Whether you’re heading out for your first camping trip with kids, or you’ve got a few trips behind you, these nine tips for camping with kids will make it a stress-free and enjoyable experience for everyone in the family!

Camping is a fabulous way to get outside, relax, spend time with your family and enjoy the great outdoors. The idea of camping with kids can be a little intimidating though. Especially if you’re on your own with them. But honestly, it’s not that bad! 

We’ve camped numerous times now – multi-day, single night, road trips and local spots. Each trip has its’ own memories, and there’s always ups and downs of every trip but any chance to go camping, we jump at it! (In fact, my guys are keen to pull out the tent and camp at home – which we did a few times this past spring).

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So check out these 9 tips for camping with kids, then take a deep breath and go for it!

Tips for Camping with Kids

1. Make a list

It’s always good to have a list. I’m the person who makes lists for everything, and especially for camping. And be sure to keep the list! I’ll be honest, the first time I probably left my list on the kitchen counter and then recycled it when we returned and didn’t realize until we started to prep for our next trip. Now I put my list inside a clear page protector and tape it to the inside of our camping bin.

Download a printable checklist for camping with kids here.

2. Practice before you go

I know this may sound silly, I mean, c’mon, it’s just a tent, right? But every tent is different and some of them can be a little tricky!  And especially if it’s a tent that you haven’t set up before! The one we have is fairly easy to set up, and now I can do it in a few minutes tops, but the first time, I hate to admit that it was a little intimidating! Especially when I had two toddlers – busy playing with their toys, read on to the next tip – to keep an eye on. 

3. Pack some toys

Pack some toys or activities to keep the kids busy while you set up or while you make meals. Toys may seem like a given with kids, but if you’re like me, when you’re thinking about camping, you don’t think toys!

Stop right now and put some on your list. Small toys, busy toys, activities, anything that will keep them entertained for a few minutes while you set up the tent. My guys started with small cars and used the picnic table to vroom them up and down while I set up the tent.

I also always travel with a flat bed sheet. Bed sheets are great for all kinds of things, but when we’re camping, the first thing I do is spread the sheet out on the campsite. Then the boys come out of the car, bringing a few toys, plus a few I have stored away for right now, and they play on the bedsheet while I set up the tent, chairs and everything else.

Now that the boys are a little older, we still set up the sheet as a ‘home base’, but they help with the set-up to the best of their abilities. When they get tired or bored, they can always head over to the bed sheet and play at a safe place while I finish setting up.

4. Stay close to home (at least for the first trip)

I don’t mean staying in your backyard but choose a place that’s not too far from home. A long car ride just adds to the stress of first time camping and isn’t too much fun for anyone!

And just in case you need to come home suddenly, whether it’s the weather, the kids, or something else unforeseen, you don’t want to have to endure a long car ride to get home. Make it more enjoyable and less stressful for you and choose a spot fairly close to home.

If you’re in Canada, check out our provincial parks – I highly recommend them! Information on Ontario Provincial Parks can be found here (or check out the Ontario section on our site for Provincial Parks that we’ve visited).

5. Expect to get dirty!

Yes, you’re camping. And that means getting dirty! Bring a few extra sets of clothes and let go of your expectations on keeping clean. That doesn’t mean be unhygienic, but face it, kids are going to be in the dirt or sand and hopefully they’re not wearing light coloured clothing!

6. Give everyone a job to do

Camping is a family event and that means everyone in the family helps out. Even toddlers can help! The boys help set up most of the tent now, but when they were smaller they still helped set up the tent (in their way), by pulling the tent pegs and poles out of the bag, and trying to set them up. I think they just played with them the first year!

But they thought they were helping, and that’s what counts! Now they’re pros at setting up the inside of the tent, the camping chairs, and of course, helping with the tent.

7. Relax regular routines

Now is not the time to stick to regular bedtimes, especially if you don’t have a black out tent. On the first night, let the kids stay up and fall asleep looking at the fire. Believe me, it’ll happen. The next night, try going to bed in the tent but it’ll be easier if it’s starting to get dark.

We try to continue bed time routines, like reading a story or chapter before falling asleep, but honestly, usually I end up falling asleep with the boys.

**Make sure the fire is out before you head to bed though!

8. Give everyone a flashlight

Even kids. Younger kids will also love those glow bracelets or glow sticks. They don’t really need one, as they won’t go anywhere without you, but it adds to the camping fun and makes them feel pretty independent! They also love to make shadows from inside the tent…..

9. Bring a pillow

At least for mom. Believe me, it’ll make for a happier mom in the morning. For our first camping trip, I just did what I had done in my 20’s and used rolled clothes and jackets as a pillow, but I’m a little older now and that didn’t quite cut it. The next camping trip we did, I brought my own pillow and what a difference! (We go minimal and don’t bring inflatable beds or cots, but I can handle the hard ground as long as I have a comfy pillow!)

You’ve got this – go for it! And let us know how it goes! Please share any other tips for camping with kids in the comments below!

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Related Posts:

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  1. I can see my husband and I trying to assemble a tent. Yes, we would have to practice a few times before embarking on an adventure into the wilderness. That is a fantastic tip.

  2. I can attest to practicing putting the tent up and down before you go. I take my daughter on a mother daughter camping trip each year, and there definitely has been a time or two she’s caught me cursing trying to put up and take down our tent. Usually in the rain, as it’s not the easiest, and I forget the tricks as we only use it a time or two a year. Also to make sure all the poles are there. Yup that happened too one time.

  3. These are some really smart tips. I think camping with kids for the first time can be tricky and staying close to home helps. Some people say it’s a good idea to start practicing in your backyard and that would be a totally fun experience for everyone. You can help the kids experience it a little bit at a time without throwing them into a completely unknown environment.

  4. These are great tips! Especially keeping the list inside your camping bin and bringing a pillow for mama 😉

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