How (Not) to Go Camping With Kids

Posted on August 12, 2014 at 6:00 am

By Rachel Edmondson

How (Not) to Go Camping With Kids | Spokane County Library District

I’ve never been an avid camper. My husband and I did enjoy the occasional camping trip during the first few years of our marriage. We enjoyed the time in nature, the adventure of cooking outdoors, and the excitement of exploring a new place. But since we had kids, our tent has remained in storage.

Since we camped so rarely, the packing process was always daunting. Trying to remember everything we’d need, including making sure we had food that was easy to prepare over a campfire or on a small camp grill, always felt a little overwhelming. We usually only camped one or two nights and, inevitably, there were things I forgot. With just two of us, it was usually no big deal and added a funny anecdote to our memories. Adding kids to the mix, and all the accoutrements that go with them, seemed like an entirely different beast. I was positive what was once a funny anecdote would become a nightmare drive in the middle of the night to find the closest store miles away. Also, the thought of diapers, blowouts, spit-up, and tantrums (inside a tent where all your fellow campers could hear every word), crying at night (same problem), and just about everything else about camping with kids just didn’t sound like fun. So the tent stayed in storage…until this summer.

We have friends in the Wenatchee area that we’d had a great time visiting last summer. We really wanted to visit again this year, but money was tight and we weren’t sure a trip was in the budget. Flashback to my childhood…My mom was never a camper. Ever. So my main camping experience as a kid was when my dad would pitch the tent in the backyard and we would sleep in sleeping bags, stay up late, and have the ritual visit from “The Large and Growly Bear” that was my Mom coming outside to throw pinecones at our tent and make growling noises before she went inside to sleep in the comfort of her own bed. This was backyard camping at its best! Remembering these “camping” experiences inspired me. It was time to pull our tent out of exile. I called my friend and asked her if we could pitch our tent in her backyard so we wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel room. She was game and our tent was about to see the light of day for the first time in years.

There was only one problem. We had a small three person tent and four people in our family. Now, you may be thinking, “yes, but two of them are half-sized,” but if you have ever had a small child climb into bed with you in the middle of the night you know that one half-sized person can take up an entire queen-sized bed. On our way to my friend’s house, we stopped at Costco and got a roomier tent. Hey, it was still less money than one night in a hotel and we could use it for a long time. When we got to my friend’s house we were happy to discover that our tent went up quickly and easily, our queen-sized and twin-sized blow up mattresses both fit inside (what can I say, we’re getting old) and it felt even roomier since all of our bags and our small cooler of food went right inside my friend’s house instead of being stashed at the feet of our sleeping bags. We were onto something.

That night we quickly and easily did our nighttime rituals inside before we grabbed flashlights (my friend had some, because of course I forgot to pack any) and headed outside to our tent. And the perks to camping in the backyard just kept coming. When I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night it was just a quick trip indoors to a real toilet (hallelujah!) We didn’t have to deal with packing out dirty diapers. We didn’t have to stoop over and do the awkward getting dressed-in-a-tent routine. If it rained, we could just move inside and camp out on the floor. We could get used to this!

Now, sleeping in the backyard instead of a campsite can’t fix all possible camping woes. I was still sharing a blow-up mattress with two small girls since that is how we fit best. This meant a lot less sleep and feeling like I was sleeping in the middle of a pile of wiggling puppies. And, of course, we did have our requisite camping malfunction. My husband’s blow-up mattress had a leak so he got to sleep on the ground after all. But after a less than perfect night’s sleep, we all trundled inside to have breakfast. Waffles with fruit and whipped cream cooked in a kitchen, served at a dining table, while not being pestered by bugs made for a much easier morning than trying to cook over a campfire while making sure our toddler didn’t try to play with the pretty flames.

When our two nights were up, we rolled up sleeping bags, deflated the remaining mattress, took down our tent and were ready to go. We didn’t have food to worry about, since our cooler had only held snacks, not meals, for the whole trip. We didn’t have garbage to pack out. We didn’t have games and toys to pack up since we’d just played with my friends’ kids’ toys. It was bliss. In fact, it was such a success, that we’ve made plans to camp with some friends later this month. They’ve got a nice, big backyard just waiting for us!

In case you are braver than we are, here are some great resources for camping with kids. And because I just can’t help myself, several of them recommend camping in your backyard as a practice run to get your kids ready for the real thing!

Tips for (actually) camping with kids:

Kids and Camping at REI

Camping With Kids 101 at the Boston Globe

Six Kid-Friendly Campgrounds at OutThere

Find great places to camp in various books available through SCLD.



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