The Ultimate Guide to Camping with Kids
If you are looking for the best camping with kids hacks and camping activities for kids, then you’ve come to the right place!
We are going to cover everything from camping 101, must have camping gear, clothes for camping, fun family camping tips and tricks that even the most seasoned camper may not know about, and everything in between!
But, first . . .
How do you make camping easier?
So, how can I make my kids camping easier?
You have to be prepared!
Camping alone or with just two adults it’s waaaaaay different than camping with kids.
If it’s just you (or you and another adult), you can easily adapt or change as needed.
However, if you have kids with you, it’s a little harder to change plans and adapt quickly.
(Think about if you’re stuck in the rain with a dripping tent and three cold, crying little ones. YIKES.)
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Tips for Camping with Kids
- To completely understand your camping area and camping site.
- A checklist that you check off as things are getting packed.
- To be prepared with the right camping gear, clothing, and food. (We’ll cover this in detail later in the post, so keep reading!)
- A durable tent with quick setup options (the faster the better with kids!).
- Patience. Things will go wrong, so it’s best to laugh at them, find a new solution, and go with the flow!
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OK, ready to jump right in?
Let’s get started with tent talk.
Although tents aren’t the only camping essential, they are one of the most important things for camping. It’s what is going to shelter your family and keep the kids warm (and hopefully dry if it rains!).
If you’re ready to look for tents ASAP and can’t wait, check this out:
This is one of the best tents for camping with kids!
FAMILY TENT 2019
✅What are the best tents for family camping? 
Here are some of the best family tents for camping with kids:
- CORE 9 Person Extended Dome Tent
- Gazelle Pop-Up Portable Camping Hub Tent 4 Person
- NTK Laredo GT 8 to 9 Person Large Camping Tent
- Coleman WeatherMaster 10 Person Large Camping Tent
- Tomount 8 Person Tent
- Coleman Dome Tent with Screen Room 6 person
- Night Cat Camping Tent 2-4 Persons Easy Instant Pop Up Tent
- Coleman Cabin Tent with Instant Setup 4-person
In a bit, we’re also going to get into more detail about what to look for when choosing the best family tent for your family and some different options.
[SO, KEEP SCROLLING!]
But, first . . .
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Camping 101: What Do You Need To Go Camping With Kids?
What do you need to go camping for the first time?
Camping for the first time, especially with kids, can seem overwhelming.
Especially if you’re trying to figure out how to pack for camping!
However, some time spent preparing ahead of time can really put your mind at ease.
It is especially helpful to understand where you are camping and what is being offered at your specific camping site.
For camping, you will need to know:
- What’s available at your camping site? Understanding your camping site is super important!
- Are you staying in a rustic cabin with no water or electricity or are you tent camping? This will make a big difference in what you bring with you.
- How far is the camp site from where you will park? If you are hiking a ways, you need to know—especially with kids! This will greatly impact what and how you pack, too.
- How will you cook? Are grills available or will you be cooking over an open fire? Do you need to bring coal for the grill or purchase firewood?
- Is there a picnic table available on your site, or will you need to bring your own portable camping table?
- Are there community restrooms/showers? (If so, you’ll want to get a camping site relatively close for those late-night bathroom trips with little ones!)
- Will you have running water at your site (or accessible in the area), or do you need to bring all of your water with you?
DON’T MISS THE AWESOME CAMPING WITH KIDS HACKS LATER IN THIS POST!
What should I prepare for camping if I’ve never been before?
Here’s an overview of the basic things people take camping. You may require other items based on the time of year you are camping and where you are camping, but this camping checklist is a good starting point.
- Expandable travel backpacks packed with extra clothes (especially socks!)
- Rain jackets/jackets/warm clothing
- Sun hats
- Waterproof, 4-season sleeping bags and pillows
- Pack-n-play (if you have a baby) + things for the baby
- Comfort items for the kids (do they have a nightie that they need to sleep with?)
