Tent Camping With Kids – Valuable Tips

Lisa Fritscher December 15, 2010 1 Comment

Camping and Tent Tips

Loading up the family and heading for the woods requires advance planning

Tent camping and kids are a natural fit. What child doesn’t enjoy the chance to run around in the woods, tell spooky stories by the campfire, and sleep in a tent? For the parents, however, the sheer list of tasks involved in tent camping can seem like a nightmare. Depending on the park’s housekeeping staff, so can the bath house facilities! Like anything else, though, tent camping is a skill that gets better with practice.

Choosing a Tent

If you haven’t been camping since your elementary school days, you may be surprised by the range of tent styles and sizes on today’s market. Some tents, known as pop-ups, require almost no work at all. Others, designed for long-term camping in extreme conditions, come with assembly manuals that read like stereo instructions. First-time weekend campers generally need something in between.

The size and relative closeness of your family will help narrow down your tent choices. If you are a single parent or VERY happily married with one small child, you may be able to get away with one four-person tent for a short trip. For most families, though, two or three tents are a better solution.

Choose a main tent with two rooms–if the tent has a wall divider, make sure it is removable. The adults can sleep in the smaller room, while the larger room creates living space for the whole family during the inevitable rain storm or cold snap. The kids’ tent can be a bit smaller, providing just enough room for the children to sleep and store a few clothes, since they can join the adults in the communal living area. If the trip is short and you plan to eat some restaurant meals, two tents are sufficient. If you want the full camping experience, however, complete with campfire cooking, consider taking a supply tent as well. This can be a very small pop-up tent, as it only needs to house your cooler or micro-refrigerator and any related supplies.

Don’t be afraid to open up the tent packaging in the store. Choose a tent with a rain cover, strong poles and reasonably easy assembly instructions. Although you do not need the most expensive, steer clear of the cheapest off brands.

What to Pack

Camping Clothing Tips

Dress in layers, as the temperature can change rapidly

Packing lists for camping trips are easy to find all over the internet. Think through your family’s needs and desires to make an educated guess at which items will be relevant for you. The basics can be broken down into a few main categories:

Bedding — Some people sleep on an air mattress, others on a foam pad. Whatever your desired level of comfort, staying warm is the most critical. Each person needs something between his body and the ground. Sleeping bags are rated by temperature, so read the tags and purchase something appropriate to your trip. A bag rated for sub-zero temperatures can become dangerously hot during the summer, while a bag rated for 50 F will do little good in the snow. Although decorative patterns on kids’ sleeping bags are cute, choose one that has a temperature rating. Some kids’ sleeping bags are designed for “campouts” in a climate-controlled living room, not for actual camping in the woods.

Lighting — If you’ve never been in the woods after dark, you may be surprised just how dark it actually gets. You will need lighting inside each tent, light to cook and eat by, flashlights for midnight bathroom runs, and ambient lighting that helps you avoid driving over the tent if you return after dark. Propane lanterns are an excellent choice for outside the tent, while battery-operated versions are safest inside.

Cooking — Modern camp cooking runs the gamut from campfire meals to gourmet dishes prepared in a solar oven or even TV dinners in a microwave. Camp cooking is a complicated topic, so do some reading and research well in advance of your trip. If you plan to camp frequently, cast iron cookware is well worth the expense. Propane or Sterno stovetops are highly popular. Keep in mind that most campsites do not allow you to dump wash water on the ground, so you will need to set up a dishwashing station as well.

Tools — If you plan to have a campfire, you will need a way of breaking down your firewood and tending the fire. You will also need a way to drive tent stakes into the ground. A small camping axe or hatchet, a rubber mallet, a fireplace poker, tongs and heavy work gloves are basic essentials. Rope, a small shovel and dozens of other camping tools may also be helpful, depending on what you plan to do.

Clothes — A camping trip is not the place to show off your best outfits. Choose rugged, durable clothing that can stand up to dirt and water. Temperatures can change frequently in the woods, so choose items that are easily layered. A waterproof jacket and a rain poncho are essential items. Pack extra socks and make sure everyone changes them frequently.

Entertainment – Some campers take advantage of the trip to disconnect from modern technology, while others pack their tents full of electronics. There is no right answer to the question of technology on a camping trip. My family has spent many wonderful hours watching Survivor outdoors by the campfire or playing the Blair Witch Project video game in a tent deep in the back woods. Remember, however, that a site with electricity typically has two outlets. Carry extension cords and power strips if you plan to use several electronics, and plug everything into a surge protector. The electricity at campgrounds can be somewhat erratic.

Keeping Kids Safe

Campfire safety

Teach campfire safety before your trip

Children’s natural instinct is to run and play, and many kids exhibit an utter fearlessness of their surroundings. Set ground rules at the beginning of the trip and be willing to revisit them throughout your adventure. The specifics will vary according to your kids’ ages and abilities, and the terrain in which your campground is set. In general, rules will likely revolve around bodies of water, roads, visiting other kids’ campsites, bringing kids to your campsite, attending activities alone and handling tools. But kids will be kids, so be prepared to handle situations as they arise. Try to find a balance that keeps them safe while encouraging them to explore and try new things.

avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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One Comments to “Tent Camping With Kids – Valuable Tips”
  1. avatar Sara says:

    Thanks for helping me make our list for our cross county camping roadtrip with 3 kids. This is a helpful article.