About a year ago, I embarked on my first camping trip. I went with a few women I work with for one little (adults only) overnight campout… and I fell in love. There is just something about the simplicity of gooey s’mores, talks by the campfire, and sleeping under the stars that makes me feel so at ease. I never (NEVER) thought I was the camping type, but now it’s a regular part of our family life. I’m definitely not an expert, but I’ve done my research, tried a few different things, and have some great tips to help make camping with kids an amazing family experience.
Car camping is pretty much the only way I’m willing to camp, especially with my kids. You pull up to your campsite with whatever you can fit into your car, and don’t really have to haul anything very far at all. Some people say this is cheating. I am not one of those people. When you’re looking for a campsite, you want to make sure it is a drive up site. Most state park websites are really clear about this. The only exception I have is if the campground has a sweet gear hauling arrangement for you. My husband and I went camping in Boone, NC earlier this spring at Blue Bear Mountain Campground and picked out a “remote site.” The great part was, for a fee, they would haul a reasonable amount of gear out to your site for you! AWESOME!
Cook It On a Stick
In my (minimal) camping experiences, I’ve only eaten food I can cook on a stick. Hot dogs and precooked meatballs both make great campfire food. This way, you don’t really have to worry about cleaning any dishes. If you’re going to be out for multiple nights, it can get a little tricker to plan for meals. If hot dogs are dinner for night one, and you have a really efficient cooler, frozen meatballs should thaw just in time for dinner on night number two. My family also really enjoys pretzel rolls. Toasted over the campfire, these make great buns for hot dogs or just a good treat to eat. You can find great metal campfire sticks at Dick’s Sporting Goods and of course, on Amazon. But let’s be honest, depending on where you are, there is no shame in picking up some take out and bringing it to your campsite to eat.
Cover the Table
Most campsites have a picnic table. You’re outside, so dirt and grime is kind of part of the deal. BUT you can easily have a clean-ish eating space with the purchase of a disposable table cloth and table cloth clips. I know it isn’t the most eco-friendly, but I prefer using the cheap plastic covers. If anything spills or if it rains, you can pretty much squeegee the liquid off and you’re good to go. If you wanted to use an actual fabric cloth, you certainly could. Just make sure you bring a table cover and the clips to keep it in place. (I got our clips from the Dollar Store. Totally worth it.)
Pool Noodles to Cover Cords
If your rainfly is on, and a majority of my camping experiences have required that, the tie downs can be a little bit of a hazard. I could say it’s all to be extra safe when camping with kids, but I’ve definitely tripped over those cords more than once. You can use a pool noodle to cover them and help everyone know where they are. To do this, slit the noodle down one side and simply cover the cord with it. This is super cheap, super easy, and will definitely make for better camp life. The best part is, since pool noodles are made for water, they dry out pretty quickly when it’s time to pack up.
If you are camping, you’re going to have to deal with bugs. I have a wide variety of bug sprays, everything from my own essential oil mixes to the not messing around” bug spray with DEET. Use what you prefer and what works best for your family. I’ve been really happy with the Ecosmart brand and I can always find it at Target. Especially since my kids are pretty little, and not usually showering when we camp, I prefer going with something less harsh. I apply this stuff liberally and often.
Silicon Sealant and a Tarp – STAY DRY!
If there is one thing I am grateful for in our family camping adventures, it’s my husband sealing each seam on our tents. On our first family camping trip, it literally rained all night long. Thanks to the tarp under our tent footprint (the tarp was sized so it couldn’t be seen hanging out around the edges of the tent) and the silicone sealant, we stayed dry. The tarp helps keep water from coming through the bottom of your tent, and the silicone just adds a little extra protection on the seams of your tent.
Magnetic Board Games
So what do you do if it rains? And what can kids really do once it starts to get dark? Board games! There are so many magnetic games out there. Pick some of your family favorites and bag them for your camping adventure.
How To Pack
We try to pack all of our camping gear, except sleeping bags and tents, in storage tubs. This makes for easy organization and easy storage at home. There is a gear box, a food box, and each of us has a small clothing bag or backpack. If I am bringing linens (towels, extra blankets), they get packed right into an extra laundry basket, which then holds our dirty clothes on the way home.
I never camped as a child, and I don’t think you could have convinced me to back then. I’m so glad that I’ve discovered the magical simplicity of it now and even happier that I’m sharing it all with my family. Camping is such an affordable way to spend time with your family and make some magical memories.