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Worried About Camping With Kids? 21 Simple Tips From an Outdoor Mom of 5

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Hello fellow adventurers! If you’re like me, the thought of camping with your kids can stir up a mix of excitement and anxiety. As a parent who’s been down that trail—literally—with my five children, I understand all the butterflies and big smiles that come with planning a family campout. From diaper disasters to teenage tent tantrums, we’ve seen it all. So, grab a marshmallow stick, and let’s dive into making your family camping trip memorable for all the right reasons!

We’ve been camping with our 5 kids since our oldest was just an infant. We’ve learned a lot in the last 17 years of camping with our own kids and our tips below are designed to help you simplify your camping experience so that everyone can enjoy camping together more. We’ve done our share of camping with babies, toddler camping, and now we’re into the phase of camping with teens and always seem to have an extra friend or two along on our campouts.

family camping tent

Make Camping with Kids FUN!

The most important thing to remember about camping with kids is that it’s supposed to be FUN! Kids need to know that camping is an adventure and will respond to it much better if mom and dad are excited about the experience. So, before you go, explain what you’ll be doing, where you’ll be going, and how much fun it can be. Take some time to get down on your kids level and join them for the fun. Build stick forts in the woods, create dams in a nearby stream, play games around the campfire, and tell plenty of silly stories. Laugh lots (at both the good and the hard) and focus on the good and exciting things happening all around you.

First Timer Fears: How to Prep for Your Family’s First Campout

I remember our first family camping trip like it was yesterday—exciting but also nerve-wracking! I packed the car to the roof and we had enough food to feed a small army, even though there were just three of us.

If you’re planning your first campout, start small. Choose a campsite close to home; this reduces travel stress and keeps familiar comforts within reach, just in case. Even now with over a decade under our belts we try to keep most of our camping trips with kids within 2-3 hours of home to simplify the logistics.

use warm camping gear to get kids to sleep while camping

Packing Hacks: Less is More

Over the years, I’ve learned that simplicity is your best friend when camping with kids. Resist the urge to pack your entire house. Stick to the essentials: sleeping bags, a first-aid kit, a reliable tent, and enough clothes to weather the elements (but expect them to get dirty!). Remember, unexpected needs can lead to unplanned adventures—like a quick trip to a local shop can become part of the day’s fun!

Remember that while the idea of being prepared for every situation is nice, the reality of preparing for everything can be SO STRESSFUL! Don’t feel like you have to know everything or bring everything that you would have at home. Part of the joy of camping with kids is that it’s simple! Our printable camping checklist can make your campout much less stressful!

mom and baby camping in the mountains

Do A Practice Campout

A kid’s first camping trip (or an adult’s first family camping trips with kids) is an exciting, nervous and sometimes overwhelming thing. Don’t drive for hours to find just out that your little one has a hard time sleeping in a tent and is up all night. Do a few practice runs in the backyard (or a close KOA) so that your kids know a little of what to expect on your first family camping trips. Not only will this make them more comfortable, it will give you a heads up on what to expect while camping with kids.

tent in montana

Meal Prep Magic: Easy Camping Meals for Happy Campers

Cooking at the campsite doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Do as much meal prep at home as you can. I like to precook and freeze our meats and chop all fruits and veggies before we head out. Here are some easy and tasty meal ideas that my kids love:
Fantastic Camping Meals Kids Will Love
30 Easy RV Camping Dinners
17 Simple Camping Breakfast Meals
20 Easy Camping Lunch Ideas

Ruby River Trip Camp cooking

Gear Guide: Smart Investments for Smooth Camping

Investing in the right gear can make a big difference. You don’t need the most expensive equipment, but don’t skimp on the essentials. A good quality sleeping bag and pad will ensure your kids stay cozy at night, and a sturdy flashlight or headlamp will make those late bathroom trips less scary.

best kids sleeping bags

Here are the top pieces of kid camping gear that we recommend in order of importance.
A great kids sleeping bag – the one area we never skimp in.
A camping sleeping pad
Flashlight or Headlamp
Kids camp chairs or a baby camp chair
Great outdoor sandals or hiking shoes (depending on where you’re going)
Pocket Knife or multi tool
Backpacking backpack for overnight camping/hiking trips

Organize to Optimize: Keeping Your Campsite Clutter-Free”

Staying organized can drastically reduce stress. Use large bins for food supplies and color-coded bags for personal items. This setup not only makes packing a breeze but also helps keep your campsite tidy, which is essential when camping with kids.

