Our family went camping once or twice when I was young, but I don’t remember many details about our trips. I know our tent was tan and I had a truly epic Rainbow Brite sleeping bag. I recall sleeping like crap at night because every noise was an angry elk and every shadow was a rabid bear. I have no idea where we camped or what we did while we were there. When I called my parents to see what they remembered, they couldn’t think of anything either! Needless to say, our camping experiences weren’t very memorable.
When some friends invited us to go camping a few years ago, I was a little skeptical. It took us a few trips to work out the kinks, but fast forward a couple of years and I think we can camp pretty well. Due in large part to how furiously my husband preps beforehand, but also because we have a few trips under our belts and we have a clearer picture of what to expect.
My favorite part about camping with kids is that you get to spend so much time outdoors with them. It’s typically much cooler in Northern Arizona than it is in the Valley. If you decide to take advantage of the cooler temps and get out of town with your kids, below are some tips and tricks I can share from our experiences.
Purchase rain boots for your kids. I haven’t been camping YET when it didn’t rain like crazy. When the rain comes down in buckets, the mud gets thick and slippery. Walmart has cheap ones and sometimes you can catch all of the cute gardening and rain boots at Target on clearance! I always buy one size larger than needed so they last the entire camping season. If rain boots aren’t realistic but you think you’ll be camping more, at least designate some “camping only” shoes because they will get dirty. Really dirty.
Get glow sticks. When the sun goes down and the kids are running around, we always put glow sticks around their necks and wrists. It makes your kids so much easier to keep track of. Not to mention, they love to take the extras and fling them around in the dark. Anything that keeps them entertained is an added plus.
Pack easy snacks. Some examples are squeezy applesauce, cheese sticks, tupperware full of prepped fruits and veggies, popcorn (which you can make over a camping stove or fire, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious) and nuts. Anyone else’s kids want to snack constantly?!
Buy mosquito repellent. You’ll only forget this one ONCE.
Prepare for all kinds of weather. I always pack jeans, shorts, extra socks and underwear, beanies, gloves, sunscreen, hoodies, tank tops, long underwear and hats for shade. Over Memorial Day weekend last year, we experienced light snow, intense sun and wind all in the same day. I’d always rather be prepared than be scrambling if the weather turns.
Bring games. Card games, simple board games, blank journals, books to read, coloring books or anything else you can think of that will keep them occupied should the weather turn nasty or they run out of ideas to stay busy.
Search Pinterest for meal ideas. There are literally thousands.
Camping with kids can be really fun, but it’s also important to make sure you take their safety into consideration. Keeping a close watch on your kids can prevent a lot, but there’s always a chance that something could happen to them. Here are a couple of safety tips I learned at 4-H sleep away camp in 4th grade that I still practice to this day. (I’m totally serious.)
Take a foil footprint of everyone in your party. This way, should someone from your camp wander off, you know exactly which footprints you should be following when you are trying to track them down.
Buy each of your kids a whistle. Teach them that if they wander a little too far from camp that they should stay in one place and blow their whistle until they are found. Have them wear their whistles for the duration of the trip. When you get home, keep them packed with your camping gear so you always know where they are.
Bring a fully stocked first aid kit. Kids will always get scraped up on camping trips. Some items we include in our first aid kit are: scissors, Benadryl (cream and liquid), tweezers, band aids, antibacterial ointment, bandages, hydrogen peroxide, gauze pads, ibuprofen and a thermometer.
A trash bag can provide shelter. This is one of the first safety tips they taught us at camp and they stressed it enough that I still remember it 30 years later. If you wander away from camp and get caught in the rain, a trash bag can make a quick, emergency poncho. Just cut out a hole for you to get plenty of air and put it over your head. It can also keep you warm if you are waiting to be found. Fill the bag with leaves and treat it as a sleeping bag. It will help you retain your body heat. I know this one is a little extreme, but I bet you always remember it, too!
The most important thing to remember about camping with kids is that things will happen that you can’t predict; but if you’re prepared, you can roll with the punches and have an amazing time. Even if you forget things, under pack or don’t take a single word of my advice – kids are resilient and will have fun as long as they are with you. And if the great outdoors gets a little too “outdoorsy” for you, you can always pack up, head home and camp in your living room! Either way, I promise you’ll be building memories your kids won’t soon forget.