There are few experiences that are better at bringing a family together than camping. Spending time together in nature, away from the stresses and distractions of everyday life, can strengthen the bonds between family members. Family camping is an adventure which creates shared memories that last a lifetime.
Camping with children is an enriching experience for the child and the adult. When we introduce nature to children, we see it anew through their eyes. Providing children with positive outdoor adventures will plant the seeds for a lifetime appreciation of nature.
Older children can enjoy freedom on a camping trip that is not always possible at home. With that freedom comes the responsibility to learn about the environment and any possible dangers. All of this contributes to a child’s maturity.
One way to insure that your first family camping excursions are positive is to adequately plan and prepare. Involving children in the planning and preparation will foster their enthusiasm for the trip. If you’re entirely new to camping, or if you haven’t done much camping since your own childhood, invite a more experienced family or friend to come along.
There are two basic types of camping: tailgate (or car camping) and backpacking. With tailgate camping, you drive to a campground and park your car in your campsite. Backpacking involves packing your camping gear into a wilderness area. For novice campers, tailgate camping is the best way to start out.
When deciding on a destination for your camping trip, consider the activities available. Hiking, swimming, biking, boating, sight seeing – these are just some of the things you can do on a camping trip. Before leaving, make a campsite reservation and get all the details about your destination.
Camping equipment is available in all price ranges. Deciding what kind of equipment to buy can be intimidating for a beginner. Try to borrow equipment for your first trip, or get advice from a friend if you are purchasing equipment.
Whether you buy or borrow a tent, make sure you know how to set it up and take it down before your trip. You can even have a “practice campout” in the backyard for the kids. This will help them get used to sleeping in the great outdoors.
These are some of the basic items that you will need for your first camping trip:
- Tent – A must have for family camping. Besides being your bedroom, it’s a place to store your clothing and gear. It should be big enough to comfortably fit everyone. If you have older children, you may one more than one tent.
- Sleeping bag, pad or air mattress, pillow – A pad or air mattress under your sleeping bag will help keep you warm and dry. Most children sleep well with a thin pad, but many adults prefer an air mattress. When purchasing sleeping bags, make sure the bag is warm enough for night time temperatures where you will be camping. Small camping pillows are available at most sporting goods stores. These pillows take less space and will easily fit into a duffel bag, which will keep them clean while traveling.
- Duffel bag or pack for each family member – Packing clothing and hygiene items in a single bag per family member helps keep things organized in the car and at the campsite.
- Warm clothing and extra shoes.
- First Aid kit with insect repellant, sunscreen and chap stick.
- Lantern and flashlights.
- Rain ponchos and tarps – Placing a tarp under your tent will keep it dry and warm inside when the ground is damp.
- Camp stove and cooking gear (including dishwashing soap) – You may want to use the campsite grill for some cooking, but a camp stove is very handy. Your cooking gear can be basic or fancy, depending on your menu and on how much time you want to spend cooking.
- Ice chest – Necessary for food which needs to be refrigerated.
- Ax, matches, fire starters – If you are allowed to have a campfire, bring the tools to help build it.
- Books, familiar toys, outdoor sports equipment – Reading material is great for the drive and for quiet times in camp. Allow your children to bring any familiar toys which will help them sleep. Leave electronics at home to help everyone really get away from modern life.
Involve children in setting up camp and in chores around the campsite. Teaching them camping skills will increase their self-confidence and provide them with valuable survival skills.
Children should learn about outdoor ethics and Leave No Trace principles. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has information about these subjects on their website. You can also talk to rangers at your campground about outdoor ethics.