Picture it: September 2015. Two adults, a three-year-old and an almost five-year-old huddled in a tent. It was raining — hard. My husband and I had both camped a decent amount in our younger years, and this seemed like a good idea. Camping with kids is fun, right? Our first trip with our boys wasn’t what I would call fun, but we were not ready to give up on camping.
Full disclosure: we have a pop-up camper now, which although miles more comfortable than sleeping in a tent, is basically a mattress in the air rather than on the ground. It does have some additional perks like storage and air conditioning, but it’s still at the mercy of some weather elements and doesn’t have a bathroom. Regardless of how you choose to camp, these suggestions should be helpful whether you plan to camp in tents or have access to a camper/RV.
Choosing Your Campsite
Depending on the location, you can select the exact spot you’ll be camping. If bathrooms are important to you (see below), you can choose based on that proximity. If you need electricity, you can look for that as well. Maybe it’s a lake or privacy or a playground that speaks to you. Regardless, do your homework. For your first trip, maybe you want to be close to home or pick a place with all the bells and whistles in case things go awry. A random tip: make sure you pay attention to campground rules (some don’t allow outside firewood, some don’t allow alcohol, etc.). Some favorites are Fall Creek Falls, Chilhowee National Forest, and Chester Frost Park.
So this may seem like something that doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway. A bathroom plan is important, even if you have boys (everybody poops, am I right?). It’s wise to pick a spot near a bathhouse so that a late night run to the bathroom isn’t a 5k. Also I would advise that you practice using the bathroom in the great outdoors at home before you need to try it.
Some camping food is just a no-brainer, like hotdogs and s’mores roasted over a fire. Although my kids would eat hotdogs for lunch and dinner while we camp, I try to branch out a little. We usually do pancakes and bacon, sandwiches, kielbasa sausage and macaroni and cheese, and/or a taco bar of sorts. Determining what you will be cooking off of is crucial — if it’s strictly campfire or a camping stove. A good cooler is a must because if packed well, the ice can last you through a weekend. Yeti makes good ones of course, but we got this one from Wal-Mart and have been pleased as well! Also pack lots of snacks — exploring and roughing it in the wild require lots of trail mix, fruit, Pringles, and granola bars.
Layering is key. Bring a little bit of everything. We camped last weekend (in June) and needed long sleeves in the early morning and late at night. We could have used pants for easier hiking (fewer ticks and scrapes from nearby brush). Extra socks and shoes are helpful too, because once your feet are uncomfortable, you’re miserable. Also plenty of flashlights. Headlamps are good too because they are fun and you can be hands-free (our boys love them)!
Ticks and Bugs and Wildlife, oh my!
All of those things will be there — it’s their natural habitat. Use bug spray, stay on trails, and be loud. Trust me, the wildlife has no interest in you unless it feels threatened. The worst we’ve seen camping have been toads, lizard, and a field mouse. Now for the ticks — check often. And remember, ticks like moist, warm places, so use your imagination on where you might find them…
Plan Activities (but be flexible)
We always have the boys bring books and a few toys, but they are expected to be device-free when we camp. Kids have great imaginations, and can find ways to keep themselves busy. You can always pick up a few hammocks to put up as well for some lounging and swinging, and bring a game or two in case it rains. Most campgrounds have hiking trails, playgrounds, or other activities nearby, so there’s no shortage of ways to spend the time!
Embrace the Mess
There will be so much dirt. On you, on your kids, under fingernails, in the food…embrace it. The only time I like doing laundry is after camping; as much as I love a good campfire, the minute I leave a campground, the campfire smells suddenly smells like an ashtray, and I am over it. Another random tip: go ahead and wash everything you packed when you get home, whether you wore it or not.