The summer camping season is here and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting outdoors with the family and spending some quality time learning about nature.
If you grew up camping, then you know the amazing experiences that come along with tents, campfires, storytelling, s’mores, and family and friends. Though if you’ve been camping with toddlers, you know you often have to ease the kids into it.
Starting with small steps helps get them understand the idea and get excited about doing it more. Maybe, it’s starting with some backyard camping? A one night field trip that helps gage the interest the kiddos have in venturing outdoors. From there it’s a step toward their first weekend (or more) trip.
We reached out to our friends at Cabela’s and Alex Mousel, Cabela’s associate category manager for camping. As a father to two young kids and another on the way, it’s safe to say he knows a little bit about camping with little ones.
He shared with us some awesome tips on how to get your kids ready for an amazing camping experience and how to plan for a few hiccups that may happen along the way.
Essential Tips for Camping with Kids featuring Cabela’s:
How do I explain the idea of camping to my children?
The beauty of kids in the outdoors, depending on their age, is that they naturally gravitate to bugs, sticks, freedom to run, and just the all-around idea of something different for the family to experience. With younger kids especially, it’s less about the “what” and much more about how excited they can plainly see that you are. They don’t have preconceived notions and/or an inability to sleep in a different bed like their less rugged and less adventurous parents. Once they’re there, they’ll wear themselves out without any guidance.
So, let them know that you’re going on an adventure and to some extent, they’ll be calling the shots. As a parent, we know that “no bedtime, s’mores, and everyone gets to share the same room” are dynamite selling points in any situation. If your children are older, the actual activity begins to have more importance. The general excitement around your annual hunt camp or fishing trip starts to be the center of focus. However, that freedom in the outdoors is what ultimately makes camping, and they will come to enjoy that experience with family and friends. Ultimately, get them out there early. It’s an easier sell and they will build their own perception of why it’s so much fun to camp.
What are some great ways to get a kid excited about camping?
Discuss your plans during the weeks leading up to your trip and talk about where you are going and what activities you will be doing. It is always fun to build a little hype to get the kids excited. Discuss with them sleeping in tents, camp fires, stargazing, fishing, hiking and just getting to be outside. Kids love it! I would suggest (if they’re old enough) having them help pack and or pick out some of the equipment that you will be taking. I always get all my gear out and set up a mini camp and my tent in the yard. This allows them to get a glimpse of what you will doing and really builds some excitement to go.
How does a parent pick the perfect camping spot?
Look for easy-access locations with plenty of room for the kids to play. Many campgrounds have playgrounds, which is a fun time for the kids and helps keep them entertained. Also, if possible, select a campsite close to facilities so your kids can easily access restrooms if necessary. It is all about making them feel comfortable and keeping it fun. As they get older and more experienced with camping, you can start to venture farther away from these amenities.
When it comes to safety what items should a dad add to his first aid kit for kids?
All the basic essentials. Kids are likely to fall and scrape a knee or an elbow, or get a splinter or a bug bite on one of your nature walks. But being prepared to clean an abrasion and cover it with a clean bandage makes them feel better that you can take care of them and they will easily forget anything ever happened. So I would recommend purchasing any standard first aid kit that will take care of the basic needs.
What are the go to dinner camping foods when including kids?
S’mores, S’mores and S’mores! Always the go to for nighttime snacks. But, once again, keep it simple and fun. Hot dogs on a roasting stick over the fire allows the kids to be involved in the process and is different from what you would do at home. Also ask your kids what they want eat. This gives them the opportunity to feel included when planning the trip.
What things might a parent need for camping that they might not think about?
The key is being prepared and being ready for situations that might cause the kids not to enjoy themselves. So, things like bug spray, sunscreen, a shade house to get out of the sun or a screen house to get away from bugs are essential. Pack rainwear even if rain isn’t in the forecast. Just having some of these basic items can be the difference maker.
Should kids be in charge of carrying their own pack?
Yes, but be very careful and attentive to the size of pack and what they pack. Keep it light with just some essentials, as you want them to be a part of the experience but don’t want to overload them. Jacket, water bottle, snacks and maybe the first aid kit could be a good start. Obviously as they become more experienced they will want to carry more, but it is very important that you start them light not to overdo it right out of the gate.
What are some small tasks around the campsite I can put the children in charge of?
Setting up camp is always fun for the kids as long as you keep it simple and enjoyable. Have a few things in your back pocket to keep the kids involved prior to heading out. Fun chores include: finding fire wood and kindling, connecting the tent poles, hammering tent stakes, laying out the sleeping bags in the tent, finding sticks for roasting marshmallows. I think a key thing is just give them enough things to keep them interested and having fun and don’t make it a difficult process with lots of work and
time. This can really be a bad experience if the kids feel like they are spending more time setting up camp and getting ready than time actually just camping.
How many days would you recommend a kid’s first camping trip last?
Depending on where you take them I would keep it to one to two nights. This is enough to get out and sleep in a tent for a couple of nights and gives them a good feel of the experience and keeps them wanting more. Too long of a stay might create an unpleasant experience, so a weekend retreat is always a good start.
What are some activities for if it starts to rain?
Rain can make a trip very difficult, so it is always good to be prepared. Pack some board games, a deck of cards, books and make it fun. I don’t typically suggest taking any types of electronics, but in cases such as rain it is fun to turn on the iPad, watch your favorite movie together and have a snack in the tent. Also, depending on where you are camping and if you are close to any towns, it is a good idea to research before you leave for any activities, such as museums, theaters or other indoor activities where you can continue spending time together. Although spending time in town is not necessarily camping, it is better than any negativity that might result from being cooped up for hours in a tent with nothing to do.
Once the kids have caught the “camping bug” how can a parent between trips build on that excitement?
Plan you next trip! Start a list together of things you might have forgotten or want to bring next time. Also look at new gear that might make your trip better and more authentic the next time around and discuss some new locations as well.
Thanks to everyone at Cabela’s for taking the time to help educate us on the topic of introducing your children to camping. This is not a sponsored post and nothing was exchanged or given for this post. We just think it’s great information! Thanks Cabelas!