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20+ Tips to Camp with Kids

July 26th, 20161 Comment

PLUS a great list of what to bring! 

By Allison Hopkins

I am certainly no expert on camping, I only just started camping frequently after my first child was born. Six years later we are still tent camping with our two kids, we started out with minimal gear and short trips close to home. Slowly over the years we have bought better gear, lengthened our trips and travelled further from home. Recently we rocked an 11 night tent trip with our four and six year olds in B.C., visiting three different provincial parks. My husband and I are still talking to each other and the kids had a blast so I would call it a success! 

 

~A walk after supper around Texas Creek Campground in Gladstone Provincial Park

I have learned over the past six years that preparation is important to a relaxed camping trip. BUT even with my obsessive research, lists, pictures of my lists in case I lose the paper copy, experience and stunning packing skills, stuff just happens. Like when the stress ball your son bought at a local gift shop explodes and rains corn starch in the vehicle and you run out of wet wipes. Or when you leave the warm sleeping bag at home because you're going to sunny B.C., but then it wasn’t so sunny and you were cold. Or when you didn’t get around to buying bear spray and are warned by fellow hikers of several bears in the area and don't finish the hike you were looking forward to for weeks because it would irresponsible to continue... even though your six year is still confident he can outrun a bear. Or when it rains almost every day and you only got three beach days out of eight days spent in the Okanagan.

Here are some tips and a packing list to make your next camping trip run smoothly. Or a little smoother. Or at least not be a complete disaster. 

~Rain, rain and some more rain at Fernie Provincial Park

Tips:

  • Always bring rain gear and if camping in the mountains (even in the summer) bring toques/mitts. Check the weather before you go but don’t depend on the forecast to be accurate.  
  • Check with the park host/operator for any kid's programs. Two of the B.C. provincial parks handed out kid's scavenger hunt pamphlets and when completed they received a prize.
  • DO NOT over schedule your day. I plan max 2 “things” a day, here are some examples: a hike and then beach, farmers’ market and then spray park or explore the campground and then drive to a local playground. 
  • Choose a campground with a playground. It’s not a must for us but a great way to keep kids happy. Pick a site away from the playground if you want any peace and quiet, or a site close by if you want to keep your kids always in and you don’t mind the noise.
  • Less is more with kids toys; have faith in your kids that they can free play with sticks, pine cones, rocks and make new friends at the campground.  Pack a small bin of toys and if the kids say they are bored, that's okay. They will find something to do and you are doing an excellent job!
  • Make a rough menu for meals, it will give you a general idea of how much and what food you want to pack. 
  • Be flexible with your meals; one morning it was pouring rain so we went to the local community homecoming pancake breakfast. The kids were happy and dry plus they had face painting! Also if we have a longer than expected outing and it is getting late, ordering a pizza to eat back at camp is a great option. 
  • Pack large ziploc bags and foil for easy clean-up cooking; we eat caesar salads frequently when camping and instead of packing a mixing bowl I put all the ingredients in a large ziploc bag and shake it. Also foil packets over the fire are a great no-clean-up dinner option. I will par boil potatoes and then add green onions, salt and pepper and shredded cheese with a little bit of butter in a foil packet. So good! 

~An easy clean up foil packet dinner of potatoes, so good!

  • Do your research; look up rainy day activities (think libraries, science centres, movie theatres, indoor recreation facilities, museums, indoor play areas), hikes and/or bike trails, family friendly restaurants, local attractions and spray parks. I prefer to hand write a list of activities, restaurants, hiking trails and also snap a picture in case I lose the paper copy. Which seems to happen almost every time and I think I figured why... last trip as my husband was using the paper to start fires!
  • Talk to family, friends and co-workers to see if anyone has been to the campground before. Also post on social media to friends and mom groups asking if they have any tips from a past visit to the campground.
  • Check out the local visitor information kiosk in the nearest town, plus they often have free wifi. 
  • Stay at the campground for at least one day. Explore the bike/hike trails,  play card games/board games, take a family afternoon nap or quiet time with a movie on the iPad, do a scavenger hunt or hang out at the playground. 