- Cooler on wheels
- Hanging flashlights, headlamps for each person, and extra batteries (You’ll win MAJOR bonus points if you bring these “roaring” dinosaur headlamps!)
- Phone chargers (we like this one that also has a flashlight!)
- Camping chairs (we love this portable rocking camping chair!)
- Eating/drinking/cooking utensils (we also like these individual travel utensil sets—they even include chopsticks!)
- Trash bags
- Toilet paper/wet wipes/hand sanitizer
- Hand soap and dish soap
- Fast-drying, microfiber towels (bonus points for compact carrying case like this one)
- Waterproof matches
- First aid kit
- Bug spray and sunscreen
- Trail marking tape (if you’re hiking, too)
- Duct tape (You’ll need it for something, trust me!)
We’ll cover detailed recommendations for these categories later in the post, so don’t miss them!
What should I bring for camping? is one of the most common questions.
Remember this: You are not trying to recreate all of the comforts of home, so pack only the camping essentials . . . which usually begins with a family camping tent.
We gave you some of the best camping tents earlier, but now let’s get into more information on HOW to choose a tent (because there are a bazillion overwhelming choices!).
How do I choose a tent?
When camping with kids, you probably want a large family tent where everyone can sleep together.
(Unless you have moody teens, then you can get them their own tent. It may be best for all of you. You’re welcome.)
This is the official tent of the National Park Foundation for family tents.
And, you may even want a larger tent that has different sections (like the one pictured here).
Some of these tents have an area where the family sleeps and sometimes also a family gathering area, a zip-down room divider, or even a “porch” where you can play games and hang out—which is helpful, especially if it’s raining!
These are some of the top rated family tents with different “rooms” in them:
- CORE 11 Person Family Cabin Tent with Screen Room
- Coleman WeatherMaster 6-Person Tent with Screen Room
- Coleman Instant Up 8 Person Tent with Room Divider
- CORE 9-person Instant Cabin Tent with Room Divider
There are also car camping tents, that hook onto the back of your car or SUV. Then, you can use the back of the SUV for a comfy blow-up mattress and you have the tent area for more sleeping or hanging out!
How to choose a tent:
- Understand how big of a tent you need. Tents are based on the number of people they can hold, so be sure you get one that fits the number of people camping with you. Also, do you want a tent to just sleep in or do you also want some room to move around and hang out in?
- Check the season of the tent. There are four season tents and three season tents. If you are camping in the winter, you will need to pick a four season tent. (I recommend getting a four season tent anyway just to be safe.)
- Pick a tent with quick and easy setup option. When you’re camping with kids, you want to get your tent and campsite set up as quickly and easily as possible. So be sure the family camping tent description describes the ease of setup (sometimes also called “freestanding” or “instant setup” or “instant up” tent).
- Don’t forget about tent height. When you’re camping with family, you probably want to choose a tent that you can stand up in and not one that you have to crawl around in.
- Look for double-walled tents. Double walled tents have the regular part of the tent and then a “rain fly” or waterproof dome that goes over the tent to give extra protection against elements. Or, make sure your tent is listed as “waterproof” or “weatherproof.”
What is the best sleeping bag for camping?
OK, now that we’ve covered tents, let’s get into sleeping bags.
For camping, you want the warmest sleeping bag that you can find for the time of year/climate where you’re camping.
(It may still get chilly at night, even in the summer.)
And, by the way, your kid’s sleepover Snoopy sleeping bag probably isn’t going to cut it for your camping trip.
SO . . .
What should I look for when buying a sleeping bag?
Here are the top three things to consider when buying a sleeping bag for camping:
- Temperature ratings. Do you want a three season or four season? What’s the coldest temperature you can use the sleeping bag in?
- Weight. Again, when camping with family, you want things to be as easy as possible. Look for lightweight sleeping bags. (We like the ones that easily fold away into their own case.)
- Size. You’ll want to check the size when buying sleeping bags and get the one that is right for each person. (Yes, sleeping bags come in all different sizes!) If you are super tall and are worried about finding a sleeping bag that fits comfortably, CHECK OUT THIS ONE.
