Camping with my kids is something I’ve wanted to do since well before they were born. Camping has been a constant for me throughout my life, and though we didn’t camp as a family as a kid, a decade-plus years in Girl Scouts (plus a bonus year as an overnight camp counselor), as well as a membership in the Outing Club in college where we camped, hiked and climbed every chance we could get- sparked a passion for the outdoors that just seems to grow, every season. My husband and I have been camping and hiking together together since our early days dating (almost thirteen years ago, now) and it’s such a fun tradition to be able to pass onto our girls, now that (we feel) they’re old enough for overnights, as well.
Searching during our set-up scavenger hunt
Last year we took our first extended camping trip as a family and interestingly, many of my friends were surprised we took the kids tent camping so young- but the kids had a blast, and immediately wanted to know when we could go again (spoiler alert: we’ll be in the woods when this post goes live!).
For me, camping is the easiest and one of the least stressful vacations we could go on- no plane tickets to deal with, hotel bookings, rental cars, expensive restaurants or bar tabs. But I know camping- especially with kids- can be overwhelming, especially with all the gear! So I thought I’d pass on my wisdom as a longtime camper and mama to encourage you to get outside, this summer or fall (the best time to camp, in my opinion!)– and of course- share some of our favorite meals!
p.s. Don’t forget to download the 2-page camping with kids checklist (main campsite + camp kitchen lists)
Camping with Kids: The basics
There isn’t much of a difference in terms of gear camping with kids versus camping as adults- you just need a little more of it. I use a system based on the one Amanda Outside uses for camping that works really well for us and doesn’t take up a ton of space in our cars (we both have small SUVs, and only bring one car with us camping)- and we can easily grab things whenever we need it without needing everything out, all the time.
I have two bins: a gear bin and a camp ‘pantry’ bin where all our dry goods go. I use a high-quality airtight storage bin for the pantry bin (this is the one I use- Iris Weathertight– even more important to keep animals out) and just a regular storage bin for the rest of the camping gear. We keep the tents (we just upgraded the kids to their own!), tarps, sleeping bags/sheets, air mattress and sleeping pads (for the kids), cooler, chairs and camp stove separate (as well as things like water jugs)- but that’s it. Everything else goes in the bins. This way, we just take out the things that need washing when we get home, and the whole bin goes back in the closet- no unpacking. SO easy.
We pack a large duffel bag with clothes, pajamas, shoes, swimsuits and towels, and toiletries and each of the kids gets their own bag with their flashlight, stuffed animal, a book and a water bottle and my husband and I each have our own backpack (with pretty much the same things).
So what do we pack in each bin?Living/Sleeping:
- Lantern for the tent
- Extra batteries
- Bug Spray
- Toilet Paper
- Biodegradable soap
- Hand sanitizer
- Games- including a campsite scavenger hunt, which we have the kids start while we set up the tent/kitchen (I got this idea off Pinterest and it’s a great way to keep the kids occupied especially after they’ve been sitting in the car and they’re not quite big enough to help with the set up of the bigger items)
- Propane (for the camp stove)
- Cast iron pan and handle grip (this is essential!)
- Small sauce pot (for boiling water)
- Oven Mits
- Dish Rags
- Paper Towels
- Trash Bags
- Grill for over the fire
- Cutting board
- Cooking Utensils (I bring a heat-safe spatula and a set of tongs)
- Citronella candle (super helpful for evenings!)
- Coffee Mugs
- Wash bins
- Dish Soap
- Reusable water bottles
- Extra filtered water
- Plate + bowl for each person
As they’re non-perishable, we keep the main items in this bin until they run out. Everything else goes in the cooler with big ice packs and frozen water bottles!
- Salt + spices- I keep these in a little storage container (I always pack salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin and garlic powder)
- Cooking oil
- Cooking spray (I use the avocado oil spray from Trader Joe’s)
- Instant Coffee/Matcha for mornings
- Tetra packs of milk for the kids (we keep plain and chocolate on hand for fun- Horizon is a great brand)
- Non-perishable snacks for hiking and boating: we usually bring nuts, dried fruit, chips (typically some fun chips and some that are a little more nutrient dense, like bean chips), applesauce packets and meat sticks
- Electrolyte packs (important for long hikes and hot days)
- Extra no-cook meals: JUST in case of getting stuck, which is less likely with kids because we stay closer to home- but we always keep some easy to eat packs of rice (you do need to add boiling water), bean chili/curry packets and tuna packets.
- Easy little-to-no-cook breakfasts: kids don’t always want to wait for breakfast! We always bring cereal (we get the kids the sugary stuff they don’t always eat and they LOVE the treat- we’re all about balance!) and oatmeal (we jazz it up with dried fruit, honey and collagen for some protein). Granola and milk or yogurt is also a great easy option.
- S’mores makings (we keep the chocolate in the cooler when it’s hot)
Camping with Kids: The Meals
I just mentioned a few, but our go-to camping breakfasts (with or without kids) are:
- Cereal and milk
- Yogurt and granola (fruit if we have it)
- Oatmeal with dried fruit/honey/protein
- Bacon and eggs on the camp stove
- Breakfast tacos (perfect for using up leftovers)
- Pancake on the camp stove
- Bagel breakfast sandwiches
Typically for lunches we’ll do sandwiches, or if it gets cold like it did last year, my kids’ favorite- grilled cheese and tomato soup!
Snacks are exactly what I listed above- dried fruit, nuts, chips, meat sticks- as well as some kid-specific snacks (Annie’s cheddar bunnies, fruit strips) and we’ll also bring a bit of fresh fruit, as well.
It’s likely no surprise I LOVE cooking dinner over the fire or the camp stove! Here’s a bunch of my personal and kid favorites (marked with a KF):
- Tacos (our easy set-up night go-to; I often pre-cook the taco meat) KF
- Pizza over the fire KF
- Chili (you’ll want a dutch oven, for this!)
- Foil packets (meat and veggies or just veggies) popped in the fire to cook
- Hot dogs over the fire (usually we’ll serve up with some grilled corn/salad) KF
- Grilled cheese and soup (perfect for rainy nights) KF
- Campfire nachos (in the cast iron, over the fire)
- Kabobs (we love my Hawaiian beef kabobs or greek chicken kabobs)
So what do we DO with the kids, while camping?
We explore! The campground feels almost like a no-rules zone (it isn’t, but it feels a little like it!) so we go swimming at 8am or 8pm; we stay up way past bed time to look at the stars; we go on hikes; we scooter around the site; we go canoeing, we just simply enjoy nature and hanging out together. I find my kids are SO well behaved when life is moving slow- no expectations, just exploration.
I hope this was helpful and encouraging to get outside, this summer! Feel free to reach out if you have any questions, and don’t forget to download the free checklist!