Best Camping with Kids Hacks

Best camping with kids hacks to make camping more fun

Intimidated by camping with kids? You’re not alone! It can be a lot of work to get out those first few times before you get your groove. Over the years the TMM Team has learned a few ways to work smarter, not harder. We’ve gathered our best camping with kids hacks here for you so you can start a few steps ahead of the game.

Some of these tips may seem like old news because you grew up with your parents doing the exact same thing. Other tips may be just the inspiration you need to get out the door this weekend.

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camping with kids hacks

Our hope is that something from our collective experience will make your next camping trip an awesome experience!

We obviously don’t know it all, so comment below with your own camping hacks and tips so we can add them in!

Use a Family Camping Checklist

We can’t recommend having a checklist for your adventures, especially if there may be a slight possibility you’ll be interrupted while packing (ahem…) You can find our definitive car camping packing list here.

Plan ahead and know where you’re going

One of the best ways to make camping with kids easier is to plan ahead and then be flexible with those plans! When camping with kids, it’s a really good idea to research the area you’re visiting ahead of time.

You’ll want to know what amenities are available where you’re camping, what hikes nearby are kid friendly, whether or not you should bring bikes along, any events or activities happening  at the park for kids and other nearby places you may want to visit.

It’s smart to have a rough plan in mind of what you want to do during your trip so you can make the most of your time together. After you’ve done your research and planning, the next most important thing to do is be flexible with those plans! Kids are unpredictable, weather changes, new opportunities come up along the way – so hold your plans loosely and enjoy your camping trip!

Use Packing Cubes for keeping gear organized when camping

Any camping trip with kids can result in a jumble of clothes.  However well you pack the clothes, they are always mixed up in the bags as you hunt for something clean and dry.  The use of packing cubes can help organize clothes and make packing and storage much quicker and easier.

Packing cubes come in a number of sizes and styles.  The best are the very lightweight cubes which fold down when they are not being used.  Some can be quite bulky which doesn’t help when space and weight is limited.  They also come in a range of colors.  Giving each family member a different color means that their cubes can be easily found.  For younger kids it means that they can still find their own clothes and be independent.

The packing cubes make packing a suitcase easy but when camping you may prefer to use a plastic crate for all the clothes in their packing cubes.  This means that they stay dry and it is easy to store in the tent or car.

Get kids involved in the camping set up

One of our favourite hacks for camping with kids is to get them involved in setting up camp on arrival. There are always lots of jobs to do and it can get quite stressful if you are having to keep an eye on the kids to make sure they don’t wander off.

There are three important reasons for getting them involved.

  1. The main reason is to keep them occupied so that you can get on with the set up without being distracted by the kids.
  2. Another reason is that it will allow the kids to learn the basics of camping. As they get older, they can be given different responsibilities.
  3. Finally, it gives them a sense of purpose and achievement.

Some ideas of things they can do (depending on their age) are setting up the camping table and chairs or filling up water bottles. We go camping with our campervan and each time we go through our list of campervan essentials and decide what the kids can be responsible for.

And remember, giving the kids these kinds of responsibilities doesn’t have to stop once the camp is set up. 

Use a kitchen-in-a-tub + drying rack for camping dishes

Keep all your kitchen/cook gear in a storage bin that’s easily accessible.Throw in foil, common spices (salt/pepper), olive oil, etc. so it’s ready to grab and go when you go car camping for the weekend.

If you have a bigger group/family then keep a cheap mesh hammock in your kitchen gear. It makes for the perfect drying area for dishes, plates, pots, pans etc. after a meal.

camping with kids hacks

Embrace the dirt!

For a great time camping with kids, I strongly recommend expecting a lot of filth… and being OK with it.

Camping offers so many opportunities for kids to get dirty. There’s hide and seek in the forest, poking around with sticks, building pebble towers, jumping in streams and puddles, hiking in the coolest places, eating around a campfire … all of which encourage dirt smudges, food smears, and all manner of other messiness.

If you’re constantly trying to brush off twigs and clean every stain – or worse, stop your kids from getting dirty in the first place – then no one is going to have fun.

Pack the oldest clothes possible; limit washing and wiping to only what’s absolutely necessary for basic hygiene; and leave everything else until you get back home.

Camping with Kids Hacks

Use a boot bin to keep muddy shoes contained

Camping with kids inevitably means a lot of equipment and a lot of mess. We try to ensure that every item we bring on a camping trip has a home, but if it also helps to eliminate mess it is an added bonus. A boot box goes a long way!

Anytime we travel with our kids, we pack our hiking boots into a plastic box which helps with packing the car. At our destination, the boot box lives inside the door of the tent so after a day of hiking, muddy boots are immediately put into the box and not brought inside the tent. This keeps mud and stones out of the tent and also helps with the smell!

Sometimes if we are short on space, we pop the lid on the box and leave it outside overnight. Plus, a sturdy box with a lid makes a useful impromptu table. 

Pack water shoes for the whole family

If you love to camp by creeks, rivers, or lakes on a camping road trip then one of the best tips for camping with kids is to pack water shoes.

Designed to keep your feet protected from cuts and bumps, they also make it so much easier for the kids to scramble over rocks and play comfortably on pebbles.

