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8 tips for stress-free camping

Family camping trips always seem blissful in hindsight, but when you’re piling the station wagon full of coolers, tents, first aid kits, life jackets, and extra water bottles, it feels like the very opposite of relaxing.

The dread of packing and unpacking all the gear can leave many a parent wary of the family campout.  I have a goal this year to sleep under the stars significantly more than last year.

And so, I’ve decided to make it easier by planning “bare essentials camping trips,” trips that make camping out even easier than staying at home.

Here are a few tips to streamline your own family adventures and encourage you to have a few more.

Photo by Stock Exchange

1.  Camp close to home.

You don’t have to drive miles and miles away to feel a million miles away.  Find out which campgrounds are closest to your home and make a point to check off a few.  You’ll be more inclined toward spur-of-the moment trips if it’s only a 15 to 30 minute drive away.

2.  Keep it short.

Longer trips require more planning and packing.  You’ll make plenty of memories and the kids will still have a blast even camping for one night. And when you a pick a campground close to home, it’s easier to hop in the car and sneak away for the night with minimal planning.

Photo by Stock Exchange

3.  Pack light.

Part of the beauty of camping is doing without and living simply, if only for a night or two.  And if you forget something important, well, it’s only for one night and there’s a probably a great life lesson to learn by going without it.  See below for our family’s one-night camping pack list.

Pack simple, one-dish meals: foil dinners and corn on the cob, pork-and-beans, pancake batter (pour it into a recycled soda bottle for easy transport and pouring, then toss it into the closest recycling bin on your way out).  But don’t skip the s’mores.

Photo by Stock Exchange

4.  Take advantage of gear-less activities.

Leave all the paraphernalia at home and skip the canoeing and rock climbing for this trip.  Instead, take advantage of the beautiful trails, local swimming hole, or try spotting local wildlife.

5.  Keep a well-stocked first aid kit in the trunk of your car.

When you take your last-minute, mini camping trip, there’s no need to worry about packing extra emergency supplies.

5.  Give car camping a try.

Sure, it seems a bit less “authentic,” but there’s something novel about setting up your sleeping bag in the back of a pick-up or station wagon.  Your kids will think it’s great.  And you can leave the tent and its tangled mess of poles at home.

Photo by Stock Exchange

6.  Set up a camping co-op.

Find another family interested in camping and take turns doing the planning.  Every other trip, one family picks the spot and brings the food, leaving the other family to simply bring themselves and the sleeping bags (and a tent if you’re feeling fancy).

7.  Delegate!

Give each child a short list of what they need to bring (water bottle, warm hat, sleeping bag etc.) and a backpack and let them loose. You may end up with a child without a sleeping bag or shoes or some such crucial thing, but that will likely be the first and last time.

You can pat yourself on the back for teaching them valuable life skills and lightening your own load.

8.  Be ruthless when deciding what not to pack.

Pajamas?  A t-shirt and undies are just fine once the kids hop in their sleeping bag. Eggs and bacon for breakfast? What is this, a five-star hotel? Head lamps, walking sticks and inflatable air mattresses for everyone?  Leave it all at home—your goal is simplicity, relaxation, and a little family togetherness.

If you’re going for only one night, you can even leave the change of clothes at home.  Part of the beauty of camping is the chance to be grubby and carefree. Wear the same clothes and shower when you get home the next morning or afternoon.

Photo by Stock Exchange

A stress-free camping checklist

Here’s our family’s minimalist camping list.  Use this to generate your own list of camping bare essentials—you might even want to pre-stock a backpack for each person with all the non-perishable essentials (sunscreen, lighter, toothbrush) to keep with the tent and sleeping bags for a truly easy, last-minute, grab-and-go trip.

  • And easy-to-assemble tent
  • Sleeping bags and ground pads (these are stored with the tent, so it’s easy to grab them all and just toss them into the car)
  • A lighter (bring wood if you won’t be able to forage it)
  • Foil dinnersI chop up some potatoes, onions, carrots, and sausage and wrap it all in tinfoil with a little butter and a sprinkling of Italian seasoning, then keep it in the fridge until we head out.
  • A liter bottle of pancake batter, frying pan and spatula
  • A box of granola bars, a dozen fruit leathers, and s’mores ingredients
  • A water bottle, plate, and silverware for each person
  • A backpack for each person with whatever they deem necessary: extra socks, a sweatshirt, a book, and the like.
  • Toothbrushes, paste, and sunscreen

…and that’s it!

