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Summer Family Fun

The 9-Step Guide to Camping With Kids

Yes, a camping trip with children can be fun and easy. Here’s how.

By Kate Rope
Family seated around campfireDavid Tsay

Get the Kids Involved

Even though most kids (who, let’s face it, love nothing more than having space to run around in) don’t need convincing when it comes to camping, including them in the planning will keep them enthusiastic and engaged.


In Aist’s household, picking a camping spot is a family decision. “We get out the maps, talk about where we’ve been and where we want to go,” she says. Tilton and his family plan the trip menu together, and everybody gets to put a special snack on the grocery list. And Adler lets his children sleep in a tent, pitched indoors, for weeks before an upcoming trip.


Have your kids pack their own bags (with parental supervision). Choosing what to bring can help little ones feel more comfortable—they can make sure a favorite toy or blanket comes along—and teaches older ones about planning. Aist keeps the number of packed items in check by determining the size of her kids’ bags.


At the campsite, let older children choose where to set up the tent, and then have everyone pitch in to pitch it. Children as young as 3 can help slip the tent poles into the fabric. Other easy tasks to assign: pulling sleeping bags out of stuff sacks (for the toddler set), blowing up mattresses, gathering kindling (where allowed), and getting water from the pump.


Pro secret: Kristin Hostetter, gear editor of Backpacker and Tilton’s coauthor, makes setting up camp a fast, friendly competition for her two sons by timing them.


Gear Up

A few key purchases have both kid appeal and safety value. Hostetter attributes the Camelbak hydration system ($50, with helping to keep her kids moving on a hike (though she admits she’s not above using the promise of Skittles, too). The pack “makes them feel cool,” she says, “and they drink a lot more when they have that little hose on their shoulder.” She also equips her sons with inexpensive headlamps ($20,, which make walking around at night safer and reading in the tent more fun.


Glow sticks rank as Adler’s number-one gear item for kids, because they are just so dang much fun to play with when the sun goes down. “I cannot overstate the power of the glow stick,” he says. “But if you are going with a group of kids, make sure to bring enough. The greatest sin is to show up without enough glow sticks to go around, and the second greatest sin is to not bring enough color diversity. That is the code of the glow sticks.” Grab a few glow necklaces as well to help keep tabs on little ones when darkness falls.



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