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Camping with Kids

Last week we got back from our spring camping trip. It was a week and a half mix of visiting family and visiting very beautiful places in California. It was part road trip, part camping trip, part visiting family. It was emotional, fun, tiring, breathtaking, stressful, relaxing, and invigorating. In all the ups and downs that comes with 4 kids and 2 adults on a trip of this kind, it recharged our sense of adventure. We know that our kids sleep amazingly in our tent. Our own circadian rhythms were rebalanced and we got our vitamin D levels back up to optimum levels.

When people think of taking their little kids on camping trips they become overwhelmed with the perceived needs of their kids on camping trips. I have put together a list of my tips for camping with kids. They really don’t need as much as we think they do. Especially if they are going to be getting dirty anyway. So, whether you camp in a big family tent, a trailer, a hybrid, or minimalistically, here are my tips for camping with kids.

  1. Food. I am a total foodie, and planning food is important. Food should be packed according to your cooking method. My husband was camping and backpacking long before he met me, so we always pack our pocket rocket and for this trip it was all we needed. We didn’t want to be lugging lots of food to cook, so we used freeze dried backpacking food from Mountain House or Mary Janes Farm. We also brought Trader Joes O’s, ramen, and Madras lentils. Instant oatmeal for breakfast, with a bag of apples and pears. For a pocket rocket, it is really only reasonable for heating up water (for 6 people). We also like to bring a bigger camping stove where we can REALLY cook food. We have an old Coleman stove that works wonderfully. REMEMBER your fuel source. If you don’t have a stove, or don’t want to deal with transporting fuel in your car. You could always cook by fire, if you are willing to bring in wood, it is labor intensive and there is a certain level of knowledge that you need. Otherwise you could bring a big cooler and eat fresh food for each meal that don’t require cooking. Sandwiches, fruit, veg, milk and cereal, are all completely viable options for camping.

  2. Minimize clothing. Even for a week and a half trip, my kids only brought 3 changes of clothes, pj’s, a sweater, and a swim suit. We brought a bag of warm hats. We did laundry once and it was perfect. I let my kids get dirty on camping trips. It is one of the great things about being outdoors, you don’t have to stay clean. My 3 year old lives in her swimsuit on camping trips whether or not we are by water, because she is 3 and swimsuits are the most wonderful things ever to her. She did wear a sweater in the morning.

  3. Reduce expectations, don’t try to stay up late, and make sure everyone is warm enough. Check to see what the low overnight temperatures will be where you are camping and make sure sleeping bags are warm enough. We bring extra blankets, polar fleece sleep sacks and sometimes even an extra sleeping bag for camping trips, we like to be prepared. With kids under the age of 4, I like to have them sleeping with an adult, especially if they are the type to kick their covers off in the night. Investing in a two person sleeping bag (or two if you have multiple little ones) is a great idea. There are many options now that are rated to very low temperatures. They are great for cuddling with little ones and making sure they don’t get too cold at night.

  4. Sleeping pads!!! You really never know if a campsite is going to have a good footing for your tent, it could be sand, or the sharpest gravel you have ever seen (experience from this trip), and some ground is very, very cold at night. Make sure each person has a good insulated sleeping pad. Some people like to bring inflatable mattresses (which make it quite luxurious, but make sure you have the proper electrical source to inflate, or it will be worthless. Ultralight insulated sleeping pads are awesome as they take up VERY little space. There are lots of options, even double sleeping bag options. They do tend to be more expensive than air mattresses, but they also last a LOT longer than air mattresses.

  5. First aid. Bring the big kit. Not that anyone is going to get bitten by a bear, but they might just tear up their knee running down the road at the campground, tripping on a speed bump. Maybe. Also, bug spray. I don't like the feel or chemicals in traditional bug spray. I do love DoTerra's Terra Shield. In a base of fractionated coconut oil, it is a great alternative to traditional, chemically loaded bug spray.

  6. Bring an extra couple of gallons of water. Even if you are staying at an established campground, extra water is always a plus. If your campground doesn’t have water, plan on at least a 5 gallon jug of water. Water is essential, and sometimes the water at a campground tastes very different from what your kids are used to.

I believe taking kids into the outdoors is incredibly important. It doesn’t matter if you are a die-hard back country explorer, or if you are completely afraid of camping and can barely handle going to a full service campground. GO! You will find that with all the change in routine, stress of setting up a tent, and the unknown, you will all come away happier and so will your kids. What tips have you felt are the most important as you take your kids out into the wilderness? What have been your favorite campgrounds to stay at?

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