Sure, there are things that might be nice to add, but once you start adding to the very short list, it’s hard to stop.  A few extras that might be seen on our list, depending on the campsite, are swimsuits, bird and flower guidebooks, and binoculars.

You may have your own list of “acceptable extras”—a guitar, constellation guidebook, a GoPro.  But however you plan it, keep it simple. The easier it is to get out the door, the more likely you are to go.

Family camping trips are some of my fondest childhood memories; I want to create the same for my own kids.

by Amy

Reading Time:

4 minutes





  1. Leanne

    This is all great advice, Amy. I’m a bit gobsmacked at the gear I see some people lug along on their camping trips. It takes them hours to set up, then they have to do it all over again to go home. Not my idea of relaxing, lol!

    My tip relates to your first two and that is arrive at your destination with plenty of daylight left. That way the kids (and parents) aren’t exhausted and cranky from a long day. The setup will be much smoother and you won’t risk trying to pitch a tent in the dark.
    .-= Leanne´s last blog ..Oz Planner iPhone App Review =-.

    • Tanner

      This is terrible advice, Amy. A T-shirt and undies are NOT fine for sleeping in unless you’re in the middle of summer in low elevations, which is NOT when/where most people camp in Utah. Simplicity is good, but you generalize way too much.

  2. Meghan

    I am assuming that this pertains to “sham” camping. Where you pull up to the campsite in a car and unpack everything from the trunk. I was hoping for an article about actual camping with kids. You know where you pack everything in, enjoy the wilderness – aka cannot see other people and hopefully no civilization unless it’s an aerial view of city after you finish climbing. Why not just camp in your backyard if you’re just going to pitch a tent next to your car?

    • djinny

      Back-country camping can be hard with very small children. We like to have a tent near the car as a home base and then we can spend all day hiking without having to carry so much.
      .-= djinny´s last blog ..Advertising gold =-.

    • Rachel

      The difficulty to backpacking with a kid is that unless you he can keep up with the hike, a parent will have to carry him. That leaves only one parent to carry all the gear, which is sort of a lot to ask. Two or more kids makes it even more complicated.

      If you want to go backpacking with your kids, I’d say wait until they can keep up with a hike that will take them to where you “cannot see other people and hopefully no civilization.” Then camp where it’s dry and warm enough to skip the tent to cut down on gear.

      Re: “Why not just camp in your backyard if you’re just going to pitch a tent next to your car?” Well, not everyone has a backyard, and those of us who do don’t generally live next to lakes, beaches and hiking trails.

    • Rachel

      Actually, I thought about this some more during my lunch time work out and I have another suggestion for you: boat/canoe camping. That would let you get away from civilization without carrying all your gear on your back. My parents took my boat camping in Canada when I was about 13 months old and they said they didn’t see any other people for the whole week.
      .-= Rachel´s last blog ..Sewing Success =-.

    • jessica

      We do this! All the time 😉

      • jessica

        Oops, I don’t get these threaded comments. To Meghan – we do the ‘real camping’ – grew up camping with my family in this manner and now we do the same with our children. I disagree that real camping is harder than ‘sham camping’ – it’s wonderful! No noisy neighbors. I can’t stand camping when I can hear my neighbors breathing one tent over!

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      There’s an article over at Simple Organic about tips for backwoods camping with little ones, and I’m publishing an ebook at Kitchen Stewardship within the week focusing on the same thing! We do, um, serve eggs and bacon for breakfast though (sorry, Amy!), but man, is our camping food awesome!

      We camp in the woods where the only amenity is a firepit, and Lake Michigan, with a preschooler and a baby/toddler. It’s possible to thrive out there, even with very young children! 🙂

    • Amber

      Ouch! I used to consider any camping involving vehicles, grills, toilets, showers, etc. to be “fake” camping. But frankly, any introduction to the wilderness is great for kids! I think the point here is that it’s better and less stressful to do this kind of camping trip than to be overwhelmed by the details or travel distance and not go at all!

