Family camping adventures are incredibly rewarding and just plain fun, but the question of how to camp with kids can often lead parents to hesitate or even put camping off altogether.
You might have very little camping experience and fear being overwhelmed, or you could just be too exhausted by your normal daily schedule to properly organise yourself and take the kids camping.
Whatever the reason, our tips can help you to camp for the first time with kids and get the right balance between enjoying that special time with them as well as a little down time for yourself.
If you are new to camping altogether, after reading all about how to camp with kids, be sure to check out our tent camping setup for families
Here are our tips for camping with kids and keeping everyone happy:
1: Manage Your Expectations
Family camping trips are definitely not going to be the relaxing resort style of holiday you might have experienced in the past. You will rarely find yourself with the opportunity to sip cocktails by the pool without a care in the world. Camping does come with its challenges, and adding a child or three to the mix can really emphasise that.
A simple mindset change can really help to take a lot of the strain out of camping with kids. Adjust your expectations and go with the flow rather than getting too caught up in relatively minor things like kids deciding they are going to play out in the rain or invite 5 of there newest bestest friends over for a play date.
2: Set The Boundaries, Routines And Chores
While going with the flow might be a good thing, it doesn't mean it's a kids free-for-all. They might not know it but setting boundaries and sharing chores around is good for them and they generally respond well to them.
Boundaries and routines also facilitate a more harmonious and cooperative camping experience for the whole family as everyone chips in and has their role to play.
In my experience, rules often fall by the wayside when they are not applied consistently, such as when I cave in and just do it myself in the name of expediency. So be calm but persistent and consistent!
Its a good idea to try to also replicate as much as possible the chores and routines followed at home, especially for younger children. That said, kids are pretty adaptable and will often respond well to different rules for different situations.
Depending on their age, chores for the kids around camp could include:
- Preparing a certain meal or lunch snack that they know how to cook
- Collecting water
- Taking rubbish to the waste bins
- Helping set up and pack up camp, with smaller kids constructing or take down furniture or hold poles up while you deal with the pegs
- Recharging camp lighting and other devices
3: Include The Kids in the Planning process
In the planning process, involve the kids in planning your activities and your menu. As well as that, outline any expectations around chores and other responsibilities.
Familiarise yourself with the activities they can participate in at the the camping spot, including local "what's on" information sources, and make sure you have all of the things you need to be able to participate. Also involving them in the packing process.
Kids love having a say in the menu as well, so ask them for their food suggestions, including snacks. We have several favourite camping meals that we don't cook at any other time, which makes everyone look forward to them even more.
4: Teach Them About Campground Etiquette
Often kids can get so excited about camping that they forget that the walls are thin and the neighbours are only a metre or so away.
A simple early reminder to them about campground etiquette can go along way towards a more harmonious campground, including:
- keeping the noise down early in the morning
- not walking / riding through someone else's campsite
- cleaning up after themselves in the shower block and camp kitchen
Hopefully others in the campground inclined to party after dark will show the same consideration and courtesy to you and your kids!
5: Prioritise Health and Safety
Camping is lots of fun for kids, but it isn’t without its inherent safety risks. To minimise these risks:
- Maintain a well-equipped first-aid kit that is stocked up before each camping trip.
- Encourage independence but at the same time ensure they know their limits in terms of their unsupervised movements around camp
- Supply them with walkie talkies and they can contact you if need be, and they will have lots of fun with them as well.
- Make them aware of any inherent dangers around camp, such as cars, water courses and fire pits.
- Point out a landmark or other way of locating your campsite in the event that they lose their way.
- Check the weather forecast and make sure you are properly equipped for the expected conditions, but also come prepared for the unexpectedly warm weather clothes as well as cold.
- Teach them not to get too close to wild animals or to feed them.
- Familiarise yourself with health and safety essentials, such as safety for children around water, campfire safety and administering first aid for insect bites and stings, injuries and accidents and weather related illnesses
6: Bring some favourite toys and games
Enough of the rules and regulations - now for the fun stuff!
Some camping locations have a lot more activities on offer for the kids than others. Nature lovers may prefer more remote locations whereas playgrounds and games rooms provided by more established holiday parks might suit others.
