What are the Essentials for Camping with Kids?

Closeup of child in pick puffy jacket and patterned boots roasting a marshmallow on a stick over a campfire.

Camping is one of the best ways to destress and reconnect with those you love, far from work, over-scheduled social time and technology. Time to enjoy the beauty of nature. If you are an experienced camper, you know what I mean. But have you ever camped with kids? It can be a great way to introduce them to nature and the outdoors. Seeing your favorite places through their eyes can help reintroduce you to all the natural wonders, great and small. Yet taking kids camping requires more than just throwing an extra sleeping bag or two in with your camping gear and hitting the road. You’ll want to plan ahead to have the essentials - plus a few extras - on hand for when you and the kids settle into your campsite.


The Essentials Checklist

  • Let’s start with the obvious - you still need to bring enough of the “usual” stuff for the crew:
  • A tent (or two, depending on the size of group/tent) with extra tarps to go over and/or under to protect moisture seeping through from wet ground or a sudden rain shower from soaking through.
  • A sleeping bag for each person, appropriate to the season.
  • An air mattress for each person with a manual pump and compressible travel pillows (and if these aren’t part of your usual minimalistic style of camping, you may want to make an exception when camping with kids who aren’t used to such firm surfaces for sleeping - plus you may enjoy a little extra comfort too!)
  • Cooking gear: coffee pot, stew pot, frying pan, bowls, cups, cooking and eating utensils, etc.
  • Refillable 5-gallon water bottle with a manual pump - The kids can help themselves.
  • Camp stove (which can help you get food cooked a bit quicker than a campfire to feed your hungry little campers).
  • Dishpans and biodegradable soap - depending on the type of soap, it may also do double-duty and can be used for washing little people, too!
  • Flashlights and headlamps with extra batteries (you’ll appreciate the extra batteries if the kids leave the light on all night. Some kids may not be completely comfortable sleeping without a version of a night light in a new environment where there may be different sites and sounds from what they are used to).
  • Camp chairs for all.
  • Towels and basic toiletries - toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen, bug repellent and toilet paper.
  • A first aid kit (adding some bandages with smiley faces or other fun designs can help make boo-boos feel even better).
  • Medications, including prescriptions or over-the-counter treatments specific to the kids.
  • Enough food for all meals - plus some. You may be planning to catch fish for dinner, and may score plenty to feed everyone - but it may not appeal to everyone.
  • A cutting board and sturdy surface to work on for cleaning fish and/or prepping vegetables.
  • Cooler and enough ice to keep food fresh - and know where you can replenish it nearby if staying more than a night or so.


Making it about the kids

If you have traveled with kids before, you may have these on your list. If this is your first overnight travel adventure with kids, you’ll want to plan for:

  • Taking the toy, blanket or other “comfort” item the child needs to get to sleep. If they are young enough that they carry it with them all the time, it’s easy - you won’t get out of the driveway without it. But if they are at an age where they only need it at bedtime, it can easily be left at home. Be sure to pack it - and take it back home.
  • Games the kids can play in the tent if it rains. Some of the ones you pack for a road trip are perfect.
  • Bringing along binoculars and a book appropriate to their age(s) to help them learn about the local birds. Not only is it fun, it can help reinforce why you leave the campsite clean - since it is the birds’ neighborhood, after all.
  • Packing extra clothing, underwear, socks and shoes for each of the kids. Things happen. Having dry, clean clothes and shoes can make all the difference between a happy camper - and a perfectly miserable trip.
  • Booking a campsite in advance, know how to get there and arrive with plenty of daylight left for setup. Spur of the moment trips where you have to find an available campsite after dark without a reservation on a popular camping weekend - it can make a funny story for your friends when it is just adults on the search. But if you have hungry, tired kids in the backseat and have to set up tents in the dark… not a good story ever.
  • Picking a camping location that has a variety of activities appropriate for your crew. A river with Class 4 rapids can be a tempting, disastrous destination with a 10-year-old, while a wonderful lazy river can be fun for floating, fishing or swimming.
  • Bringing kid-friendly snacks. Of course, you’ll want to pack ingredients for the classic s’mores! Add some other easy-to-transport and kid-friendly items, like apples, clementines, and trail mix. The grown-ups will enjoy them, too.

Get ready to enjoy

Camping with kids may require extra planning and packing, but there is nothing like sitting under the stars, telling stories while holding the sticky hand of a child on their first overnight adventure. Get ready to build some lasting memories with the kids in your life.

And take along an earth-friendly Stupid Car Tray for the trip.

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