Much like any kind of traveling we did “pre-kids”, camping used to be one of those spur-of-the-moment activities where we would throw some food and clothes into a bag and head for our favorite camping spot, on any given Friday afternoon. Oh how times change!
When we first started family camping with kids, we must have looked like the Beverly Hillbillies. Diaper bags, stroller, playpen – we had enough stuff to open a small daycare center! Over the years our gear has changed as our children have grown – our girls, who are now 8 and 9, are already “teenagers” (who is Justin Bieber, anyway?) and our 5-year old son is perfectly happy making war with “laser blaster” sticks.
If I had to do it over again, I’d really try to cut back on the amount of stuff that we packed for the kids when they were smaller. We always packed the playpen so that we would have somewhere safe for our son, at our camping spot, while we were unpacking or packing. As you might imagine, this did not sit well with our son, who quickly learned that screaming got him out of the playpen. Quickly.
It doesn’t look much like camping gear, but when it’s time to sit down at the picnic table for a meal, a stroller is one of the easiest ways for your child to join the family. We had better strollers, of course, but the humble umbrella model could fit in our car with the rest of the family camping gear and was light enough to carry to the beach, or wherever else we were going.
I know this kind of goes without saying, but I included wipes to remind you that you’re likely to go through a lot more on a family camping trip than you would during a weekend at home. We always let our kids play in the dirt or the sand (as long as they weren’t eating it) and these wipes are the quickest and easiest way to clean them up. They’re also the quickest and easiest way to clean up sticky fingers and faces after an evening of campfire s’mores.
Dirt and sand toys
Our bag of dirt and sand toys is on its second generation and, without a doubt, it’s been one of our best investments for camping with kids. The bag we use was actually a giveaway at some tradeshow conference that I attended, but it’s just the right size for bulky buckets, scoop shovels and rakes.
Best of all, the big bag catches all the sand and dirt that’s left on the toys, so that it doesn’t get all over the family car. A big bag makes it easy to pack all the toys from the camping spot and, if we’re playing at the beach, it doubles as a great bag for everyone’s shoes and a towel, or two.
Kids Camp Chair
The stroller doesn’t last forever and once your child starts to notice that everyone else is sitting in cool camping chairs, it’s going to be time to spring for a kid-size version. The single most important consideration in camping chairs for kids is that they are low to the ground, which helps prevent tipping. The design of the legs is also important – we had a tremendous amount of problems with the “owl chair”, in the picture above, tipping over and had to throw it away.
Popular with the RV crowd, these camping mats are great for giving kids a cleaner place to play, at your favorite camping spot. We got ours years ago, when we had a camping trailer, and we have used it ever since. It’s made out of a woven plastic material and is very durable and easy to clean. We will often stretch out on the camping mat for a game of Uno, instead of sitting around the picnic table.
We took our 8 month old son on his first camping trip for Mother’s day weekend. What a great gift!
We took too much stuff. Next time we will leave the “what if” items and just run to town to buy extra diapers, etc. if we needed them. We will definitely take our ancient Z-rest again which is small, light weight, padded, rinses clean, and you can throw it down anywhere for playtime or naptime.
Our little guy doesn’t like too much time in the car or stroller. So we found what was more important than what we brought, is really checking out the camp site ahead of time (call & talk to the park staff). It needs to be a fun place for all of us to hang out during the day with plenty of shade.
That’s awesome, Rebecca! Choosing a campsite is always a challenge, when you have not been there, before. Calling the park staff is great advice for everyone – thanks!
We use the camp chairs for our grand-daughters too but they tended to tip them over alot. So we use extra tent stakes in them to hold them down. Helps alot
Holy cow, Angel, why didn’t I think of that? Using tent stakes to anchor the kid’s camping chairs is an excellent idea!
We found that the best mat is a moving blanket–it’s cheap, easily washed, and we aren’t upset should spills and so on occur.
I’ll bet it’s nice and cushy, Sherry. Where do you get a moving blanket?
One thing our kids love are glow-sticks, the kind that you crack to get the chemicals to mix and they then glow for a few hours. We get the ones you can make into bracelets or necklaces, they are great fun to play with in the evenings.
When we go to bed we put them in a pocket in the top of the middle of the tent and they give off enough light to see what you are doing if you need to get up in the night and lets face it if you have kids you’re going to have to get up in the night.
Oh, absolutely! Our kids love those things and I always keep a few in my pack for emergencies.
I found that bringing a camping mat, blanket or what not, was useless because your kids end up walking all over it and putting as much dirt on it as is on the ground.
