Camping with little ones doesn’t have to be stressful
Fall is the perfect time to get out with your family and go camping. The air is crisp, the s’mores are delicious and the mountains are calling. Contrary to popular belief, camping with little ones is possible and most certainly enjoyable if you have done the planning and prep work.
Greenville’s REI store offers camping for families classes. My own family and I attended a quick one-hour session to get some tips and tidbits we could use for our own camping success. There, my own little one was allowed to touch and help set up a kid-friendly camp site in the store. We left with a camping checklist and a list of things to consider when taking small children out for their first camping adventure. First on the list was to have a camp out in the backyard.
Upstate dad Blake Nickels can attest to the fact that a little one might not get a whole lot of sleep if your camping trip is the first time your little one has slept anywhere other than their room. Night time in the woods sounds, smells and feels completely different, and some children might need to be acclimated to the outdoors in a safe location in their own backyard first. Some might even need to start off with a family camp out in the living room.
Nickels and his wife, Lindsay Shuller Nickels, introduced their daughters to camping early on.
“Embrace them helping and just plan extra time to get everything done,” he says.
Kids want to help set up every part of the camp site and it can be frustrating if you are used to getting things done in record time. The biggest key to success, he added, is to “Only go one night.”
Lindsay Shuller Nickels advocates for bringing transportable activities the kids can do while you are finishing the set up.
“Our girls help with the tent and then they get coloring books and crayons to play with in the tent while we finish,” she says.
If your tent is big enough you could always include a separate pop up tent or even Pack-and-Play inside just for your tiny one or toddler to sleep.
Upstate mom Heidi Ann toted a blow-up pool for her crawler.
“I knew she couldn’t escape and it kept her from eating everything,” she says.
While my husband and I have in the past hiked into a site to camp, we had to give up the idea of that for a few years while my son acclimated to the routines of camping. Currently we car camp or even go glamping and rent a cabin. We bring more things, but have fewer meltdowns. One of our essentials is a hammock we can string between trees. With some supervision, he can swing for several hours and watch the clouds in complete contentment.
Camping is the perfect opportunity to unplug and play those tried and true games you learned as a kid. Singing songs and watching stars are all part of the experience. Some campers string holiday lights at the edge of the site so their young ones have a visual boundary where they are not allowed to pass.
Blake and Lindsay make sure to take their girls hiking and make a game out of picking up garbage that others might inadvertently leave behind.
“Teach them ‘Leave No Trace’ early and they will help you keep your camp site clean and better than you found it,” Blake says.
The last thing to keep in mind is the weather. Be mindful to dress your little one in layers for the weather. Camping in higher elevations typically means cooler weather. Extreme weather is not your friend. Freezing cold or super-hot can make the entire family miserable.
In the end, the goal is to have a good time getting outside. With a little preparation and some small step acclimation for your tot, the whole family can soon be expert campers.
Tips for a successful camping trip with Littles
Camping with children under the age of five might seem like an impossible adventure, but it can work out with a few quick tips.
Do a trial run at home in the backyard. Getting your child used to the tent and the sounds of the outdoors before you have planned a family vacation camping can save you a ton headache. Little ones are not used to sleeping in the great outdoors and when they don’t sleep, you don’t sleep
Bring easy to transport activities. Crayons and coloring books are fantastic distractions for kids to do in the tent while you finish setting up camp. After you have the kitchen and fire-pit set, you can go for a family hike.
Bring kid friendly food they can help prepare. Stick to the classics of camp cooking. Pancakes in the morning, hot dogs and s'mores the night before and sandwiches at lunch mean everybody from the tiniest camper to the adults can personalize something they enjoy eating.
Book spots at the local State Parks. They have bathrooms, specific tent sites and hiking trails that can make your time camping easier and more enjoyable.
Teach them the concept of “Leave No Trace” from an early age. Make it a game to pick up trash as you hike and always put away your food so you do not attract wildlife.