We like to keep a large plastic bin that has all of our camping kitchen supplies in it so that we always have everything we need. It’s always packed and ready to go whenever we have a trip planned and that makes things so much easier. We also have another smaller bag with other camping essentials that we always keep packed and we replenish anything we used after each trip. It takes a little more work upfront, but simplifies everything once we’re out on a family camping vacation and for every family campout after that.

family camping tents

Take Our Camping Activity Book With You

My kids always seem to want some structure right when I want a break. So after years of creating things for them to do, I created a Camping Activity Book for kids that you can take with you on your trips. It’s easy to pack and has a variety of activities that are perfect to keep kids occupied and also connecting with nature on your family camping vacation.

Embrace the Chaos: Learning to Love the Mess

Yes, camping is messy, but that’s part of the fun. Dirt, leaves, and bugs are part of the adventure—embrace it! Teach your kids that it’s okay to get dirty while exploring the great outdoors. A little dirt can always wash off, but the memories will last a lifetime.

While you can’t completely avoid the dirt, we have put together a list of ways to help kids stay a little cleaner when camping.

dirty camping kids

Choose Wisely: Selecting the Perfect Campsite

The right campsite can make all the difference. Look for sites with enough space for your kids to play and explore safely. Consider proximity to facilities and play areas to avoid long midnight treks to the bathroom. Here are some of my favorite family-friendly campsites across the country:

Need ideas? Check out some of our top recommendations:
Best Family Campgrounds in Colorado
Utah’s Most Incredible Campgrounds
Northern California Family Campgrounds
Washington Campgrounds with Kids
Best Montana Campgrounds with Kids
Oregon’s Best Family Campgrounds
Incredible Idaho Campgrounds for Families

kids camping tent

Extra Special: Little Things That Make Big Memories

Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a camping trip special. Bring along a new game or a fun piece of camping gear. String lights or glow sticks can turn a regular night under the stars into a magical experience.

Our kids also LOVE fun foods when we camp. While we try to avoid a junk food fest throughout the day, we do love to let the kids make a fun camping dessert after dinner. Check out our full list of camping desserts that kids can make on their own for inspiration!

adjust bedtime tip to get kids to sleep while camping

Teachable Moments: Using Nature as Your Classroom

Camping offers countless learning opportunities. Teach your kids about the plants and animals you encounter, and emphasize the importance of respecting nature. Activities like scavenger hunts and nature bingo are fun and educational ways to engage with the environment.

Slow down and take time to show them the details in insects and flowers. Find some little footprints and follow where they go. Take some time to smell the fresh air and take a sniff of the bark of a ponderosa pine! We love these little flip cards for teaching our kids how to identify different plants and animals and we always have at least one set stored in with our camping gear.

Quinault Nature trail hike

Flexibility is Key: Going with the Flow

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that flexibility is crucial when camping with kids. Not everything will go as planned, and that’s perfectly fine. Adapt to the situation, and make the most of it. Keeping a basic routine, like regular meal and bedtime schedules, helps maintain some normalcy and keeps everyone happy.

best little kid sleeping bags

Get Them Involved: Making Kids Part of the Planning Process

Involving your kids in the planning process can make the trip more exciting and give them a sense of ownership. Let them help pick the campsite, plan meals, and choose activities. This involvement boosts their enthusiasm and commitment to the family adventure.

boys eating outside while camping

The Importance of Downtime: Relax and Enjoy”

Don’t overpack your schedule with activities. Allow plenty of time for relaxation and spontaneous fun. Sometimes, the best moments come from doing nothing at all—just sitting by the campfire, telling stories, and enjoying each other’s company.

