Adventures

Camping with kids can be fun, even if there is a lot of prep work.
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Tiny Potties, Single-Serve Snacks, & More Tips For Camping With Kids

From picking a campsite to packing tips, here’s how to enjoy the great outdoors with kids.

I am admittedly not great at camping. The bugs, the lack of air conditioning, and the sleeping on the ground just aren’t my cup of tea, but my kids love it. However, I am great at being prepared, which camping trips most certainly require. And having a stack of camping tips in your back pocket can help you prepare for anything your next trip throws your way and ensure you make the most of your time in the great outdoors. (Even if your kids enjoy it more than you do.)

Camping isn’t just fun for kids, it’s actually good for them. Between all of the tent-pitching, hiking, fishing, and campfire cooking, kids can learn resilience, gain self-confidence, and develop a sense of community. Not to mention, the fact that the memories you’ll make as a family will last a lifetime. Enjoying a camping trip with the whole family may even inspire your kids to carry on the tradition with their own little ones someday.

Whether you’ve never ventured out as a family before or you’re all seasoned camping pros, these camping tips for families cover all the bases. From how to find the perfect spot to set up camp to what activities will keep your bored kids entertained during a rainstorm, there’s a hack here you can use. Now, go roast some marshmallows.

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1

Pick The Perfect Campsite

“Planning ahead is more important than ever. In fact, reservations through Recreation.gov have increased by 45% over the past year,” a representative from Recreation.gov tells Romper. “Start planning your camping trip by searching Recreation.gov for locations and making a reservation in advance. If traveling with a pod or other family members, select a group site so you can split the costs. A weekend escape for one or two nights within an hour of where you live is the best choice for a first camping trip.”

Take a look at what amenities are available at your campsite. Is there a picnic table? Showers on site? Know before you go so that you can take the essentials you’ll need to stay comfortable. “As a good rule of thumb, pack a chair for each member of your group as well as a table for food prep, eating, and games,” the Recreation.gov rep tells Romper. If you have friends who camp, ask about their favorite sites, and be sure to book early for popular ones, like campsites near beaches.

2

Be Prepared For Rain

In the unlucky event that you get caught in a rainstorm while camping, you’ll want to make sure that your campsite is set up to handle it ahead of time. If you have a choice of where to pitch your tent, pick a spot on higher ground where you won’t have to deal with water collection or downhill runoff. Hang tarps up high or use a pop-up canopy to cover your campfire, wood stack, and cooking area to keep it all dry. You can also use tarps underneath and hanging over your tent for extra protection.

3

Don’t Arrive In The Dark

If you can help it, plan to arrive at your campsite well ahead of sunset. “Check your reservation for the check-in time and plan to arrive at your campsite by then,” a representative from Recreation.gov tells Romper. “Arriving right at check-in ensures you have plenty of time to unpack and set up, and helps you avoid pitching your tent with a headlamp in the dark.”

4

Bring Along Some Boredom Busters

Especially if you’re camping with young kids, you’ll want to have a few toys or games on hand in the event that all of the hiking, cooking, and fishing just isn’t quite enough to hold their attention. A deck of cards, bubbles, water guns, books, sidewalk chalk, and a football to throw are all great ideas and easy to pack. You could even print out (or scribble on a napkin) a list of nature items to find during a campsite scavenger hunt for an extra dose of fun.

5

Test Your Gear Before You Go

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“Whether you choose to rent or purchase, test all your gear before your trip,” a representative from Recreation.gov tells Romper. “Avoid spending hours figuring out how to set up your tent for the first time when you arrive with a few trial runs at home.”

6

Prep Meals Ahead Of Time

Unless you’re really good at campfire cooking or plan to just stick to hot dogs and marshmallows, it’s smart to make as much of your food as you can ahead of your trip. Pretty much anything that you can make at home, store in a ziplock bag or container, and then heat up on-site will work — soups, chilis, and stews are all great for this.

7

Set Up A Hand-Washing Station

Hand sanitizer and wipes are wonderful, but there’s really no beating soap, water, and some paper towels. You can make a DIY hand-washing station by placing a 5-gallon jug of water that has a spigot attached on the edge of a table with soap and towels nearby. Place a bucket underneath to catch dirty water runoff so you don’t end up with a muddy campsite.

8

Organize Your Outfits

Having your clothing organized is so helpful when camping. One hack is to roll up each day’s clothing with smaller items like socks and underwear inside of larger ones like pants and shirts, so it’s easy to grab one day’s worth of clothes at a time out of your bag. You can also put entire outfits into gallon-sized baggies to keep them from getting wet.

