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Family Camping for Beginners

By: Meg Atteberry

Take your kids camping for an unforgettable weekend as a family under the stars. For beginner family campers, don’t let the intimidation of packing up home for a few nights stop you from enjoying the outdoors. Camping with kids offers up an excellent way to bond as a family, have a little adventure, and make a lot of memories along the way.

The Mega-List of Tips for Family Camping

In this guide to family camping for beginners, we’ll give you the tools you need to make your first family camping trip a huge success. With a little bit of planning effort, some patients, and a whole lot of creativity, your family will love spending a night in the woods. These tips for family camping cover everything from prep work to dealing with emergencies.

New to Family Camping? Do a Test Run

If your family is completely new to camping, consider pitching a tent in your backyard first. That way you can do a test run before you commit to a full night away. Try not to use your kitchen or snag forgotten items from the house. Instead, think about what you have. Your kids will feel comforted that they are near home and can sleep inside if they want to.

Don’t Skimp on Luxury

Nobody says you need to exist on fishing for your dinner and sleeping in the cold while you camp. Bring some luxuries from home to make your family camping experience more enjoyable. Items like your favorite pillow, a cozy blanket, even your kiddo’s favorite stuffed animal are all fair game. Think about a few items you’ll want as parents too.

Have a Plan, But Don’t Be Married to It

Before you embark on a camping adventure with your family, understand where you are going. Make any advanced reservations if they are required. Write a packing list, have a possible itinerary for activities, check the weather, and do your other homework. However, remember, not everything goes to plan, so don’t be upset if things don’t follow the original itinerary. Remain flexible to cater to your family’s needs (and wants) while camping.

Make a Packing List

Don’t leave home without a proper packing list. Packing lists enable you to stay organized. Although it’s nice to have a few luxuries, one of the biggest mistakes beginner campers make is packing too much. 

You can wear clothing more than once. However, you want to make sure you bring warm layers too – even in the summer, just in case someone gets cold. Always pack a first aid kit too. Make your list, and check it twice before heading out.

Meal Prep as Much as Possible

Cooking outdoors is both simple, yet complicated. No one likes to do too many dishes, especially on vacation, so in order to avoid spending your camping trip behind the stove, think up fun and exciting meals to prep.

First, pack lots of healthy snacks your kids love. Include a few surprises. Keep anything that’s prone to melting, squishing or withering in a cooler with ice. Next, think up meals that you can make in advance and simply heat up at camp (sausage and peppers are a hit at our house). If you do decide to cook, do as much advanced prep as you can in order to spend more time with the family and less time doing chores.

hiking food

Show Up at Camp Before It’s Dark

There is nothing more annoying than trying to set up a tent in the dark. Show up well before the last light so you can easily pitch your tent and set up camp while there’s still light out. If you just purchased a tent, try at least setting it up in the back yard first so you’ll know how to assemble it.

Leave the Electronics at Home

Camping offers up the perfect time to unplug. As a family, decide to leave your electronics at home. Of course, you’ll want to bring a GPS, camera, and an emergency beacon (if you have one). But instead of focusing on your screens, focus on nature.

Keep it Fun

Camping is supposed to be fun. This often means trying something new together, giving older kids some alone time, and maybe relaxing the normal household rules, just a little. If family camping is fun, then your kids will be dying to go.

Leave No Trace

Wherever you are in nature, it’s always important to Leave No Trace. Pick up after yourselves and store all trash, food, and other smelly objects in your car when you’re not at camp. Dispose of waste properly per the campground rules. Always follow any current camping regulations such as fire bans and sourcing firewood. A good rule of thumb: Leave it better than you found it!

Try Something New

Keep family camping exciting with a new activity. Plan a family-friendly that engages everyone in a new way. Some ideas include:

  • Geocaching
  • Ranger-led programs
  • Kayaking, canoeing or boating
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Mountain biking

Pack a Play Tent

If you have an extra tent lying around, bring it along as a play tent. Younger kids will love a space where they can play (and it provides shade) while older kids will enjoy having some privacy. If your kids are old enough, consider letting them sleep in their own tent for even more adventure.

Give Out Camp Chores

Camping is a group activity, which means that there are plenty of chores to go around. Instead of having the adults do all the work, assign chores for your kiddos too. This teaches good camping etiquette, responsibility, and Leave No Trace. If everyone pitches in, then there’s a lot less work to go around.

Allow a Little Freedom

Be the cool parent by letting your kids have a little extra freedom. Camping is all about exploration in nature, so as long as you’re following the rules of where you are recreating, it’s okay to allow for some rough play (differs by age), more snacks, and a little more freedom. If you parent as a couple, decide together what will be okay in advance. This will let your little ones associate camping with a little fun rule-bending.

Overall, family camping for beginners isn’t too complicated. Think about what you need, plan in advance, and get prepared for an amazing getaway in nature.

About the Author:

Meg ditched the 9-5 world as an architect in pursuit of adventure. Now a freelance writer for the outdoor industry, she’s made it her life’s work to inspire others to say “yes” to adventure. From the remote wilderness areas of Colorado, to exploring a foreign country, Meg specializes in off-beat destinations for the intrepid soul. You can find her in the backcountry searching for the perfect camp spot in her home of Colorado.

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