Hesitant about camping with young kids? Our camping with kids hacks and tips will hopefully make your outdoor adventure go a little smoother.
1. Try some backyard camping first
If you have very young kids who have never camped before you might want to set up the tent in the backyard first and let them sleep in it for a night. Try and set up the sleeping arrangements in the tent the same way as you plan to when you camp – for example if you are bringing a port-a-cot, let your toddler sleep in that for the night and see how they go.
And as an added bonus you’ll get some practise in assembling the tent and making sure it is free from any tears.
If you have young kids going camping for the first time, you may also want to get some age appropriate books on camping or even get them to watch episodes of their favourite shows where the characters go camping. See this Peppa Pig camping episode for example.
2. Camp close to home
If it is your first family camping trip, test the waters by choosing a campsite that is not too far from home. If it starts raining or the kids really struggle with sleeping in the great outdoors, you can always just pack up and go home.
3. Keep your trip short and sweet
If you’re camping with a little one for the first time, consider limiting your trip to just a couple of nights.
4. Research the campsite carefully
To ensure kids don’t get bored, look for age appropriate activities nearby – for example, are the hiking trails kids friendly? Is there anywhere to swim? Anything interesting like waterfalls for the kids to look at?
Also check out what amenities (if any) are available. Are there cooking facilities? Are there toilets and showers? Is there access to water?
It pays to also do some research on whether there are any poisonous plants in the area.
5. Try and reserve the most secluded part of the campsite
If the campsite takes reservations and you think your kids will be noisy and you worry about disturbing other campers, request the most secluded spot in the campsite. This will probably be further away from any amenities but at lease you won’t be woken up by other people making late night bathroom trips.
6. Get the kids involved in clearing the campsite before you set up the tent
While you’re unpacking the tent and the million other things you brought along, give the kids the job of clearing the campsite of any sticks, stones or anything else that will make for an uncomfortable night’s sleep. Make it a competition to see who can pick up the most. Sure they will probably miss stuff but at least they’ll be entertained for a while.
7. Hacks to keep the tent and little people clean
A list of camping with kids hacks wouldn’t be complete without a tip on how to keep the tent clean. Bring a cheap door mat and put it outside the tent for everyone to wipe their feet on before getting in the tent. It will greatly cut down on the amount of dirt brought into the tent. You could also bring a small dustpan and broom to sweep the inside of the tent if things get too dirty in there.
And bring a stack of baby wipes. They are great for wiping down grimy surfaces as well as grimy kids. If it is hot, they can also be chucked in the cooler and then brought out to wipe down sweaty bodies.
Even if your campsite has amenities such as showers, it may be easier to bath young kids in a large plastic storage tub. Large plastic tubs are great for transporting all your camping gear and keeping the gear dry and can also double as a great toddler bathtub or a dish-washing tub.
8. Beat the bugs and the sun
Even if it is going to be hot, pack long sleeved shirts and long trousers to avoid bug bites and help prevent sunburn. And don’t forget the bug spray (note the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that repellent used on kids contain no more than 30% DEET) as well as sunscreen.
Planning on sitting around your campfire at night? Bring a bundle of sage to throw on the campfire. It smells great but more importantly keeps mosquitoes and other flying insects away. Citronella candles will also work.
9. Don’t forget the first aid kit
Bring a well stocked first aid kit. The American Red Cross has a handy list of what a first aid kit should contain.
10. Have a plan for those late night bathroom trips
If you have young kids who are toilet trained, leave a potty outside the tent door for those late night calls of nature.
For bigger kids and adults keep some headlamps or torches handy in case anyone needs to make a dash for the amenities in the middle of the night.
11. Give each kid their own torch
They probably don’t really need them but even little kids will LOVE getting their very own torch. Torches just seem to make camping magical for kids and there are some awesome night time games that can be played with them.
12. Plan some special camping activities for when it gets dark
This camping with kids hack will make your trip even more memorable. Bring some special camping only activities. We love these magical flames. Kids also love using glow sticks which you can pick up pretty cheaply from the dollar store and can be used for a night time treasurer hunt.
If you have a budding astronomer, a cheap telescope is sure to be a hit. Put out a picnic blanket and lay down and see what you can see in the sky. You might want to brush up on some basic astronomy before you go or download an app on your phone to identify planets and constellations – we love Sky Map.
If your kids like to be spooked but you have a hard time coming up with spooky stories, check out the Ultimate Camp Resource for some inspiration.
13. Give the kids their own daytime tent
Bring along a second cheap kid’s tent. Young kids needing downtime can play in the tent which has the added bonus of acting as a sunshade and keeping out the bugs. And your main tent will hopefully remain dirt free.
Or you could consider splurging on a screen house for daytime use which the adults can relax in too.
14. Get the biggest tent you can afford
On family camping trips, the chances are you will be using your tent for more than just sleeping. A larger tent is especially important if you have very young kids with you. A pack ‘n play or other toddler bed that they can’t roll off can be a massive sleep saver for the whole family but you need to have a large enough tent to fit them.
See our other toddler sleep hacks.
Also if it rains or is just too hot, it’s nice to have the extra space to just chill out in.
However if space is an issue and you will be camping with multiple kids, consider getting some portable bunk beds for the tent.
15. Pack some kids’ alphabet tiles for some extra padding
Another hack to ensure the family gets a good night’s sleep is to raid the toy room for the kids’ padded alphabet tiles. They are great to line the tent with for some extra protection from the ground. If you don’t have any lying around the house, the Dollar shop sells them cheaply.
16. Control the temperature in the tent
Waking up in the morning hot and sticky is possibly worse than waking up freezing cold. For warmer temperatures, invest in some tent fans.