    • mabel

      For years, I ran a Yahoo Group about backpacking (what Meghan calls “actual camping.”) with children. Backpacking is an arduous hobby even without little ones, and many parents who backpack choose not to bring their wee ones along, or just switch to drive-up camping until they feel the wee ones are big enough to walk a few miles into the wilds. I carried my babies in as babies, but I must stress that the number of people who want to do this is very, very small. It’s a lot of work and requires a commitment to shave weight as much as possible, which can get expensive. There were backpacking trips with the babies that were very little fun for me, and there is a steep learning curve. In every way, taking the wee ones car camping is easier and cheaper than taking them backpacking. Life can be hard enough without making our hobbies hard, too. It was worth it for me, but it’s not going to be worth it for most people.

      As much as I try to make my backyard wild and natural, it is not the same thing as driving up to the Mojave Desert and looking for pictograms, or going to the mountains and actually touching a 1000-year-old limber pine. Deer don’t often wander through my suburban neighborhood. Drive-up camping is fun, wonderful and serves a good purpose. And I don’t hate my fellow humans very much, so we often meet great people at drive-in campgrounds.

    • Billie

      I have twins and while my husband wants to hike out and find a spot amid hundreds of unadulterated acres, I can not carry them both as they tire and I end up lagging even during short hikes for at least one of them, while he moves on with our older son. It’s not a whole lot of fun for me being left behind all the time. We are going camping this weekend without dad…at a campground. We want to go somewhere and I believe while also much more cost effective than a hotel, those camp sites offer something more by way the flickering fire. I don’t care if my car is sitting there. When we wake in the morning we will already be surrounded by a different environment than our home, and I can further afford a trip that is natural in it’s entertainment.

  3. victoria

    Now I’m so excited, I want to get out this weekend and camp! I think I’ll add sun hats and towels, and we’ll be ready to go! Michigan has so many gorgeous places to camp waterside.

    I’ve recently discovered that if I mix black beans, cucumber, fresh lime juice, cilantro and some fresh salsa, my whole family will dip in with their tortilla chips for a really easy lunch or dinner, with no utensils or plates needed!

    • bdaiss

      Ooo! That reminds me – I should whip up some black bean salsa for our camping this weekend! It’s always a hit. And you’re right – easy on the supplies!
      .-= bdaiss´s last blog ..Summer Fun =-.

  4. Cindy

    We love camping as a family and have had many great experiences over the years.

    One thing I wanted to comment on…bringing wood with you is a big no-no. explains why it’s not a good idea.
    Most campgrounds have firewood available to buy at a reasonable price.

    • Princess Leia

      I was gonna say the same thing! Glad you have a link to back it up!
      .-= Princess Leia´s last blog ..Date Night =-.

    • Lauren

      Thanks for the info! I always thought it was just they were just pushing it for a money scam. But as long as we’re camping local (within 50 miles, as the burn website says), it still seems safe to bring our own (free) firewood. It’s probably just as close as the firewood they’re selling.

    • Mother of Pearl

      I just wanted to say that not only is it a bad idea to transport firewood, it is also illegal in some places. I live in PA and it is illegal to transport firewood into the state. We also have quarantine zones where it is illegal to move wood. It doesn’t matter if it is from five miles across the border. Buy or forage when you get where you are going – don’t be the cause of an infestation that kills hundreds of acres of trees.

      • Billie

        Around here you can bring all but a few species as long as they are de-barked. That’s Indiana…Ash is a big no-no.

  5. nicole

    This was very good advice and something we have followed for the past year. We also keep our gear together in one box to keep us from having to pack it all up at the last minute. Now we just check for the propane & pack the clothes & the chuckbox. However everthing else is already kept together in one spot. I also use to pack everyones stuff myself & now I let the kids do it. Giving them a very important lesson in responsiblity. I also found it much easier to let the kids have their own tent. That way I dont freak out about clothes all over the place and a little dirt in the tent. Now my husband & I get our own little haven of peace while the kids can enjoy the great outdoors without mom freaking out. The only absolute nescessity for them being glow sticks. Now I find the first thing they do is get dressed, head to bathroom, then head for the bikes….. no cleaning up the tent allowed.
    .-= nicole´s last blog ..She’s so funny……… =-.

