10 Tips for Successful Camping with Young Children

Written by contributor Katie Kimball of Kitchen Stewardship. Originally published on June 16, 2010.

Bugs. Dirt. Sticks. More dirt.

If your child is at an age when everything goes right to the mouth, you may not feel inspired to take said child out into the wilderness where the list above is all you can find as far as the eye can see.

I, on the other hand, am always inspired to go against the flow.  My kids are all younger than five years old, and our family camped in a tent with no facilities – whatsoever – available on site.  We had a fire pit.  That is all.

Two years ago we left our home for the hour and a half drive while it was raining, crossing our fingers that we could set up at a dry camp by lunchtime.  Our 3-month-old daughter had a goopy unidentified eye infection that required a sterile, hot compress twice a day.

Last year the weather forecast called for temps in the low 40s at night during our planned camping time.  With our then 15-month-old everything-goes-in-the-mouth daughter, we did it anyway.  It was 42 degrees when we exited the tent wearing knit caps and mittens.

And you know what?

We had the best time.

I highly recommend camping, rustic or not so much, as a frugal, adventurous, eco-friendly, memory-making, family togetherness sort of vacation.  You CAN survive in the woods with little children, who really won”t eat quite everything.

6 Things to do with Preschoolers and Toddlers in the Big Woods

1.  Let them help. Setting up jobs like carrying smaller items and actually helping with the real tent and sleeping bag set-up, daily jobs like collecting twigs for the fire, and mealtime jobs like passing out plates or being the “runner” into the screen tent are actually fun for this age group, and it”s good practice for later when you”ll expect help from them.

2.  Go for a nature walk. Children can be expected to walk one mile per year of age.  Don”t underestimate their capabilities.  Be sure to point out the different leaves, insects, tracks on the ground, vegetation, etc.  Allow kids to touch and interact with things.  You have nowhere to go, after all!

3.  Bring a kid-sized shovel. Dirt something to dig with = contented kiddos.  It”s almost impossible not to start digging holes when you”re 3 or 4 and surrounded by nothing but dirt.

4.  Make leaf rubbings. It”s nothing to pack a few crayons and some paper.  Once your kids see the plethora of different leaves in the woods, you”ll have a hard time stopping them from participating.

5.  Pack outside toys. There”s no better place than the great outdoors to play a game of catch and/or Frisbee.  I pack outside toys in an empty 18-lb. grapefruit bag.  It works perfectly.

6.  Bring a rainy day bag. Pack small things like a few crayons and coloring books, homemade playdough that can be thrown out if it gets dirty, card games and small toys.

4 Survival Tips for Family Camping

1.  Use a sling and a pack-n-play for infants. Being outside tends to calm even fussy babies down a lot, and being held by mom most of the time in a sling generally puts baby right to sleep.  For 6-18-month-olds, consider a sheet or blanket on the ground as a place for all toys.  Did you catch Megan”s article on Babywearing While Traveling this month?

2.  Make your vehicle “home base”. Keeping your clothing in the back of a van allows you to access them while still standing up and without giving bugs one more chance to get in your tent.

3.  Got a laundry bag? If you stuff the whole family”s dirty laundry in one bag, it can be literally tossed in the laundry room ready for the washing machine when you arrive home.

4.  Accept dirt. Dirt happens. Wear your “campin” attitude” the whole time you”re in the woods and realize that you”ll never really feel shower-fresh clean until you”re home again.  Just enjoy the organic nature of it all…literally.

I”ve compiled tips like these, checklists galore, and real food adaptations to traditional camping recipes in my new eBook, “Real Food in the Big Woods: A Family Camping Handbook for the Unwoodsy.”  Whether you”re a newbie camper or a veteran, I hope you find something to chew on.

Find more of my family”s camping adventures and some Real Food camping recipes here.

Editor”s note: Stay tuned for a giveaway of Katie”s Camping Handbook on Friday!

Is family camping a tradition or wishful thinking for you? What”s your best tip to survive with little ones?

