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CAMPING: A Newbie’s Guide To Enjoying the Outdoors With Kids
You know how camping is a treasured family tradition passed down from one generation to the next? Yeah…that’s totally not us.
Both Wil and I come from suburban midwest families that somehow missed the camping train.
I think I went camping at a KOA once or twice with my church youth group as a teenager on our way to/from some mission trip. And everything was taken care of for me.
That’s literally the extent of my childhood camping experience. And I don’t know if he’d even done that much!
In fact, we only went camping once when we first started dating despite having moved out to the PNW. And that was less than ideal…we slept in the back of his Ford Explorer Sport! Ugh!
FAST FORWARD TEN YEARS
We now have two beautiful boys and our love for the outdoors deepens with every passing moment.
Wil & GQ had been hounding me to try camping for years. But I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never really felt that camping was my thing.
Now “glamping” on the other hand…that’s more my style!
TOO BEAUTIFUL NOT TO TRY
Anyway, last year we enjoyed a lovely Memorial Day weekend including a day trip to Bainbridge Island. Our final stop was Fay Bainbridge Park where there is a lovely beach, playground, and campsites.
We just went for the beach, but watching the families enjoying their campsites really gave me the itch to stay.
Luckily they have cabins…much more my style. Amiright?!?!?
What better way to connect with nature and allow your littles to fully embrace Mother Earth!
So here are some camping tips for you glamping mamas! These tips, tricks, and hacks will make connecting with nature super smooth and stress-free for you + your whole family!
Of course, location is the most important decision of all.
If this is your first time camping, it makes sense to stick closer to home “just in case.” And probably choose a time of year that isn’t super prone to bad weather.
Try to select a location that is within easy driving distance of indoor family activities in case of bad weather. Great examples include an aquarium, movie theater, children’s museum, etc.
The site you select should also meet some basic family-friendly needs. Some of these will be based on personal preference, but with kids, you’d be wise to select a site with a playground and clean bathrooms at a minimum. Also, check to see if they allow open flames, have any electrical hookups, and water spigots.
PRO TIP: Definitely read [and trust] the reviews before you book!
Deciding on your lodging is also an important decision. As I mentioned, I’m more of a glamping kinda gal. So a cabin, yurt, or camper/RV are ideal for me. These options are also probably a good place to start if you are just dipping your toe into the camping scene.
Maybe this isn’t your first rodeo or you’re super adventurous and you are eager to go tent camping. In that case, you need to pick just the right tent for your needs.
I don’t have a ton of good tips on this. But you can find a wealth of insight on tent and site selection HERE.
Ahhh…sleep. Sleep is my favorite. And something I do not get enough of.
But when I do get to sleep I want to be as comfy + cozy as possible. Think hygge for your campsite.
Each person needs their own bedding, no sharing. You can snuggle up next to each other just as well in your own setup.
You NEED a high-quality, warm sleeping bag. This is one place where you need to invest in quality. This should go down to a minimum of 30 degrees because it gets soooooo cold at night!
PRO TIP: Put hand warmers in your sleeping bag near your feet for toasty tootsies!
If you are tent camping, then you will want a thick sleeping pad versus an air mattress. We all know those things always spring a leak at the most inopportune time. And you end up half on the ground and half up in the air.
Definitely bring your own pillows, but use a waterproof protector inside of a dark colored pillowcase. And bring extra bedding and blankets.
Just make sure you bring dark colors & that everything is easily washable. You know…don’t bring the delicate white quilt that your great-great-grandmother spent hours piecing together for you.
And if you want really good sleep you may also want to bring a white noise machine or earplugs to drown out all the unfamiliar camp noises.
When packing clothes for camping you need to strike a fine balance between minimalism and preparedness. Only take what you really need, but you really need some extra clothes. Because KIDS.
Pack dark, sturdy clothing items and plan for all weather. It will get cold at night and you will get wet, dirty, and/or muddy. Be ready for everything.
PRO TIP: Lay out each outfit, including undies and socks. Then roll each outfit, securing with a rubber band, and place it in Ziploc. Pack all of the outfits in a clear plastic tub.
Once you get to your site sort the clothes into a hanging organizer to easily manage all of the outfits. Then use the empty plastic bin as a laundry bin.
In regard to footwear, be smart. Traditional guidance is to take flip flops for bathroom visits, etc. While I definitely bring my flip flops along for the ride, they are not my go-to for the bathrooms. I definitely think everyone needs a pair of non-slip water shoes for bathrooms and beach activities.
