Updated: Dec 9, 2022
Camping is a great way for families to bond and have fun. It can also be a lot easier than you think. In this guide, we will discuss the basics of camping with your family. We will cover everything from choosing the right camping gear to planning your trip. We hope that this guide will help make your next family camping trip a success!
Related post: The ultimate family camping guide
As a kid, I always anticipated camping with my family- it was such a fun event! I loved staying outside all night long- the unfamiliarity of it, the sounds, the gadgets, the s’mores….
Packing for my own camping adventures later in life, I realized just how differently my parents approached the subject when I was younger. My mom came prepared with all the essentials like a Coleman tent, camp stove, folding chairs, Stanley Thermos of hot water, and camp cots--not to mention full meals already planned. We were ready to take on anything because we loved to explore different national parks near (Smokies) and far (Glacier National Park).
My dad would pack some sleeping bags in the car or boat, find an empty field somewhere in East Tennessee, and set up camp for the night. We never knew what we were going to eat--hotdogs or Nabs?--or if it was going to rain or be a clear night to see the stars. It was always a surprise!
Camping with my family instilled many memories that I still cherish today. As a young kid, I loved sleeping outside and having both of my parents' attention focused on me. Although I appreciated this more when younger, it was still nice to have as a teenager too. Additionally, feeling confident and independent for the first time ever when setting up my own tent is something else outcome remarkable experience during camping trips with my immediate family .
I take after my parents in many ways, but when it comes to camping with younger family members, I try to find a balance between being prepared and having the attitude of "we'll figure it out as we go along."
When you have small children, camping becomes more difficult because they are not always interested in helping or avoiding danger. However, it is a learning curve worth climbing and was not as steep as I anticipated.
When I first started taking my children camping, I thought it would be extremely difficult. Though there was a bit of a learning curve, it hasn't been nearly as bad as anticipated. In fact, there have even been moments where it's been easier than expected! Grandkids always find the humor in situations that initially seem catastrophic but are actually pretty funny when you look back on them. That's one of the many reasons why spending time with them in nature is so special and memorable.
My family often recounts humorous tales of our trips, like the time we learned that American tents can't keep out Scottish bugs. Another story is when we had to eat mac and cheese with our hands because we forgot utensils. That was messy but also a lot of fun. Also, if you don't dry your tent out after it gets wet in a rainstorm, it will start to mildew and smell really bad later on.
We also learned that a full moon in southwest Utah means you don’t need a headlamp to see at night, and that camping in New Hampshire may result in a moose peering into your tent through the fly netting. These are stories you can only tell by experiencing them firsthand.
This picture was taken at about midnight with my cell phone at Kodachrome Basin State Park in southwest Utah. I have only minimally lightened it as it was truly that bright outside with the full moon.
Just Go For It- The Most Important Advice I Have
If you keep putting off camping because of various excuses, you'll never go. So pick a weekend and follow Mike's lead--"just do it."
A last-minute getaway to the Great Smoky Mountains sounded perfect for the warm autumn weekend, so we left Saturday afternoon and arrived that evening. Although we forgot a few things (camp chairs, firestarter logs), we still had an amazing time!
The First Time Is Hard But It Gets Easier
If it's your first time camping, you're in for a treat. You'll bring too much stuff, the tent will take forever to set up, and the kids will wake up every 15 minutes because they aren't used to sleeping on the ground. You might even swear to yourself that you will never leave the comfy confines of your own bed ever again!
At first glance, our minivan may look like it's packed to the brim, but we have a great system and can unload and reload in just 15 minutes. And I promise that with each subsequent trip, you'll find yourself packing less and less stuff. The kids will get accustomed to sleeping on an inflatable mattress too--to the point where they might even ask to set it up in their room at home instead of using their regular bed!
When you finish setting up your campsite and watch as other people around you struggle with their own tents, it's a gratifying feeling. And when your kids lend a hand and set up the tent all by themselves? Even better. They'll be so proud of themselves – and rightfully so! After a lot of patience on my part, my nephews had it down pat by age 9. It gave them such a sense of confidence. Now I can sit back with a beer and let them have at it.
Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff. And It’s All (Mostly) Small Stuff.
The old saying goes that every cloud has a silver lining--and this is especially true when camping. If you're campground camping with your car, you can rest assured knowing that there's always a backup plan for any mishaps. Forgot the pancake mix for breakfast? No problem! S'mores will do just fine. And if the tent starts leaking in a rainstorm? You can always hide out in the car (the kids might even have more fun!) The bottom line is: try to make the best of any situation while camping and chances are good you'll end up having an amazing time.--especially if UNO break at 3am ends up being part of the story!Even the disasters can end up being cherished family memories because you are all together, which is what really counts. Plus, you taught the kids to get used to not having everything go their way and learn how to improvisate when things don't go according to plan. Traveling also helped them figure out what they really need in order to be happy because they couldn't pack everything with them
Spending time outside introduces children to nature and comes with a plethora of benefits, some which cannot be measured. And this is all coming from simply going camping? Stop waiting and go experience it for yourself!
Climbing a big rock is sometimes all it takes to have fun in the woods
*Bonus Tip- Bring A Camping Hammock
A parachute hammock is a great way to entertain kids while camping. They can play in it and stay occupied for hours, giving you time to relax or get things done.
These portable hammocks are super easy to set up and well worth the investment of buying and packing. The Long Day Camping hammock is perfect. It comes with a camping pillow for a nap after a long hike or just let your kids play in it all day.
For more packing ideas- see our comprehensive Camping Pack List (car- not backcountry). It has been honed over the years by forgetting something different on each trip.