Camping with Children: Your Survival Guide
My childhood is filled with memories of many camping trips and, looking back, I think they were some of my favourite holidays I had with my family. When you’re young, any sort of freedom and independence is eagerly welcomed so weekends where all you’re expected to do is run around in the wild and get as a messy as you please, seem like the best thing in the world.
Camping trips deliver life lessons and an opportunity to immerse yourself in nature. Children are never too young to go camping, and with ‘staycations’ becoming increasingly popular, why not use this year to experiment with the joys of spending a night under the stars.
Convinced you want to try it but don’t know where to start? Here’s our helpful survival guide of tips and tricks, from what to bring, to how to keep the kids entertained when you get there, for your ultimate camping adventure!
Unsure of what to pack for a camping trip with kids? Though it can be tempting to bring everything you own plus the kitchen sink, it’s far better to strip it down to the essentials. The best way to do this is to have a test run in the garden. This is also good practice to see how comfortable your children are with spending a night out of their beds.
For the camping essentials with kids, check out our camping gear suggestions and for a little help with packing, use this printable tick list.
Tips & tricks when packing:
- Don’t spend tonnes on camping equipment like tents if you aren’t planning to make camping a regular thing. You can rent tents from some campsites or online or find yourself one to borrow from a friend.
- When looking at tents, it’s always a good idea to get one that has some communal undercover space, separate from the sleeping compartments, in case of raining days.
- Bring equipment specially for the kids. For example, invest in some kids camping gear like small camping chairs, a kids camping tent or give each child their own headtorch.
- Lighting is key – we forget how dark it gets outside at night so to avoid any late-night accidents (tent pegs are serious tripping hazards), bring plenty of light sources with you. Stringing up battery-powered fairy lights and lanterns inside your tent is also a good way to bring comfort to any littles ones that are a little unsure of the dark.
- Pack for all weathers! While you don’t want to lug along your whole wardrobe, ensuring you have lots of different layers for you and the kids is important, even if the weather forecast looks good. This includes footwear – wellies are an essential!
- Special touches like glowsticks, plenty of marshmallows and your child’s favourite teddy bear, are crucial to making the experience.
- Extra blankets and pillows are useful for unexpected cold nights but also help to create a cosy environment for the kids to sleep in when they’re away from home. It’s good to stick to your usual bedtime routine (same time etc.) to keep things familiar for them.
- Things get mucky pretty quickly in the great outdoors so don’t forget your dustpan and brush to keep things tidy in your tent, buckets for hand washing stations (or with small children, these can even be bucket baths, saving a trip to the communal toilets) and spare plastic bags to put muddy clothes in.
- Stay organised and safe with our personalised labels. Our Safety ID Wristbands for Children are fantastic for trips away, giving you that extra piece of mind as you can add your contact details or alert to any medical condition. Stick-on Name Labels can help you keep your belongings organised and avoid them wandering away.
Campsite vs wild camping
There are two main options when planning a camping venture – do you want a self-sufficient holiday where your survival skills are really put to the test? Or do you prefer the sound of an established site, giving you a bit more security?
Wild camping gives you the freedom to experience life off the beaten track and certainly helps you feel closer to nature, with less distractions from others looking to do the same. It’ll be cheaper than renting a plot in a campsite and you get to choose a spot of land to call home for a few days, however it doesn’t come with the luxuries of hygiene facilities and needs much more preparation and personal supplies.
Camping in a recognized campsite has the benefits of security and facilities like shower rooms and a campsite shop for forgotten emergency items. This can be better for large groups or young families as often there are grounds where children can play football or cricket. This can be better for first-time campers as there’s always other people to help put the tent up or give you tips on cooking the best s’more.
Bottom line – make sure you find the right campsite for your family. Think about safety, and wherever you end up, set ground rules with your children, particularly about where they’re allowed to go and not go (lots of campsites have rivers and lakes that may be dangerous for young ones to explore unattended).
The key with camping food is to bring plenty of snacks that don’t need heat or water to prepare. That way, if anything goes wrong with your heat or water supply, you’re covered (also, kids tend to get extra peckish when they’ve been running around all day!)
It’s a good idea to plan what meals you want each night; lunches can be sandwiches and breakfast can be cereal but its nice to have a warm meal in the evening. Stick with safe options that you know everyone will eat – there’s definitely no point in trying out that new Delia recipe here. Here’s some camping-friendly meal ideas.
Tips & tricks for camping food:
- Make up dry food packages before you leave for things like spice mixes and pancakes, to cut down on foods you need to bring
- Bring along pre-cooked snacks like banana bread or flapjacks. This is an easy way to save money on shop bought goods while still giving your little ones holiday treats.
- If you’re using a gas stove, make sure you pack extra fuel – you might go through more than you expected
- Invest in a good cool box. There’re no fridges in tents (at least not the ones I’ve been in) so this is the best way to keep things like milk and cheese from spoiling (and for cooling those holiday beers!) To extend the life of these items further, freeze them before you place them in the cooler.
- Prep as much food as you can at home. No one wants to spend hours cutting up vegetables on a flimsy chopping board in the middle of nowhere.
- Decant your usual condiments into smaller containers for easy packing or collect up miniature condiment sachets in the weeks before your trip.
- Don’t forget a water container! Lots of campsites have public water taps that may be far away from your tent and its not ideal to keep trudging back and forth whilst cooking.
- Think about the weather. Have you got a way of cooking even when its raining? Make sure you’ve got somewhere to cook under cover. This could mean hanging up some tarpuline over your firepit or keeping a simple camp stove under the tent’s entrance.
- Tin foil is an essential. There are so many easy recipes that can be done over a grill or frying pan using foods wrapped up in foil.
Games and activities
Though the freedom of the outdoors and all the muddy puddles within it is enough to excite any child, to get the whole family having fun, camping activities are a must. Here are some brilliant camping activities and games for kids.
For sunny days, make the most of nature. Learn how to identify different plants and animals; explore a forest trail on your bicycles and build Eeyore houses; play cricket or football on the spare green; have a sleeping bag race (only do this if the grass is dry!) and try a forest-themed scavenger hunt.
A fun camping game for kids is ‘'mosquito bites’. Simply get yourself some red-dot stickers or a marker pen and create a list of banned words that you’re likely to use on a camping trip (e.g., ‘tent’ and ‘forest’). These words become forbidden to say for an hour or else you receive a red-dot ‘bite’ and the person with the fewest ‘bites’ at the end of the hour receives a prize.
If you’re stuck inside, making hot chocolate, playing card or board games or colouring activities are great time consumers until the sun comes out again. If you’ve got a good amount of indoor space, a game of Twister is always fun too! Or if you’re determined to get stuck in no matter the weather, why not help the kids measure the rainfall, using empty milk containers and turn the grey skies into a science lesson!
Then when it gets dark, have a game of flashlight tag, sing campfire songs (bonus points for homemade instruments, like bottle blowing) and gorge on all the best campfire foods; s’mores, tin foil chocolate banana splits, popcorn etc.
The wonder of camping is that everything becomes entertaining because it’s so different from being at home. This means you can get away with involving the kids in the chores. Putting up the tent, fetching firewood, cooking over a campfire are all great camping activities for kids; chores become much more exciting when they’re not the mundane ones from home!
An important thing to keep camping trips easy is to make sure everything is labelled and well organised. There’s nothing worse than coming home from holiday and realising you left your phone charger or, heaven forbid, your child’s favourite cuddly toy. Get your family some personalised name labels and book your trip!