We just finished our vacation this summer on a wonderful campout with some great friends of ours. Both families love camping, the outdoors, and hiking. We also enjoy each other’s company – a lot. So, camping with these friends of ours is always an adventure, ever pleasant, and great fun for everyone involved. These friends of ours also have a lot of outdoor experience, so over the years we’ve learned the ABCs of camping with children from our camping adventures together.
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A – Always Add More Food
When packing for camp, it’s tricky to get the right amount of stuff needed at the campsite to fit into the vehicle – and still have room for the family. But one thing we’ve learned – always add more food. It is amazing how much people can eat when they are camping, and having more than you think you’ll need will probably mean you have just enough.
B – Be Prepared
This is a great motto and applies in a lot of different situations, but I’m meaning be prepared with plan B. What will your family do If the weather goes from sunny to showers in a moment? A card game, coloring books, or papers with crayons don’t take much room and will occupy the family if the weather prevents outside play.
C – Carry Water
One of the most necessary commodities families need camping is clean water. Some campgrounds have potable water spigots. But, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Make sure to bring in drinking water for the family, just in case. There are water bottles that have built in filters that make non-potable water safe to drink and save a lot of space in the car.
D – Down Time
Make sure to include down time, or time to rest, during the camping trip. No one will enjoy themselves if they feel pushed to go, and go, and go. Make a rest period part of every day, so everyone will have the stamina to enjoy the other activities.
E –Employ the Buddy System
When camping with a family, make sure to assign buddies to the children. We pair our older children with our younger children when we are hiking or both parents are needed to set up/break down camp. When the children are buddied-up, the older children know they are responsible for being with the younger child, keeping the younger child from danger, and making sure the younger child doesn’t go far from the camp.
F – Fire Safety
The Boy Scouts have it right – make sure your fire pit is safe. Clear the area around the fire pit of debris. Be sure the area above the fire is also clear of flammable materials. Make sure the fire ring is well built and will keep embers in. Only burn paper, cardboard, and wood – aluminum cans don’t burn and the next campers don’t want to pick out other peoples trash. Make sure the fire is properly banked or extinguished before going to bed. Finally, don’t play with the fire once it’s lit. Don’t poke sticks into it and write in the air with the burning stick. Don’t try to jump the flames — or any other silly things people may do that usually end in pain or a forest fire.
G – Games
Games can be a lot of fun on a campout. Horseshoes, hide-and-go-seek, scum – these are all games that are fun and family friendly. Whatever games are used, make time to play together.
H – Hiking
Make time to share some hikes with you children. Hiking is fun, offers great opportunities for children to learn about nature, and offers some exercise that helps everyone feel more like themselves when they are in a new environment. Hiking doesn’t need to be a super long distance or difficult terrain. Find a hike that looks like a good fit with your family and fitness level, and go hiking.
I – Ice
Ice in a cooler makes a great refrigerator for a couple of days. We usually put a bag of ice in the bottom of the cooler (still in the bag) and then a bag on the top. Frozen water bottles also work really well, if you aren’t counting them as drinking waters as well. The bottles tend to take a long time to thaw out.
J – Jenga
When we pack for a camping trip, it feels like a game of Jenga. We start by gathering everything that we want to bring with us on the campout. Remember, what goes out will need to come back the same way. Always put the most important, and largest, things in first. We usually pack in this order: the tent, Camp Chef, sleeping bags, air mattresses, food, water, cooking supplies, clothes, and then extras – like fishing or hiking supplies, and games.
K – Knives
A good multi-tool knife can be a life saver on a campout. They are light, compact, and so very, very useful. I can’t count the number of times our multi-tool knife has helped us out of a difficult job.
L – Lanterns and Flashlights
It’s a good idea to have a battery operated lantern and a couple of hand crank flashlights dedicated just to camping. Keep the batteries out of the lantern when it’s being stored, but otherwise these light sources are hassle free and super helpful. Keeping them just for camping will make sure they are there when you need them.
M – Maps and Atlases
Most often, camping happens where cell phones don’t get service. Sorry, wilderness usually equals no cell towers. There are a lot of applications that will allow you to download a map on a smart phone. If that isn’t an option – there are still, believe it or not, real paper maps and atlases. Buy a copy and put it in your car – you’ll thank me later.
N – Neosporin and Other First Aid Necessities
A good first aid kit is essential for any outdoors experience, but don’t forget to take it when you head out camping. A good kit should have at least: various sized adhesive bandages, gauze, tape, antibiotic ointment, wipes, burn relief, acetaminophen, an ace bandage, some way to make a sling, tweezers, sun screen, aloe vera cream, Benadryl cream and aspirin. The emergencies we’ve dealt with in our camping seem to be categorized in four areas: cuts, slivers, and abrasions; burns – from the fire and from the sun; allergic reactions; and slips and falls. We actually just used up all the antibiotic ointment in our kit on our last camping trip – and we were only dealing with cuts and abrasions.
