Camping with kids can be so much fun and so filled with challenges. To help you enjoy the great outdoors with more fun and less fuss, these tips will totally help—whether you’re car camping, tent camping, or heading into the backcountry like a brave soul!
Camping with Kids
Back when we only had one child, we camped as a family a lot. And while it wasn’t always super restful, it was SO fun. We do it a little less often now that we’re a bigger family, but I’ve learned a lot of tips from our various trips and wanted to share them today to help you get more fun out of your outdoors time with your kids.
Best Tips for Family Camping
The preparation you do ahead of your trip will come in handy, so I definitely recommend planning out where you’re going, how long you’ll be there, and the things you’d like to do during your stay.
To cover the rest of the trip, these tips will help.
- Have a specific destination in mind to reduce the variables that are life with kids. This can also help older kids understand why they have to keep walking (or driving). Book your camping spot ahead if needed and whenever possible!
- Make sure your tent is big enough for everyone to comfortably sleep. (Put it on the lawn and get everyone inside before you go to make sure!) This sounds basic, but being cramped in a tent will be challenging on so many levels!
- Get a good hiking backpack, whether purchased or borrowed, if you plan to carry your toddler We love this basic Kelty one.
- Bring all of the bug protection you can, including kid-safe bug spray, bug nets, and long sleeved clothing. This is especially important for kids who are prone to getting bitten.
- Plan hikes around nap times so little kids can sleep as you carry them to preserve some semblance of routine.
- Pack easy to eat snacks.
- Plan and prep any meals ahead. Make lists and check them twice!
- Let the kids take the lead when hiking so they can set the pace. This works well for littles who like to be in charge!
- Show the kids how to do camping essentials like pumping water and setting up the tent both because they are fun to do and it’s a good way to keep them occupied for a while.
- Know your water sources and plan accordingly (with a water pump if needed).
- Pack clothing layers to make temp swings enjoyable.
- Pack a hat for everyone.
- Bring sunscreen and extra wipes.
- Bring 2-3 small books and maybe 1 other toy—but let the kids entertain them with their surroundings.
- Pack card games for older kids.
- Have a dedicated sleeping bag or surface for everyone. (We didn’t pack one for our toddler once and I had to share…it was awful.)
- Don’t forget the lovies!
- Bring headlights and flashlights with extra batteries. (The kids will play with them a lot!)
- Make sure you have a map if you’re going backcountry (and you sign in/register per the instructions of the spot you decide to go).
- Pack bear spray as needed and keep it in a secure location away from the kids.
- Let the kids stay up later and have a family bedtime. (Getting them to sleep while it’s light out and you’re still awake probably won’t happen!)
- Bring a travel potty if needed.
- Tell lots of stories in the tent, around the campfire, while hiking.
- Keep an eye on the kids if you have a fire and teach them basic safety.
- Make s’mores!
- Rely on packaged foods and simple fresh ones. Boxed mac and cheese and dried fruit for dinner is great!
- Bring a camping stove if you plan to cook. (Keep the kids away from it while you cook for safety.)
- Plan for coffee if you need it to survive. (I like these instant Starbucks packets since then you only need to boil water.)
- Pack shelf-stable milk if the kids need it.
- Bring a small journal to record your favorite moments.
- Have a plan to recharge your phone—especially if you’ll take photos on it. Simply turning it onto airplane mode will likely preserve your battery for the duration of your camp out if it’s 24 hours or less.
- Store your phone in a waterproof bag. Better safe than sorry!
- A first aid kit including bug bite cream and basic medication in case of a lot of bites.
- Snuggle, relax, and enjoy the company—and your surroundings.
- Remember to let yourself unplug!
TIP: It can be a good idea to call the nearest ranger station to your campground or the campground itself if it’s staffed for the latest information about conditions and crowds.
Camping with Kids Checklist
This is a very comprehensive checklist to refer to no matter what kind of camping trip you’re planning. There are so many more variables when camping with kids, so even just looking over something like this can help a lot.
Camping Gear For Kids
You can go all out at REI on camping gear for kids, but the main things I recommend are a hat, bug protection, and comfortable shoes. They really don’t need other special gear! (And consider asking friends to borrow their gear if you have friends who like to travel this way.)
Depending on the age of the child, you may want to think through a sleeping strategy. If your tent is big enough and you’re car camping, the pack n’ play could help ensure everyone gets some sleep. Otherwise, a kid’s sleeping bag and their favorite stuffed animal is a good idea.
How do I entertain kids while camping?
I encourage you to encourage them to entertain themselves with what they can find around them. You can also take hikes, go swimming, go fishing, tell stories, make a fire, play games, read books, and sing songs.
This is a time to be unplugged and to enjoy nature, so the more you can let the kids take the lead on what to do, the better! (In my book anyway.)
What do I need for camping with a toddler?
If your toddler is in diapers, you’ll need diapers, wipes, and a bag to dispose of them in if going backcountry. If they’re potty trained, a travel potty is wonderful. You should pack a first aid kit with basic medicines, a hat to protect them from the sun, long sleeved clothing, something to sleep on (a child-size sleeping bag or pad and a blanket may be enough), and anything else they can’t leave home without.
Where can I camp with kids?
You can camp almost anywhere with kids, especially if you car camp. Backcountry camping is a lot more complicated and we’ve found that going in more than 3 miles is logistically challenging given all of the gear you’ll likely be carrying (not to mention the kiddo!). Check with local state and national parks and ask the rangers for their advice on where to camp with kids.
Best Foods to Take Camping
You can find my favorite travel snacks here, my best road trip snacks here, and my other advice is to keep things simple. Here are some additional ideas. (You’ll need to adjust according to whether or not you have a cooler!)
- Oatmeal with raisins and cinnamon
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
- Snack bars
- Trail mix
- Boxed mac and cheese
- Tortillas and peanut butter
- Tortillas and hummus
- Whole grain crackers and cheese
- Fresh fruit
- Applesauce pouches
TIP: Find more of my favorite shelf-stable foods for kids here.