Also, bring any hiking shoes/boots for hikes. And Crocs wellies are a “must have” for the kiddos – you can’t go wrong with these!
You need to eat A LOT when you are camping. And this is probably not the time to try one of those gourmet camping recipes you stumbled upon on Pinterest. Keep it simple.
Do as much prep work as possible before you leave. Bake muffins for a quick breakfast. Cook taco meat for some fireside tacos. Prep sandwiches, but don’t add anything that would make it soggy (tomatoes or condiments) until it’s time to eat. And slice up all of your veggies too.
And you really can’t go wrong with the old standbys – hotdogs, brats and/or burgers!
For more ideas check out these 30 Kid-Friendly Camping Recipes!
Bring tons of snacks and throw in some treats that the kiddos don’t usually get to eat. Also make sure you have sliced + dried fruit, granola, trail mix, cheese sticks and other healthy options on hand.
Freeze jugs of water that you can pack inside your cooler to keep food fresh. Then you also have extra water! Be careful to only fill ¾ full to allow for expansion when the water freezes. You can also freeze juice boxes under the same concept!
Whatever you do, do not forget the sm’ores fixins or your wine opener! And bring extra marshmallows!
These days it is super hard to tear our children away from their electronics. But do your very best to help them enjoy the outdoors for what it is.
And it’s really ok to be bored sometimes. As long as they don’t get into too much mischief to avoid it!
You may want to pack a small rainy day box of toys and activities in the event that you are stuck inside due to weather. Other than that, 4-5 small toys should be all they need to keep them entertained.
One great tip is to swing by the dollar store along the way and give each kid $5. Let them pick out a couple sand toys, cars, plastic dinosaurs, beach balls, etc. for the trip. You can probably also load up on the requisite glow sticks here too!
Then set up a 2nd, smaller tent at your campsite that can be used as a makeshift playroom. One other fun option is to keep a small, inflatable kids pool right at your site for splashing around when it’s hot.
If you are camping with a baby or young toddler, then you will probably want to bring an old Pack’N’Play and a baby carrier. A sun hat and sunglasses are a must for summer trips. And please don’t leave the house without your thermometer and kids fever reducer!
PRO TIP: Bring a warm, cozy baby bunting suit and layers for those cold nights!
Check out these 15 Favorite Camping Activities to keep your kiddos far from boredom!
Make sure your packing list includes all of the necessary toiletries because you can’t call the front desk of an extra toothbrush in most cases. And bring your own toilet paper with you.
Make sure that you are applying sunscreen to the kiddos first thing in the morning and again at lunchtime. Also, reapply any time they get super sweaty or after swimming.
You can use a big plastic tub that has been warmed in the sun to bathe babies and older children without having to deal with the communal showers.
PRO TIP: Set up a foot washing station. For details on how to do this click HERE.
Headlamps are a super cheap “must-have” item for those dark nights trying to find the potty. It’s also a good idea to use glow-in-the-dark tent stakes and/or rope to prevent people from stubbing their toes or worse.
Bring a permanent marker and some liquid bandage with you so you can write your site number on the kid’s hands. Cover in liquid bandage to seal it. That way they won’t forget and it will be easier for others to properly direct them back to you if they get disoriented.
What else could there possibly be? Oh so much! But here are a few last minute things that you really should plan for.
You may not need to invest in a folding table if the site has a picnic table available. But you really do need a folding chair for everyone. And it’s totally worth it to get the kids their own cute kid version. You can even get a highchair version for the really little ones!
Plan on how you will get your wood…you will need a lot. And save your sanity by bringing your own DIY firestarter.
- You need a Leatherman or Swiss Army Knife tool, preferably one that includes a corkscrew for your wine
- You need a TON of paper towels and baby wipes.
- If your campsite has a water hookup, then a hose and nozzle will be a lifesaver.
PRO TIP: Organize everything by sorting and packing your camping essentials into labeled clear plastic bins. That way you know where everything is and you can see it inside the bins. Then you can use the bins for laundry, kids baths, and your foot washing station. For instructions on this, click HERE.
We will add to this list as we continue to learn. Do you have any clever camping tips, tricks or hacks? I would love it if you would share in the comments below!
Don’t forget to check out all of my favorite things on my recommendations pages for the best things to make your life easier whether it’s parenting, budgeting, family living or blog related. Thanks again for visiting…I hope to see you again!!
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