These are some of the top rated camping sleeping bags:
- Abco Tech Sleeping Bag
- Teton Sports Sleeping Bag
- MalloMe Camping Sleeping Bag – 3 Season
- CANWAY Sleeping Bag with Compression Sack
- Coleman Sleeping Bag
What are the best clothes for camping?
For camping, you’ll want to pack comfortable, season-appropriate clothing.
For kids, you’ll probably need even more clothes than you pack for the adults. (Remember, kids are probably going to get a lot dirtier than you . . . and that’s OK!)
You also want to pack for layers, so that kids can wear a sweatshirt in the morning (or evening) while it’s still cool and then ditch that layer as the day warms up.
- Bring socks, socks, and more socks. You’ll need clean, dry socks the entire time (and you will need a clean pair or two to sleep in or just for the tent).
- Everyone needs a hat (for sun and rain!).
- Rain jackets/windbreakers.
- Long underwear serve double duty: you can wear them under your clothes to keep warm (if needed) and you can also sleep in them!
- Convertible hiking pants (for everyone in the family)
- Comfortable hiking shoes + sandals/flip flops or slip on shoes for around camp.
Don’t try to pack everyone’s stuff in a suitcase (like for a regular vacation). Instead, grab some expandable, camping backpacks. They’re easier to carry and leave your hands free.
(Learn how to roll your clothes for backpack packing! Super cool space saver!)
Ok, now on to camping food! (YAY!)
FROM OUR SISTER SITE:
What food should I bring for camping?
Food is tough for camping because you need to be sure that you pack enough for everyone for the entire trip, but also make sure that the cold things stay cold and the dry things stay dry.
And, on top of all that, you need to make sure that you store your food where animals can’t get to it—like in locking tubs or coolers with padlocks. (Yes, some animals can take the lids off of things and they will!)
Also, don’t forget salt, pepper, and some other favorite spices!
A spice “starter kit” is a great option for camping because they’re small, easy to pack and give you multiple options for adding flavor to your food.
Food Camping Hacks
Prep camping food ahead of time.
Don’t wait until you get to the camping site to cute your fruits or veggies or sort out snack packs.
The more food prep you can do ahead of time, the better!
- Cut vegetables or fruit (like strawberries) ahead of time and store in Ziploc bags. (We actually like these reusable storage bags!)
- Form the hamburger patty meat before camping. Place them on wax paper with four patties per sheet. Put a sheet of wax paper on top and do the next layer. Slide them (on the wax paper) into a gallon Ziploc and refrigerate until ready for the cooler. Once you get to the camping site, all you need to do is put the meat on the grill!
Don’t forget to safely store meats away from other foods!
Bring hot dogs (or turkey dogs or veggie dogs).
It seems cliche, but you really do need to pack hotdogs.
They are fast and easy solutions and the kids can even get in on the fun by cooking their own hotdogs over the fire using telescoping fire sticks.
(Those sticks are great for roasting marshmallows, too!)
Bring easy, no-cook finger foods.
Again, when camping with kids, faster and easier is better. This isn’t the time to stress about a four course meal for each of your family members.
If trail mix, beef jerky, and an apple makes sense for lunch while hiking or hanging at camp, then go with it!
Also, stay away from packing of a lot of food that can get crushed in the transport process (think: crackers, eggs, etc.).
Instead, go for things you can prep ahead and also things that you can lay flat in bags in the cooler or bins.
Here are ideas for no-cook, easy foods for kids that are also easy to pack (and make great snacks or meal additions):
- Ready-to-eat, oatmeal fruit squeezes (although, a big pot of hot oatmeal while camping is good, too, so pack some oatmeal to cook!)
- Mini BabyBel cheese or cheesesticks (be sure to keep them in the cooler!)
- Yogurt tubes (Freeze them before you go and keep them in the cooler. Kids can eat them frozen or have yogurt once they thaw.)
