We understand. It can be daunting to plan a camping trip with kids. Transporting food, water, shelter, sleeping bags, clothing, sunscreen, bug spray, and other survival basics to the woods is a challenging task—even without a kid or two running around.
Although we aren’t exactly “camping people,” we have camped every summer for the past four years with our kids. At times, we love the idea of camping more than the act itself - sweating profusely under the sun as you set up your home in the wild, swatting at the bugs, and sleeping on hard ground can be challenging! But it's nothing that parents can't handle. After all, we are PARENTS-- well trained in sleep deprivation and plenty of discomforts ;). And it's all worth it.
It’s worth it for those moments when your kids immerse themselves in nature’s tasks perfectly suited for childhood — scrambling up and down little boulders, inspecting logs, digging in the dirt, and exploring what’s around the next bend. It's worth it as they fall asleep as you read a bedtime story with the glorious sunset shining into your tent. It's worth it when they wake up and tell you "I want to camp for 100 days!" It's worth it when the company of each other is all you need, away from life's busy distractions.
To help get you on your way to immersing yourself in the great outdoors as a family, here are a few tips for that first camping trip:
* Car camp. While a remote, beautiful camping spot to call your own would be ideal, hiking in with kids and gear to find it may not be all that realistic, especially for the novice! We've done all of our camping at car-accessible sites. Drive right up to your home in the woods and avoid having to lug all of your gear very far!
* Use Hipcamp. It is still possible to find that secluded spot - this summer, we camped in someone's 23- acre backyard! Browse your area on Hipcamp, which is like an airbnb site of land. You can find unique experiences on ranches, privately owned land atop a mountain, farms, nature preserves, etc.
* Avoid a bright tent. If you’re in the market for a tent, stay away from bright colors! It's expected that bedtime will be a bit later with the sun streaming into your tent and wake-up time a bit earlier. However, if your tent is bright yellow, those stimulating colors can make sleeping that much harder. Brightly colored tents just catch and hold onto that light, making it seem brighter inside the tent than outside.
* Practice setting up your tent. Do a test run of setting up your tent before you leave the comforts of your home. Your kids will love seeing a tent pop-up in your backyard and will get them super excited for their adventure ahead. This way, you will know exactly how to pop up your tent before you get to your camp site, taking a bit of stress and unknown out of the picture. The first time I set up our tent in our backyard, I made a mistake with some of the poles, and actually ended up puncturing a huge hole in our tent roof. That would have been a bummer if it had happened in the woods...
* Prepare meals ahead of time. This year, there is a fire ban in much of Colorado. Since we don't have a camping stove, we brought food that was all ready to eat, like pasta salad, sandwiches, raw veggies and fruits, etc. Although cooking over the campfire is super cozy and can be a big part of the camping experience, we were forced to forgo that luxury. Food in the outdoors will still taste extra tasty even if it isn't hot over the fire!
* Exercise those muscles in letting go. On our last camping trip, our five-year-old twins decided to dig a hole with pointy sticks. They worked on this whole for about 45 minutes and were covered in dirt — literally from head to toe. I was about to tell them to stop getting so dirty; after all, we didn’t have a shower to rinse them off before bed. But then it hit me: we’re camping…we’re supposed to be dirty!
* Have your kids set the itinerary. Naturalist philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, described his childhood occupation as a “self-appointed inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms.” Kids have an uncanny ability to find the good stuff in nature and to let their senses guide them on adventures. Sure, we have to set rules and boundaries as parents, but we also have to remind ourselves to step back sometimes so as to let our kids step-forward (and, in the process, show us the good stuff from nature!). Free to be, your little explorers will surprise you in their ability to adventure in the wild!
* Wear merino. Of course you knew we would say this, right? But really, you want your kids to be comfortable. Since merino is temperature regulating, quick drying, antimicrobial, breathable, and super soft, it keeps your kids comfy day and night. Bonus- avoid bringing one less outfit for the day time! Our kids slept in their merino long johns, and then woke up the next morning all ready to explore the woods.
Here is our packing list we used to load up our Subaru. With car camping, although it is easy and tempting to throw in anything and everything, we like to remind ourselves that we are not moving to the woods. Use the opportunity to let go of some of that dependency on convenience, and prepare to be amazed at how you can get by with less.
- sleeping pads
- sleeping bags
- small pillows
- mallet (makes it easier to get those tent stakes into the ground)
- small shovel (if your campsite does not have an outhouse!)
- cooler with ice
- food & snacks
- a couple of large water jugs
- water bottles
- paper towels
- compost and trash bags
- utensils and bowls
- flash light
- basic toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper)
- Gathre mat and/or basic camp chairs
- rain jackets
- sunscreen and bug spray
- bedtime book
- merino wool baselayers and clothing (VERY important ;)!
- your kid's favorite blanket or stuffed animal (for nighttime snuggles)
Did we forget any essentials? Let us know your go-to's and tips!
And one last bit of inspiration, courtesy of John Muir: "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."