  6. Anne Marie

    The one thing i would add to the list that is definitely an essential…Bug Spray. Nothing like mosquito bites to ruin a relaxing family trip.

  7. Dana

    Great post. My husband and I have not taken our 3 and 5 year olds camping yet, but I have been trying to get my head around organizing a camping trip. I have many fond memories of camping when I was a kid, and I want my kids to have those experiences, too. Thanks for pointing out that it does not have to be complicated!

  8. djinny

    Thanks for the list! I always over-plan and then we don’t use half of the things we bring. This would make things much easier.
    .-= djinny´s last blog ..Advertising gold =-.

  9. Rachel

    Great post. I’m looking forward to trying this. We haven’t been camping since our honeymoon, which is sort of ridiculous. Now I’m jazzed up to go this weekend. Think I may have to head over to craigslist for some sleeping bags…

  10. Charity

    Another MUST on the list is bug repellent (at least in our neck of the woods). Bugs can be brutal here so Deep Woods Off is a MUST otherwise everyone would be pretty miserable! lol!
    .-= Charity´s last blog ..Testing the Waters =-.

  11. Deb

    I am so not a camper, but I greatly admire those of you who are! One of my friends had camping down to a science, they did it almost every weekend in the summer, but she accumulated everything they would need over time from garage sales, etc. and then had it all in Rubbermaid totes, so it was all ready to go. They never had to grab salt and pepper from the house or anything, it was all in the totes, they only had to grab their clothes and personal belongings and the actual food. Silverware, plates, condiments, towels, all that junk was always packed during the summer. I have not seen them in years, but she was an amazing gal who really simplified camping.

  12. Tamra

    THANK YOU! I’ve been asking other holistic mom friends for YEARS how to camp with young children… this gives me hope and courage. I think it just might happen this summer. 🙂
    .-= Tamra´s last blog ..On Weeds =-.

  13. abbie

    I just love this post. It really inspired me to try the “big outdoors.” I haven’t been camping in years. But for Father’s day we decided to introduce our toddlers (still in diapers) to camping…indoors. (I posted an article on my blog yesterday.) We pitched the tent in my in-laws finished basement, packed light, but made sure we brought the essentials…s’mores, all-natural hotdogs, light sticks, and a lantern for reading books.

    I would love to bring my children on a camping-in-the-wilderness kind of hike-in and hike-out kind of trip when they are a bit older and we don’t have to carry them. Though I personally think that they’d love the trip, I’d like to not “carry-out” poopy diapers. Until then we are taking baby steps. The kids had so much fun in the tent and the idea of cooking over a fire, I think we are going to be camping again very soon.

  14. Brandon @ DiscountPartySupplies

    As soon as my parents started taking us camping and we could pack our own stuff, my parents would give us the list. We had our camping backpacks that we needed to fill with the stuff on the list. After we were both done my mother would usually go over the list with us one last time to make sure we did not forget anything. We always went where there was swimming so for the most part we would just wear our swim trunks for the entire time. Our days were usually wake up and eat, go swimming, eat dinner then run around till it was too dark to play with our friends any more. By that time we were too tired to change into anything anyways so we would just fall asleep in our swim trunks. Then repeat the same thing the next day.

    Bug spray and sunscreen was a big thing though. My parents would make sure that my brother and I both had a bottle of each packed and they packed another one too. You would be surprised how fast you can go through those things.

    One other thing if you do go with flash lights if you can get something that has either red light or can have a red lens cover. The red light at night hurts your eyes so much less for 1am potty trips.

  15. Jeniece

    I love camping and we’ve been taking our children camping since they were practically newborns. I much prefer camping for 2 days rather than 1 as I find I don’t have enough time to unwind if I have to set up the tent one day and take it down the next. We also love to make camping a way to explore our state. We’ve visited national parks and other great points of interest that way. My advice to those hesitant to camp with kids is just to jump in a do it. They will LOVE it!

  16. jessica

    Oh! I completely disagree with keeping it short! I find that the packing and planning that goes into a weekend trip is nearly the same for one that lasts 3 – 5 nights. I’d much rather do the work and be able to stay at our camp site longer than do all the work and be packing up to go home the very next day 😉 That’s me though, we love camping and go as often as we can!

