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Camping with kids is a great way to get out as a family. It’s budget-friendly, and helps kids (and adults) get the outdoor time they crave and really need! The forest is soothing for the soul, and means kids can run, jump, and scream without constantly being hushed, and slowed down. Camping is the perfect way to maximize your family’s time out in the forest.
But the fact is, camping with kids can be tricky! Taking away all the little tools and conveniences that make life with kids, feels intimidating. Plus, dirt-averse parents may cringe at the thought of being out there with no way to shower. But with this clever camping with kids tips and tricks, you’ll be ready to get out and truly enjoy yourself!
1. Keep Meals Simple
The internet is full of elaborate and fun camping recipes involving cooking in the fire, fun outdoors themed meals and more. But if we are being honest, cooking while camping with kids isn’t really that fun.
We love getting out and spending our time playing in the dirt, the forest, the water, whatever. So being stuck close to our camp kitchen chopping, waiting for elaborate meals to cook in the inconsistent heat of the fire, etc. is NOT as much fun as it sounds. Plus, cleaning up after is much tough than cleaning up at home.
Simple Meal Ideals
Simple meals are our jam. Meals that can be thrown together with limited counter space, with only a few dishes, and with only a few minutes. Here are some of our favorites:
- Hot dogs and fruit
- Grilled chicken and burgers with raw vegetables and hummus. Prep and season meat at home, and store in disposable bags so you won’t have to wash anything with raw meat.
- Camp nachos: Cook meat, if using, and shred cheese at home.
- Chili made ahead of time (for cooler days)
- Tacos: cook meat, shred cheese, and make pico at home. Then just meat/beans and tortillas will need to be warmed before serving.
- Chicken kabobs: Cut and prep the ingredients and put them on kabob sticks with ends broken off. Store in a disposable bag so you won’t have to wash anything with raw chicken.
- Breakfast burritos: I actually find it easier to just prep and cook at the insides at home. Warm and fill your tortilla at camp.
- Yogurt parfait: Add granola and fruit to yogurt for a special, and simple, breakfast.
- Pasta Roni with added vegetables and protein for a complete meal
SUPER Simple Meals
If you want to simply even more, consider dehydrated camping meals that only require hot water, or foods that require no cooking what so ever and don’t even require refrigeration, so you won’t have to worry about a cooler!
When choosing dehydrated meals, one important thing to remember is that you do give up something when you opt for a simple, only-need-hot-water meal. And that thing is typically texture. One good rule of thumb- a meal that makes good leftovers, easy to reheat and just as good the next day, is a LOT more likely to make a good dehydrated camping meal.
These are some of our favorite EXTREMELY simple meals and snacks.
- Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki
- Mountain House Lasagna
- AlpineAire Black Beans and Rice
- AlpineAire Cheese Enchilada
- Mountain House Chicken Fried Rice
- Fruit and nut trail mix
- Clif Bars
- Pop Tarts
- Fresh fruit
- Tuna pouches
- Beef jerky
- Roasted chickpeas
- Roasted seaweed
2. Stick to the Routine for Great Sleep
Getting the kids to sleep while camping can feel a little intimidating for many families. So you’ll want to do whatever you can (within reason) to keep your sleep routine normal. Obviously every step along the way is going to feel a little bit different. But we find that we can go through the same basic steps.
At home, we do bath time, put on pajamas, read books and drink milk, brush teeth, then get into bed and sing one song before sleep. Obviously we don’t do a bath, but we do get cleaned up a bit before bed. We can go through the rest of the routine easily. It helps the kids wind down and gives them a sense of familiarity that can really help them get restful sleep.
We also have blackout curtains at home, and living way up north means it’s LIGHT when the kids go to bed. Yes the amount of light is a bit strange, and they take a bit longer than normal to fall asleep, but they definitely can handle it. Plus, we are normally out playing ALL day, so they are exhausted when bedtime comes.
3. Prepare for Temperature Changes
Even for summer camping, you’ll often have temperature swings of 30+°F. When looking at the forecast, be sure to look at the highs AND the lows. It’s also not a bad idea to look at the hourly forecast to see what time temperatures begin to climb in the morning, and when they start to fall in the evening.
When you are out in the weather, dressing in layers is always a good idea. Pack clothes that work well for layering, consider bringing an extra warm layer just in case your only warm clothing get wet or whatever.
Younger kids often go to bed before temperatures really drop for the evening. And without air conditioning, getting to sleep in the heat can be TOUGH. Make sure you bring pajamas that are suited for warmer weather. A portable, electric fan like this one can also really help as well.