~ The creek behind our campsite, it's nice to just explore the campground

  • Don’t have space for a bike? Check if the campground has paved roads and bring a foldable scooter instead. 
  • Use websites to read descriptions and reviews of campgrounds; albertawow, Natrivia, Trip Advisor, Provincial Park Website (e.g. Alberta Parks) and Parks Canada.
  • Read local travel/adventure blogs for information on trails, attractions and other tips. Some of my faves are Twirls and Travels, Play Outside Guide and Family Adventures in the Rockies
  • Check out Parks Canada's Learn to Camp App
  • Search Instagram with hashtags to see pictures of the campground or local attractions; #abparks #campgroundname #hiketrail #attraction
  • Check provincial park websites or Parks Canada for advisories on water quality, bear sightings, trail closures and fire bans before you go. Alberta Health Services' website also posts blue-green algae advisories
  • Borrow camping supplies from friends, family, co-workers and neighbours when you are starting out.
  • Make lists. Camping gear list, clothing list, toiletries list, miscellaneous item list, grocery list (which I divide into two; cooler and dry food bin). Please don’t let yourself be overwhelmed. Now that we have a couple of camping trips under our belt this year I can pack from memory, except groceries,  which I always make a list for. 
  • Bring cash; it is always a good idea to have cash when travelling and camping is no different.  
  • You are on vacation! Camping is a lot of work, especially with kids in tow, but remember you are on vacation so have fun and go with the flow. 

List 

Every family has different needs and wants for a camping trip, so packing lists of course will vary. The following list is what we packed for our 11 night tent camping trip. Whether you are going for a two night or an 11 night camping trip, it seems you need to pack the same amour of gear with the only exceptions being underwear, socks and food.  

  • tent and extra tent pegs
  • sleeping bags
  • sleeping pads 
  • pillows & pillow covers
  • cooking stove and propane tanks 
  • cooler food
  • dry food bin
  • camping chairs
  • toys/kids' activities: bubbles, bouncy balls, Uno, pencil crayons, blank paper, activity books, stickers, books, glow sticks, chalk, beach toys, a few small personal toys for each child
  • clothing: warm fleece jackets, rain gear, multi-purpose sandals (we love KEEN as they are waterproof and good for short hikes/day use/biking and the beach), shirts (short and long sleeve), shorts and long pants, pjs, hats, towels, night pull-ups for our little one, underwear and socks, sneakers and flip flops
  • kitchen supplies; pot, frying pan, plates, bowls, utensils, foil, ziploc bags (large), lighter, matches, wash basin, cutting board, knife, spatula, can opener, serving spoon, dish soap, wash cloth, dish towel, wash bin
  • axe and work gloves (for everyone, as the kids like to help with the firewood) to prevent slivers
  • collapsible water container
  • reusable water bottles for each person
  • tarp
  • roasting sticks
  • flashlights
  • pie irons
  • hammock
  • bug screen for picnic table
  • foam pad for tent floor
  • personal toiletries
  • medicine kit: benadryl for kids, tylenol, after bite, bug spray, sunscreen, first aid kit, bear bell, blister pads
  • leap pad and iPad with headphones
  • bike helmet (we rented a bike near the end of our trip for my son)
  • wet wipes, lots and lots of wet wipes
  • plastic and reusable grocery bags
  • tupperware containers (small)
  • cash 

 

~After a couple of nights of smores switching to sweet pie iron sandwiches (pie filling or jam & peanut butter) gives some variety for an after dinner treat.

P.S. I asked my kids what their favourite part of our camping extravaganza was and they said “everything”. I asked again and they repeated “yep I am pretty sure everything”. That makes all the hard work worth it and melts my heart.  

 

Having fun at Ellison Provincial Park

Happy Camping! 

Allison Hopkins is an Alberta girl, currently living in the #YEG. Wife & mom to 2, she works a day job and seems to always be planning their family's next adventure! You can follow her and see her photo diary of family exploration on Instagram www.instagram.com/allhopkins

Reader Comments (1)

Kenda Salmon said on July 27, 2016

Great article! I am looking forward to looking at those travel/adventure blogs you posted. Thanks!

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