These 27 tips for camping with kids are sure to help you have the best camping trip ever! Make sure you read them before you pack! (And don’t forget about the 6 bonus tips for camping with babies and toddlers!)
This post contains affiliate links.
Growing up, my family went camping a few times each summer. We’d load everything up into our car, drive up in the Rocky Mountains, set up camp, and have a great time. Sleeping bags, s’mores, hikes, and board games were a big part of my summers growing up.
It wasn’t until we started camping with our own kids last year that I realized how much work it is to go camping with kids! It’s like packing for a vacation but EXTRA. You have to bring and cook all your own food, plan your activities, set up your own shelter, and keep everyone safe and warm. It’s hard, but it’s so much fun, too.
We went camping over Memorial Day weekend this year, and this time we even brought our new puppy, Penelope. It was a lot of fun, (even if we went home early!) and it sure was exhausting! Worth it for the memories, though!
If you’re planning on going camping with kids, here are a few tips to help make it easier and more enjoyable for everyone!
Tips for Camping with Kids
1. Do a test run in your backyard.
We weren’t able to do this this time, but growing up we would camp in the backyard a lot, and I totally get why now! It’s so easy to test it out, see how your kids do, and make sure you know what you need to bring (or buy!) that you wouldn’t have thought of before!
2. Plan a kid-friendly menu.
There are so many yummy camping meals you can make, but it’s important to remember to plan things your kids are actually going to eat. Sure, a fancy Dutch oven casserole sounds delicious, but will your kids even eat it after you go to all that work? We planned simple things like pancakes, eggs, cinnamon rolls, hot dogs, sandwiches, quesadillas, and nachos (not to mention several delicious desserts!).
3. Get a campsite close(ish) to the bathroom.
Kids always need to go to the bathroom at the most inconvenient times. And they never have to go at the same time as anyone else, either. So try to get a campsite that’s relatively close to the bathrooms, but not close enough that you’re going to smell them from your tent!
4. Bring a lot of snacks.
I mean I think this is a good tip for camping no matter what age your fellow campers are, but it’s especially good for kids. Bring a good mix of healthy food and junk food (we’ll allow it) so you don’t feel bad if they constantly want to snack!
5. Set up a screened canopy tent.
We don’t have one of these yet, but I really want to get one this year! If you’re going to be camping when the mosquitos or other bugs are out, it’s nice to have a place to relax that’s in the shade and free from bugs! Especially when you have kids! Plus, this is a perfect place for them to play games, read books, or color on the ground. This one has amazing reviews on Amazon (and the one minute set-up sounds divine!).
6. Bring kids’ camp chairs.
We got a few camp chairs for our kids last year and they have been the greatest. No more fighting over camp chairs or trying to share them with littles. We got ours at a camping store, but Melissa & Doug has some really cute ones that have great reviews and are under $20.
7. Bring extra baby wipes.
Like, way more than you think you’ll need. Baby wipes are great for wiping up messes, cleaning up owies, wiping dirt off of kids (or yourself), and of course, changing diapers. Regardless of if you have a child in diapers, bring some baby wipes!
8. Don’t forget lanterns and flashlights.
You’re definitely going to be making some nighttime trips to the bathroom, so make sure you have a few flashlights to help your kids see where they’re going! And a lantern is a great idea for inside the tent when you’re changing clothes because it’s hands-free! And bonus tip, bring glow sticks for your kids to play with at night!
9. Pack lots of water, and if you have a younger child, a sippy cup.
Getting dehydrated is the worst, and sometimes the water source is far from your campground, so bringing your own water bottles is a good idea! My 6-year-old and 4-year-old were fine drinking from water bottles, but my youngest is two and we brought a sippy cup to refill for him.
10. Pack extra clothes.
We were going to camp for two days and I brought four outfits for each of my kids. You never know if your kid is going to fall in the water, the mud, or get covered in marshmallow!
11. Don’t go light on sunscreen.
You think a sunburn hurts? Just wait until your kid gets one! You’ll think they’re dying from the amount they’ll complain. So make sure you bring enough and apply it every few hours!
12. Keep the bugs away!
Bring either buy spray (and apply it a lot), a mosquito repellent bracelet (easy for kids and no trying to spray them down!), or a zone mosquito repeller (like this). Similar to kids with a sunburn, kids with bug bites can really ruin a camping trip!
13. Bring planned activities.
You’d think kids would be able to occupy themselves in nature for a few days, but they get bored so fast! So bring a few activities (like this fun nature scavenger hunt, bubbles, or simple card games like Go Fish or Uno!). That way you’ll be able to get a little quiet time in!
14. Bring lots of layers.
It can get pretty chilly at night when you’re camping, so bringing long sleeves, hoodies, and jackets is a good idea! That way you can just take things off as you warm up during the day!
15. Use paper plates for minimal clean up.
One thing I used to hate growing up was cleaning the dishes when we were camping. So this time we brought paper plates and plastic forks. It made things so much easier, and I didn’t have to worry about keeping an eye on the kids while trying to wash dishes!
16. Encourage them to explore, but set boundaries.
When we first got to our campsite, our kids were so excited to run around and explore and check things out. Which is totally fine, as long as you set boundaries! If your kids are older it may not be as important, but I wanted to be able to see my kids at all times, so they had to stay in front of our tent and within sight.