17. Use Doritos as fire starers
You’ll never look at a Dorito again after you use a couple to easily start a campfire. Cheetos cheese puffs will also work.
18. Keep a rolling camping checklist for when you next go camping
It mightn’t sound fun but keeping a meticulous checklist of everything you need will ensure nothing gets left behind. Cross of what you didn’t use and keep the rest of your checklist for next time you go camping.
19. Organise all your essentials in an over the door shoe organizer
With their small, see through pockets, over the door shoe organizers are a convenient way to separate all your essential items – from soap, to baby wipes, to knives and forks.
Or you could pack a clothing organiser with each family member’s essential clothing items. Just hang it up in the tent and the family can easily grab what they need.
20. Invest in some extra long sticks to make s’mores
Worried about your kids getting too close to the campfire but don’t want them to miss out on the all important s’mores making? Bring along some extra long roasting sticks to put some distance between them and the fire.
21. Plan and prepare your meals before you leave home
When you’re been outside having fun all day, you probably don’t want to cook anything more elaborate than s’mores at night. Precook all your meals at home so all you have to do is reheat them once you are at the campsite.
If you want to make things really easy, bring dehydrated backpacking meals that can be cooked in boiling water.
Also consider how you will cook your food. Does the campsite have a bbq you can use? Are you intending to cook over an open fire? If so, what will you do if it rains or is very windy? You might want to consider investing in a cheap camp stove.
22. Light the way
Kids scared of the dark? Raid your garden for some solar powered garden lights and set them up around the outside of the tent. Not only will the kids be less anxious about their new environment, if you need to answer the call of nature in the middle of the night, you won’t be stumbling around in the dark. Tripping over tent pegs in the middle of the night is definitely not fun!
You could also string up some solar powered fairy lights on the outside of the tent to glamp it up.
23. DIY your own camping lantern
Don’t want to fork out for a bulky camping lantern? Create your own lantern by filing a plastic bottle with water and putting a headlamp around it.
This video explains exactly how to do it:
24. Invest in a decent cooler box
If you are camping without electricity, you’ll need a quality cooler to keep your food chilled. A cheap cooler will keep your food cold for a couple of hours – perfect for picnics but not so great for camping. Food poisoning while camping is no joke! A more expensive cooler will keep ice frozen for up to 5 days even in hot temperatures. The Coleman Xtreme Cooler, though pricey, does the job well.
Remember to chill (or even freeze) food and drinks at home before putting them in the cooler.
25. Bring all the snacks
There is something about fresh air that makes everyone very hungry. Granola bars, fruit and nuts are always a good option for when the munchies strike.
26. Share the fun and invite a friend
If your kids are a bit older, consider inviting another family with similarly aged kids along on the trip so the kids can entertain each other. Or bring the cousins if everyone gets along well.
27. Have a plan to recharge your phone
Many families are attracted to camping as a way to unplug. Being glued to your phone is probably the last thing you are planning to do on your trip. But a phone can be invaluable in an emergency. You’re also likely to want to take a lot of photos. You can also install a white noise app on your phone to help little ones sleep. And if you get desperate, an episode or two of Peppa Pig on your phone can be a lifesaver if you just really need to get stuff done around the campsite without the assistance of curious little people.
A way to charge your phone, especially if you are going camping for more than one night is therefore essential. A car charger may suffice or consider taking a portable phone charger with you.
If you are only camping overnight, changing the phone to airplane mode or battery saver mode will help preserve battery life.
28. Bring a tarp to hang over your tent
If the weather is hot, a tarp hung over a tree will help shelter the tent from the sun and cool the tent down. It may also block out some of the early morning sunlight meaning that little people will hopefully start the day just a little later.
If is starts to rain, a tarp will provide some protection from the wet weather.
29. Bring some handwarmers if it going to be cold
If it is going to be cold, bring some handwarmers. Kids will be amazed at how these things miraculously keep their fingers warm.
30. Bring coffee or energy drinks or whatever else keeps you going
One of the most important camping with kids tips – remember the coffee. Just in case the kids don’t sleep as well in the great outdoors as you hoped.
31. Bring duct tape and rope
From fixing holes in the tent to emergency band-aids – duct tape has so many uses!
Rope can be used to make a diy clothes line tied between 2 trees.
32. Bring some activities for downtime
You’ve hiked, swam in the lake, road bikes – you’ve done all the camping things but it is too early for bed. Now what?? Of course the dream is that the kids will be so thrilled with their new surrounds that they happily and safely! keep themselves entertained all day and then fall exhausted into bed and sleep soundly until morning. Ha a parent can dream right? Planning for a bit of down time might be wise. Play-do, painting and other messy craft activities are a great idea to bring camping. Even just a couple of glue sticks and pieces of paper are sure to be a hit. The kids can glue leaves and other things they find around the campsite. Or even prepare a simple scavenger hunt for them.
For older kids, pack some board games and a deck of cards.
33. Get the kids and maybe even the adults into geocaching
Goecaching is like a tech-aided treasure hunt and can be loads of fun for older kids. You’ll need wi-fi though.
This video gives a good overview of what geocaching is:
34. Bring a hammock
Both the kids and the adults will fight over who gets to chill out in a hammock tied between 2 trees.
35. Adjust your expectations
And finally don’t expect to go back home well rested. Camping with young kids is likely to be tiring. You’ll probably go home more tired than when you left. Try to focus on the fact that you are making memories, and encouraging a love of camping in the years to come – when it actually will be relaxing for you!
Got any more camping with kids hacks and tips? Let us know in the comments.