Taking kids camping? Here’s what you need to know

Camping gear for camping trips with kids

It was mid-October of last year and I had the opportunity to take my kids camping in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the weekend. I broke out my camping list consisting of camping tents, sleeping bags, bug spray, flashlights, and the rest of my camping tools. I had everything on my camping checklist ready to go when all of a sudden, I got a call from my sister.

“I have an emergency, will you please take my kids with you camping this weekend?”

Well, that changes everything. My camping plans changed from having enough camping supplies for two kids, a wife, and a dog to now five kids who had no camping gear of their own. I had to do what I loathe doing; scramble for last-minute camping gear.

I ran to BJ’s to get additional snacks, stopped by my cousin’s house to borrow a large tent, then to Walmart to find extra sleeping pads, sleeping bags, hand warmers – basically the most important items on my camping list.

Rushing around for last-minute camping gear is never a good thing especially for me. More often than not, I forget something – regardless of importance. Except for my kids, so far.

My wife likes to over-pack and I being a veteran tend to pack as light as possible. When dealing with space it’s just as important to keep our camping gear as light as possible. Over-packing is a problem for me because there’s just too much camping stuff to account for.

Not to mention; we have a tendency to over-pack for certain items and under-pack on the things we run out of. Ever happen to you?

Of the many dilemmas in finding last-minute camping gear, we were also faced with finding a way to fit an extra three kids + extra camping gear + into the truck, sleeping arrangement changes, and planning enough camping activities to keep the kids engaged for the weekend.

To keep it short, the weekend camping trip was a mess. The last-minute tent we borrowed from my cousin was missing the aluminum rods, the kids lost just about all of the camping gear we have given them, they were bored because the campsite didn’t have WiFi, and since we over-packed I spent most of our camping trip searching for lost items.

In the military, our command used to make us conduct an after-action review (AAR) of just about everything we did. Much like a post-mortem meeting in the corporate environment. Looking back at how the weekend went, I think about everything that went right and wrong plus how to make the next camping trip better.

This post is basically my AAR of the weekend and my advice to you before you take your kids camping.

What went wrong?

Number one: The tent we borrowed from my cousin was missing aluminum rods

This is a simple fix; ALWAYS check to make sure you have tent rods for your tent. Don’t go by the “bag is heavy, so it must all be there” mentality. Check your gear before you pack it!

I like to pack light, but having extra camping rods is always a good idea being that they are fragile. Even though you might see the rods in the bag, test them to make sure they are in good working condition. I made this major mistake.

Number two: Kids lost their gear

We thought the kids would like to have their own camping gear so we basically handed for them to lose. And kids being kids, they like to use the “I never got it” excuse. Of course, it is possible that I may have forgotten to give it to them in the first place, but I’m pretty sure I did.

Anyways it was my fault. For the next time, I will teach them how to pack their own camping gear; hand them a camping gear checklist, and have them initial their name next to each camping item. Having them check and sign their names ensures that they have all of their gear and I don’t have to listen to; “but you never gave it to me” excuses. Making it fun for them to pack their own camping gear teaches them accountability.

Also, one good camping backpack to hold all of your camping gear is better than three backpacks of assorted camping stuff.

As it gets dark, lighting becomes a problem. Sure; flashlights come in handy, but it sucks spending much time looking digging through your camping backpacks in search of things.

Know where everything is

Again, as it becomes dark outside it tends to take a bit longer to find things. Where did I put that hatchet? Where are the trash bags? With so many people moving things around it becomes difficult to stay on top of where everything is. Have an assigned spot for all of your camping gear is one of the most essentials secrets to camping with kids.

As you set up for camp, show the kids where everything goes. Stress the rule; Always, always, always, put it back where you found it. If you see something where it’s not supposed to be; put it back. You can even make a game out of it. Intentionally put something where it’s not supposed to be and whoever finds the item out of place and puts it back will receive a prize. The prize can be anything you want; a safety whistle, a cool compass, a special camping flashlight. Your kids will not only memorize where everything goes, but they’ll have fun in doing so.

Remember, as soon as it gets dark out, you end up spending more time looking for things that you do relax by the fire drinking your favorite beer. Keep your hatchet or handy gear somewhere close by the fire. I like to keep my camping kit bag next to my cooler of beer.

It gets cold out at night. There’s almost always a kid at camp who thinks that they never get cold so doesn’t bring any cold weather gear. Being the awesome dad that you are, you give up some of your cold weather camping gear stuff to others – including to your wife who should know better, but for some reason didn’t this time.

Making sure that you and every kid has the proper camping equipment readily accessible as the day turns to night is key to a great camping trip.

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