Camping with your kids is a great way to share your love for the outdoors. Family backpacking and camping trips is a rewarding activity that doesn’t break the bank.
It’s never too early to bring your kids’ camping. From infants(at least 6 months old) to teenagers, kids of all ages can enjoy a family camping trip(even if your teenager doesn’t admit it).
Taking young kids into nature is like throwing them into a world they’ve never seen before. It’s like an alien world filled with fun and exciting places to explore. Kids of all ages will find something fun to do, from staring at star-filled skies to catching lightning bugs around a roaring fire there’s something for everybody.
How to Plan a Family Camping Trip
If you’ve gone camping before you’ll quickly realize that Planning your trip will take a great deal of planning, but it’s so worth the effort. Before having kids, I could go camping on a moment’s notice. With my gear ready to go all I needed was good weather and a couple of days off work.
Now that I have kids I realize that family camping requires additional responsibilities that I wasn’t prepared for. Most of the planning stage boils down to having common sense and good judgement. It really isn’t all that hard to plan a family camping trip.
So what are you waiting for? If you’ve never been camping before you’re missing out on some serious fun.
When is Your Child Old Enough to Go Camping?
Whether or not your kids love camping all boils down to your first trip. It’s all about limiting your time outdoors so you leave your kids wanting more. When planning a trip consider your childs age and work around your kids attention span.
When people hear about my family camping trips, they often ask “When is my child old enough to go camping?”. That question is really hard to answer without knowing your child.
No two kids are the same; the answer is entirely dependent on your child. What works for my family, probably won’t work for yours. The following guidelines should give you a rough idea on whether or not your kids are ready to go camping.
Pediatricians normally recommend that parents wait until their kids are at least 5-6 months old. That’s when your children should have all their shots and most health issues have started to come up.
Plus this is the age when kids start to support their own body weight and fall into regular sleep patterns. Buy a sturdy backpacking child carrier(like this one), or offroad stroller and your child will probably be happy.
Toddlers between the ages of 2 and 4 are just getting the grasp of things. They finally know how to walk, and they love exploring the outdoors. Just be careful with runners.
As long as the trails flat most toddlers can handle a short 1-2 mile hike. Just make sure you take plenty of snack and exploring breaks. Try to get a feel for your childs attention span by taking regular walks in the park. You can’t expect a toddler to stay engaged for more than 10-30 minutes depending on age.
Once you notice that shift it’s time for a fun distraction. Try to get back to camp for a quick nap.
Young children can handle longer hikes on easy terrain. This is the age children start getting into sports and really start to get physically and mentally fit.
You need to let your child’s imagination run wild at this age. Let your kids explore and venture out a little bit(within reason). This is the age where children can start getting involved with the planning and packing stage of trips. Packing bags and choosing snacks helps build a child’s independence.
Older children can accomplish more than you could ever imagine. Just make sure you aren’t pushing the child past their limits by trying to “motivate” them. Pushing a kid too far will quickly make them hate camping/hiking.
This is the age where kids tend to go one way or the other. Children are starting to become physically active, and able to handle challenging situations(both mental and physical). The problem is they start to challenge whether or not somethings worth it.
Children in this age group want to break away from their parent’s control. Let the child act as the leader and dictate where they want to go. Let them bring along a friend and try to make everything fun. Go with the flow and support your childs decisions(unless they’re dangerous/terrible).
Route planning, trail snacks, meal prep, and camp setup are all fun tasks that kids in this age group can enjoy. Try not to overwork them and try not to put too much pressure on them. All work and no play makes your kids miserable.
Teenagers can handle just about anything around camp, but will they want to? Hiking distances ranging from 8-12 miles even through rough terrain seem easy. Just make sure that any choice you make is a group decision. Forcing your teenager to camp is just going to make them feel miserable(Nobody wants to feel like they’re being dragged along).
If a teenager doesn’t want to go camping there’s no use fighting it. Work around their needs and find a way to make them want to go camping. Bring along friends, let them use their phone, plan fun nearby excursions like zip-lining or rafting.