Photos by Katie Kimball

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Comments

  1. Thank you Katie, great tips 🙂

  2. How timely! We are in the process of planning our first camping trip since our little guy was born. We’re waiting until the weather cools down a bit so he will be 15 months old when we go. It’s so nice to hear it went well!

    My one concern: sleeping! We don’t cosleep (anymore, lol) so my son is used to having his own space. I’m really wondering how he will do with this, but I figure it’s only a night or two of missed sleep for all of us at worst!

    • It was a little more packing, but we took along our pack-n-play when our daughter was young. She slept wonderfully in that wherever we were and we were able to sleep more with her immobilized for a while. However, you have to have a slightly larger tent to fit that and your sleeping area.

  3. momstarr says:

    How about some tips and pointers for camping with your 8 children. Anyone have a good list of duties to assign them all to help it run smooth and distribute the work. My hubby has taken a few of the older ones but soon we are going to go with all 10 of us. Tent camping that is!!! Thanks for the post!

    • Katie Kimball says:

      Momstarr,
      I feel like you’re probably already on the right track – just the act of assigning jobs will make your time run so smoothly. But I think only you know what your children can handle and what ages, etc. Make a list of what needs to be done at certain times – set up, meal times, recreation, take down – and then figure out what fits each member of your family. Good luck – hope it’s a blast! 🙂 Katie

  4. I enjoyed this post! We’re planning on taking our 1- and 3-year old camping soon. I know they’re going to have a blast playing in dirt and exploring nature. I’m looking forward to spending a few days of simplicity too.

  5. good tips – here’s one I learned last year … BABY POWDER, it absorbs moisture and will allow dirt and sand to just disappear from your body. It’s fabulous at the beach when little sandy hands want to eat, just dry their hands, baby powder and rub rub rub no more sand

    • ditto that, Liza! It’s a must for all of my family’s beach days. 🙂 I use California Baby.

  6. I enjoyed reading your article! Thank you for your tips! =)

  7. These are great camping tips Katie! I can totally relate with your post. I have kids ages 2 and 4, and camping is really not a good outdoors’ trip for us but your post reminded me not to lose hope and everything will be perfectly okay. Thank you.

  8. 🙂 Love this post, thanks katie. I really think that the words “Let them help” is the keywords here…

  9. Nice tips !! There’s so many ways to casually drop in a learning experience. Our younger kids are little sponges at the moment, so they’re forever asking questions. But you’re right, it’s a holiday – don’t over do it.

  10. Great tips!! Thank God for this indispensable guide, I don’t know how I managed before this.

  11. Another great tips Katie! I learned and enjoyed reading it! Thank you so much. 🙂

  12. so many great tips!!!! your sling is the best!! I also have one just like that !!!!

  13. I love camping with my kids! My two year old loves it! Here is a link with pictures from Our Fathers Day Weekend Camping Trip!
    http://crurbanhomesteaders.blogspot.com/2011/07/our-fathers-day-weekend-camping-trip.html

  14. Some of my best memories are from our camping trips when I was a little kid. I’m glad my parents weren’t afraid of the potential dangers and took us out camping. I like your tips! A simple shovel will keep a kid occupied for hours. I’ve never made leaf rubbings before, but that’s a great idea! Do you need a special type of paper for it?

  15. hi katie graet tips now i can show my wife that we can take our little child to go out camping.

  16. Hi, thanks for your tips, last time I took my sons and went to the beach and camping there, they so enjoyed. this is my advice to do it.

  17. Thank you for sharing this wonderful tips. Me and my kids are planning to have one this weekend. What I like about involving the kids in planning is that, they become more excited to camp with my husband. Camping is also great way to introduce the kids to nature.

  18. Thank you for sharing this wonderful tips. I am a camper but I never tried camping with my kids and honestly I am having hard time thinking what to do. I tried creating my own checklist but I think it is more harder that camping in the wild alone. Security is my main concern for my little kids and I’ve encounter a lot of unpredictable situation.

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