  17. Sandy

    Last September my husband and I took our two-year old grandson “kamping” at a nearby KOA. We rented a cabin (yes, with AC), but we stayed outside except for sleeping. We cooked on a little camping stove and had a campfire. We took advantage of the pool, playground, and petting zoo. My grandson LOVED our little overnight trip and talked and played “camping” for weeks afterward. It was so much fun that we did it for 3 days/2 nights with the whole family this month. We rented two cabins this time, and our kids, their spouses, and three grandchildren (3, 2, and 10 months) all had a marvelous time. This KOA had some nice hiking trails, and our cabin was situated very close to the trees. Okay, granted it was not “real” camping, but we made marvelous memories with our toddler grandchildren. To me, camping is about getting away from the normal routine, spending time with family, and enjoying God’s creation. (Also, we have plastic storage tubs with towels, dishes, cookware, cooking utensils, picnic table cloths, dish liquid, soap, matches, etc. that are ready to go when we are.)
    .-= Sandy´s last blog ..Coming to an End? =-.

  18. Nancy

    We haven’t been camping since before we got married, so this is a good kick in the tuchus! We have a toddler and an infant. Someone suggested bringing a pack&play but I’m not crazy about the idea. We do have a travel swing, though…
    I’m off to find a 6 person tent since ours predates baby days!

  19. Meagan at ecoMILF

    Great advice. We were always a camping family growing up and I look forward to taking my little one on his first camping adventure very soon. xo m.
    .-= Meagan at ecoMILF´s last blog ..rhythm of the home =-.

  20. nopinkhere

    We camp in similar ways, given that our kids are 4 and under 1 year. Often we camp in places with burn bans and are not allowed to have a fire. So we try to find “no cook” options. First night’s dinner is BBQ picked up on the way, etc. This way we don’t have to bring the stove or worry about whether it’s too windy to use it.
    .-= nopinkhere´s last blog ..Is Walking a Father’s Day Present? =-.

  21. Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

    I’m the “great outdoors” backwoods sort of camper, and we’ve done it successfully even with a baby as young as 3 mos. old. In fact, I’m about to publish an eBook on just that – surviving in the woods with young children/basic camping skills and eating healthy food that tastes awesome while you’re out there (shameless self promotion). 🙂 It should be available by Monday at Kitchen Stewardship!
    Thanks for sharing great tips for simple camping, Amy!
    🙂 Katie

  22. Jill Leonard

    Perfect timing! We are preparing to leave for 10 days camping. Of course, we are using a camp trailer, but some of your tips can help take the stress out of camping prep.

  23. Hannah

    We have a couple of “camping bins” that hold most of the camping gear we need. This simplifies packing greatly, as we can usually just do a quick check of those bins to make sure we’ve got what we need, and we’re pretty much good to go!
    .-= Hannah´s last blog ..Beach Days, Stormy Night =-.

  24. MomandDadCamping

    Great advice. Car camping is good, camping in a trailer is even better. But there are different tastes and some people don’t even call it camping.
    Anyway, for me packing just for one night isn’t even worth it. We have to go at least for the weekend to make the trip worthwile. It takes us 45 minutes just to get out of the city, so short trips (below one hour) are not possible. But if you can do it where you live, good for you.

  25. Mar

    The current issue of Family Fun magazine had a great article on camping. I want to try making the food in a jar items and a water dispenser for washing up using a plastic one-gallon milk jug tied to a tree. I also liked their idea for a campground mail box, especially if you are going with a group.

    We also keep our camping gear in a bin so it’s really easy to have all the “stuff” in one spot. Just don’t do what friends did several years ago and forget your tent poles. Good thing there was a Walmart about 20 miles away – they did end up getting the really big tent that they had been eyeing because their children were getting older. I’ve often wondered if he left the pole at home on purpose!

  26. Lauren

    One of our goals for this summer was to take our daughter on her first camping trip, because my hubby and I both have fond memories of camping when we were growing up. Every time we pick a date or start to plan, though, something else comes up and we push back the camping trip. Thank you for the reminder that it need not be a weeklong camping extravaganza! We can definitely manage a simple overnight someplace nearby – and those simple joys of camping are what we want to share with our daughter anyway. I am so grateful to the Simple Mom crew for always pointing back in the direction I want to be going!