When teenagers are cut off from the outside world they feel like their friends are leaving them behind. Try to make the trip fun so they actually want to be there. Just remember that no matter how much fun they’re having teenagers are moody. Even if they’re having a great time they might not want to admit it.
Start Camping Early in a Kids Life
Camping with young children will foster a long-standing love of nature. Let your kids get up close and personal with nature. Most kids love jumping in mud puddles, digging in the dirt and playing with bugs.
Don’t scold your child for playing, experience the outdoors with them. Get ready to get down and dirty to really appreciate the time you spend together in the outdoors. You don’t have to get filthy, but a little dirt won’t kill you.
Start With Short Kid-Friendly Day Hikes
It doesn’t matter how much backpacking experience you have, if anybody in your family lacks experience, start off with a short Day-Hike. Proceed slowly and listen to your child’s concerns no matter how trivial.
Building a love for the outdoors won’t come overnight. Leaving the comfort of home and learning to enjoy the outdoors isn’t easy for most people. Plan simple day trips to your local parks and slow down the pace.
Start off by going on short hikes at your local park, bike through trails or just wander through the woods wearing hiking gear and bringing trail snacks. Slowly ramp up the intensity until your family is ready for its first overnight trip.
A Few Questions to Ask
- Do you have the right camping clothes?
- Does your family have hiking boots/shoes and how do their packs fit?
- Can your kids carry their own gear?
- How much water should you bring? Can you carry enough water for all your young kids?
- What kind of snacks should you bring? What’s a light lunch that travels well?
- Does everybody have rain gear? Do I have a first-aid kit and no how to use it(check out this affordable first-aid kit)?
- Can everybody physically and mentally handle the trips difficulty level? How far can your child walk without complaining? What kind of pace should you hold?
Be a Thoughtful Leader
As a parent, you have to act like the leader, but you don’t have to be a dictator. Even though you have to assume the leadership role you have to remember that the trip is supposed to be fun.
The trip is supposed to be fun and relaxing for everybody(including you). Don’t try to micromanage everybody to the point where you’re driving your family crazy. Frantically running around and screaming at everybody to get things done just doesn’t work.
Figure out everybody’s responsibilities before heading out on the trip. You don’t have to rule with an iron fist! Assign one family member to be in charge of snacks, let another child plan lunch. Make a game out of setting up the tent in the front yard(get out a stop watch)
Get everybody involved planning, checking gear and loading all your packs. Young kids love to be given responsibilities and feel like they have a say. Even toddlers can carry a small backpack and snacks.
Let Young Kids Set The Pace
You can’t expect your 4 year old to keep up with a teenager(it’s just not going to happen). Listen to your family and set the pace to your slowest family member. Most of the time the youngest child will slow everybody down.
This isn’t about embarrassing the kid it’s about making sure they don’t get pushed past their limits. Just remember that such a slow pace is going to bore older kids. Make the slow pace a positive thing so they don’t get teased.
Consider playing a game that will slow everybody down. Buy a childrens bird watching book and cheap binoculars. Take regular snack breaks and let everybody explore.
Choosing a Kid-Friendly Campsite
Choosing a destination will always be the hardest part of the planning stage, especially when your kids have a big age gap. Every experienced backpacker has that one spectacular view or favorite memory that made their childhood camping trips memorable.
To find that unbelievable campsite, you need to seriously think about what your kids enjoy. What’s fun for one of us might be boring for another. Are your children thrillseekers or would they rather draw next to a lake?
Ask your kids what they want to do on a camping trip and get them involved. Children just don’t appreciate fantastic views. They’d rather swim in a lake, roast marshmallows, feed ducks, climb up trees/rocks, play in the mud, etc. Do what they want to do, not what you think would be fun.
Bring Along Friends
Children both need and want to have their peers around them. As much as you try, adults will never have a child’s imagination(sure would be weird if you did). Let your child bring along a friend so they have somebody to enjoy the outdoors with.
