Tips for Camping with Kids

Simple, relevant tips for camping with kids at any age, including necessary gear, healthy snacks and how to survive anything.

Camping is a longstanding Wimbush-Bourque family tradition. From a young age, Danny and I both have been deeply moved by the beauty and tranquility of nature.

That connection to the countryside was one of the reasons we moved to Nova Scotia. There’s a wildness here – starting right outside our back door and extending to the shoreline that wraps this ocean province.

Whether you have a busy toddler or an unmotivated teenager, I hope my tips for camping with kids will inspire you to pack up, get out there and make a few camping memories of your own.

1. Start with the Right Mindset

I can give you all the practical tips for camping with kids, but unless you have a positive mindset about spending 48 hours outdoors with your humans, my tips won’t help much.

For starters, accept that you will get dirty, encounter bugs, possibly get rained on, and miss precious sleep.

But know that you will also connect with nature, make memories, slow down, bond together…and see more stars than you could ever imagine.

Pro Tip: Start with a backyard campout before going to the remote wilderness.

2. Equip Little Kids for the Big Woods

The joy of camping can be squelched when our children are not comfortable. Most often it’s nothing more than a skinned knee or bug bite, but it’s important to be prepared for anything.

Get The Gear

Year ago, as a camper with very young children, most of my problems were solved by outfitting my little ones in head-to-toe breathable outdoor gear. Theres no such thing as bad weather, just bad/wrong clothing.

Nowadays, my kids run around in shorts and a t-shirt most of the time, but they always have hoodies, raincoats and rain boots packed. Layers are key and a hat is key.

Bring the Pharmacy

We have a small Rubbermaid tub with everything we need to combat bugs and the weather. Sometimes it feels like we’ve packed an entire drug store aisle, but it comes in handy.

Think bug spray, sunscreen, after sun, soap, shampoo, bandaids, burn cream, fever reducer, toothpaste, anti-itch cream…and that’s just the basics.

Let Loose those Free Range Kids for Risky Play

Since you’ve got them in the right gear, and packed the necessary first aid kit, go ahead and let them run wild. Seriously, kids need unsupervised play and the added element of “danger” in nature has proven to have its benefits.

3. Get Kids Involved

One of my my top tips for camping with kids is getting them involved every step of the way. This isn’t an all-expense paid vacation for them! Everyone needs to learn to do their part around camp.

Clean-up:

PSA: Doing camp dishes is fun! Our crew and their friends always help with clean-up after at least one meal. It’s required, but they don’t mind. Read about our set-up on how to wash dishes when camping.

Fire-making:

Children have a natural curiosity towards fire, but instead of discouraging it, teach them the basics of safety and fire building. Young kids can collect kindling for starting the fire, while older youth can build and tend the flame. As a result, you’ll always have a helper for building a S’mores campfire.

Cooking:

Granted, I dominate the campfire cooking, but I DO involve the children in the food preparations at home. They help mix up instant oatmeal, bake our Monster Cookies, and much more. Get them to help you plan and prep The Ultimate Camping Food Day.

Packing/Unpacking:

Everyone knows that the real work begins at home. Get everyone involved with rounding up their own gear and packing the vehicle.

4. Don’t Bring Any Devices

Kids can play anywhere, with most anything. The Great Outdoors provides everything they need to keep themselves busy.

And if nature isn’t enough, kids love gear! For instance, a multitool is almost as engaging as a smart phone, right? Our boys got their first pocketknife around age 10. My teen loves his Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool.

10 Alternatives to Screen Time

  1. Fireside story time
  2. Beach-combing
  3. Scavenger hunt around camp
  4. Card games in the tent
  5. Rock collecting
  6. Frisbee toss
  7. Star-gazing
  8. Building a shelter
  9. Making a fairy garden
  10. Reading a book

Don’t be too worried about your kids getting bored. It’s good for them to come up with activities on their own.

Ask The Kids…. What do you love about camping?

“I love the soft warm sands on the beautiful beaches and the sound of the crackling fire when I’m in my sleeping bag.”