  27. jefra

    this is perfect! it’s exactly what I’ve been thinking about – thank you so much for making it approachable.

    I’d LOVE your pancake batter recipe?

    • Amy of Progessive Pioneer

      Hi Jefra,
      My favorite pancake recipe is the buttermilk one from Nourishing Traditions. I can’t remember the details, but it’s one you leave out overnight to soak the flour in the buttermilk, so it’s perfect for camping since you intentionally don’t want to refrigerate it. That book is full of wonderful recipes.
      Good luck and happy camping!

  28. jefra

    Amy! I didn’t even realize this was your post – brilliant! Thank you so much. I’m off to buy the book right this second. Can’t believe it’s not in my library already. Hugs.
    .-= jefra´s last blog ..senior friends =-.

  29. Jonsky

    If it’s your first time camping it’s always a good idea to have a feel for it by camping in your backyard so that you’ll at least have an idea what it’s like camping in the backcountry. It’s fun and definitely stress-free.

  30. Carmen

    Our version of camping is to pack up our pop-up camper and head several hours away for the entire weekend. The campgrounds we go to not only have bathrooms, but *gasp* they probably also have electricity and showers! It’s still getting away for us. No tv, no radio (unless a friend brings it or it’s football season), etc. I guess it’s all someone’s idea of roughing-it.

    Now, on the other hand, my boss’ idea of camping is to take his family to a well-known campground, with his camper (complete with a/c!), send his kids off to the pool while he sits on the computer using the free wi-fi. Ugh. That’s not getting away to me.

  31. Suzanne

    I appreciate all the useful information on your site. I will visit again. I found you while doing a search for some tips for successful camping experiences. I am planning a camping for the family this September and thank you for the helpful information.

  32. Frances

    Very nice and useful article. I am very thankful for finding this site as it gave me a lot of tips I could really use when I go camping the next time. I hope that fellow campers would also be able to find this site.

  33. Amy

    Thank you very much for the tips. I agree that camping should be stress free and that it should be something worth remembering. It is very necessary that every moment will be worth it.

  34. Art

    That was a incredible tips for parents who camps along with their kids. It is absolutely needed for parents to have a checklist same as you do. It makes us stress-free having those list. Our backpacks are well-organized having a checklist before going to our trip. Less stress, we’ll absolutely enjoy camping with the whole family.

  35. James

    That’s great! I’m a big fan of keeping camping stress free especially when the whole family is involved. There’s no reason to have a stressful experience since it’s supposed to be a relaxing time to get away from the everyday hectic schedule we lead.

  36. Pande Gede

    great …. very helpful tips for families who want to take his family to enjoy the natural atmosphere that is fresh outside the home. by using these tips might make the experience who want to try a vacation with extended family

  37. Scott

    We are going camping towards the end of June so your stress-free camping checklist has come at a timely time. Thank you for that and enjoy your trip!

  38. Brianna

    Awesome read!! Enjoyed it very much! Here’s something that has made my life when planning a camping SOOOOO much easier! CHeck it out! You might enjoy it as well!! I don’t camp without it anymore!

  39. Adventure Strong

    Excellent tips, especially for families. It’s crazy how much stuff I’ve seen people take even for just a few days of camping. Food, water, shelter and the 10 Essentials and everything else is optional. Your tip about being ruthless is deciding what not to take is golden. Camping is much more enjoyable when you don’t have to worry about all your junk and you can just immerse yourself in the experience.

  40. Easy Camping Lists

    Really useful tips Amy. Thanks for the blog. I especially like the idea of making home made foil dinners before leaving – especially for a short camping trip. We always take all the ingredients and chop them up there, but your idea would leave more time for relaxing.

  41. Ruth

    This is great if it truly gets more people camping. Our family has tent-camped for years…and we love it! But I found the whole packing list WAY too simplistic. No, you don’t need to bring everything but the kitchen sink when you camp, but you do need to be adequately prepared. What about rain gear? What about lunch? (The only food I saw in the packing list was foil dinners, granola bars, s’mores, and pancake mix.) What about bug dope and toilet paper? And just ONE bottle of water? What about a full change of clothes for every family member, in case they get water or mud soaked? And a t-shirt and undies would never cut it for sleepwear in high elevations. I hate to sound so negative, but this post makes camping sound so simplistic and “easy”…like just going to a waterpark resort for the weekend. Camping takes a lot of planning and preparation, but, as with most things in life, there is a wonderful payoff for the WORK you put into it: it is a blast…and a great family memory- and bonding-maker.