17. Bring bikes.
We actually didn’t this time, but so many people bring bikes to ride around the campground! It’s a fun, easy way to occupy your kids and get some exercise!
18. Bring sanitizing wipes or sanitizer.
Depending on how primitive the bathrooms are, you’re going to want to bring something to clean your hands (or more importantly, your kids’ hands). Plus, you never know where those dirty little hands have been before dinner!
19. Bring blankets and pillows along with sleeping bags.
Yes, of course, you want to bring sleeping bags. But blankets and pillows are just as important! We had to do extra blankets on our kids so they stayed warm at night, and they also worked great for cuddling with in the evening!
20. Expect dirt.
I know this should go without saying, but expect that your kids are going to get a little dirty. Or even a lot dirty. That’s part of the fun of camping, so try to take a deep breath and just accept it!
21. Bring a rug or basket for putting shoes outside your tent.
One thing that I remembered to do this time was bring a little outdoor mat to put outside our tent so that we didn’t get dirt in our tent trying to take off or put on our shoes! It was a great idea, especially for kids who constantly want to go in and out of the tent!
22. Pack a picnic blanket for the table and things to hold it on with.
Sometimes those tables at campsites are sticky, extra dirty, or have weird spots you’d rather not touch. So packing a picnic blanket and things to hold it onto the table with (like these) is a good idea. Especially for kids who frequently don’t put their food back down on the plate (please tell me that’s not just my kids!).
23. When you pack, keep it organized.
Of course this is a good tip for any camping trip, but it’s especially important when you’re going camping with kids! Especially because kids are not patient at all. We packed all our food in one cooler and one clear container, all our “camping gear” in another big bin, and each kid had their own bag with their clothes and stuffed animal. It was easy to find everything because everything had a specific place!
24. Make sure your tent is big enough.
Sure, a two-person tent was great when you were just a couple, but a four-person tent will not be comfortable for two kids and two adults. Kids move A TON at night and you’ll end up getting squished and cramped and all up on each other. We have five people in our family (plus we brought Penelope) and everyone had their own space in our Coleman Montana 8-Person Tent.
25. Don’t plan on your kids going to bed at their normal bedtimes.
Firstly because it won’t even be dark until 9:30 or later, and second because there’s so much noise and excitement all around the campground that they aren’t going to want to! We tried putting our kids down around 9, and they were so hyper and giggly that they didn’t end up falling asleep until my husband and I went in with them around 10. But I had planned on that, so it was fine!
26. Bring Bandaids and a First Aid Kit.
The very first time we went camping, our oldest was two and he fell on a stick he was running with and cut his cheek. The scar is finally almost gone (four years later). But we would’ve been in big trouble without a First Aid Kit! You never know what will happen!
27. Bring something for your kids to do when they wake up.
You think your kids wake up early in their own beds? Wait until you go camping! Our kids were up around 5:30 and there was no way we were getting up at that time. So we brought our iPad with some games a a few shows downloaded so they had something to occupy themselves until it was actually a decent hour to get up.
Alright, and now for some bonus tips if you’re planning on camping with a baby or a toddler!
Bonus Tips for Camping with Babies or Toddlers
1. Bring a Pack n Play with a sheet over the top.
First of all, a Pack n Play is a great place for baby to sleep and take naps in the tent. Second of all, it makes a great playpen outside the tent! Put a sheet over the top to keep out bugs and you’ve got a perfect area for baby to hang out safely!
2. Bring disposable diaper bags.
When you’re camping with only a single trash bag for trash that’s kept at your campsite until full, you are not going to want to just toss poopy diapers in there! Bring some disposable diaper bags like these so you can toss the diapers (and their stench!) in the trash.
3. Use a small umbrella stroller or cheap high chair to keep them contained.
You can’t hold your baby every second when you’re camping, so you’ll need somewhere to put them down that will keep them safe. Bringing a small umbrella stroller or a cheap high chair (like the Ikea Antilop high chairIkea Antilop high chair) is a super easy and light way to have somewhere for baby to sit while you eat or cook or set up the tent!
4. Bring a baby carrier or hiking backpack.
One of our favorite parts of camping is going hiking! And even if you aren’t going hiking, it’s a good idea to have a baby carrier or some way to keep your baby close and secure. Our favorite carrier for our babies has been the LÍLLÉbaby 4 in 1 baby carrier and we really like the Kelty child carriers for our toddler (and he likes ours, too!).
5. Bring a playmat with a pen or tarp with pen.
Another easy way to keep your baby or toddler contained is with a playmat that has a pen around it, or a big tarp that has a pen around it. The first time we went camping, our daughter was about 20 months, and my husband’s grandpa built her a playpen using a big tarp and the ramps from his trailer. It worked and was an easy way to let her be free!
6. If you want to do a bath, bring a big plastic bin.
We haven’t ever done this, but I heard it somewhere and thought it was a good idea if you’re going on a longer camping trip and want to give your baby or toddler a bath. Just bring a big plastic storage bin, fill it with water in the morning, put a lid on it during the day to let it warm up, and in the evening, you’ve got a portable bath for your little one!
Camping with kids is a lot of fun, although I’m sure by the amount of tips I’ve included you also now realize it’s a lot more work than camping before having kids! Hopefully these 27 (plus 6!) tips for camping with kids will make it easier and help you have a great trip! Have fun!