Some of our best summer family memories have taken place while camping. Tent camping. Hard core, cooking over an open fire, no bathrooms in sight kind of camping.
I will tell you right up front that camping in anything other than a gorgeous, fully stocked camper with a kitchen and a shower is really hard for this momma.
The dirty, nitty-gritty of daily tent camping life is not appealing to me at all.
But, I have learned that putting those thoughts aside… grinning and bearing it… digging in and camping anyway has been extremely rewarding for our family.
In the past few years of tent camping, I’ve learned a lot about how to set up camp for the most family fun.
If you are planning to camp or are feeling adventurous this summer, I’m sharing with you some tips for camping success.
Preparation. I can’t stress this enough. Most state park websites are wonderful and allow you to fully explore the campground online. If you are planning to camp over a holiday weekend, reserve your campsite while it is still snowing outside. If you like to camp when no one is there, plan to go when most kids are still in school or plan to camp on weekdays. Research what is available at the park: hiking trails, guided tours, petting zoos, deer feeding and so on. Study park maps. Know where the bathrooms, playgrounds, beach and camp store are located in relation to the site you chose. If you booked online, feel free to call the campground and talk to one of the staff. They will be full of extra information!
Make Lists. for Everything. When we are about to go camping, Jeremy and I plan out our meals in a word doc. For example, Monday Breakfast – pancakes and sausage, Monday lunch – sandwiches and chips, Monday dinner – Hobo pies. (When planning meals, think about which meals need a fire and which meals don’t. If you are going to be at the beach all day or come in hungry from hiking, you won’t want to build a fire for lunch. Something quick would work better.) Then, I figure out what food is needed to make those meals and make a list. I shop from that list. I pack from that list. For clothing, I make a list so that I remember sweatshirts, ponchos, swim cover ups… things I might otherwise forget. Think through the WHOLE day, knowing it could be hot during the day and cold at night. Your list for the campsite is very, very important. This list included things like tents, sleeping bags, tarps, flashlights, batteries, fire cooking tools, spices, shovel, ax, clothes line, rope, broom, trash bags, paper products… This is a huge list and you will need it for packing!
***Keep these lists from year to year!!! Huge help for the next time you go camping. We print a master campsite packing list to take with us. Inevitably, we forget something. When we forget something, it gets written on the packing list and then entered into the word doc when we get home so that we don’t forget it again the next year.
Plan out the campsite. This could be done on a plain sheet of printer paper. Draw out where you want your tents so you can visually see where you want things to go. After you’ve camped a few times, you won’t need to do it at all. Sometimes, this can’t be done until you’ve actually seen the site. If you can, take a drive by where you will camp prior to actually camping there.
Set Up. We bring 2 sleeping tents and 2 screen tents. We have large tarps (you’ll want a few of those!) that we lay down in between the tent entrances (as pictured below) so that we have a place for shoes and a place to sit while putting on shoes. We also try to put tarps under the tents to help with moisture. One screen tent is for playing. The girls bring games, coloring books, toys and this tent works great is the weather isn’t nice or if they are tired of being “outside”. You could use it for other things as well. We use the other tent for our kitchen. I like one with straight sides for the kitchen because it gives you more usable space inside the tent. We put the picnic table inside and store our bins of food and coolers there. For the sleeping tents, something like this is perfect with kids!
Rubbermaid Bins. Pack everything you can, even clothes, in bins. Things tend to just get wet while camping and bins work much better than suitcases! You want THIS SET of clear roughneck Rubbermaid. The clear bins help you know what is inside each one! Not to mention that raccoons, skunks, squirrels and whatever other tiny creature finds your campsite will have a little more of a challenge eating your food if it is in a bin. Be extremely cautious of food left laying out. They will get it. Promise. Throw trash away or put it in a vehicle every time you leave the campsite. And while we are talking about bins/containers, get yourself a 10 gallon water jug. Fill it up so you have plenty of water for cooking, cleaning and washing right at your site. You also want to bring a good cooler.
Plan for the dark. It is going to get dark and your family is not going to be tired. The kids seem to find things to do if the sun is out but you don’t want them wandering too far from the tents if it is dark. Skunks come visiting at that time. I know from experience. A few things you can do… bring a some shepherd’s poles and Coleman lanterns. They will really help light up your campsite. We like that specific lantern because it comes with a hard carrying case which is perfect for storing/moving/packing it from year to year. You can also hang Christmas lights (check out the fun ones!) around the tents and trees. Bugs will get bad so stay by the fire or burn citronella candles. Bring sparklers and flashlights with plenty of batteries.
Don’t worry about packing wood. Most parks won’t let you bring it in. You can use charcoal or find what is available from the wooded areas of the park. We have even found great piles of wood left at unused campsites because we often camp when the park is nearly empty.
Think hiking and picnics. We try to have a freezer bag for picnicking or a beach day. Another good thing is a smaller hard cooler. A camelback for snacks and water. You’ll want to leave the big stuff at the camp site but have smaller options to carry along with you as you adventure!
Let the kids be dirty. Stressing about clean clothes and clean hands and faces while camping will only drive you nuts. Let them be dirty. Pack clothes that can be dirty. Pack toys that can be dirty. Bring some wipes but otherwise just let them have some fun in the dirt. Even if your kids aren’t little, teenagers will use the wipes too! Bring them.
Invest in some bed options. Think cots. Anything left on the tent floor is likely to get wet during the night. If you don’t want wet sleeping bags or wet jammies, cots work well to keep you dry all night long. Try this one or this one. My husband also likes these small air mattresses for camping. They work great. Sleeping bag? We like this Coleman mummy sleeping bag.
Bring those electronics. I know, I know… camping is supposed to get you away from all of that. And, it does. But, having phone on hand for a movie can be a life saver in a storm or during set up and take down of the camp site when you have toddlers. We know. We’ve been there.
Some other things you might want to check out:
Camp Kitchen Gear – LIFE CHANGING
Campfire Cooking Gear – my husband loves all the cast iron everything for camp cooking!
Headlamp – we don’t leave the house without one
Camp Toilet – with little kids, this is exactly what you need right at your site
Outdoor Blanket – you’ll be glad you have one
Hammock – we set one up each summer and it is a special addition for everyone
A set of Coleman Chairs – for the whole family
Seriously… browse for things that can make your camping trip more fun, relaxing and smooth! Don’t “rough it” when you don’t need to, especially with a family.
Make sure you come back to tell me if you went camping or let me know if your family has been tent camping!
Check out our backyard camping tips!