  42. Jessica

    We just took my three year old and two year old camping for the first time last weekend. Although my husband and I used to “real” camp where we hiked in with all of our stuff, we adapted our trip to make sure everything went smoothly. We found a campsite off the the beaten path that had very low reservation numbers. We also chose a site all the way at the back of the campground so we felt more isolated. We did camp in our small tent (it’s small because we typically packed it in!) but I felt good knowing the car was nearby with the little ones. We keep a plastic tub from Home Depot in our garage and our camping stuff (tent, sleeping bags, jet boil (in case we can’t have a fire)) just lives there. That way all we need to pack is our food and some clothes and we can just head out. We packed very lightly but I wished that I would have brought towels (we swam in a mountain stream and it was super cold!) and additional changes of clothing. It was very dry where we were and the ground was just pure dirt. My kids thought it was a lot of fun to make dirt pies,etc – but they were beyond grubby – they were filthy. Which was fine until we had to go to bed 🙂 We did have an extra set of clothes for them to sleep in – but they had to wear their really dirty clothes the next day. I imagine it would be simpler with older kids who might not relish the opportunity to roll around in dirt for hours on end 🙂

    We brought a pork tenderloin, some veggies, s’mores, bacon and eggs, a small pan and a grill grate and grilled everything over our fire. It was great 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your list!

  43. Dave

    Great article. Well written and informative.

  44. Michelle

    Great post! Planning ahead of time saves you a lot of stress when going to a camping because you have more time to prepare and check every necessary things to bring. Planning for some program, itinerary, games can surely make it more fun and exciting. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  45. JB

    We have done a variety of camping with our boys, now 5 and 7. We’ve taken them backpacking, car camping, motorcycle camping. extended camping (6 days), beach camping…all in the Pacific Northwest. Even if it’s 90* during the day, it drops to 40 or less at night.
    In our experience, taking a few “unnecessary” items makes things much more enjoyable. We have tents of every size-1.5 person, 4 person, 6 person and 8 person. We pick the tent we take based on where we’re going and for how long. We all sleep better on trips we get air mattresses on. We all sleep better if we have enough layers on to stay warm in our sleeping bags. We all have better days if Mommy has coffee.
    I don’t think filling an SUV with stuff for four people to comfortably camp for a four days is unreasonable. When we aren’t camping, the kitchen stuff all lives in a bin. We toss the bin, a tent, the air mattresses, and our packs of clothes in the car and head out. Fill the cooler on our way out of town and we’re good.
    Obviously, backpacking is different, and we don’t take more than we can carry. Even the kids have packs, and started carrying their own things at 2.5. My younger son’s backpack had very little in it-two granola bars, and a clean change of clothes. My older son (4 at the time) had most of his clothes and some snacks. The dog had all of his food, treats and the first aid kit.

  46. dave

    It is a good list. We do tend to get caught up in the gear. I like the idea of staying close to home if you haven’t been camping a lot. That way it won’t feel like a total loss if it doesn’t work out as planned. After a few trips you can start expanding out as your experience grows and you feel more comfortable.

  47. Jodi

    I’m usually a chronic over-packer, but with a quick overnight camping trip coming in a week, I’ve been looking to keep it simple! This list is GREAT! I’ll be adding bacon along with the pancakes though. Pre-cooked at home and heated up for breakfast! 🙂

  48. Barb Williams

    I’m always surprised when people feel the need to post negative comments simply because they don’t agree or understand. I mean, c’mon…pointing out that it’s ILLEGAL to follow your advice or that you’re not REALLY camping ‘cuz you haven’t lugged a thousand pounds of survival stuff by jackass guided by a Sherpa into Death Valley. Grow the heck up people – she’s trying to point out that you can grab the kiddos and very little gear and make some fantastic memories in 24 hours!! If you don’t want to do it, then don’t do it. Attacking someone’s posts shows you value what you have to say, not what they have to say… your loss.
    Loved the advice, the packing and food tips, which is (I’m sure), what you were going for!! Thanks Tsh 🙂

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