Very true, Heidi! But, these RV-type mats (at least ours) is a woven plastic material (probably polypropylene?) and cleans-up quickly with a couple sweeps of the whisk broom. A big bonus, though, is that most of the dirt gets trapped on the mat, instead of getting tracked inside the tent. It’s a lot harder to sweep-out the tent, because you have to take all the gear out.
Great post. Another good idea is to bring a bag for your wet gear. This is always a good idea, but especially when you have kids as they’ll find a way to either play in mud or fall into a lake. 🙂
You should see my kids after a day at the beach, Eric! It’s not a pretty sight.
I have a 14 month old son and I just can not wait to get out there with him! We have a backpack and it is his favorite place to be! I can only imagine he will like camping as much! Great blog, keep up the good work!
Thanks, Nick – it sounds like you have a lot to look forward to!
Lots of good ideas! I hadn’t thought of the camping mat, but I can see how that would be useful. Since our kids are so little, we bring one of those high chairs that attaches to the table (actually it is the same one we use at home). That way the baby can sit while I cook. He’s safe and out of my way.
Also the pails and shovels are a definite must! Forget everything else, but don’t foget the shovel!
We used a booster chair, like that. It could be strapped to the picnic table bench (sideways). I sometimes wonder how we got any “regular” camping gear into the car, at all! 🙂
No kidding! Add a couple hundred pound dogs to the mix and our truck bed is full!
We have been camping with our 3 kids, (ages 2-8), and these tips are perfect. Couldn’t do without the wipes. The big mat is great for those dusty spots. We had a super dusty spot last summer, it helps a lot. We also had a potty chair just sitting outside for our middle one. We had the kid camp chairs, and a couple extra. They love them. We also bring a fairly large tub the toddler can fit in so we can heat water and wash him. He gets the dirtiest and sleeps with me when we camp. So it is nice to give a good rinse before bed. We bring a big tub of outdoor toys that can also go to the lake. We like to buy a couple new, cheap toys before every trip so there is a new ball or truck or pail to play with. I don’t use plastic cutlery either. It isn’t that hard to wash it up for me, part of camping to us. Lots of snacks, juice and water too.
Stacy – those tubs are almost worthy of a post, all by themselves 🙂
I have to admit to using wipes for camping and outdoor day trips, not very green, I know, but they are wonderful for all kinds of applications, including wiping off camp plates and camping cutlery.
Wipes save on having to heat water – usually on an overnight trip you can get by without having to wash dishes if you have wipes handy. I couldn’t believe on my first camping trip USA that people take disposable plates, knives, forks etc camping. I don’t think anyone would do that in Europe. I love my special camp stuff – mug, plate, bowl and cutlery (silverware) set – and can’t imagine camping without them.
And I’m with you on the camp chair styles. Good list.
Alison – yes, wipes are a great way to save on water, which is always a challenge with kids. We take a couple of 5-gallon jugs, one for clean water and one to capture the dirty water.
Pingback: uberVU - social comments
My boys are a bit older, but I can certainly relate to the items you have suggested.
I am going to add that having a cup holder on the camping chair is a huge benefit. We often have meals around the fire pit and when the kids are trying to eat they have difficulty enough simply balancing a plate of food. Their inexpensive camping chairs even one up the adult models in that the chair locks into place once set up.
I have found that inexpensive head lamps available from your local big box hardware store are great. The big advantage for the kids is that their hands are free for balance or to catch them if they fall, the big advantage for me is that they are likely to survive more trips before being lost.
However, if you are tent camping, I also recommend a small AA battery powered lantern. The lantern can be hung inside the tent during story time and then moved to the floor to do second duty as a night light.
As my boys have grown a popular addition to our supplies has been hydration packs. Having their own water and space for a snack and a few personal items instills a greater sense of independence. It also allows makes me feel more secure if one wants to walk ahead with the faster group on a hike.
Steve – our kids love love those little battery-powered LED lanterns. They’re much better for kids than flashlights, which the kids tend to point all over the place 🙂
This is a great list! We go camping every summer and there’s only one item I suggest adding to this for toddlers to preschoolers (unless you have an RV): a small potty. Last summer running to the bathroom everytime my newly potty trianed son needed to go #2 was tough- so I bought a cheap potty and it worked great (now I have a special “go camping” potty).
Shannon – that’s a really good catch, particularly if the campground has vault toilets, which tends to freak the kids out.
We haven’t been camping with the kids yet, but I will definitely hold on to this list for when we do go. Love the simplicity of the items. Great advice about the kid’s camping chair — we have one in the backyard that the 5 yo uses when we roast s’mores or go tailgating.
Debi – even with three kids and the inevitable hand-me-downs, it’s very difficult to justify buying a lot of expensive gear. And, the kids do just fine with with their “regular” stuff 🙂