I was five months pregnant with my first child when we packed up our car and drove to meet friends for our annual camping trip. I had packed more pillows than months I was pregnant. Aside from comfort, I was scared we wouldn’t be near the restrooms and, like handicap parking spots, pregnant women need to be right up front when it comes to restroom access. I made it. After my first was born, we continued the tradition. My son was around 8 months old on his first outing. I quickly realized pregnant women pee a lot less than babies poo. I realized that pregnancy weight is nothing compared to carrying a toddler on hiking trails and don’t forget the extra bag of snacks, toys, diapers, and change of clothes. I made it. I also learned a great deal about camping with kids with each camping trip. I read a little, talked to friends, but for most of it I used my awesome momma instincts and made it up.
When spring and summer come calling, I start looking forward to and dreading the annual camping trip. Only one year have we skipped, but good old mother nature drenched the campgrounds. Now I have two boys to pack for and even less room in our tent, and the thought of carrying two on the trails is terrifying to my lower body muscles.
But there is something magical about taking two boys out into the wilderness and watching them experience nature.
I really do love the preparations for the trip – the adventure – the memories. Planning is fun, packing is fun, and I can control that. I am getting better at the living in the moment stuff, being spontaneous is not my middle name, but I do try. I have found some amazing tips over the years and having kids does not mean giving up your tent or your camping fun, it just takes a different approach. I have concocted a four step method.
#1 – Getting excited. Camping with kids is talking the talk. Talk about your favorite camping memories. Whether you go fishing or hiking, talk to your kids about the fun. Even the moments where rain seeps into your tent and gets your sleeping bags wet, can be a funny experience that gets them excited.
When Rowan was two, he didn’t really remember previous camping trips. He had looked at pictures, but wasn’t really excited about going. So I explained we would take his little red wagon and he would be responsible for finding kindling for our camp fire. By the time we reached the camp ground he couldn’t wait to get out of the car. As we unpacked, he proudly pulled his wagon around filling it with sticks. It gave us time to unpack (we took turns keeping an eye on him) and he felt important and included. It all started weeks before with a story.
#2 – Getting packed. Packing with kids is tough. In today’s world, specialty kids items exist for everything. I mean Boogie Wipes are toilet paper my friend. Works the same way and leaves a little extra room in your backpack. My advice, pack for the little ones the same way you would pack for yourself. Clothing for a range of temperatures. Food for meals you have planned. Supplies for cleaning and safety. I love having a tote with all my kitchen items packed together. Organization is key. (When wouldn’t I say that?) The pack-n-play and baby back-pack are necessity in my camping play book.
We throw stroller netting over the pack-n-play and let my one year old play.
He stayed entertained with a few toys while we set up the tent and cooked meals.
The pack-n-play easily lifted into our tent at night for comfortable sleeping. During the day we brought it outside, found a shading spot, and he napped in the great outdoors with a cool breeze.
Unless you are at a camp ground (and even then) it is best to leave the stroller at home.
The baby carrier makes hiking a breeze. Give them some time to get down and ‘hike’ a bit themselves, but for the longer stretches, they hang out and still get to enjoy the world around them. Depending on how young your children are, you can set the baby back-pack on the ground and use it as a high-chair for dinner time.
#3 – Getting there. Pick somewhere close to home for your adventure – specially if it is your first camping adventure with kids. Going hours from any sign of life is a big no-no in my book. Stay close in case of emergency or inconsolable fears. Use the pre-game stories in #1 to help you set the scene for your kiddos and the fears will be the last thing on their minds due to the fun adventures they are experiencing. It is my recommendation to stay close, at least for the first trip.
#4 – Getting out there. Camping for my family is more about getting out into nature as it is sleeping in a tent. Take your kids on hikes, search for bugs, investigate tracks, skip rocks, experience nature. Talk to them about leaving your camp ground cleaner than before you arrived. Let them cook their own hotdog on a stick. Have them lay back and describe tell a story based on the clouds in the sky or take an alphabet hike. Don’t forget their journals and we always find room for my husbands guitar. There is nothing better than songs around the campfire. Makes me fall in love with my hubby all over again.
Getting out there means leaving behind some of the luxuries of home. No phones, no video games, no tablets. Yes to flashlights, yes to bug boxes, yes to adventure!
Here is a short list of some of our kid-friendly necessities:
- bug netting
- bug box and net
- magnifying glass
- baby back-pack
- sidewalk chalk
- bug spray
- flip-flops for the public showers
- first aid kit
- a favorite toy
We also bring a tent, sleeping bags, matches. . . the basics. These are just a few items we pack along to help make the camping trip a success for the little ones. I love the book Babes in the Woods, by Jennifer Aist. It makes you want to get out there and share the world with your kids.
If you have tips and tricks for family camping adventures, share your stories below. One thing I know for sure, I make this stuff up as they grow – it works for us, but we are always open to trying something new or doing something different. There is no right or wrong to this parenting gig (well, there is – feeding them is a great example of a right thing to do) so get out there and learn with them, participate, explore, and share your best practices.
Good luck out there!