Including another family or relatives on the trip will take the burden of fun off of you. Place two young kids together and they will find something fun to do. Having friends to play with will make the hike run much more smoothly.
Have Realistic Expectations
Have realistic expectations about how your kids are going to act. Very few teenagers wake up wanting to go on a 10-mile hike. Children need to be trained to love the outdoors.
Every camping trip is going to have its ups and downs. No matter how well you plan the trip, children will complain, act bored and whine. Children/Teenagers are moody there’s no getting around it.
Hormones are raging and minds/bodies aren’t fully developed. You have to take the good with the bad. It’s all about spending time with your family and building memories that will last a lifetime.
Try to keep your plans flexible to accommodate a change in mood, weather, etc. Attitudes change quickly from one day to the next. There’s a reason our ancestors chose to move inside. We can only handle so much time out in nature.
Once you notice that shift it’s time to make a change. You might need to cancel that long hike, take a trip into town for a nice dinner or plan a fun excursion. It doesn’t have to be the end of your trip. Make the change fun and nobodies going to complain.
If you make the trip miserable for everybody it’s going to be your last camping trip. Don’t drag your family through winding hills in search of a “magical place” that will never match your expectations. It’s hard to salvage a trip after everyone’s pissed off and miserable.
How Far Should You Hike?
Deciding how far/fast you should hike is basically a guessing game. It all depends on your families physical activity level, the weather, general mood and the difficulty of the terrain.
A child’s mood is like the weather. It can change at a moments notice and you’ll never understand why it changed. Just keep a positive attitude and try to ignore negative comments. Yelling will only make both of you feel worse.
However, you can control the difficulty of the hike. Try to keep your hikes visually interesting without venturing into difficult terrain. Plan short, easy hikes that focus more on fun than the destination.
Limit your elevation gain and keep your trips short. Less than 5 miles for teens and 2 miles for children. You might end up having to carry your kids for the last couple of miles. If you have young kids buy off-road strollers or a backpacking child carrier to take some of the stress off your kids.
Make The Destination Memorable
You don’t want everybody to remember huffing and puffing up a hill. Make a long hike worth going on by including lots of breaks, snacks, games and going somewhere fun.
Plan on going to a fun destination like a lake/river or caves to explore. Splashing in a lake, crawling through caves and climbing rocks/trees makes the trip worth it. It’s all about finding ways to have fun without forcing it.
Keep a Sense of Humor
Try to keep a sense of humor and a little bit of patience. Shit Happens! Your going to slip in mud, birds will poop on you, and raccoons might steal your gear. Try to laugh about the little things.
Those are the memories you’ll be talking about for the rest of your life. Go with the flow and just enjoy the time your spending with each other.
Tips For Camping With Kids
With proper planning just about any kid can enjoy a camping trip. It’s never too early to take your kids’ camping. There’s just something awesome about being outside, enjoying nature and changing up your daily life. Here are some tips to guarantee a fun and safe camping trip.
1) Practice Makes Perfect
Test the waters before heading out on that week-long camping trip. Teach your children how to set up a tent in your backyard, roast marshmallows and get them excited about camping.
Spend the day playing and hanging out in the tent. Camping in a comfortable setting(in the yard) will take the fears out of camping. Stay out in the tent overnight and don’t force your kids into uncomfortable situations.
It’s all about teaching kids how to enjoy the outdoors and setting up camp without overwhelming anybody. Not every kid is going to be comfortable peeing in the woods or hiking through the mud. Treat camping as a learning experience and slowly everybody will get more comfortable.
Once everybody enjoy’s camping in the backyard it’s time to try a short trip to a local park. You don’t even have to spend the night. Take a day fishing and hiking away from home just to test the waters.
2) Kids Choose The Food
Everybody loves sharing meals around the campfire. Plan fun easy meals that your kids will love. Cook over the fire using a skillet, make foil packet meals, hobo pies(cast iron pie makers are cheap) and of course smores.
