Family and group camping also creates opportunities for bonding, team building, and learning new skills while also giving individuals time to delve into whatever it is they’d like to do.
Since almost everything at camp requires teamwork, and especially when camping with kids, it’s great for bonding! Camping is the ideal opportunity to come together, reestablish real connections and create tight family bonds. And they won’t even know it’s happening because they’ll just be making memories and simply enjoying the great outdoors! #MomWin
Types of camping
There’s many different types of camping.
Backyard camping is great for getting comfortable with new gear and gaining camping experience while pack-in-only ‘backcountry’ camping is what people with lots of experience and a thirst for adventure prefer.
‘Front country’ camping is the typical drive-the-car-around-the-circle, find-a-beautiful-spot and set-up. And it’s what this guide will focus on with tips for what to expect when you get there and how to make your trip as smooth as possible.
What to expect at the campground
Most campgrounds are very similar.
With numbered sites situated around some sort of loop and check-in station, the camp host either waiting to assist you or circling the campground and stopping by sites.
There will often be restrooms, but don’t expect more than a cold, outhouse-like building with a primitive vault toilet and possibly some 1-ply toilet paper.
There most likely won’t be any water in the restrooms and only non-potable (undrinkable) water available at certain spots around the campground.
Each site usually has a picnic table, tent pad (designated spot for a tent) and fire ring to build a campfire in as well as fire wood for sale. Some have grills over the fire rings and food storage ‘bear’ boxes, but not all.
Front country camping is a lot like living in a neighborhood aside from the beautiful landscape. You’ll likely have neighbors surrounding you, kids playing and riding bikes, some noise, the smell of BBQ cooking, and sometimes, a little night life from around the campfire. It’s a great idea to go over camp etiquette and good stewardship principles so everyone knows what’s expected of them. But also know that kids will be kids. They will be loud outside of quiet hours. They will pick plants. Don’t let it stress you out. I find that people are generally respectful and if we give our neighbors grace and understanding they return the favor.
Quiet hours where visitors are expected to keep things like generators, music and general noise to a minimum will be posted at the campground.
Seek campgrounds in less popular areas and look for midweek dates when making reservations if you’d prefer a bit more privacy. Or, choose your camping neighbors and reserve a large group site for your friends and their families too!
How to find a campsite
Although all my childhood camping memories involve the excitement and anticipation of driving from campground to campground just wondering where the adventure would end, gone are the days of driving around looking for an available camping spot.
As campgrounds across the nation move to a reservation system you can now reserve campsites at national, state, local and private campgrounds up to one year in advance. Although most campgrounds do still keep a portion of their sites as ‘first come first serve’ to appeal to those thrill seekers who just love the hunt.
With so many campground options it’s dizzying trying to decipher them all. Baker Lake is a family favorite, and I’ve rounded up some of the best resources for finding, researching and reserving a great campsite so you can find your own favorite spot, regardless of where you live.
What to bring
If you’ve never been camping, you may feel like the initial investment is a bit high but trust me it’s so worth it! If you choose the right gear from the beginning, you will be camping comfortably (and relatively cheaply) for years.
Of course, backpacking, water travel or extreme conditions will require different camping supplies, but these are the basics to get you started in the right direction.
A great tent, like the Coleman® Dark Room Tent is a must! With Dark Room Technology, the compact yet roomy 4-Person Coleman® Dark Room Tent blocks 90% of sunlight and reduces heat inside! Amazing for camping families because kids just will not sleep unless it’s dark, even if they have been running around in nature like wild animals all day long. BUT, thanks to Coleman you can now put the kids to bed early and *fingers crossed* they may even sleep in past sunrise!
It also keeps you protected from the elements. The Dark Tech reduces temperatures in the tent, letting your group enjoy a comfortable night’s sleep when it’s warm. And if it rains, this tent is guaranteed to keep you dry thanks to the WeatherTec system. It also has a tub-like floor with patented corner welds, protected seams, a door awning and a rainfly to keep even the rainiest Pacific Northwest downpours out.
What to do while camping?
Camping is an activity in itself and the main goal should be to get as much ‘down time’ in as you like. But it’s also good to have some reasonable activities planned to keep kids busy, engaged, and having fun.
Camping is the perfect opportunity for children to practice independence, make decisions for themselves and do some things without the help of their parents. The best time to enjoy down time however they choose but also to work together to accomplish the necessary tasks.
Kid camp kits
Reduce arguments and the constant search for supplies by giving kids their own individual camping kits.
Give them all the equipment and supplies they’ll need for the trip. And with clear instructions to keep things clean, dry, and available, kids know what’s expected of them. They gain a sense of responsibility and independence.