And if you are nervous parent like me- don’t worry about them getting cold! As long as they have a decent sleeping bag or some warm blankets you can pull over them before you go to bed, they will be fine in summer temperatures. As much as I feel like I want to put them in thermals or at least really warm pajamas, it’s totally not necessary.
Us LUCKY little kid parents have the pleasure of getting up early enough in the morning that temperatures are probably going to be near their minimum for the day. So even if you are camping in the summer, in many climates, you can expect a couple of hours of cool temperatures (50s-60s°F or lower). So don’t forget some warm, comfortable clothing.
Bring thermals, or something warm, and stick it inside the sleeping bag. That way, when you wake up in the cold of the morning, you’ll have some pre-warmed clothes right there ready for a quick change. Or just slip them over the top of whatever you wore to bed.
4. Bring the Little Potty
For many of us, camping means using the outhouse for the bathroom, or just going outside. It’s not super pleasant, but it’s a part of camping life. But for little kids, NOT wanting to use the outhouse can be a reason to just try to hold it as long as they possibly can, resulting in potty accidents, tummy aches, whatever.
Bringing a little potty training potty like this one can really help! A familiar potty, or at least a comfortable potty will put them at ease and make them more willing to go potty right when they need to. For easy clean up, line the potty with a disposable potty liner, or just a small garbage bag- these work well for us.
5. Bring Little Lanterns for Everyone
For late night potty trips, snacks, or just to avoid tripping on the walk from the campfire to the tent or camper, it’s nice to have a small light of some kind for everyone. Headlamps are great because they are hands-free BUT little kids might just spend the night shining them in other people’s eyes. Little lanterns light up the area, not just the exact spot where you are shining them making them a great choice for kids. We love these lanterns because they close up small, and they are durable and super bright.
6. Solar Lights for Common Paths
For paths you expect to be taking frequently, especially at night, it’s nice to keep them lit so that kids don’t trip or get scared. This is especially important if you are camping in the winter, or even spring or fall, when you can expect to be out when it’s dark a lot more often. Solar garden lights are a perfect solution to keep things JUST bright enough.
7. Bring Ziplocs for Cleanup
At home, we rarely use disposable plastic bags, like Ziplocs. But for camping, big gallon-sized bags make things SO much easier. They can be used for almost anything, and help you keep things clean and sanitary.
Since you won’t have a variety of Tupperware, washed and ready to use, like at home, so if you have any extra food that needs to be stored, a large ziploc is perfect.
If you kids have a potty accident, or just end up with clothes soaked in mud, stick the wet clothes in a ziploc to avoid getting EVERYTHING else dirty and gross.
If you need to store garbage close to your camp, putting the particularly smelly things in a ziploc first, then in the trash can help minimize the smell (and the animals).
We always just pack a few, and ALWAYS end up needing them.
8. Don’t Forget to Set up a Spot for Hand Washing
Things like handwashing are so easy to forget since it’s something we just don’t really have to think about at home. Little kids just aren’t able to do a good job washing hands with a less than ideal hand washing station. And chances are good those same little guys are out digging in the mud and NEED the handwashing the most.
We use a water jug like this one with a spout, and bring a pumpable, biodegradable hand soap (and remind the kiddos not to use WAY TOO MUCH like they love to do). And don’t forget a quick-dry hand towel and maybe even somewhere to hang it. Try a Command hook attached to the water jug for an easy hanging hook.
If you are going to need to use an outhouse, I also like to bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer than I can stick in my pocket and use as I’m leaving. I REALLY don’t like outhouses so lots of hand sanitizer and handwashing is part of the process for me.
I also like to do a more thorough hand washing once a day using warm water. We warm water on the stove (then use cold water to cool if it’s too hot) and use a pot or bowl or basin of any kind for washing.
9. Try a Solar Camp Shower
If the whole skipping a shower while camping thing is a deal-breaker for you (or even if it’s just not your FAVORITE part about camping), think about a solar camp shower.
We have this inexpensive solar shower, and LOVE it. Just fill it up with water, leave it in the sun for a couple hours, and you can take a WARM shower while camping.
Obviously, the water pressure isn’t much, and it’s not a TON of water, but you can certainly get cleaned up while camping.
It’s super nice for kids as well. They just get SO dirty and it’s the easiest way we’ve found to at least get them cleaned up enough to avoid dragging 5 pounds of dirty into their sleeping bags.
10. Minimize the Toys
For us, camping is about enjoying being outside. My kids are BIG toy lovers, and we almost never force them to go without ANY toys, but being outside is fun with or without toys. And bringing just a few makes camping so much simpler (and maybe even more fun?)
Bring just a few toys that can be played with a few different ways, and that are tough enough to get dirty and wet, and not too small to get easily lost, or so valuable that you can’t replace if lost or broken. For us, monster trucks, and little construction trucks are favorites.