Include one or two things for each child to bring that they really enjoy playing with. You may not have a whole lot of room for lots of bulky items like basketballs, surfboards and even larger board games, but you will still have plenty of options to keep the kids entertained.
If packing space is limited, include the following items in your packing checklist:
- A more compact travel board game instead of the bulky favorites you might have at home.
- A couple of packs of cards with card game instructions.
- If the kids enjoy drawing, compact drawing pads and enough pens / pencils to keep them entertained, but maybe not the whole pencil case.
- Likewise, enough Lego but not the whole tub.
- Softcover books instead of hardcover, or better still book worms could go electronic.
- Inflatable items rather than solid ones, such as for swimming.
- The cricket set instead of the basketball.
- Extra layers of clothing
Consider also other activities you can do with the kids, such as hiking, water games, treasure hunts and obstacle courses, and spotlighting for the kids at night, make sure you have the right equipment.
And for goodness sake, don't forget their blankie / teddie / sammy.....!
7: Stay at Established Family Holiday Parks
While more expensive and crowded, rather than bringing all of your own entertainment, you may also consider staying in the more established holiday and caravan parks.
These parks provide a variety of activities, such as swimming pools, jumping pillows, playgrounds, entertainment rooms, tennis courts and mini-golf. During peak holiday times they also often provide organised activities for the kids.
8: Make Sure the Kids Have Playmates
Camping gives children the opportunity to run around, play and explore with other kids, but it's hard for them to do that if there is no-one they can relate to.
Without someone to bounce off, they are inclined to nag you for something to do. Now there's nothing wrong with that generally - in fact, turning off and bonding with your child is a major camping benefit - but not 24/7.
So, if you are not sure if there will be other kids to play with, consider allowing them to bring a friend, or alternatively camp with another family with similarly aged children.
9: Give Them Some Privacy
Kids love having their own little private space, whether that be a cubby house, a treehouse or something they have constructed out of whatever is available.
We don't want them creating havoc around camp, so consider taking an extra tent such as a smaller hiking style tent to provide an escape for them. They will be out of your hair for a period of time and you will know exactly where they are.
10: Camp With Other Families
Camping with other families gives your kids others to play with and relate to, but it fosters relationships between them and the adults as well.
When I see my son playing games with other adults, or learning how to fix his bike from the bike rider in our group, I'm often reminded of the saying "it takes a village to raise a child". Kids can learn so much from other adults and the close proximity they have to them at the campsite can really teach them a lot.
11: Avoid Buying Gear Designed for Kids (if safe to do so)
It is important to build up a camping setup that is functional and comfortable, but that doesn't mean buying gear designed for children unless for safety reasons, such as sleeping arrangements. You will often see such products on the market, but in our experience they don’t tend to be of great quality and aren’t necessarily going to last the distance. They will also grow out of them pretty quickly.
To keep your long term costs down, where practical consider buying good quality adult size camping gear to avoid a further outlay down the track when the kids have grown. This includes sleeping bags, sleeping mats and camping chairs.
12: Tips for camping with toddlers and babies
Camping with toddlers and babies can be a real challenge, but it can be incredibly beneficial for them as well.
Safety of course is a priority, which we cover at point 5 above, particularly in relation to your choice of campsite location. Routines as mentioned in point 2 are also important, including nap and meal times.
As your child grows older, you will happily leave at home all of the paraphernalia that accompanies young children. Until then, baby carriers, strollers, baby wipes, sleeping cots, a travel potty or toilet and a picnic rug will help make camping with toddlers and babies easier.
Sleeping cots will also help to contain your child and keep them safe while you attend to a pressing matter.
13: How to Keep Kids Clean
Kids can get pretty grotty around camp, and in my experience, they are not the least bit concerned about that. But even if they aren't, we don't want them to be traipsing it all into the tent and sleeping areas.
Make it easy for them to wash the dirt away by setting up a washing station. Maintain a regular shower routine and keep the campsite clean with a doormat at the entrance to the tent.
14: Don't forget the marshmallows
And last but not least, whether you have a campfire or not, don't forget the marshmallows. Kids love them and there are plenty of ways to eat them, including straight.
If you don't have a campfire, cook them over your gas cooker and sandwich them together with a piece or three of chocolate in between a couple of sweet biscuits and you have a delicious S'more.