The 9-Step Guide to Camping With Kids
Yes, a camping trip with children can be fun and easy. Here’s how.
Make a List, Check It Twice
There are plenty of checklists on the Web that are designed specifically for camping trips with children (try Aist’s at wildernessforkids.com). Download one, and then personalize it for your needs. A few days before you leave, tape it to the kitchen counter; designate a space for stacking your gear, and check objects off as you add them to the pile. As you pack, have the kids read the list out loud and cross through the items as they go into a bag, and then the car. (Got the glow sticks?)
Plan to Sleep Well
“Camping isn’t roughing it anymore, with all the great gear that is available. If you have a good sleeping pad and tent, you are not going to be uncomfortable,” says Hostetter, who recommends a four-person (or more) family tent that’s big enough for everyone to pile in and still accommodate the equipment. Pick a tent with two doors so nobody has to crawl over bodies to get out, she says. Look for a full-coverage rain fly to keep you dry and snug during wind and rain, and lots of netting for breezy, cool sleeping in warm weather. Aluminum poles are more durable and lighter to pack than fiberglass.
As for sleeping pads, spend a little more money on good ones, she says—they’ll make slumbering outdoors “as comfortable as your bed at home.” Her picks: Nemo Astro Air ($90, campsaver.com) or, for a splurge, Therm A Rest DreamTime (from $180, campsaver.com).
Pro secret: “Grab the pillows off your bed. Why suffer with a rolled-up jacket?” says Hostetter.
Make Meals Quick and Easy
“Cooking over a campfire is great for kids, because it’s hands-on and easy to make food taste delicious without a lot of work,” says Sarah Huck, co-author of Campfire Cookery: Adventuresome Recipes and Other Curiosities for the Great Outdoors ($30, amazon.com).
Before leaving home, says Huck, do some food prep, such as chopping vegetables and sealing them in plastic bags, mixing pancake batter and storing it in a glass jar or Tupperware (it will keep up to a week in a cooler, says Huck), and making marinades for meat—which will keep from three to five days in a similar container (as long as they have not touched meat or seafood).
When cooking on-site, “anything on a long fork is good, because kids can stand back from the fire while they work,” says Huck (plus, it’s fun!). Hot dogs are a natural, but she suggests mixing it up with Italian sausage, pepper, and mushroom kebabs or grilling fruits such as pineapple, peaches, and plums. Another option: Wrap up “hobo packs” of meat or fish and veggies—try tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and green beans—and nestle them among the coals to cook. Bonus: no pans to clean afterward. Finally, of course, no matter what’s for dinner, there’s only one thing on the dessert menu: s’mores.
Pro secret: Huck brings along long-handled utensils (try Coleman’s three-piece set; $11, coleman.com), fireproof gloves (Lodge Cast Iron makes heavy-duty leather ones; $24.50, amazon.com), a good marshmallow or hot dog fork ($7, walmart.com), and a pair of tongs ($11, lodgemfg.com).