Roasting meals over the open fire is what camping is all about. Bring along collapsible roasting sticks or make a game out of finding the perfect marshmallow stick. Kids get so excited about cooking food over the fire.
Allow your kids to contribute to the meal plan. Ask what they want to eat, show them recipes online and try to get them generally excited for the leadup to the trip. Pack foods you know they’ll like and bring plenty of simple snacks. I like to give each of my kids 10 bucks to pick out their own snacks at the grocery store.
3) Teach Kids How to Pack
Get everybody involved in the planning and packing stage. Create a camping list and have your kids pick out all their own gear and put it on their bed. Make sure they have everything they need and let them pack all their own gear.
Every kid needs to have their own backpack/duffel to hold their gear. Putting them in charge of their own stuff will give them a sense of independence(keep expensive electronics at home).
4) Don’t Limit Contact With The Outside World
Taking away a kids cell phone is like modern-day torture. You’re starting the trip off on a negative note. You’re literally cutting them off from the outside world. Family time is important, but peer to peer contact helps kids become productive members of society.
If you’re really concerned about limiting technology use find fun activities that will force them to put the phone down. You can’t text when you’re swimming, climbing, biking, kayaking, etc. Encourage fun pictures, for that social proof, and get on with the fun.
5) Find Kid-Friendly Campsites
Find a campground with lots of kid-friendly amenities. Look for playgrounds, swimming pools, lakes, caves, streams, and picnic areas. If it’s your first time camping find somewhere local and keep the trip short. Nobody can complain about a trip when there’s a pool to swim in.
Work your way up to bigger and bolder adventures. Ask your family where they want to go and find a way to make it fit your budget. Make trip planning a group activity and come up with fun activities that don’t cost a fortune.
One of my first family camping trips was at a local canoe livery. It was like $15 per person to rent kayaks and everybody had a blast. Cell phones had to go in dry bags, we had a nice picnic, everybody went swimming and it was a great day.
6) Kids Will Get Bored
I guarantee your kids will eventually say “I’m Bored” and complain about having to go camping(especially teenagers). As a parent you need to have a good idea of the local activities.
Before leaving your house, come up with a list of fun activities to do so you’re constantly busy. Can you rent kayaks or bikes? Do your kids like fishing? How’s the hiking situation? Is there a swimming pool, lake or river?
Plan ahead and have a pocket full of activities to choose from. Don’t take it personally when your kids complain. Leaving a world of electronics is a new feeling that they’ll quickly adjust to.
7) Remember The Special Things
You don’t have to go out and spend a lot of money on fancy gear. Buy a couple camping chairs, bring glowsticks or sparklers, flashlights/headlamps and battery backups for cell phones(definitely buy a solar charger).
Make sure you pack special toys for young campers. Bring along one or two special toys that will keep children entertained. Most kids will find a way to entertain themselves at a campground.
Try to find cheap toys that will complement outdoor activities. Squirt guns, kites, balls, frisbees, bug cups, binoculars, etc all make trips fun.
8) Make Camping Comfortable
Camping doesn’t have to be a terribly uncomfortable experience. Nobody likes sleeping on the cold ground with sticks/stones poking into your back. Bring along pillows, blankets, stuffed animals anything that makes sleeping more comfortable.
With modern air mattresses and sleeping pads, there’s no reason to be uncomfortable on a camping trip. Air mattresses are seriously cheap nowadays(check them out on Amazon if you don’t believe me).
If you have young kids consider buying a multi-room tent. It’s nice for kids to have a separate area to play and make a mess even if they end up sleeping nearby.
Give teenagers a little bit of independence by giving them their own tent. After a long day hiking, they’re going to want serious phone time.
9) Camp Near Public Toilets
Good luck convincing your teenage daughter to use the bathroom in the woods. Just do yourself a favor and find a campground with clean public bathrooms and showers.
It might not be your idea of camping, but it’s so much easier for everybody. With young kids you’ll want to set up camp near the restrooms. Set out shoes that are easy to slip on in the middle of the night when your children need to take a walk to the bathroom.