Happy campers and experts in the outdoors share their tips for a successful night out with kids, from packing essentials like wet wipes, vomit bags, and buckets to engaging in nature-based activities.
It’s the holiday season, and Australians are choosing camping over more expensive getaways in this cozzie lives crisis. Hipcamp Australia’s December data shows that bookings for campsites have increased by 47% in the past year. Bookings for families with more than five children also rose 58%.
For first-timers, it can be not easy to pitch a tent when you have kids with you. We asked outdoor experts and happy campers to share their best tips for a seamless (almost) first camping experience.
My husband James, who is the coordinator for our family’s camping trips, recommends that you pack as light as possible. He says that it is sometimes better to invest in equipment that is easy to set up, as there’s no worse thing than having three children running around after being stuck in a car all day.
He recommends that you check reviews before buying any equipment and purchase a camp-specific, premade first aid kit, which includes instructions for beginners. Consider buying equipment that is suitable for the season. Not all sleeping bags are appropriate to use year-round. Instead, consider a 3-season sleeping bag that can be worn in shoulder seasons.
Pack extra clothes, familiarity, and wet wipes.
Iesha Mulla, who calls herself a “camping enthusiast,” says that allowing children to bring comfort items such as a favorite book or soft toy “helps them adapt to the new surroundings.” Packing extra clothes is also important, she says. She says that kids tend to get very dirty when camping. Extra socks, underwear, and layers of clothing for warmth are essential. Don’t forget to use wet wipes!
Add proper vomit bags, which you should keep in your car’s glove box.
Think about the basics. It’s very easy to become distracted by bigger issues. Hipcamp recommends a portable toilet “with an easy disposal system.” It’s worth considering a portable toilet, even if you have a campsite with sanitary facilities.
Bring plenty of fresh water for washing hands, faces, dishes, and feet.
4. List everything and check it twice
Robyn, a camper who goes out with her family, including three children and four others, writes two lists with a pencil on the counter of the kitchen the week before. She writes everything she needs to do to prepare the house for their departure (including shutting down windows and power points) on one list. On the other, she lists the last-minute packing items they forget (like extra batteries, torches, and insect repellent).
She says that when the car is fully packed and everyone inside is ready to go, have one parent check the lists in the house to make sure you didn’t forget anything.
5. Practice in the backyard
Matthew New of off-grid Destinations suggests that if you have space, you can try a backyard campout with your children before going on the road. This will familiarise them with camping and allow them to get used to sleeping in tents. Use as much camping equipment as you can: sit on camping chairs, use flashlights at night, and only use camping gear as bedding. “And cook a meal outdoors, preferably using a portable grill or stove.”
6. Plan gear-free activities
Daniel Espada, Gear Adventure, says: “Turn your camping trip into an adventure. Set up a scavenger-hunt, tell stories around the campfire and gaze at stars together. Play interactive games such as flashlight tag, nature Bingo or storytelling contests.”
You can keep your kids entertained by using nature to do activities like bird watching and plant sketching. This will allow you to use the materials that are already available in your environment.
7. Catering for group trips is easy
Robyn’s biggest tip: go with families that have children of the same age. The kids can form a group, and the adults can relax around the campfire at night. Divide the meals between everyone so that everyone can eat together. You don’t need to prepare a lot of different dishes because you have allotted meal times for each person to design one thing.
James says that splitting up equipment among families can also help reduce packing.
Hipcamp suggests choosing foods that are “easy to keep and maintain” in order to simplify mealtimes. These include sausages, apples, baked beans, and bread.
8. Experience can be used to teach life skills
Kirianna Poole, who shares her camping adventures in a Kombi with her partner, three children, and Instagram, says that enlisting kids to help cook helps them develop outdoor life skills as well as fire safety. She says, “I let them stir pots on the fire while I am nearby. But I explain to them the different parts of the fire and where it gets the most heat.” This knowledge will help them to understand the dangers of fire. They learn to respect fire and never use it.
9. Safety is important.
The new advice says that you should teach your children the basics of safety, such as staying in the campsite and recognizing poisonous plants. Also, it is important to keep hydrated. “Equip your children with small flashlights and whistles.”
Mulla advises that kids should “know the boundaries” of their camping area, using natural markers like a large tree or rock. This will help you to manage your children’s freedom in the wilderness.
10. Lower your expectations
Robyn tells us to “let go of any hygiene standards.” Everyone will wake up and go to bed dirty. Do not look at someone’s feet too closely.
11. Keep your environment clean
New advises: “Instil in children a love of nature and a respect for it by teaching the principles of ‘leave nothing behind’.” Please encourage them to keep their campsites clean and observe wildlife at a distance.
12. Plan with the children and always have a backup plan
New suggests that you let your children help plan the activities and choose the location of [the camping] trip. This builds excitement and gives your kids a sense that they are in charge. Flexibility is the key to a great family camping trip. Although having a plan can be helpful, children’s moods and interests can change quickly, so you need to be flexible.