And since the responsibility is shifted off you, you gain a bit more down time. There’s much less ‘where’s the flashlight?,’ ‘I need a spoon,’ ‘there’s no dry towels,’ ‘that’s MY stick’ arguments leaving more time for relaxing, making memories and enjoying the great outdoors!
- Large items – sleeping bag / pillow / folding chair
- Self care– towel / toothbrush / bug spray / sunscreen / wipes / eco friendly soap
- Eating utensils– cutlery / cup / canteen / plate / bowl
- Lights– flashlight / headlamp / lantern / reusable glow stick
- Clothing– socks / sweatshirt / raincoat / swimming suits / hat / long underwear / comfortable footwear / old clothing that can get wet, dirty, smoky and take a beating.
- Extras– fire stick / marshmallow stick (whether it’s whittled at camp or brought from home) / swimming goggles / walkie talkies / camera / pocket knife / magnifying glass / journal / compass
When camping with kids, keep them busy and involved in the tasks of camp. Allow children to get their hands dirty. Get them involved with putting up the tent, cooking meals, starting fires, and more. It will not only stop the ‘boredom blues’ it teaches them that they can. A real confidence booster for young children.
Plus, it’s frustrating trying to set up a tent or prepare a meal when the kids are running around. Assign some of the tasks to them so they’re too busy to argue and you’ll have more time to relax!
Of course, the tasks must be appropriate for their age and ability. For example, young children can gather kindling or fill water bottles nearby. While older kids can prepare food, wash dishes, and set up their own tents.
Camping allows kids to explore and discover in nature and explore scientific concepts without them even realizing it. They learn simply through play, expanding their minds while developing an appreciation for the great outdoors. The opportunities are endless to facilitate extra exploration beyond genuine unplanned and unstructured outdoor play.
Plan camping games and activities personalized to your child’s unique interests. It’s pretty easy to come up with some way to nurture their current interests while in nature. Tuck in a notebook for your little paleontologist or animal lover to collect specimens and record data. A constellation chart for your astronaut-in training to study the stars after dark. Some leather and beads to make a walking stick for the sports obsessed. Or maybe some new paints and a notebook for the artist to take advantage of all the natural inspiration.
A good ole fishing pole, fire stick and a pocket knife go a long way too.
Or use the opportunity to explain the science behind everything around you. There are opportunities for learning everywhere! The gunk in the lake, the life cycle of a fish, or the chemical reactions in the crackling fire.
Research local activities ahead of time. There’s usually so much to do and see near campgrounds. Plan ahead to have the information with you should you decide to venture out. Day hikes, fishing, boating and more can all add to the excitement and adventure of camping with kids.
Many campgrounds also offer on site activities for children. The Junior Ranger’s program from the National Park Service is a great resourse. With kids camp songs, camping games, activity ideas, and a list of the most kid-friendly campgrounds across the nation.
Plan ahead and do the prep work at home (cleaning, chopping, marinating and mixing). Then give children as much responsibility for cooking at camp as their age allows for you. And you’ll be relax and everyone will be fed easily and deliciously!
- Dutch oven meals
- Foil pack dinners
- Stick-cooked meals, snack and dessert (s’mores!)
- Pre-cut fruit and veggies for snacks – anything that can easily be eaten by hand
- Premade sandwiches and wraps and cold salads for lunch
- Treats like cookies and hand pies are also great for mess-free snacking on the go.
- And, as long as you know how to make coffee at camp you’ll be all set!
Also, remember that you and your family are not the only residents that are hungry. Wildlife is always on the lookout for spilled food, unattended food and coolers, and a handout from you. Please do not feed wildlife. Lock food up and away at night and never keep food in your tent. Come prepared with your own ‘bear box’ in case the campground is not equipped. And check with them for a full list of food storage and disposal regulations.
Camping with kids checklist
- Buy the right gear that will last for years. Like the Coleman® Dark Room Tent, air mattress or sleeping pads, cooler and cooking supplies, first aid supplies, and everything you need for the kid’s camp kits.
- Make campsite reservations as far in advance as possible (1 year max).
- For less crowds, look for off-the-beaten-path campgrounds and plan weekday vacations. Or reserve a large group site for your friends and their families too.
- To ease in to family camping keep trips short at first and build up to longer camp stays. Or try a dry run in your backyard before hitting the campground!
- Give kids responsibility over their own belongings with Kids Camp Kits.
- Teach kids camp etiquette and good stewardship principles.
- Keep kids busy and a part of the team by involving them in camp tasks.
- Plan fun meals that get the kids involved in cooking and are easy to eat on the go.
- Prep food at home as much as possible.
- Plan some activities but also allow for lots of down time, family bonding and relaxation.
Happy adventuring in the great outdoors!