In Parents Recommend

by Local, Experienced, Camping Parents

You have all the typical gear and are accustomed to roughing it, but this summer will be tent camping for the FIRST time as a family for 2 weeks with young kids who are exceptionally outdoorsy, active and used to being in nature.

Local experienced camping parents volunteered TIPS – camp set-up to meal planning, cleanup, must-have gear to entertaining the kids–  anything about camping with young kids.

Meal planning!

  • Hotdogs over the fire for dinners, s’mores are a must.
  • I will pre-make a few meals and freeze them. They keep the cooler cold, then all I have to do is heat them up. Also pre-cut veggies or things for meals so I just have to throw it together and the prep is easier.
  • We do taco salad in a bag of Doritos! Crunch the Doritos and then put all your salad ingredients in the bag, thousand island dressing and shake!
  • Trader Joe’s is the bomb for camping food. They have a fair amount of pre-made, vacuum-sealed stuff. Yogurt in tubes from TJ is good as they are contained and used in one go.
  • camping-burritoWe love to make burritos and wraps. I actually love cooking while camping ‘cause I have more time than when I’m at home or work, but keeping food fresh is tricky, especially in a cooler. I fill a large tight plastic container with butter and pre-sliced cheese. The same for sliced turkey, chicken, salami and ham, and another for veggies like carrots and celery.
  • We like TJ’s carnitas (vacuum sealed and precooked so you just slice/shred in the pan) and smoked tofu for veggie wraps. They also have hotdogs, sausages, and precooked chicken meat. We love their organic hummus for carrots, cucumbers and crackers. Baby bell cheese travels well! For fresh items we get romaine lettuce, kumato tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, oranges and bananas and blueberries.
  • TJ’s pancake mix just needs water and eggs.  I boil eggs before the trip and pack them in a plastic container. They also have a great selection of nuts and dried fruit.
  • We vacuum seal and freeze stuff that won’t be eaten right away and can be used as ice. We also vacuum seal food prepped items, like potatoes for breakfast. We like them with bell peppers and onions so we will chop that all together before vacuum sealing. Pizza has been our biggest hack! Put plates of pizza into gallon ziplock bags on top of the cooler.  We usually will just pick a pizza up on our way.
  • We always freeze chili, meat sauce, stew, spaghetti sauce loaded with fresh veggies.
  • I always precook my bacon and throw it in a ziploc. Don’t have time for cooking bacon while camping. Also pre-made biscuits and gravy. Pizza! Of course s’mores. The less cooking the better. Pre-made sandwiches and chips. Jiffy pop!
  • I pre-make breakfast burritos and foil packets that can go directly in the fire. My favorite is the Cajun one –shrimp, sausage, potatoes, and cut corn on the cob with spices. You can put anything in a burrito.
  • If you have extra room in your cooler add towels to the top. This keeps the ice frozen longer.
  • I use the soft bacon bits from Costco for burritos and scrambles!
  • If you have a vacuum sealer, you can seal single portions of food in each bag, and then freeze. To heat, just put the vacuum sealed food into a pot of hot water until it’s heated. You can eat out of the bags if you want to. The vacuum bags are safe for this. You won’t have to do dishes, you’ll have minimal trash, and everyone can have different food depending on their moods.  You can put anything in a burrito.

Things to bring and things to do!