And even if it seems like you aren’t bringing enough to entertainment, remember, there are sticks and rocks and dirt all around. A tree stump can become a rocket, leaves can become a plate to serve you ‘lunch’. It’s so great for their brains to think creatively, and they will love doing it.
11. Bring Some Rope and a Couple of Bungee Cords
It’s tough to define exactly WHY you’ll need rope and a couple of bungee cords, but we know you’ll end up needing them for SOMETHING. They are the types of items that come in handy for a variety of things, and are really tough to do without.
Both ropes and bungees can be used to tie down gear in case of high winds.
Either can be used to make a makeshift gear drying line for wet jackets or clothing, towels, swim suits, etc.
Either could aid in the repair of a damaged tent.
A bungee could help keep a food or garbage storage container closed, if raccoons are in the area.
Either can be used to tie your lantern to the top of the tent so you can read your kids a story
Bungees might be necessary to tie down items in your truck for the trip home
If you are bringing pets, a rope tied between trees, with a leash looped around it, will help the dog avoid getting their leash tangled in everything.
And the possibilities are endless. Just bring them 🙂
12. Picnic Blankets for a Clean(er) Spot to Play
Little kids are all over the ground ALL THE TIME, and while camping, it can get a bit old. Sometimes even little kids crave a spot out of the dirt to play or eat where they aren’t covered in dirt.
13. Bring a Table Cloth
Campsites almost always have a big picnic table. However, it’s out the weather, covered by the last campers old food, bird poop, dirt, whatEVER. The point is, it’s not clean. And kids just don’t GET that they can’t eat food that has fallen onto the very dirty table. Bringing a table cloth makes the whole thing MUCH more pleasant.
14. Use Rug for Outside of the Tent or Camper
The amount of mud and dirt you’ll track into your tent or camper can be SHOCKING after really just a few days. Taking shoes off every time you get into the camper or tent helps a TON, but not always easy with little kids. Having rug to knock off at least some of the dirt and mud will make a huge difference as well.
15. Set the Safety Rules Ahead of Time
Camping introduces a few hazards that might not be a part of your regular life. Many kids are more than capable of managing these, respecting the rules, and staying safe. But it’s a really great idea to set rules ahead of time and make sure your expectations for your kids are clear ahead of time.
The campfire is a camping stable, and a favorite for many camping families. But the first time you light a fire with your child present can be a little bit scary. But even young kids can understand really clear rules and be safe around the campfire. Set clear boundaries, a LITERAL line in the sand marking how far they must stay from the fire. Even at age 2 or 3, kids can understand the seriousness of these boundaries.
Rocks and Sticks
I am forever thankful for my kids’ nature school for setting rules with rocks and sticks that we are able to easily follow while not at school as well. And just as an example of rules that might work for your family, here are ours:
Rocks may never be throw in the direction of a person. While throwing rocks, you need to be at least an arms length away from anyone.
The end of a stick should be touching the ground while walking or playing with others. If more than two arms lengths from anyone, sticks can be up and swinging around.
16. Don’t Forget a First Aid Kit
Little cuts and scrapes are bound to happen when you are out camping. Don’t forget your first aid kit for minor patch ups, bug bites, or whatever. And make sure your camping first aid kit includes something to clean the wound. While camping, any little wound is bound to be caked in dirt.
17. Keep Food and Garbage Cleaned up
When camping with kids, it’s EXTRA important to be vigilant about keeping the camp clean, or at least clean from food or anything that smells like food. Kids are savages and will spill and leave leftovers out all over the campsite, if you let them. If you are in bear country, it can be quite dangerous. But even if you are not, it’s important to keep extra food closed up tight, and garbage and scraps picked up and stored securely to avoid having any unwanted visitors!
Fun story- we once left this camp organizer and storage container outside at night, zipped up. We were nowhere near bear country, and thought things were closed up enough. That was until we awoke to the sound of a raccoon snacking on chips. It had carefully unzipped the container, pulled out and unzipped the drawer, and pulled out its favorite snack to enjoy at our campsite.
Don’t be like younger-me. Use hard-sided containers, and store them securely (inside your vehicle will often work fine). And keep the camp area clean.
18. Embrace Being Dirty
Remember, it’s camping. It’s dirty. It’s best to plan on it, embrace it, and learn to live with it. It’s ok if you clothes are not super clean, or if your kids go to bed still dirty. That’s part of the fun of it, and the sooner you learn to enjoy it, the more you’ll enjoy your camping trip. If you spend the entire trip trying to keep things pristine clean, you will make yourself crazy.
Any other tips that work for your family? Comment below!
Looking for a great Pacific Northwest camping destination? Check out our top PNW vacation ideas here.