- Trail mix
- Granola bars
- Beef jerky
- Dried fruit
- Tuna in individual pouches
- Hummus and carrots
- Nut butters in individual pouches (this is our favorite)–spread it on some tortillas for roll-ups!
- Small honey packs (good for your nut butter sandwiches, in tea, or just to eat alone out of the pack)
- Fruit leather/fruit roll-ups
- Seaweed (this is one of my kid’s favorite snacks . . . and it’s healthy and nutritious!)
- Marshmallows (good for eating alone, roasting, or making S’mores!)
- Hot chocolate packs and powdered drink mixes (that you can add to water)
- Juice packs (Again, if you freeze some of these ahead of time they can act as ice packs in the cooler until they thaw, then the kids can drink them.)
Make and freeze chili or soup at home.
This is the ultimate food camping hack!
Make some easy crockpot chili or soups ahead of time. After they’re finished, place them in gallon storage bags and lay them flat in the freezer.
They’ll stay in frozen in the cooler (and bonus, they act as extra ice packs!) until you need them.
When you’re ready, break apart the frozen chili and place it in a camping pot on the grill or fire. It will be a nice little treat, especially on brisk or rainy nights!
Also, don’t worry about packing bowls. You can use camping mugs that will serve dual purpose for coffee, tea, oatmeal, and even your soups!
Have fun with campfire grilled sandwiches.
Making campfire grilled sandwiches are really a lot of fun with kids.
First, you’ll need to grab an iron sandwich pan. (It will be worth it. TRUST ME!)
They work by adding the ingredients, shutting the lid, and putting it in the fire. The result is a yummy, gooey awesomeness of sandwich. (YES, you can make grilled cheese sandwiches!)
You can also make calzones, dessert pouches and more!
It’s only limited by your imagination, so be sure to spend some time brainstorming with the kids on what they want to try in the sandwich pan.
Crack and store eggs into empty plastic water bottles.
Crack eggs and scramble them at home. Add spices and cheese. Then, use a funnel to pour the egg mixture into the plastic water bottles. Store in the refrigerator (and then cooler once you’re camping).
Once at the campsite, you’ll have scramble eggs, but no worries about transporting fragile eggs that easily break!
Plus, it’s super fun to cook popcorn over an open fire!
If you want to have A LOT Of popcorn fun, grab a popcorn camping set that comes with the popper (that you can put in the fire) as well as popcorn, flavorings and more!
Fun Camping Recipes:
What do I need for camping with a toddler?
Camping with a toddler can be difficult for many reasons.
The toddler may be upset because they’re in an unfamiliar place.
Also, safety should be your number one concern. You want to be sure that they don’t get too close to the fire or can easily get out of the tent.
Tips for camping with a toddler:
- Put the tent up at home and sleep in it a couple of nights. That way it won’t be completely new when you get to the campground.
- Definitely get a family sleeping bag that will allow them to snuggle right up to you for comfort.
- Bring familiar items like their comfort nightie or stuffed animal and some of their favorite toys from home.
- A packing toddler chair with tray is a MUST. (This is our absolute FAVORITE!)
- Leave a nightlight on in the tent. Remember, camping in the woods can get really dark at night. Some light will help your toddler.
- Keep a close eye on them around the campfire! It’s easy for new walkers to stumble over pebbles or uneven ground.
- Don’t forget to plan for naps or downtime during the day to help prevent meltdowns!
- Don’t choose NOT to do things because of the toddler. Bring them along on the hike, nature scavenger hunt, include them in flashlight tag and everything else. They’ll love the exposure to new things!
Camping with a Baby
If you’re looking for an infant camping bed (and want an alternative for a snuggle time camp cot), check out this instant pop-up portal infant bed.
It’s a great option whether you’re camping outdoors or rv camping with baby.
How do you keep kids warm while camping?
When camping with a baby in cold weather or with young kids in cold weather, you’ll want to make sure that you’re prepared.
(Remember, even in the summer, there will be chilly nights (or even days).)
You’ll want to make sure that you can keep the kids warm while camping.