There are many different types of water shoe for adults and kids alike. Some are designed for specific activities like canoeing, walking, and swimming. All have a non-slip rubber sole and use quick dry fabric.

One of the best multi-purpose water shoes for kids are made by Keens. With a thick rubber bump toe to protect little toes, an easy to use quick lace bungee and a thick study sole, they are perfect for little and big kids alike.

Whether you are taking a walk along the river, playing in the creek at camp or exploring the rock pools at the beach, water shoes are one of the best items to pack for the kids for your camping trip.

Bring water guns and glow sticks

A great way to keep the kids entertained whilst camping is to supply them with the tools for making their own fun while you put up the tent or take a moment to relax in the sunshine.

For hot days, bring a stash of water guns and a washing up bowl. Set some ground rules about direct face hits and keeping away from other people’s tents. If team battles get out of hand, you can always move them on to target practice.  Bring enough for each child and a few friends they might make along the way. Then you have everything you need for an afternoon of kid fun and an entertaining spectator sport for parents.

For night time shenanigans, Helen (Holidays From Hels) hands out wearable glow sticks.  As the sun falls, prepare the glasses, necklaces and bracelets as you will need the daylight for securing the fiddly plastic joining parts. When issuing a pack to each child, consider color-coding any child you would like to identify individually from a distance. Children will not only glow, but can be tracked by adults in the dark – a win-win scenario!

Sleeping while camping with kids tips

Camping is a lot of work! Camping with kids brings planning a camping trip to a whole new level.  There is so much gear required to have a successful trip.  

Bring a camping hammock. They don’t take up much space and they are a great source of entertainment for kids. Hammock swings and flips never get old.

The other benefit of packing a camping hammock is that you’ll have a nice spot to take a mid day nap (or at least a little rest???) which you’ll appreciate when the tent is roasting hot.

camping with kids hacks

Is there a possibility of low temperatures at nighttime? Share a double sleeping bag to ensure that you and your child both stay warm and cozy.

Choose quality sleeping bags for your kids. Character sleeping bag are cute and yes, your kids love them, but they are not intended for camping out.  They are made for sleep-overs in an indoor environment. 
Getting the right sleeping bag for kids is very important.

Just want to skip the tent? Renting an RV may be a great choice for your family!

>> Read more camping/sleeping tips here in our most popular camping post! <<

camping with kids hacks

Bring Headlamps for Everyone

Night time around the campsite can range anywhere from nerve racking to really fun! We all know where we’d like to land on that scale. 

One of the best tips for keeping camping fun with kids is designating a LED head lamp for every child and adult. This is one time we discourage sharing.

A headlamp is a lightweight light source wrapped securely around your head, allowing for hands-free lighting for your planned and spontaneous outdoor nighttime activities like catching crabs on the beach, post-campfire clean up, late night campground bathroom visits, pre-sunset hiking, spelunking and more. 

Many headlamps offer different lighting settings, from bright to dim to a strobe setting. Some even offer a red light option. A red light helps you star gaze or the like, while still providing light to help you watch your step. Red light mode isn’t as blinding to your friends, so this setting is ideal within a group of people.  

Often you’ll find us wearing our headlamps around our neck — they light our way just as well that way, without blinding anyone we meet on the way. Each kid is responsible for keeping track of their own headlamp and we encourage them to grab it from their tent pocket at sunset. This 4-pack of headlamps is very affordable to get you started.

Use frozen meals when camping

When cooking food at home double up on easy things that you could bring camping to simplify meals on your next camping trip.

We love to put homemade pizza, breakfast burritos and dinner burritos in our freezer at home and have an easy, quick meal to throw together after we set up camp.

There’s tons of prep-ahead meal ideas in our book, The Easy Camp Cookbook (save some money with our Outdoor Family Camping Book bundle here)!

Don’t let the rain stop your camping trip

Keep tarp gear with your car camping equipment and know how to set it up properly. There is nothing worse than not having a place to stay dry during a sudden rainstorm. Also, we don’t recommend using grommets for the tarp. Tarps tend to rip if you use grommets.

Instead, wrap the corner of the tarp around a small rock and then tie the rope around the rock/tarp like a lollipop. You won’t have any rips that way.

You can also use something like this that packs small and makes camping in the rain much easier. Or, like we mentioned before, just rent a RV!

It’s also super important when it’s wet to keep kids warm when camping. This post has some great ideas on how to do that.

How to handle poop, pee and keeping them clean when camping

Use compostable plastic bags in your kids potty chair in the tent overnight (also works to use in the potty seat in the car when driving). This way you can throw the bag in the trash along with the poo!

If you’re planning to camp for an extended time with a baby in the diaper stage then Rubbermaid bins also make great baby bath tubs.

Need some encouragement/tips to help your kid nature poop? This post will help!

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Best Camping with Kids Hacks

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  • Amelia lives with her husband and five young children outside of Jackson, WY in Grand Teton National Park. As a mom, she quickly learned that the secret to sanity was to spend more time outside where tantrums don't see quite so bad. Amelia started TMM in 2012 to help encourage all families (including her own) to get outside, no matter the weather. Due to the necessity of having to keep so many kids warm and happy, she has become an expert in kids' gear and loves being able to share it with others.

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