9

Pack Single-Serving Everything

And I don’t just mean food. Instead of lugging around a big bottle of body wash, use a veggie peeler and a bar of soap to make individual flakes that are single-use for showering. You can even fold up toilet paper and place it in snack-sized baggies for individual bathroom trips. (So you won’t have to use the soggy roll of TP that your 8-year-old dropped on the ground.)

10

Glow Sticks Are Fun & Useful

Whether you have a little one who’s afraid of the dark, or you want to be able to see where you’re walking on a middle-of-the-night bathroom trip, glow sticks are super handy. You can hang them up high to light up your campsite, loop one around the dog’s collar, or use them to mark easy-to-trip-over things like tree stumps.

11

Put Foam Tiles Under Your Tent

You know the foam tiles that connect to one another that you put down on hard floors where babies crawl around? They actually make a great base for your tent. If you don’t have cots to sleep on, or you just don’t want to hang out on the hard ground, these add an extra layer of padding underneath your campsite.

12

Use Rugs

A sturdy outdoor rug or two can help keep your campsite clean and cut down on the amount of dirt you drag into your tents. You can place them around seating areas and even inside of your tent. Then, just pick them up and shake them out when they get dirty.

13

Put Pool Noodles On Your Tent Lines

Instead of tripping over the wires that are holding up your tent, cut open a pool noodle and place it over the wire so that it's easy to see.

14

Portable Potties Are Your Friend

When you’re camping with especially young kids, a toddler-sized portable potty can be a life-saver. Bring it along to prevent having to trek through the woods with your kiddo to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

15

Bring Extra Rope

You won’t regret packing some extra rope the next time you head out to camp. You never know when you’ll need to string up an impromptu clothesline to hang things to dry or tie down a tarp when the wind picks up.

16

Hang Fans In Your Tent

Battery or solar-powered fans are great for keeping you and your family cool and comfortable during summertime camping trips. You can use zip ties to attach them to the interior of your tent to keep air circulating, especially overnight.

17

Freshen Up Your First-Aid Kit

Make sure that your first-aid kit has everything you need to keep your family safe and healthy during your trip. In addition to bandaids, gauze, and instant ice packs, pack meds to treat common ailments like nausea, diarrhea, coughs and colds, and aches and pains. If someone gets an upset stomach, a headache, or a cut, you want to be prepared. Don’t forget summer-specific first-aid kit items like anti-itch cream, aloe vera, and Benadryl for rough bug bites.

18

Use Plastic Storage Bins

Even if you pack your clothing in bags, you can use large plastic storage bins for your food and gear. They’ll keep your stuff dry, keep critters out, and can even double as a portable bathtub for little ones who get extra grimey. Bonus: they’re easy to stack and make cleaning up (and packing) a breeze.

19

Plan For Clean-Up

“Pack out what you pack in,” a representative from Recreation.gov tells Romper. “These principles apply in your neighborhood, local park, and all public lands. Clean up after yourself, don’t leave trash on the trails or at your campsite, and help protect our outdoor spaces.”

Bring along plenty of garbage bags on your next camping trip. They’re great for trash, but also wet things like bathing suits, towels, or rain-soaked tarps.

20

Use Solar-Powered Lights

When you use solar-powered light sources for camping, you don’t have to worry about packing extra batteries. Lanterns are wonderful, and solar stakes are even better, but you can also hang a string of solar-powered lights across your campsite. They’re pretty and useful.

21

Pack Extra Blankets

If it gets cooler than expected at night or your toddler complains that the ground is too hard to sleep on, having extra blankets on hand is never a bad idea. You can also roll up blankets to sit on or lay them out to play games or eat on.

22

Stay Protected From Bugs & Sun

It’s important to pack plenty of sunscreen and bug spray for your camping trip. Lightweight, sun protective clothing is also a great idea if you don’t want to have to worry about re-applying so much.

23

Use Two Coolers

Especially on longer trips, use two coolers — one for drinks and snacks and one for dairy, eggs, and other perishables. Only open the perishable cooler when absolutely necessary to keep it colder for longer.

24

Earplugs & Duct Tape May Come In Handy

When asked what one thing people who camp may not think to bring, a representative from Recreation.gov suggests earplugs and duct tape. “Bring earplugs! Nature can be louder than you’d think,” they tell Romper. “Also, duct tape — make sure you’ve got this essential for repairs!”