Pro Tips Guide to Camping with Kids

Tackle the outdoors with these helpful tips on creating a fun camping atmosphere for your kids.

The sun is shining, and you can feel the warmth all around. Instead of staying indoors, you and your family have plans to enjoy the great outdoors. Take a swim in the lake. Hike along trails. Kayak along the creek. What better way to experience nature than by camping?

Camping is a fun activity to experience with your family. Hitting the campground at a local park or going remote can introduce your children to nature and its beautiful scenery. Pro Tips has your guide to camping with kids for your next family trip.

You might have an idea of the basic camping gear necessary for a fun-filled expedition. But when camping with kids, it can be helpful to bring along a few extra items. Need a refresher on camping essentials? Use our Pro Tips Camping Trip Checklist to make sure you pack everything for a good time in the outdoors.

What kind of snacks and games should you bring? What types of adventures can you embark on? Follow along with some of Pro Tips’ favorite ideas for camping in the great outdoors.

PREPARE TO MEET THEIR NEEDS 

Camping should be filled with fun activities like nature walks, hikes, fishing and campfires. Unfortunately, a beautiful day for a hike can turn into a stressful, frustrating time for everyone if someone becomes hungry, thirsty or too tired to walk anymore.

Hydration packs can really come in handy on hikes. Even better, some are made specifically for kids. Your children can wear their pack and sip as they go, keeping them hydrated and happy on the trail. This can help keep everyone moving instead of stopping every couple of minutes to retrieve their water bottle.

Looking for a quick bite to fuel up for the rest of your hike? DICK’S Sporting Goods Associate Mackenzie Hoops suggests packing foods that your children are used to for a speedy snack. “We bring a lot of the same stuff we have at home,” she says. “Any granola or handheld food works.” Use these tips to show your kids how to make some granola on the go.

Hoops also suggests bringing wipes to clean up before and after snacking. This can help keep everyone clean and free from potential germs. “Your kids will touch everything and then eat the snacks,” she says.

DICK’S Sporting Goods Associate Jessica Shwaish also suggests prepackaging snacks in baggies or small containers. “We like to keep a couple different bags for on-the-go snacking,” she says. “I try to container everything to keep bugs and animals out, and so that everything stays clean.”

KEEP THE CAMPFIRE COOKING FUN

While their snacks can be familiar favorites, camping can present a great opportunity to try new foods, too.  Cooking while on your camping trip can be simple, savory and even sweet. DICK’S Sporting Goods Associate Greg Umbras suggests inviting your kids to provide input on what meals they want away from home.

“When camping, kids can indulge and have food they usually wouldn’t have at home – and that’s part of the fun of it. You can have hot dogs, chips and s’mores. It’s a good way to entice them to being outside,” he says.

Peanut butter and jelly, hot dogs and personal pizzas are some quick and easy meals Umbras and Hoops suggest trying out. “It’s a balance between healthy food and junk food,” Hoops says.

Looking for the perfect over-the-fire cooking feast? Pro Tips has your guide to four different ways of making grilled cheese and four different campfire desserts.

BRING ON THE ENTERTAINMENT

While camping activities like hiking and fishing are synonymous with the outdoors, feel free to mix it up. It can be a good idea to bring along some games to play, right near your campsite.

Cornhole, ladder toss and bounce back are great games to play with the whole family. You can also grab a football or baseball for a fun game of catch. If your kids are smaller, coloring books, crayons and stickers can be a great option as well.

Shwaish suggests bringing toys, board games and blocks for the kids. “Sometimes we bring flashcards with different colors and shapes,” Shwaish says. “We also like bringing a flashlight with the different planets. It’s cool to put in the tent. It’s like a nightlight, but also interactive.”

Hoops also recommends interactive toys and games for children. “Puzzles are good for in the tent,” she says. “Things that get them to actively use their mind, but not being physically active.”

COMFORT IS KEY

After a long day of activities and once the campfire has been put out, everyone needs a good night’s rest. Proper camping equipment for the kids can help them – and you — sleep well.

Cots, air mattresses and ground pads are reliable options when it comes to sleeping in a tent. However, there are some aspects to consider to ensure you have exactly what suits your specific needs.

  • Cots can keep you off the ground but can be uncomfortable for some campers. Also, if your kids are smaller, you might run the risk of them rolling off. Adding a cot pad to your setup can help improve comfort for a better night’s sleep.
  • Air mattresses might feel like the closest thing to your child’s bed at home, but they often require electricity. If your campsite does not have an outlet nearby, self-inflating pads can be a convenient back-up plan.

You will also need to be sure the kids have a comfortable sleeping bag. Be sure to consider the time of year you plan to camp, as well as the environment and potential temperature. Discover how to choose the right sleeping bag with these Pro Tips.

SAFETY FIRST

Kids like to play, as they should, especially while on vacation. As they play, accidents can occur. You cannot prevent every bump, scrape or bruise, but it’s important to talk with your children about campsite safety. Identify a specific location around your campsite that they are not allowed to pass. This can be a tree, your car or something else.

For added safety, give your child a whistle and a headlamp or small flashlight with a wrist strap. If he or she ultimately leaves the campsite and gets lost, the whistle can be used to help you locate them. You will need to instruct your child ahead of time that if they wander off and do not see anyone they know, they need to sit, turn on the flashlight — if it is dark outside — and blow the whistle.

When on a hike together, it’s important to know your surroundings and where your children will be walking. Before heading out on the trail, use the tips to plan your hike.

Remember, too, that the weather is unpredictable. While it’s extremely important to check the forecast before setting out on your journey, the weather can always change. Instead of panicking on the spot, prepare a backup plan before heading into the woods. Double-check to ensure you have the right equipment to deal with any rainfall.

PRACTICE BEFORE SETTING OUT 

Packing can be stressful for any trip and forgetting an item can cause any camper to panic. To avoid last-minute packing and having to return home for anything, make a list before packing.

For test runs, Umbras suggests camping close to home or to practice camping in your backyard. “The worst thing you can do is go five hours away, in the middle of nowhere, and your kids wish they had a certain activity and you didn’t have it,” he explains. “It’s better to work those issues out ahead of time. I always think, with kids, overpacking is good. It’s better to have more stuff than not enough.”

Umbras also suggests scouting your spots ahead of time. Another tip is waiting to make your campground reservation. “I like to plan a week or two out, so we can plan for the forecast,” he says. “Kids get sick, weather happens. So, we like to plan things a week or two in advance, instead of a month.”

Regardless of where you’re camping, you want to make the best of it and share the joy of the outdoors. Using these tips should help you get the most fun out of your family’s next adventure.