Plan A Few Things But Don’t Overschedule

When camping with kids, it can be tempting to plan a lot of activities and outings. While these activities may give you an opportunity to explore the area, try and keep your itinerary simple. You don’t want to overschedule or plan too much so that everyone feels like they have no time for rest or relaxation. Before you leave home, look for nearby hikes for kids, lakes and rivers to explore, or bike paths you can ride together. If you’re in a more developed campground, see if they offer nature programs or fireside activities.

Let the kids have the opportunity to explore and see what the area has to offer. You might be surprised by some of the things they find! A lot of the best things near your campground could be things that you had no idea about and that you’d never find doing research online.

Columbia river gorge waterfall hike with kids

Have Downtime in your Camping Trip

The Importance of Downtime: Relax and Enjoy”

Don’t overpack your schedule with activities. Allow plenty of time for relaxation and spontaneous fun. Sometimes, the best moments come from doing nothing at all—just sitting by the campfire, telling stories, and enjoying each other’s company.

For older kids we usually bring a few card games, hammocks for them to relax in, and often a slackline or yard game to keep them entertained. Let the kids set the pace and don’t be in a rush.

hammock camping kids

Keep Everyone Warm While Camping

Camping can get COLD, especially at night. Make sure that you have enough warm layers and blankets to keep everyone warm while camping. Having a good sleeping bag makes the most difference while sleeping at night, followed closely by an insulating camping pad (so much cold comes from BELOW you). Most of all, we layer everyone with really good base layers. A base layer is critical to keeping kids warm while also making sure that they don’t overheat and start to sweat.

On cold nights, we always have the kids sleep with wool socks on and a winter hat to keep them warm. Rain is one of the biggest culprits to cold kids on a camping trip, so we always try to keep the kids and our gear as dry as possible – a waterproof tent is a life saver.
READ: 17 Tips For Keeping Kids Warm While Camping

Family around a campfire

Weather the Weather: Be Prepared for Anything

Always check the weather before your trip and pack accordingly. If rain is forecasted, pack extra tarps and waterproof clothing. If it’s going to be sunny, bring hats, sunscreen, and plenty of water.

Friendship and Fun: Why More is Merrier

Consider inviting another family or allowing your kids to bring a friend. This can make the experience more enjoyable for everyone and helps share the load of responsibilities like cooking and supervising the kids.

young girl eating smores

Pack in Advance

Planning a camping trip with children can be the fun part, but packing is always so pard for me. To simplify packing for a family camping trip, I look at our camping packing list about 10 days before our trip so I can see if there’s any gear that we’re missing that I need to go an get. 2-3 days before the trip, I’ll start packing, and the night before we leave, I’ll do any necessary meal prep. Whenever possible, we try to pack the car the night before, so we don’t have so much stress trying to get out the door.

Potato Bottom A camspite canyonlands backcountry camping

Keep Trying: Every Trip Is a Learning Experience”

Each camping trip is a chance to learn and improve. Don’t be discouraged by the occasional mishap. Like any skill, camping with kids gets easier with practice. Embrace each experience, learn from it, and look forward to your next outdoor adventure. It’s work, but I promise it’s worth it!

Camping with your kids can be incredibly rewarding, bringing your family closer together and creating memories that will last a lifetime. With these tips and a bit of preparation, you’ll be ready to conquer any challenges and have a fantastic time in the great outdoors. So, what are you waiting for? Pack up, head out, and enjoy every moment of your family camping adventure! Happy camping!

family camping mugs in a tent
About Jessica Averett

Hi, I’m Jessica, a mom of 5 kids and married to my favorite adventure partner. I love to bike, ski, camp and hike. We've visited over 40 countries with our kids, but are equally happy on the road as we are exploring our home state of Utah.

3 thoughts on “Worried About Camping With Kids? 21 Simple Tips From an Outdoor Mom of 5”

  1. I’m going camping with my kids before summer ends, so I want to be well-prepared for it to ensure everyone has a good time. I appreciate your advice when you told us to do a practice campout in our backyard so that the kids will know what to expect from the trip since their first time can be either exciting, nervous, or overwhelming for them. I’ll take note of this while I also look for camping books for the kids to check out before the trip.

    Reply

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