O – Opportunities to learn
Opportunities to explore and learn are all around when out camping. Take the sometime to go to the visitor’s center and learn about where you are staying. Or, go on a nature trail and actually read the signs along the way. I learned about how ice caves form, and why they stay near freezing even in the height of summer, just because I took three minutes and read the sign.
P – Protection from the Elements
I have learned, lately, that the weather can be fickle. A clear sky in the morning could lead to 3 inches of hail by the afternoon. When setting up a campsite, set up a tarp over the gathering area so that if the weather turns dramatically for the worst, there will be a place to go as a group. Also, ponchos are very light weight and should be in any pack the family is taking on a hike.
Q – Quiet Time
Remember to be quiet during the nighttime hours when camping. Most campers are up with the sun and go to sleep shortly after it is dark. So, while chatting about the campfire, remember to keep voices, laughter, and other noises quiet so as to not disturb the neighbors.
R – Repairs
Sometimes things happen to tents, tarps, clothes, shoes, or other equipment – and they have to be fixed. We have found duct tape, twine, a needle and fishing line, and a tent repair kit to be the best and lightest tools to have for these kinds of moments.
S – Safety First
When out in the wilds, pay attention to the surroundings, the weather, and what other people are doing. If there’s thunder nearby – don’t go out fishing. If dark, stormy clouds are moving in, don’t start a six hour hike. Use common sense to determine if an activity is wise to do given the circumstances. Also, bring the right gear. It’s best to hike and camp in long pants – because the pants protect legs from bugs, scrapes, and bites. Sunscreen, hats, and layers will help keep sunburns from becoming bothersome. Life jackets will help if the boat capsizes, or if the bottom of the lake suddenly drops off from beneath the swimmers. Closed toed shoes will protect feet from any number of hazards. A little bit of caution will keep a lot of misery at bay.
T – Tent Care
We have a 10-man tent, and really love using it. Any tent is an investment, so it needs to be cared for. Use a tarp as ground cover to keep the tent from getting moister on the bottom of it. Use a broom and sweep the tent out before packing it up. If the tent was taken down while it was wet, take the time to set it up at home and dry it out. Also, don’t walk on the tent – that will ruin the waterproofing of the tent and keep the zipper closed so that bugs don’t get in.
U – Underwear
I know this is a bit of an odd topic when talking about camping. But, clean underwear is important to bring. Camping doesn’t always allow for the cleanest of conditions, but changing underwear daily will help bodies stay cleaner – especially little bodies.
V – Visitor to the Wilderness
When humans go out camping, we need to remember that we are visiting the animals’ homes. It is important that we don’t do anything that would damage that home or the animals. If allowed, gathering supplies for needs is fine, but doing things just because we can is not. Carving into living trees hurts the trees and opens them up to infections and bug damage. Leaving trash lying about can attract bears and other predators to the campsites. The motto of “leave no trace” applies every time we go out into the wilderness.
W – Washing up
Camping presents a difficult challenge to keeping dishes clean. We have a washing up kit that we keep just of camping. It includes two large bath towels (my old towels), two or three wash rags, one sponge scrubber, a bottle of dish soap, paper towels, a wash tub, and a pot to boil water in. Be sure to use potable water to wash dishes, cooking utensils, or pans – for safety reasons. Be sure to wash up after each meal. The dishes will clean much easier, and no flocks of flies will visit the campsite if you do.
Camping is a great way to excite children’s curiosity about nature and science. Plan some adventures, and go exploring together. Everyone will learn something new and the explorations will form memories for everyone involved. My children still talk about some of our explorations that we did last year.
Y – Yummy Meals
Campfire food can be delicious – it doesn’t have to be hotdogs and marshmallows. Aluminum foil is a great way to cook food on the fire. I’ve had fish, zucchini, shish kebabs, and frozen burritos all in aluminum foil on a campfire – in addition to potatoes, carrots, and hamburger meant as a tin foil dinner. Be creative and experiment. You might just invent the new s’mores.
Z – ZZZZ’s
Camping is a lot of fun, and there’s something mesmerizing about sitting around a campfire at night. But, it is important to go to sleep at a decent hour. I’m guilty of not doing this a lot because I enjoy staying up after my children are in bed and chatting with the other adults. The problem then comes the next day when my children pop up just at sunrise ready to go, and I just want to stay in my sleeping bag.
There you have it – the ABCs of Camping. The products I recommended are from trial and error and not sponsored by any company. I hope this list helps more families get outside and get camping – it’s such a wonderful experience for children. If you have other suggestions for a letter, let me know. I’d love to quote you in the post as well. Thanks, and happy camping.