Camping with small children might feel like more of a hassle than it’s worth, but the memories we have made while camping are some of our family’s favorite memories ever. (“Remember that time when all of our clothes were so muddy and full of burrs from sliding down the hill that the 2-year old had to wear Daddy’s hoodie?”) And honestly, there is just something about living outside for a few days (or a few weeks!) that calms the nerves, slows the heart rates, and softens the voices of everyone in our family. Battery-powered toys are replaced with sticks, pinecones, and lizards, taking a walk through suburbia is replaced with clambering over rocks to a waterfall, and staring at small screens is replaced with staring at the enormous night sky flecked with of pinpricks of light.
Okay. That’s my plug for camping with kids. Now for the nitty-gritty… my top 10 items that make camping with kids 10X easier! Most of these items have been tested and tried with our four kids ages 2-10 during our four week National Parks tour. (But of course – none of this is necessary. Even if all you have is a tent and a blanket, you can still have a great time!)
Okay, without further ado, here my favs!
Hydration backpacks: I wondered about the wisdom of getting these for small children. Would they complain about them? Take them off and forget them? Say they are too heavy? Nope, nope, nope. They love them! And just the thought of the amount of water that my husband and I haven’t had to lug around on our backs, and the number of times that we haven’t had to pull out (and put back in… and pull back out…) the kids’ water bottles has more than convinced me of the wisdom in this purchase. Even our 4 year old can manage one of these. And bonus: load this baby up with snacks and a compass and flashlight, and they not only have endless water, but endless food & entertainment, too.
Dutch oven: I’ve used this handy pot to prepare everything from soup to lasagna to chocolate cake (check out my 25 EASY Camping Meal Ideas here!). It comes in different sizes, so just pick one that works for your family. Be sure to get one with a handle and a lid with a lip so that you can easily put coals under and on top of it. It works like a small oven – and it works well! (And while we’re on the topic… a charcoal chimney makes Dutch Ovens lots easier!)
Rain Jackets: Ideally, I like rain jackets like these that are waterproof, breathable, and packable. That way they can be packed in the hiking backpack and then pulled out when it gets drizzly, windy, or when the sun goes down. When we are camping, I want to be prepared for whatever weather we encounter – but not so packed to the gills that we can’t find what we need when we need it! Multi-purpose works best so I’m not packing fleeces, coats, rain jackets, umbrellas, and hoodies. One or two cool weather items that can be layered is perfect.
Bathroom bags: I like putting my kids in charge of their own stuff while we are camping! That saves me from stressing out at busy times like bedtime. These color-coded mesh bags (with attached nametag) are perfect for loading up with each kids’ own washcloth, soap, travel-size shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, and any other necessities. They make it easy for us to hit the boys’ and girls’ bathrooms, individual shower stalls, water cooler and bucket, or whatever other getting-ready-for-bed accommodations we have without needing to dole out shampoo and toothpaste to various people. These are durable, the perfect size, and the drawstring makes them easy to hang up when not in use.
Aluminum foil: Food prep, food storage, pan liner, grill liner, baking surface… I have learned that aluminum foil is one thing that I just don’t want to run out of while camping!
Fire starters: My kids are notoriously grumpy right before dinner, and it’s not much better after a long day of hiking or exploring. There’s no need to delay dinner because we can’t get the fire started. Using these, our fires are up and running in just a couple of minutes.
Camping towels: How many times have I told my children not to get wet because we didn’t have any way to dry them off. Not anymore! We just got these for Christmas, and I can’t wait to tuck them into their hiking backpacks for those moments when we happen upon a waterfall, stream, fountain, or beach that is just BEGGING to be fully explored.
Journals: Who knows when the inspiration will hit them to draw a picture of something they’ve seen, write down some highlights from their day, or play a game of tic-tac-toe during a rainstorm. Letting each kid hang onto his/her own journal frees me up from being the Keeper of All the Paper and Office Supplies on our trip. I really like these hardcover, blank, spiral bound journals.
Snacks: Oh, snacks. I have decided not to ration/monitor my kids’ snackage during our hiking trips, and it has saved me a lot of headaches. They load up their backpacks with an assortment of granola bars, trail mixes, jerky, and dried fruit, head out on the trail, and snack whenever they feel like snacking. Having special snack choices – and having control over their own snacks – is a perk that adds to the fun of hiking.
Hiking/water shoes: I’ve given up on hiking boots, and now we pretty much only use close-toed hiking sandals that can double as water shoes. When we are hiking next to a stream and the kids want to jump in, we don’t even have to think twice. They can hop in (or fall in) and climb out and keep on hiking with no worries about wet socks… or trying to get dry socks onto wet feet.
Have other suggestions that make camping with kids easier? Leave them below!
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