Camping with Young Children
Camping with babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children can seem intimidating and even impossible. However, our family has done it three times between this summer and last. And we plan at least one more trip this month. When I mention this to friends and acquaintances, I usually receive a bewildered stare in response. They don’t need to say the words (though usually eventually do); they’re thinking “wow, are you a madwoman?” I secretly enjoy being thought a madwoman. And in case you’re wondering too: I’m not! I do think camping is a great experience, fun, and with a little prep and flexibility not too hard to pull off.
So how do we manage it? Well, in my mind there are several components to an enjoyable camping trip. They are:
- the gear
- the food
- the activities
Today we will cover number 1, the gear. Our most recent trip was to the Boston Harbor Islands. Phenomenal! We had such a great time and were pleasantly surprised to find that it was a rock-skipping heaven. The rangers were incredibly helpful in lugging our stuff from ferry up to the camp site. That’s right, this wasn’t car camping. We had to get all our gear onto the ferry and then up to the site. Our packing list for this was:
- tent (we have the Kelty Grand Mesa)
- tarp to serve as ground cloth
- baby backpack – if you don’t generally use one, I highly recommend borrowing one from a friend! We have a Kelty K.I.D.S frame pack ($14.99 at Goodwill) and an ergo. Love them both, though the pack was better for this trip since we could pack our sleeping pads onto it.
- sleeping pads and bags – had we trusted the weather forecast, we would’ve brought small fleece blankets for everyone. Much smaller!
- one dry outfit each to sleep in and wear the second day
- long sleeves
- waterproof sandals
- flipflops for around camp
- bathing suits
- diapers and wipes – did you know you don’t have to wipe after a wet diaper? We only used three wipes this trip! (two kids in diapers)
- one regular towel that we shared after the beach
- water – yes, we had to carry it in. Even for car camping though, it’s helpful to stick a few gallons in. We bring 1-1.5 gallons per day. This trip, we used our two camel backs and a bunch of water bottles.
- first aid kit with bandaids, motrin, gauze
- trash bags – 5 lightweight ones. In case of a storm, we’d have converted these into ponchos.
- sippy cup – though the toddler drinks fabulously from our camel back so we didn’t need it
- a super lightweight and absorbent towel that we happen to have from our former camping days
- white-noise maker
- food and cooking gear (separate post)
- a few games (separate post)
We used almost everything except the extra warmth (long sleeves, mostly the sleeping bags) because it was so much warmer than we’d anticipated. We also didn’t need the sippy or (thankfully) the trashbag ponchos or first aid kit. But those are worth bringing regardless, of course! We wished we’d thought to bring hair ties and a few cloths or extra wipes for cleaning up dirty hands/faces. We wound up using someone’s shorts instead.
Now for car camping, space and weight are much less at a premium. We bring additional comforts such as chairs, an extra tarp/rope to make a rain shelter, umbrellas, extra blankets, a dustpan, pillows, and a potty to save on nighttime bathroom trips (we place it in the tent’s vestibule). We try to keep our camping stuff all in spot in the basement which really helps cut down on packing time. And in the end, we remember that we’re not removed from all civilization and when we forget something, we can either go buy what we need or do without for a few days. With the basic camp set-up taken care of, our family is ready to venture out and explore the new surroundings. While camping leaves all of us a little more tired than we were before, the big smiles, abundant activity, and family memories are surely worth it to us.