“Essentials” For Camping With Kids
Whenever I mention camping with small kids people look at me like I am the most badass outdoorswoman to ever make a toddler carry her own fully loaded pack into the deep woods.
Guys. I sleep on an air mattress. An air mattress. This is not backpacking in the backcountry of grizzly territory. No, this is fire rings and bath houses.
We pack two cars, and camp with a ton of friends so we can pool resources.
Here are some of the items we have found to be useful. Some of these might strike your fancy, and some may seem ridiculously extravagant. Pick what you like, leave the rest.
Big tent – I got tired of sleeping with damp clothes all over me and stepping on my family to go pee in the middle of the night.
Individual sleep surfaces – I have an air mattress, a cot, and a variety of camping pads. We’ve also taken a pack n play when camping with an infant.
Fan – White noise and airflow, and they usually have a light, as well. I have one that hangs from the top of the tent and has yet to fall on my head and knock me unconscious, and I’ve been using it for years.
High chair– Ok. This is where you might think I’m being a little ridiculous. But hear me out. Sometimes you need a safe place to put a baby while you tend to whatever nature is calling you to do. I bring my booster-style chair from home, and either place it on the ground or strap it to a bench.
Wipes – More than you think you need. See photo.
Fairy house – I always bring a bunch of old-fashioned clothespins with us. I’ll also throw in bits of yarn, watercolor paints, and glue dots. The rest is right there in the woods waiting for them.
Hammock – Our group of families now has at least four hammocks between us, because the kids love them so much that we kept having to fight them for the one I brought. The very first thing I do when I arrive at my campsite is set up my hammock and crack open a beer. Don’t forget to get straps to go around the tree.
Slackline – A slackline may not be a necessity, exactly, but it is a kid magnet. They use it for all sorts of physical and imaginative play.
Headlamp – Hands-free is the only way to lamp.
Little potty – I would actually put this down as one of my most essential items that you’d probably never think about. For potty training kids, it’s great for not having to run to the bath house every ten minutes. It’s also great when the bath house has composting toilets that your six year old flatly refuses to use. She pees against a tree sometimes, but this involves a lot less pee on her clothes and feet. If there is a chance of poop don’t forget to put a grocery bag in. I put a super absorbent maxi pad in the bottom of the bag because I’m classy like that.
First aid kit – Seriously, don’t forget the first aid kit. Also, make sure any meds are restocked regularly. On our trip last week I discovered some that expired in 2009.
Hand warmers – My motto is, “Life is too short to be cold.” If it’s getting chilly while we are camping I throw hand warmers in my sleeping bag along with my pajamas so that everything is toasty when it’s time for bed. Also, while we’re talking about sleeping, always change clothes before bed, and make your kids do the same. Not only is it a good time for a tick check, you’ll be warmer.
Wet bags – No. This is not the time to cloth diaper. But it is the time to keep your gross wet and muddy clothes away from your clean stuff.
Paper plates – I know camping is about getting back to nature and enjoying our environment. But I’m sorry, I just cannot. cannot. deal with washing dishes repeatedly while I’m camping. I justify it by calling them kindling. Just throw ‘em in the fire when you’re done.
Baby carrier – It doesn’t have to be a fancy hard-frame pack. Your regular soft-structured carrier will do. When you want to stay up, and the baby won’t sleep, the carrier is a blessing. Plus, toddler legs wear out quickly on hikes.
Glow sticks – So many glow sticks. Essential, for sure. As soon as it starts getting dark I pull them out and attach them all over the damn place. The grill grate for the fire ring. Guy wires for tents (I also love my glow-in-the-dark stakes). On each kid, the dog (or get a LED dog collar), and any other major tripping hazards. Last time we reserved the yellow ones specifically as “hazard” lights, while the kids played with the rest.
Loose change – My best friend has the most ingenious method of getting kids to clean up the campsite. You get a penny for every piece of trash you find. You’re only out a dollar or two at most, and you take only pictures and leave only your guilt behind.
With these essentials and tips, you too can pack two cars full of stuff and enjoy two nights in the woods only to come home with mosquito bites and a lot of stinky clothes.
Seriously? It’s so worth it.
This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.