We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy.
Camping with kids is an outdoor getaway idea that's affordable, offers the ability for families to connect with nature, and for those parents with unvaccinated children looking for a COVID-safe adventure this summer, you won't find a better option than popping a tent in the great outdoors and eating dinner under the stars each night. Plus, camping with kids gives you an excuse to eat s'mores. Need I say more?
Now, it's absolutely true that preparing for and setting up a camp site is a lot of work. I'll get to more of that in a moment, but like many endeavors, I think you will find a family camping adventure to be worthwhile in the end and a pretty cool way to make memories with your kids.
5 tips to a calmer family camping trip from parenting expert (an avid camper), Laura Linn Knight:
- Plan meals ahead: Meals are always the most stressful part of camping for me. I want to make sure that I bring enough food, and I also don't want to pack the whole kitchen sink. Find a few ingredients that will work for multiple meals. Having an overview of your daily menu will save you a lot of time and energy once you arrive.
- Bring layers and an extra trash bag for dirty clothes: Camping with kids means dirty clothes and often warm days turn quickly into cold nights. Be prepared with layers so that your children can keep playing while you are cooking dinner over the fire. Reuse clothes for as long as possible, but have an extra-large trash bag nearby so that clothes can easily be saved for the washing machine when you return home. And always be safe and check clothes and kids for ticks before bed.
- Have a special camping toy bag: We have a bag of toys that lives with our camping gear. We never bring the toys into our house so that they stay novel for our trips. They include outdoor toys like binoculars, a bug catching kit, buckets and a pretend camping stove. We also have a few books for reading at bedtime and stuffed animals for snuggling with.
- Get comfortable: If you are camping in a tent, bring a comfortable mattress and extra layers to put on top of your sleeping bag. Remember that temperatures drop at night and so be prepared for chilly nights. Also, keep a flashlight on hand with a pair of flip flops next to the tent door for middle of the night bathroom trips.
- Break the rules! Part of the fun is doing things you wouldn't normally do at home. Camping is a time to let loose and not worrying about staying up late and telling extra stories. Plan to let your kids play in the dirt, search for bugs and stay up a little later than normal.
If this is your first experience camping, I'd suggest trying it in your backyard first. Then, if all goes well, start by looking up established campgrounds that offer "car camping" (where you're assigned a specific space and park your car close to wear you set up your tent). State parks often have these camping sites as well. And if you're lucky, there might be a lake or pool for swimming and water activities, as well as hiking trails. When searching, check user reviews, especially when it comes to the cleanliness of bathrooms and the availability of items like firewood, fire starters and a camp store that may have necessities you didn't realize you needed when packing.
It is true that it's hard to pack lightly for a camping trip. First of all, you're literally bringing along the roof over your head, as well as everything you need to sleep comfortably (sleeping bags, pads, pillows) and eat, as well as dishes, utensils and what you'll sit on while you're eating (though most camp sites provide a picnic table). It is... a lot.
The good news is that there are tons of multi-functional and useful camping items out there, and if you and your family get to be regular campers, you'll soon discover what it is you need and what you can live without. And who knows, if you're established campers looking for new camping necessities, you might find these here, too.
We've gathered a list of items you may need if you'll be camping with kids this summer. The great outdoors are waiting for your family. What are you waiting for?
A version of this article was originally published on June 10th, 2021. It has been updated.