by Erika Kelly
Camping with kids can be a very rewarding experience and it will also try your patience – you’ll experience quality time together as a family, and your kids will benefit from being outside, learn to respect nature, and become more confident in new situations. Don’t expect things to run smoothly and you will definitely have fun. Leave the screens and the stress behind. Whether you’re a seasoned camper or are new to it all these Do’s and Don’ts will help you get the most out of your trip and really have fun together.
Don’t rough it. The appeal of hiking into a pristine and un-crowded spot, to be away from everything and everyone is great. However, if you are new at camping, being able to drive right up to your campsite is the way to go until you have your camping legs and your packing strategy down-pat. It’s not a bad idea to try and stay near-ish to home your first time. Driving 7 hours to a campsite only to discover you left the tent poles at home is not fun.
Plan well ahead. Book as far in advance as you can to avoid disappointment and don’t make any assumptions about the campground facilities. Campgrounds and caravan parks, especially those in National Parks and during the school holidays, fill up quickly. There are plenty of websites that list various family-friendly campgrounds near you. Going camping with others is also great fun. Lean on the more experienced campers – they’ve been exactly where you are.
Borrow or Rent Gear. Before you rush out and invest in “all the stuff” ask family and friends if they will lend you the big-ticket items – tent/s, tarps, air mattresses, lamps, sleeping bags, camp chairs, stove etc. You will soon work out what you do and don’t need or discover that you are more cabin people. Also, when we googled “rent camping gear” there were plenty of options across Australia.
Do a practice run. If you have the space, pitch your tent in the backyard for a night (or two). Take notes as you think of things you’ll need on a full-blown trip. Or lay out the sleeping bags camp in the loungeroom and grab some torches – the kids will love it and get the hang of a new sleeping arrangement.
Don’t overpack. Most people bring too many clothes. Leave the “just-in-case” items at home. You will re-wear things. Your kids might even wear the same thing the WHOLE trip. Check if there are laundry facilities at your campground and use them. Get your kids involved will get them excited about camping. You can use our Kids Camping Checklist.
But do pack for all kinds of weather. Even if it’s hot during the day, the evenings can be cool - so bring an extra layer and/or fleece for the evening. In warm weather you’ll also need lightweight long sleeves and long pants - a must to keep the mozzies away. And don’t forget rain gear!
Set up camp while you still have light. Try to arrive at your campsite with plenty of daylight to spare. When you arrive, let the kids explore – you can send them on a nature scavenger hunt or get them involved with a chore, like gathering firewood or clearing the tent space of debris. Set up the tent first. Then, if you’re planning to cook over a fire, get it going right away.
TIP: the tent should go in the car last so it’s the first thing you unpack.
Don’t unpack devices. Leave the tablets and gaming consoles at home. You do not need a thousand photos of your camping trip, so stash your phone in the car and check it periodically if you have to. If you have an old-school camera dig it out.
Don’t be overambitious on the first night. Plan a really simple meal for dinner. Think baked beans (just peel the lid off if your too tired to dig out the bowls), sausages and bread or even cereal is ok for dinner when you’re camping. You’ll have plenty of time to master damper and coal roasted potatoes later.
Stick to your usual routine as much as possible, especially with young kids. Follow the same bedtime rituals and nap schedule as best you can. It might take a day or two (or three) for your little one to find their rhythm. But one thing is for sure, running around outside all day is great for a good night’s sleep.
Have a look at our Ultimate Camping Packing List for a comprehensive list of everything you could possible need camping with kids. The must-haves and the nice-to-haves. Plus, take a look at the list below of things we couldn’t we couldn’t live without.
Scissors or pocketknife – opening food packaging, cutting cord and rope.
Beanie – unless you’re in the tropics, it can get cold in your sleeping bag at night. Remember tents are not insulated.
Long rope – rig between trees or tents to hang towels and clothes.
French-press mug or stovetop percolator – Forget instant coffee.
A few garbage bags – great for packing up dirty cookware and removing rubbish.
Small spade or shovel – for digging fire pits and/or a bush poo.
Wet Wipes – because Yes.
Don’t forget lights – The new-fangled camp lights have extra functionality like charging phones and repelling insects. Whatever type you choose, make sure you have multiple sources. Nothing worse than rummaging in the dark for keys or, worse yet, your little one’s favourite bedtime softie.