Before children, I spent many summers backpacking, road tripping, and even leading high adventure wilderness trips in the Adirondack Mountains. The wilderness is a love of mine, and I have been patiently waiting until my children were old enough to share that love with me. That time has finally arrived, and though we won’t be backpacking, we are planning our first car camping trip next weekend, and a few more over the rest of the summer!
Tent camping takes a lot of forethought to begin with, and more so when you have young children (one still in diapers, for us!) as well. While our first trip will be to a campground, we are planning some state forest camping this summer, as well. The biggest difference between the two are what you can leave out at night and what you need to put back in your car to avoid bear and animal infestation, as well as if you are able to throw your garbage out and get fresh water (at a campground) or if you need to secure your garbage and pack in your water (forest). Either way should be completely doable with young children if you have the correct planning and, for us at least, plan to “car camp” (i.e. you can drive your vehicle into your campsite or at least very close, so you can bring more things with you instead of only what you can carry on your back).
Here are some general guidelines to help your family camping experience go smoothly:
- Use a packing checklist (get your free copy here)
- Use a food packing checklist (we’ll be uploading one of those later this week, too!)
- Pack your camp supplies and food in 5-gallon buckets and a cooler. They’ll double as seats, the lids will provide fire fanning tools, and the 5-gallon buckets are fairly secure.
- Label those buckets and always put things back where they were.
- Teach your kids wilderness, camp, and trail etiquette. Don’t litter, follow pottying rules (100′ away from a trail, 200′ away from a water source; mix your waste with some dirt/leaves, cover, and leave a small stick standing up so others know not to use that spot!), walk in the center of trails, don’t burn things that shouldn’t be burnt, etc.
- Keep your shoes outside the tent. Trust me, you’ll be thankful for a clean floor when you try to sleep.
- Find a level tent spot–remove every twig you see, and roll around on the floor after the tent is up but before you finalize your spot. You may realize it’s not level after all! Better to change now than in the middle of the night.
- Use a tent that you can reasonably put up considering your situation. Do you need two adults? If so, where will the kids be? We chose an easy-up family sized tent because then one adult can keep the kids safe while the other handles the tent.
- Always sign in to trails and give your itinerary to someone before you leave for your trip.
- Relax! The more organized and prepared you are, the easier it will be to focus on the purpose of your trip–new experiences, memory building, relaxation, and fun.