Camping with kids

Filed under: Activities: Babies, Places To Go, Going Green, Toys

This past weekend, I took the kids camping (didja miss me?). We went with five other families we'd met through Jared's preschool. All told, there were eleven adults and thirteen kids in our group. We all had adjoining or nearby campsites and shared the kitchen area and fire ring of the central-most site.

Both Jared and Sara had a grand old time running around the woods of Samuel P. Taylor State Park with their friends. They found a log bridge that crossed the stream, hid in a hollowed-out hole in a redwood tree, chased lizards and banana slugs, and generally ran themselves ragged getting in touch with nature.

Camping is a wonderful activity for families. First off, it's a cheap vacation -- we paid $20 a night for our site and that could accommodate two families. There are no fancy restaurants to splurge on, so your food costs are pretty much what they would be at home. Once you have some basic gear -- a tent, sleeping bags, a stove, and flashlights -- your costs really are minimal. And camping is a great way for families to have wonderful shared experiences.

So with that in mind, I thought I'd share some tips I've learned over the years as well as this last weekend.


First off, if you've got kids, go in a group of families with similar aged kids. It means you have less work to do (my kids had eleven parents keeping an eye on them this weekend) and lets them run wild with kids their own age and -- perhaps more importantly -- energy level.

Plan your food together. Kids do eat a lot in the outdoors, but we didn't really need three watermelons and four gallons of milk for the weekend. On the other hand, it's nice to share different foods -- my son Jared got to try Japanese yakitori, crab, Muslim Thai curried potatoes, and lentil-and-rice stew.

Trying new foods is a wonderful thing, but not all kids are up for that, especially when they're already dealing with a new environment (and are probably bone-tired by the time dinner rolls around.) So, make sure you bring some comfort food along. Despite all the wonderful options available (the aforementioned delights, plus teriyaki tri-tip, short ribs, salmon, and so on), most of the kids simply wanted hot dogs. There's nothing wrong with that -- it allows them to connect with the new and unfamiliar while still maintaining a link to the familiar and comfortable.

If your kids like eggs, they make a fantastic camping breakfast. The trick is in knowing how to get them from your house to camp successfully. Sure, lots of stores sell those plastic egg carriers, but unless you have your heart set on over-easy, why bother? Get yourself a water-tight jug and crack the eggs into it at home. You don't have to worry about breaking eggs or dealing with shells in camp. I add some onions, no-salt herb mix, and milk before I leave the house and come breakfast, I just pour 'em into a hot pan.

One of the other parents brought along some crayons and coloring books and her younger daughter and my Sara spent some happy hours in their tent coloring together. While adults are happy to relax staring up at the trees (just resting their eyes, of course!), kids need some less cerebral activities sometimes. It's good to have an activity where they can wind down a bit.

As much as I hate washing dishes, I prefer to use real plates and cups (the environment and all that) even while camping. For your last meal before leaving, however, consider using paper plates and cups. You're likely to have most everything packed up already and you want to avoid having to unpack again (or worse -- waiting until the last minute to pack up). You especially don't want to have to choose between washing dishes before you go or bringing home dirty ones.

The Travel Channel offers a Guide to Camping with Infants and Toddlers -- yes, even the very little can go camping. GORP (I seem to recall it originally stood for the Great Outdoors Recreation Pages) has an extract from one of Tom Stienstra's books about building excitement about the outdoors in kids. REI has some tips on camping with kids, as does the site LoveTheOutdoors.com.

So go on, turn off the Wii and get your kids outside. I came to realize this weekend that kids really do look their best when their covered with dirt. And, yes, it all washes off (eventually).

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.