Here are some tricks to camping in cold weather with kids:
Put a “floor”in the tent.
You know those interlocking foam floor tiles you may have in the playroom at home?
Did you know you can use them to line the floor of your tent for extra padding and warmth!
(Plus, they’re easy to pack because you can take them apart and pack them flat.)
If you don’t have those, you can get a tent floor padding that look exactly like the playroom tiles!
Having a little more padding in the tent will not only make it more comfortable, it will get your kids off the cold ground.
Use a stackable cot system for the kids.
Did you know that there are stackable camping bunkbed cots for kids?
(FOR REAL, YOU GUYS.)
This can be a fun (and comfortable) novelty for the kids, but can also get them off the ground. Just put their sleeping bag on the cot and they have a warm bed!
Use hand and feet warmers.
They’re easy to pack and use in the sleeping bags at night or in mittens or socks if it’s cold during the day.
Here are more camping hacks that will make your camping trip easier!
✔️Bring a tent canopy to cover the eating area/table.
Also bring a screen tent (separate from your sleeping tent) that will allow you to eat under a cover away from sun, rain, and bugs.
This area will become the gathering area for eating, play, and hanging out and will keep the tents clean!
✔️Make a foot washing bin outside of each tent.
There’s nothing worse than getting ready for bed after a long, tired day of hiking or being outdoors and only to find your sleeping bags filled with grass and dirt.
You can help keep the tent clean by:
- Having a “no shoes in the tent” rule.
- Putting a foot wash bins outside of the tent door.
Before anyone enters the tent, they must remove their shoes and then “wash” (by stepping into the foot washing bin) and dry their feet.
✔️Keep clean socks in sleeping bags that are only to be worn for sleeping.
Socks can get yucky really easily while camping and hiking. Keep a pair of “sleeping only” socks with each sleeping bag.
This will help keep the tent clean, but it’s also nice to put a fresh pair of warm, dry socks on at night in the tent right before you go to sleep!
✔️Bring one of those big water jugs with a spout to use as a washing station (for hands and dishes).
You’ll need a hand/dish washing station at you campsite.
Even if you are near a bathroom, it’s not feasible to run to the communal bathroom each time you or your kids just need to wash your hands.
✔️Use food as fire starters!
Are you packing Doritos or corn chips?
Did you know that the oil from those chips means that they can be set on fire? Instead of packing fire starter (or kindling), light a small mound of Doritos to get the fire started!
✔️Use a headlamp strapped to a water bottle for a lantern.
You know those headlamps we mentioned earlier? They make a great makeshift lantern.
Just use the headband part to wrap around a clear jug or bottled water and shine the light inward (toward the wall of the jug).
The water will reflect the light and you have a lantern!
This will also illuminate your tent area with a soft light if you need a nightlight until the little ones go to sleep!
✔️Line your backpack with a garbage bag before you pack your clothes to keep them dry.
Even if you have waterproof backpacks, line the backpacks with garbage bags and put your clothes inside the bags.
It really sucks to be on a rainy camping trip where you can’t even put on dry clothes!
✔️Use tea tree oil to repel ticks.
Before you go, mix up a tea tree oil tick repellent in a spray bottle.
USE: 1 part tea tree oil to 2 parts water in a spray bottle.
Then, spray on pants, shoes, socks, clothing, tent floor, chairs, and sleeping bags to help keep the ticks away.
✔️Use sage to keep mosquitoes away.
Did you know that sage naturally helps to repel mosquitos?
Add a bundle of it to your campfire each night (or morning!) and it will help with mosquitos.
Place a bar of soap in a scrubber pouch or washcloth. Each camper gets one to use for hand and/or body.
We like these exfoliating soap scrubber pouches! Just put a bar of soap inside the pouch and scrub away!
✔️Make an outdoor shower!
If you are going to be camping for an extended period and you don’t have showers (or if the bathrooms are far away), you can make your own outdoor shower!
You can use a solar shower bag for a super quick rinses.
Or, you can make a nice, private, pop-up shower with this outdoor camping shower kit! (And, it can double as a private changing area.)
