Roughing it in style: Family camping tips to elevate your next camp out

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Camping as a family can be fun, but it’s also a lot of work. Planning ahead is essential when camping, but bringing the kiddos along only adds to the chaos. Any family trip to the great outdoors requires a lot of effort. But with a few simple family camping hacks and tricks, you will be roughing it in style. So, take a look at some of these easy family camping tips to elevate your next camping trip with kids.

Family camping tips and clever hacks for the ultimate camp site experience

Whether you’re traveling with a baby or camping with teenagers, a camping trip with kids of any age can be a memorable bonding experience. But to keep things fun for the kids and easy on the parents, here are a few tips for family camping to enhance your outdoor vacation.

First things first – get organized

A packing list is an essential part of elevating your camping trip and keeping yourself sane. It takes time to pack everything you need, and adding kids to the mix only adds to the planning. You’ll always want to bring extra changes of clothing items like shirts, pants, socks, and shoes. If you’ve got little ones coming along, extra underwear or diapers are a must for sleeping at a campsite (or in any new environment). Remember to pack extra batteries, books, and games to keep everyone entertained. Of course, sunscreen, food, first kits, and bug spray are a high priority.

Also read: Must-have kids’ camping gear and packing guide.

man unloading a car on a camping trip - getting organized is one of the best family camping tips to make a camp out easier.
Staying organized is one of the best family camping tips to make camping with kids easier. Photo by Silas Tolles from Unsplash

Bring appropriate clothing and footwear

While most family camping happens in the summer due to school being out, when you go camping will be a major factor when you’re planning for appropriate clothing and footwear. Take into account both the season and your campsite activities when determining what clothing and shoes to bring. If planning to hike on your camping vacation, have the kids break in their hiking boots before you go on your trip. Otherwise, you’ll be spending your time bandaging blisters and dealing with kids who can’t hike.

Bring more breathable, flowy clothing for warm weather. Extra layers will be needed if you plan to camp in late spring or early fall when morning and nighttime temperatures tend to be chilly. Have everything prepared so you don’t have kids that are too hot or too cold. Also, don’t let getting caught in the rain ruin your fun.

Stay organized throughout the trip 

An enjoyable family trip comes down to staying organized. Create a packing list for each family member, especially young ones like babies who require more travel essentials. As you pack, check off items as you go so you don’t forget anything. Use packing cubes to keep clothing and footwear organized—they are a great way to separate different types of clothes like underwear, shirts, pants, and sweatshirts. Make sure that you also incorporate a few bags to throw dirty clothes in so that they aren’t mixed with the clean. Zipper-lock bags and other storage solutions will keep your items organized.

Car camping? Pack the car accordingly to make it easy to access your most used items.

Stay safe

Staying safe, whether you’re at a remote campsite or car camping surrounded by others, should be your number one priority. From first aid kits to setting limits on where the kiddos can run off to, keep your family safe with some of these smart family camping tips.

mom and child hiking outdoors
Safety is the most important thing to consider when camping with kids and exploring the outdoors. Photo by Simon Rae from Unsplash.

Prep your first aid kit

First aid kits are easy to put together with items that you probably already have in your home. First aid kits are also available online and include all the essentials like: 

  • Bandages, gauze, and cotton pads
  • Neosporin or some kind of antibacterial ointment
  • Safety pins and tweezers
  • Rubber gloves
  • Alcohol pads or rubbing alcohol 
  • Emergency blanket or poncho
  • Hydrocortisone

The Red Cross offers a comprehensive list of first aid kit supplies. 

Bring medication – both prescription and over the counter

Don’t forget the meds! Bring all of your prescription medications, like inhalers, epi-pens, and daily meds. Over-the-counter meds are important on a family camping trip, so ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and antihistamines are must-haves. 

Make your backyard your practice trip

Still nervous about taking the plunge and going all out with family camping? Don’t worry, your first trip doesn’t have to be at a campsite. In fact, you can get all set up in your own backyard. If you don’t have a backyard, you can also practice in your home. Set up a trial run for one night so that you can gauge what camping essentials you need to bring on your trip. Camping in your backyard will still have you needing flashlights and extra batteries, bug spray, sleeping bags, and more. This can also be a way to see how your kids will do sleeping in a tent. After you’ve done your trial run, you can make adjustments to your original lists and know what you’re getting into. 

kids playing in a tent in the backyard
Practicing a camp out in your backyard will help kids prepare for your actual camping trip. Photo by Samuel Chan from Unsplash.

Pick a campsite that will bring your family the most joy

If you’re located in the U.S., there are likely many campsites in your area. But, there’s not just one kind of campsite. You’ll want to decide where you want to stay based on a few factors. Adding kids to the mix makes camping more about entertainment than becoming one with nature. 

Private campgrounds are a great place to start if you are new to family camping. There are usually a plethora of kid-friendly activities like volleyball, pickle ball, pools, BBQ grills, amphitheaters, and more. This type of campground can help you ease into camping. 

