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Camping with Kids: A Complete Guide for Family-Friendly Outdoor Fun

Heading out to the wilderness with the little ones is a big deal, especially if it’s for the first time. I was once a kid camping with my parents, and now I’m a momma to a toddler who will soon be introduced to the wonders of camping.

Your child’s first camping trip is an adventure, but it can be tricky to manage. You want to start their first camping trip on the right foot, so your kids will fall in love with camping with you.

With careful planning and input from your kids, you can create memories that will last a lifetime, and your kids will be asking when the next trip will be.

Keep reading for a comprehensive guide to making camping with kids fun and easy!

camping with kids

Introduce Your Kids to Camping

Before you head out to the campground, talk about camping at home. Tell them what to expect, and read camping stories. These are some great books about camping to teach your kiddos about what they’ll be experiencing:

Practice at Home

The best thing you can do for your kids is to do a “mock camp” trip at home. Use the method of camping you’ll be using. Set up a tent in the backyard if you’ll be tent camping, or let the kids sleep in your RV in your driveway.

Involve the Kids in Packing

While it’s tempting to pack everything for your kids because it’s quicker, involving them in the packing process is crucial.

Talk about each item you’re packing and why they’ll need it so they understand what each item is for. Remember to ask if there’s anything special they would like to bring along and listen to their input.

Ask Them What They Want to Eat and Do

Kids are little humans with likes, interests, and expectations. Planning your trip around your kids’ interests will make for a smoother sailing trip than if you try to control every aspect of it.

Help them understand there may be limitations (they’re not going to be living on ice cream), but if they say they’re looking forward to hot dogs, s’mores, and swimming, you can easily plan your day around what they like.

Choose a Kid-Friendly Campsite

Not all camping sites are ideal for children, so selecting one that is kid-friendly will make your trip much more comfortable for both you and your kids.

Choose a Developed Campground

Your child’s first camping trip is not the time to try camping in the backcountry woods. Pick a developed campground. Beyond the Tent has covered many developed campgrounds on State and National Park pages, so you have plenty to choose from!

Near the Playground

When camping with kids, choosing a campground with a playground is a must. Ideally, your campsite will be as close to the playground as possible, so you can watch the little ones play from your campsite.

Close to Bathrooms

Whether your child is new to potty training or has been trained for a while, ensuring your kids know where the closest bathroom is located will make your trip much more relaxing. (Pro Tip: avoid campsites at the bottoms of hills near bathrooms because the plumbing drainage can collect at your campsite.)

camping with kids

Select Your Kids’ Best Camping Gear

Refer to this camping checklist when selecting your kids’ camping gear. This list provides a comprehensive gear checklist organized by age.

Buy Age-Appropriate Gear

Your 2-year-old’s gear list is going to look a little different than your 12-year-old’s.

For example, it’s not recommended that kids under 3 years old sleep in sleeping bags due to suffocation risks. The littlest campers should have wearable sleeping bags. These are the best kids’ sleeping bags, selected for each age.

Pack Your Kids A Chair

Your children should have a comfy chair to call their own while roasting s’mores around the campfire. These are the best kids’ camping chairs.

Prioritize Moisture-Wicking Clothes

This goes for everyone on your camping trip, especially the little ones who like to run around and get sweaty. Moisture-wicking clothes ensure their comfort.

REI has an excellent selection of moisture-wicking kids’ clothes.

Pack Sturdy Non-Slip, Waterproof Shoes

When your kids are running around in the mud and hiking through unfamiliar terrains, a sturdy pair of waterproof, non-slip shoes can make all the difference.

Dress Kids in Layers

If you’re dressed in layers, your kid must also wear layers. They may need more layers than you since they’re more likely to run around and get hot on cool spring and fall days.

Avoid Over Packing

This may seem hard since you have a huge checklist of items to pack for your kiddos. However, the last thing you want is to have your camper or car so packed you can’t find anything.

A good way to avoid overpacking when camping with kids is to start packing as early as possible so you have plenty of time to think about what you’ll need and won’t need.

Activities to Do When Camping with Kids

Once you get to your campsite, you’ll definitely need a plan to keep the kids entertained. We’ve got a jam-packed list of 99 fun camping activities and games that will guarantee your family has a blast on your camping trip. Here are a few more ideas:

Bring a Kiddie Pool

Packing a kiddie pool for the little ones is a great way to entertain the youngest campers and allow them to get wet and splash without having to worry about getting lost in big bodies of water.

Turn Camp Chores into Games

If you have more than one kid, you can have them race to see who can do the most clean-up. Or you can have them race against you. Make washing dishes a race.

Play a song and challenge the kids to finish cleaning up before it’s over, or challenge them to complete a chore with their eyes closed. Get creative–the options are endless.

Tell Campfire Stories

Make the night memorable by telling campfire stories your little ones won’t ever forget. They might even pass them down to their children!

Make Camping Educational

Even if your little ones aren’t homeschooled, camping is the perfect educational opportunity. Here are some examples of ways you can make camping educational:

  • Take nature hikes around the area and teach your kid about the different wild animals and the sounds they make.
  • Be on the lookout for historical sites and interactive visitor centers at nearby parks
  • Bring books to read while camping with kids
camping with kids

Safety Tips When Camping with Kids

Safety should always be your number one priority, especially when camping with kids. Here are some tips for keeping your little ones safe on your camping trip.

Keep Your Campsite Well-Lit

You may be able to navigate your campsite in the dark, but your kids may have a difficult time. Kids also tend to get scared in the dark, so pack additional lighting to hang around your campsite.

Have an Emergency Plan and Kit

Make a plan in the event an emergency happens. You should also talk about what to do in the event of inclement weather or a natural disaster.

Always have an emergency kit with you when camping with kids.

Give Everyone a Whistle and/or Walkie Talkie

If your child happens to wander off, having a survival whistle will make it easier to find them. Whistles can be used to alert everyone around to potential dangers in the area. You may also want to pack walkie-talkies if your child doesn’t have a cell phone (or you don’t have access to cell service).

Follow the Buddy System

Never let your kids wander off on their own without a buddy. Little kids should always be accompanied by an adult or a responsible older sibling.

Tell Your Kids to Keep Your Shoes On

Your kids should know to keep their shoes on at all times. Remind them that it’s easy to accidentally step on a bee or piece of glass.

Other Tips

Here are some other important safety tips:

  • Never allow kids near water unsupervised
  • Teach your kids about poisonous plants and wild animals
  • Make sure your kids know to only drink clean, filtered water
  • Educate your kids about fire, and always watch the little ones near the firepit
  • Do not allow your kids to eat in the tent because this can attract bears and other wildlife into your sleeping space
  • Write your campsite number on your child’s hand in case they get lost and need help finding their way back
camping with kids

A Family Trip to Remember

Camping with kids doesn’t have to be stressful with proper planning. With the above tips, your family will set out for the adventure of a lifetime and will talk about it for years to come.Looking for more tips for camping with your kids? Check out these camping-with-kids hacks.