Clara, age 8

Bonus: How to Survive Anything

We travel with TWO first aid kits: one is actual medical supplies – and the other is emergency food and drink. Think dark chocolate, cold brew coffee, a sleeve of Hobnobs…

To put it simply, a stash of everyone’s favourite snack food or drink can lift the spirits. Yes, even if you are sitting in the car, waiting out a tornado (true story) or holed up in the tent nursing a bad sunburn.

Our Top 10 Homemade Snacks:

Homemade snacks don’t have the longest shelf life, but they sure taste great and are definitely the more nourishing option. We usually make one or two of these for our road trips and camping excursions.

Looking for Recipes?

I’ve covered camping food fairly extensively already. Here are some of the best posts for planning your menu.

Go forth and camp!

It’s been amazing to pass our love of nature down to our three children and watch it bloom. We hope that when they all become adults they will look back on our camping trips with fond memories — and recognize the value of those early outdoor learning opportunities.

ALL images by the incomparable Tim and Angela Chin (they shot my cookbooks, remember?) I’m lucky enough to have best friends who are also supremely talented photographers, not to mention kind and generous camping enthusiasts.

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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Comments

  1. Ellen Tresidder says

    I so enjoyed reading this timely post and seeing your growing kiddos in the photos. We’re heading out on our first family camping trip with our daughter, son-in-law, 2-year old grandson, and our new daughter in law. Our son is deployed to Afghanistan, so this is a way to support our daughter in law while he’s gone, but were all anxious for this to become our first Annual Family Camping trip. We actually will travel in two small RV’s, but all the suggestions you made are spot on. So looking forward to the thrills of introducing our grandson to the joy of evening campfire time, eating outdoors, and exploring of all kinds. Thanks for the added inspiration of great recipes to make-ahead. Happy summer to you!

  2. We just did our first camping trip of the year. For the first time, I had my boys (6&8) take turns helping dry and put away dishes. I expected pushback, but they ended up arguing over who got to help! Their favourite part was dumpmg the dish water. 🙂 They were also quite helpful with packing up. We started camping with them when they were 10 months and 2.5. It was a lot of work when they were small, but so worthwhile. Now they are super campers. For all the parents of littles, it is worth the effort and it does get easier!

    • McKenzie says

      So look forward to your camping posts and can’t wait until my now 6-month old is ready. I even bought the cutest tiny enamel double boiler off Facebook Marketplace and thought of your blog! Lol. No idea what to use it for but it seemed perfect.

    • Jessica, this is such a good point – it does get easier!! Sounds like you’ve laid the ground work.

  3. You may have addressed this before, but what do you transport all of your camp-side cooking tools and supplies in? We just camped for three days and I was frustrated with the three enormous Rubbermaid bins we lugged. Even trying to minimize tools, I think two bins wouldn’t be enough for the necessary skillets (one for bacon, one for pancakes), pots (one for oatmeal, one for boiling the coffee water) and all the food (five people for three nights). I identified some things to leave at home next time, but do you have any tips for minimizing the number of tools you need?

    • Fellow camper here. I say ditch the oatmeal pot and make instant (homemade or bought). I also embraced an easier breakfast, period, and no longer make pancakes or anything like that. Bagels, noodles, and oatmeal here for breakfast. We also stopped bringing our propane grill. Too much space for less use. The stove and fire can do the work. It’s also worth investing in nesting backcountry camping pots. Definite space saver. Then I have 5 bowls, 5 plates and serve out of the cooking utensil or container the food was brought in. It isn’t pretty, but it cut down on stuff to carry.

    • Hey Lydia, this isn’t really specific to the topic of camping with kids, but here we go…I do share my essential camping kitchen in another post:

      https://simplebites.net/the-beauty-of-foil-dinners-and-my-essential-camping-kitchen-tools/

      I fit all my camping kitchen in one Rubbermaid tub and one milk crate. Food goes in another small Rubbermaid and a cooler. I work with one large pot, one small, and one skillet.

      But you’ll find more info in the post linked above!

  4. Love this post, Aimée!

  5. Angel Aumand says

    Can’t wait to go camping with you! ❤ now I know I little more about this Haha 🙂

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