  • camping-kids-helpingGive jobs to the kids –not super time efficient when they are little but an investment for the future.
  • Depending on where you’re camping… bikes/scooters are often a must!
  • Lots of art and nature projects and family games.
  • We have a designated, camp kitchen tote, always pre-packed with the dish towels, pots and pans, dish drain, dish and hand soaps, sponges, salt, pepper, cooking oil, etc. We also have a “Save the day” gallon zip lock bag that contains: duct tape, clothes pegs, clothes line, matches, lighters, patch kits for tents, bicycle wheels, and sleeping pads, extra batteries, a wilderness first aid kit and handbook.
  • If you can, bring a second tent or sun pop up shade type tent just for playing in. Kids love to play in the tent which makes it way too dirty!
  • My kids wear rain boots around the campsite, easy to slip on and off and keeps their feet relatively clean for when they slip them off and go in the tent. Easy to enforce the “no shoes inside the tent” rule.
  • I also love/love/love when I can fit an outdoor rug in to maximize the dirt-free zone in front of the tent entrance.
  • Fishing poles!
  • camping-fishing-kidOne of my favorite upgrades has been a hand washing “station” with an extra water jug, soap, and hand towel hooked to the side. Used up push button laundry detergent containers make a great water jug.
  • Dollar tree glow sticks. Costco head lamps – I live in my headlamp because I need both hands at all times!
  • Bring a big giant bucket or plastic storage tub (we use the one we store our camp stuff in) to make a bath tub. Boil one pot of water and pour it into a tub 1/2 full of water, instant bath time.
  • Strap a headlamp onto a large, clear water container at night for diffused light!
  • We bring paints that are safe for our kids and have them paint rocks, pine cones etc. Card games. Bikes.
  • Chalk is always fun, even chalk bombs, if the campground has any paved areas.
  • A Colman propane lantern with the pole adapter for a larger tank. A lot of flashlight batteries. A black soft plastic water bag with spout attached left out in the sun all day will give you warm water to wash up the kids at night if warm water is unavailable.
  • Books to read!
  • We set up two tents with a rug in between and with two folding tables at each end, one for cooking and kitchen setup, one for eating. Lots of lanterns. Pocket knives for carving, hammocks, bow and arrow, BB gun, hand washing/dishwashing station, utility clips for hanging tarps, wet clothes, etc, lots of wet wipes, extra socks, hand shovels or trowels, sunscreen, extra socks, extra blankets, first aid kit.
  • I always brought a training potty (and plastic bags as liners) for my small ones. Works on the side of the road as well as keeps them out of the outhouses.
  • I’ve used rubber playmats on the floor of the tent because my kids always roll off their mattresses, still.
  • Glowsticks, scavenger hunts, painting rocks…
  • We bring a big swing to hang, make boats to race on the river…. I’ve been doing 2-week-long camping with all my kids since they were babies… Makes for the best memories.
  • I always have a stash of entertainment that they don’t know about for “emergency distractions.” I usually get a variety of things from the dollar store, I also go through their room throughout the year and cull out party favors they don’t play with and other small toys to pull out one at a time when I need to keep them occupied, like those last 30 mins of a car ride or camp set up/loading unloading etc.
  • We throw out a big tarp where they can play with toys, books and games. Keeps them from getting lost and is a more comfortable place to relax.
  • Stomp rockets are very entertaining. We also bring one of those foam/rubber puzzle mats and put them under the tent for extra cushioning.
  • camping-kids-hammockA hammock is endlessly entertaining. For quiet times we bring a box of art supplies, whittling knives and books to read. Natural baby wipes are good for “washing dishes.” Freeze a gallon water bottle to be an “ice pack” for the cooler, or quart bottles. They stay frozen longer and then become drinking water.
  • A dark tent and a camp rug outside it are my favorites for camping with kids.
  • Bring lots of wet wipes & clorox. It makes dish washing SO much easier & uses less water. Pack some things in a large plastic tote. You can use it to bathe kids or wash clothes if necessary. Bring travel toiletry bag & soap for laundry – a bar works well, also rope to dry clothes/towels. Bring toys that can endure roughing it.
  • Tiny plastic animals, vehicles and beach toys that you don’t mind losing.
  • Foot washing station nightly + clean socks/lotion after. We do this by the campfire at night with extra boiled water. It makes everyone more comfortable. Feet get trashed camping!
  • Unscented baby wipes are MONEY for cleaning dirty feet & hands. Especially if your littles want to crawl into the tent for a nap or bedtime without any kind of washing. My kids pretty much live caked in dirt when we camp. So baby wipes are so handy!
  • We use walkie-talkies as a baby monitor for the little one so we can enjoy the campfire at night’
  • I like several small tents for play zones and sibling privacy.
  • Thermacell for bugs! If you get to have fires, drier lint inside toilet paper rolls make great fire starters.
  • Glow sticks! We always have a glow stick dance party with music one night. Download a few songs (or screen record dance YouTube songs for free) and party!
  • Their own flash lights/lanterns
  • Easy slip on shoes so the kids can take on and off by themselves.
  • Big advocate of a blackout tent to keep it cooler and darker. Also love having a mat outside the tent door.
  • Solar powered phone charger so you can still use your phone for pics if you’re not driving for a few days.
  • Small broom and dust pan.
  • If your kiddos sleep with a sound machine, bring one with batteries.
  • If you’re driving for long, be sure to load up on family friendly audio books!
  • If you have a way to recharge a cell you can download books on libby.
  • Bring an umbrella and hook it to your floaty, if you’ve got a day at the lake it’ll keep the sun off you.
  • I always bring a small lock that fits through my tent for peace of mind. My husband and I usually stay up later and I always worry my daughter will wander. The lock makes it so she can’t and has to notify someone if she wants out of the tent at night.
  • I always bring a hand held broom for the tent & a mat for the front of it to minimize dirt in the tent. Oh and we always buy different stakes than the ones that come with the tent and we pick ones that are highlighter colors so you can see them at night and don’t stub your toe but also so you don’t lose them throughout the trip. We also put the pop up right over the tent during the day to keep it less hot.
  • Backpacking with Babies and Kids has a lot of good info too!

Who needs “experts” when parents are the experts!

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