My kids love camping. I mean, find me a five and seven-year-old who don’t live for playing outside, getting dirty, and staying up late to roast marshmallows over a fire hot enough to melt a soda can. There is possible danger at every turn, and there are no baths. All the things that kids love about camping, are things that non-camping adults hate. Wait, I forgot about bugs. No one likes bugs.
Now, we all enjoy going on vacation, and my husband and I love not dropping a ton of cash on those vacations. We like lazy days of swimming and food over a fire, coolers full of beer, and conversation around the campfire. All of these things combined make us great campers.
During the summer, we carve out a few weekends, plan our meals carefully, and pack our Rav4 to the brim with gear. We then jam our kids and our black lab in the backseat, and hit the road. If you are planning on camping with kids, here are a few suggestions from me to you.
Pick a family campground.
Family campgrounds aren’t for the hard-core camper, they are better suited for a more fair-weather type. They often have pools and playgrounds, bathrooms with showers, and scheduled activities for those who wish to participate. It is not a secluded environment, but for us, that is just right.
Bathrooms with running water and flushing toilets are a must for this mom and her young children. If you’ve ever taken a small child in a porta potty, you know what I mean. Kids like to touch things, especially disgusting things. Also, my kids love to swim. A campground with a pool provides hours of entertainment for adults and kids alike. A family campground is going to have other kids running around, and neighbors who are more likely to keep similar schedules, because they have kids, too.
Pre-make some meals.
I pre-assemble breakfast sandwiches, wrap them in foil, and toss them on the fire in the morning. No dishes are dirtied on site, and we have bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches to start the day. I pre-make breakfast burritos for the following morning.
I also like to make these awesome meat pies, or meat pockets, or sausage empanada-type things. Whatever you want to call them, they are delicious, can be warmed over the fire, and are easily eaten without a plate or utensils. Still no dishes, see?
We bring yogurt, granola bars, cheese and crackers, and bread and sandwich stuff for lunches. Now we’ve used a spoon for the yogurt and a knife for the sandwiches, but still. Looking good.
We open a can of beans and put the can directly over the fire or grill, we bring corn on the cob, and potatoes wrapped in foil, and throw them on the heat source, too. Hot dogs, hamburgers, pre-marinated chicken, and any other food that needs to be cooked can be done this way.
If you want to get creative, here are some links to fun camping food ideas:
Make your list. Check it a billion times. Google the closest Walmart to your campground because you’ll still need it, probably.
Here’s my list.
- Air mattresses, one for us, one for the kids
- Sheets for air mattresses
- Sleeping bags or blankets
- Mat for tent entrance
- Lanterns, flashlights, and headlamps (enough for everyone to have one light source) I like these guys that have little removeable lights. They are great for the kids.
- Regular clothing for every day, plus a few spares
- Sweatshirts and pants for evening (we bring sweats and they double as pjs)
- A water-resistant jacket
- Swimwear, plus a spare
- Sturdy footwear and flip flops
- Crocs or water shoes
- Socks, plus a few spares
- A heavier jacket, hats and gloves, and clothing if camping outside of mid-summer or in the mountains
- Goggles, floaties, and any other swimming gear
- Snacks (trail mix, granola bars, chips, crackers)
- Fruit (bananas, apples, oranges, pears, grapes, strawberries, or anything else that doesn’t need to be cut)
- Hot dogs and hamburgers
- Peanut butter and jelly
- Cheese and lunch meat
- Condiments (we use the takeout ketchup, mustard, and mayo packets that are collected throughout the year)
- Canned baked beans
- Corn on the cob
- Salt and pepper
- Pre-made breakfast sandwiches, wrapped in foil to be reheated over the fire
- Pre-made salad (put it in a large Ziploc bag for easy storing and saving space in the cooler)
- Chocolate bars
- Graham crackers (s’mores!)
- Coffee or tea, and hot chocolate packets
- Ice, and be prepared to purchase more throughout the trip
- Beverages for all, and a few gallons of water (if no water on site)
- Two coolers, one for beverages, one for food
- Bottle opener
- Water bottles for all
- Outdoor tablecloth
- Tablecloth clips so it doesn’t blow away
- Plastic knives, spoons, and forks
- Paper plates
- Paper cups for coffee or tea
- Plastic cups for cold beverages
- Can opener
- Lighter and matches
- Roasting sticks or be ready to whittle your own
- Roll of paper towels
- At least one pack of baby wipes
- Utility knife
- Cutting board
- A large and small kitchen cutting knife
- Metal spatula
- French press or percolator for coffee, teapot for heating water, or if you have access to electricity, bring your Keurig! (Unless you don’t have one, like me.)
- Aluminum foil
- Ziploc bags in all sizes
- Dishwashing soap, sponge, and container for doing dishes
- A dish towel or two
- If you plan on frying eggs or cooking in a pan, bring a cast iron skillet and saucepan
- Most campgrounds have fire pits. Throw one of these over the fire grill grates over your campfire, and you’re good to go!
- Garage bags
- Camp chairs
- Camp table (if no picnic tables on site)
- Toiletries (toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner if you plan on showering – I don’t)
- Hand sanitizer
- Surface sanitizing wipes
- Quarters for showers and cash for incidentals
- Books and iPads, and chargers for all devices
- Bug spray
- First aid kit
- If you are bringing a dog, documentation of current immunizations, food, leash, poop bags, and a dog bed
- Portable potty for little bottoms (we have a $2 Ikea number we park outside the tent for middle of the night situations)
- Diapers or pull-ups for little kids or bedwetters (If you are on the fence, BRING THEM)
- Firewood, kindling, and newspaper (Check with your campsite to make sure it’s okay to bring wood in. Sometimes they require you to use their wood because of invasive bug threats in certain areas.)
- A broom and dustpan for sweeping out the tent.
Or for sweeping the dirt.
I would suggest gathering all of these items, and keeping them in one big plastic tote. After the camping trip, I wash what needs to be washed, replace what needs to be replaced, and take out things I don’t want sitting in the garage for a month or ten. Several days before the next trip, I check my list, fill with needed items, and we’re off.
My husband says this list should say, “Two coolers. A big one of food, and a bigger one of beer. The end.” But he doesn’t pack the stuff, he just loads it in the car.
Camping with kids is wholesome and inexpensive, and creates lasting memories. I love watching my kids dig in the dirt and play with pinecones for three days, and I like smelling like campfire. This list is overwhelming, I know, but for us, it’s totally worth it.
Really, the most important thing to bring when camping with kids is other fun people who also have kids.
What did I forget? Tell me now, because we’re camping soon!
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