✔️Use glow-sticks to keep track of each other at night.
You know those glow sticks you can get at the discount store?
Not only are they fun for the kids to play with, but they are also a great way to keep track of the kids at night and line the path from the tent to the cooking area or the bathroom!
Safety Tips For Camping
Being safe means planning ahead, even for emergencies, and also for unforeseeable weather or other events.
Here are important safety tips for camping:
1. Let others know when you are going, where you are going and when you will be back.
If something happens, you definitely want people to know where to start looking.
Be sure to let several people know where you are going, when you are leaving, and when you will be back, and include the park address and phone number.
If you are camping at several different sites, also let others know the date you will be leaving the one site and arriving at the other.
2. Set up your camp during daylight hours.
Be sure to leave in time to get to your campsite with plenty of daylight hours left.
There’s nothing worse than trying to set up a tent in the dark with tired and hungry kids crying.
(This is where those instant tents are helpful!)
3. Never leave your food out around camp.
All kinds of animals will be attracted to your food (from small ones like raccoons to large ones like bears, depending on where you are).
So, don’t leave food or trash around your camp, or in your tent at any time, and especially while you sleep.
Here’s how to protect your food (and yourselves) while camping:
- Don’t leave your food sitting out unattended on tables or around camp, even during the day.
- Never sleep with the food inside your tent. Animals will rip apart your tent to get to it.
- Use a locking cooler OR leave your food in the trunk or back of your car.
- Don’t leave trash by your camp. Immediately bag it and take it to the designated trash areas for your camping area.
4. Bring bear/animal spray.
If you’re camping or hiking in an area where bears are known to be, you may want to invest in bear spray.
(Yes, it’s really a thing.)
Bear spray is a long-distance spray that deters bears, especially if they are charging you.
5. Be sure to bring chargers.
We cannot stress this enough: bring chargers.
And then bring more chargers.
Our favorite is this folding, solar powered charger that can charge phones and tablets.
(Remember, you might not have access to electricity, so a solar powered charger will cover you!)
6. Always bring warm clothing, even if you’re camping in the summer!
Again, be sure to dress in layers!
You want to be warm enough when you need to be and cool enough when you need it . . . and layers help with that!
7. Don’t forget a first aid kit.
You MUST take a first aid kit with you camping.
You need to be able to treat one of your campers, even it’s small (a bandaid for a cut) or something larger that you need to assist until you can get more help.
8. Understand how to identify poisonous plants for the area.
If you’re camping or hiking, especially in a new area, you will encounter a great deal of plants that you probably won’t recognize.
It’s important that you talk with your kids about not eating berries or flowers.
And, you need to be able to identify plants like poison ivy.
Grab a field guide (specific for your area) to help you out!
And, DO NOT pick mushrooms to eat unless you are seasoned at identifying edible mushrooms! There are many poisonous mushroom varieties that grow everywhere in nature!
Things To Do When Camping With Family
How do you keep kids entertained while camping?
You’ll spend plenty of time hiking, swimming, fishing (or whatever is your family’s “thing”), running around, and observing nature.
But, after a couple of days your kids may start to do the “I’m bored!” whine.
Here are the best camping with kids hacks to keep everyone busy and having fun (and not missing their devices or television!):
- Nature scavenger hunt
- Portable corn hole
- Toasted or Roasted Card Game
- Uno Wilderness
- Tell campfire stories
- Take a collapsable pail that kids can use for water, sand, or dirt play (or to even help haul water!)
- Flying rings and glow-in-the-dark flying discs
- Baseball/mitt or soccer ball
- Nature journal
- Squirt guns
- Magnifying glasses
- Finger paints and paper
- Pocket microscope
- Exploration packs
- Flashlight tag (you can grab an expensive pack of flashlights for play!)
We’ve covered A LOT of stuff in this essential guide to camping with kids, but it’s all important stuff. Just remember: SAFETY FIRST when camping with kids.
And, don’t forget to have fun!