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Camping With Kids: Everything You Need to Know

posted: 07/14/16
by: Katie Morton
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Outdoorsy types will attest that there's nothing better than a family camping adventure--loads of free time, no screens and green as far as the eye can see. Camping can be a family-friendly bonding activity for kids of all ages. But how do you make your trip to the Great Outdoors fun, safe and kid-friendly? We'll share our pro tips to make your next family camping trip amazing.

Make a Plan!

Before you pack up the tents and fill your canteens, you'll need to pick a campsite location. If you're a seasoned camper, then you may need to downplay your own expectations for what your kids can handle. Depending on their ages, they may not be up for long hikes to the campsite or carrying heavy packs with gear.

Some campsites offer basic amenities such as bathrooms and showers, whereas some camping spots are just a patch of dirt for your tents. For your first camping trip with the family, pro rangers suggest that you might be more comfortable with modern amenities--bathrooms, running water and a place to change.

Pro Tip: Search ReserveAmerica.com and recreation.gov to find family-friendly campgrounds. Look at spots on a map and chose a campsite together as a family. Part of the fun of new experiences is planning them together. By picking the spot as a family, you'll get the kids excited about the impending trip.

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Gear Up!

Once your family has picked out the right campsite, it's time to start prepping for your trip. The first step will be assembling the gear you'll need. What do you really need? It depends on how well stocked or remote your campsite is.

At a minimum, you're going to need a family tent and a backpack for each family member. Of course, you'll also need clothes, food, toiletries and medications for each person. For babies, you'll need the comforts of home--diapers, wipes, bottles, a sleeping space, etc.

Long gone are the days of restless nights and neck or back pain in the morning. Modern tents and sleeping pads can provide a level of comfort almost equivalent to your bed at home. For a family of four or more, look for a tent that can accommodate all of you.

Pro tip: Know that spending a little more on quality gear can keep you dry and toasty, so don't skimp on the big purchases. Two doors on the tent means that nobody gets feet in their face while others are coming and going. And a rain-coverage fly helps repel water and bugs.

For more on picking out kid-friendly camping gear, check out Babes in the Woods: Hiking, Camping & Boating with Babies and Young Children authored by Alaskan outdoors enthusiast, explorer and educator, Jennifer Aist.

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Pack Up!

Make a list and stick to it. List all the necessities, and then cross off items as you add them to your gear. Having a list means that you won't forget essentials or overpack.

Remember that you're going to be carrying these packs through the woods, so don't stuff them or your back will regret it. Include garbage bags for each family member to make the chore of returning with damp, muddy clothing and shoes less offensive.

For a terrific resource on packing lists for kids, check out wildernessforkids.com. Their downloadable, customizable forms can keep your family organized and on track.

Pro Tip: Older kids can help prep for the trip. Simply hand them their own lists and then put them in charge of getting together their own gear and clothes. Of course, double-check before you head out to make sure the kids packed what they need.

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Plan Meals!

Some families like to fish out of the river and cook what they catch. Other families want to know that their campsite is within an hour of local sushi delivery. Figure out what your family's meal expectations and dietary needs are, and then plan accordingly.

Prepping dinner over an open flame is fun, just keep it simple. The good news is that most developed campgrounds provide either a grill or a fire pit at each site. This means you won't need to drag along a special (heavy!) camping stove or any special cookware. All you need is a roll of aluminum foil and some basic cooking utensils, and you're a wilderness chef.

Pro tip: If your site doesn't provide a grill, simply bring an oven rack from home to use over the fire pit. Prop the rack on top of the fire pit and use it as a makeshift grill top. At home, wash it and then put it back in your stove.

For inspiration on how to prep and cook camping meals to feed your family for several days, visit Family Trek's Meal Plan for 5 Day Family Camping Trip. One word: S'mores!

Have Fun!
Any seasoned parent will tell you that part of traveling with kids is learning to roll with it. Your goals should be to bask in nature and sleep under the stars--that's all you need for a memorable camping experience.

Plan to let the kids tell you what they want to do, rather than planning a schedule full of long hikes, structured sight-seeing and elaborate meals. Your kids will just be happy to be there, with you, in the outdoors! There are no schedules or commitments out in the woods, so enjoy the down time.

Pro Tip: Breathe in the fresh air and simply be. You're there to spend time as a family, together.

Family camping is a magical, inexpensive way to create lifelong memories with your kids. The Great Outdoors beckons your family to plan an epic trip you'll cherish. What are you waiting for?