If you’re still looking for something a little more remote, state park campgrounds often have designated campsites that have amenities nearby. You can reserve these sites and they generally come with bathrooms, showers, and water. When you’re camping with kids, close proximity to a bathroom is a must!

Create a cozy, relaxing environment

Sleep-deprived kids are never happy campers. A good night’s sleep is essential to the success of a family camping trip. Let’s try to keep everyone well-rested with these tips. 

It may be vacation, but don’t forget about sleep schedules

Don’t forgo the kids’ sleep schedules completely when you’re camping. Sure, you may let them stay up a little later than normal, but don’t let sleep deprivation ruin everyone’s good time. Make a quiet space in the tent during the day for naps. To keep it quiet, let this time be one where you take out the tablets or phones and put on a movie. Most kids will be totally wiped out after a long day in the wilderness, but sometimes the excitement of a trip makes it hard to sleep. Try your best to stick to bedtimes and start “quiet time” after their last s’more. 

Keep the tent fun!

A family tent is your time to get creative for the kiddos. There are so many options to make the tent fun and make it a place where they will want to go to sleep, as well. Consider sleeping bags with your children’s favorite cartoons on them. Stringed fairy lights make for the perfect cozy ambiance (and will help act as a nightlight to keep the monsters away)! And a tent with pockets is great for storing your kids’ favorite bedtime books. 

Cozy, comfortable sleeping

While kids aren’t going to deal with achy joints from sleeping on the ground like adults do, there are benefits to making their sleeping bag even comfier. Car camping allows for a lot more “stuff,” so pile in the pillows, stuffed animals, and extra blankets. A large family tent has the room to set up air mattresses and cots if no one wants to sleep on the ground. 

Activities are your best friend

Active kids are happy kids! It’s easy to keep them busy when family camping if you put together some ideas beforehand. 

little boy helping to build a fire while camping - letting kids help is a family camping tip to make camping with kids more fun for everyone.
Allowing kids to help with the set up and having fun activities to do together is a great idea for camping as a family. Photo by Bambi Corro from Unsplash.

Bring a variety of fun activities

Camping doesn’t require a lot of effort to put some fun activities together. A butterfly net can help keep kids busy for hours—see who can collect the most colorful butterfly on your walk! Capture some bugs, set up a habitat for them, and have your kids draw them in their own camping diary or notebook. Let them name the critters they catch and have them describe them in their notebooks. Remember—”leave no trace”—so always put the insects you find back into their home environment. 

Bring Toys and Games

Yes, camping with kids is a good way to get them away from some of their everyday comforts, but toys and games are still necessary. Comfort toys like stuffed animals will help them sleep at night, while board games or lawn games can be a perfect way to wind down after dinner. 

Toys and games make for a successful camping trip. Bring comfort toys like stuffed animals to keep in the tent (or, if you feel brave, let them come along on your adventures!). Board and lawn games are perfect to set up on a picnic table or your campsite. They’re a fun way to wind down and bond after dinner. 

Nature is filled with activities!

The Great Outdoors is the ultimate playground. Play games like freeze tag or Red Rover or put together a scavenger hunt to find as many different birds, plants, or bugs as possible! Winner gets extra dessert!

Let the kids help out

Sometimes it’s easier to not have the kids help out when you’re trying to set up camp. But, it can be a bonding experience, as well as a chance to learn. When you’re setting up camp, ask them questions about their surroundings. What bugs do they hear? Have they seen a weird looking plant? Point out interesting facts about where they are. Sometimes involving the whole family in actions like this are what everyone remembers the most. 

family camping and making roasted marshmallows
Letting kids help out at the campsite not only teaches responsibility, it makes a family camping trip a bigger adventure for everyone!

Kids can cook, too!

Camping can be a fun time to experiment with different foods and recipes—and they don’t always have to be healthy! When you’re family camping, you typically don’t burn as many calories as you would in a multi-day backcountry camping hike, so focus less on nutrients and more on fun snacks. S’mores are a given, of course. There are only three ingredients and they are easy to buy and store. Let them roast their own marshmallows over the fire and see who can get the perfect golden-brown color. S’mores can also be customizable! Instead of milk chocolate, try dark chocolate or white chocolate. Or, forget about the normal chocolate all together and use a peanut butter cup, instead. A graham cracker, peanut butter cup, and a strawberry marshmallow is just like turning a PB&J into a fun dessert. 

Remember to make memories

If you are making this trip a “phone-free zone,” you can buy each of the kids (and yourselves) a disposable camera. Since kids now usually don’t have experience with film cameras, just explain to them how it works—no do-overs!— and let them take fun photos. After the trip, you can get them developed and they can put them in scrapbooks or hang them on their bedroom walls. 

Have a question or comment about any of these family camping tips? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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About the guest author: Derek Edwards is a SoCal-based adventure seeker and outdoor enthusiast.  If you enjoyed this post you can follow along with his adventures over on his blog, Outdoor with Derek.

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