As a child, I was always very put out that my mum wouldn’t take me camping, apparently she needed her home comforts! This meant that when I became a parent I was keen to take my kids camping. What I discovered was that, as long as you know what to take camping with kids, you really don’t need to miss out on your home comforts. Here’s my guide to the kids camping essentials that will make your camping trip a pleasure.
If you need some convincing to go camping, you might also want to check out these benefits of camping for kids.
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The Kids Camping Essential You really Can’t go Without: A Tent
A good tent is the basis of a good camping trip. If you aren’t committed to camping then you might want to try and borrow one but if you’re in the market to purchase, then there are a few points you should consider:
- Number one on my tent Wishlist is blackout bedrooms – Kids will wake up at the crack of dawn at the best of times so if you don’t want to start your day as soon as the first ray of sunlight hits their face, bedroom areas that are made of blackout material are a must*.
- Find a bedroom arrangement that works for you, now and in the long term – While our children are young we all like to sleep in one space together. This saves the inevitable arguments about who sleeps with who. Once they get older I know our children will want their own space. We chose a tent with a bedroom area that can be zipped into two rooms ready for that time.
- Get a sewn in ground sheet – If your children are even the slightest bit worried about bugs, get a sewn in ground sheet so that you can reassure them that there are no bugs in the tent.
What to Take Camping for Kids to Sleep On
Luckily kids are often less bothered about the discomfort of tent sleeping than adults so it’s fairly easy to find something for them to sleep on, your options are:
- A Travel Crib – If you have a baby or a toddler who can’t climb out of it, then a travel cot is your best option. The fact that a travel crib* doubles up as a safe place to put your baby down to play make it a real camping essential for babies
- A Ready Bed – If you happen to already have a ready bed* for your toddler then they will usually sleep quite happily in them while camping. If you don’t already have one, I wouldn’t advise buying one for camping as they will soon be out grown
- Air Beds – I loathe air beds* but my children will sleep quite happily on them and they are often the cheapest option. The only issue you might have is that the air inside them gets cold from the ground so they aren’t a great choice in low temperatures
- Camp Beds – You can buy all kinds of camp beds*, including doubles* and even bunk beds*. They are great because they are off the ground so generally warmer than the options above. Kids will usually sleep on them as they are, but adults might like to add a Self Inflating Mat, as described below
- Self Inflating Mats – My top choice for sleeping on in a tent is a self inflating mat*, often referred to as a SIM. Although they are on the floor, they seem to almost radiate your own body head back to you. They come in a variety of thicknesses, for adults, a 10cm SIM is enough that you can’t feel ground but with kids they are fine with 5cm SIMS.
Bedding and Other Kids Camping Essentials for Staying Warm
The key to enjoying camping is to stay warm, below are some suggestions on what you’ll ned to take in order to do that.
If you have a baby, then I would advise a baby sleeping bag, with a blanket added for colder nights. I’m personally not a fan of sleeping bags so I take my duvet camping with me and sleep under that, as does my son. My daughter prefers a sleeping bag, she just uses a regular adult one and has done since she was around 3, child specific ones aren’t necessary.
What to Wear to Bed
My next big tip is, don’t take a onsie for the them to sleep in. Or at least, not just a onsie. If they sleep in a onsie and need to go to the toilet at night (and they will need to go to the toilet at night) they have to pretty much strip naked and campsite toilets are not warm. Fleecy Pjs are a better choice or, if they are really cold, my daughter wears regular Pyjamas with a fleece onsie over the top.
If you are camping in the summer, a pair of warm pyjamas and some cosy socks are likely to be enough to keep you warm. If the weather is less warm I would suggest vests and leggings to go underneath pyjamas and wooly hats to sleep in. Stopping the heat loss from the head will make a big difference when trying to stay warm.
If you don’t have a tent with blackout bedrooms then I would consider eye masks to be absolutely essential for kids and adults to avoid being woken up by the sun.
Other Clothing Considerations
You’ll definitely want to pack raincoats as you’ll still need to leave the tent to use the toilets even if it’s raining. If you want to make the most of the outdoors whatever the weather then waterproof trousers are worth investing in too. Anything you can do to avoid ending up with wet clothes that you won’t have anywhere to dry is worth doing.
You’ll also want to take shoes for the kids that they can slip on and off easily for going to the toilet and just running around the camp site. You don’t want shoes being warn in the tent (to avoid ending up with a wet and dirty tent floor) and it’s very difficult to enforce that if shoes take 5 minutes to get on and off.
Unless you’re wild camping, the campsite will have a toilet block. If you’re happy to go there every time anyone needs a wee then you don’t need to consider the matter any further.
If however you would like avoid taking small children to the toilet in the middle of the night you do have some other options. These are worth considering if you are going to be the only adult adult camping with multiple small children and you don’t wan to leave one in the tent alone at night while taking another one to the toilet.
If your children are very small, then a potty in the tent is the simplest solution. If they are too big for a potty then option two is a bucket, which you can use too in a pinch. I’ve tried peeing in a bucket in a tent to avoid going out in the rain at night but my bladder seems to get suddenly shy so I’ve given up on it. Your bladder might be less fussy though.
You can also purchase specially designed camping toilets* and even special toilet tents to put them in which may be any option for you if you have the space to take them.
If you don’t feel quite ready to go on a real camping trip yet, you could always start with camping at home
Kids Camping Essentials for Cooking and Eating
One of my biggest concerns when I first started camping with small children was around them getting burnt when we were cooking. If you have a baby you can put them safely in a travel crib while you’re cooking but toddlers are more difficult to manage. For this reason I would highly recommend investing in something to put your cooking equipment on so that it is above child height. A kitchen stand* works well.
You’ll need a decent cool box to avoid anyone getting food poisoning (I speak from experience here). We now use an electric hook up and take an electric cool box* but as long as there are freezers on site where you can change ice blocks regularly, an electric cool box isn’t essential. You might however decide that an electric hook up is essential so you can have an electric kettle to expedite the coffee in the mornings!
We have plastic cups, plates and bowls but always take our regular cutlery with us because the plastic stuff just doesn’t work. We manage to cook perfectly well on a two ring stove for four of us, you can buy small camping pans but I just take my small pans from home. Make sure you take whatever utensils you need for the dishes you’re planning to cook, it’s really tricky to drain pasta without a colander on a campsite.
You’ll also need somewhere to eat your food. At the very least, camping chairs to sit on (or a bumbo for a baby) but as kids usually struggle too eat on their laps, a picnic table* is what you really need. You can get some great ones that fold flat.
If you asked my children they would tell you that the number one kids camping essential is hot chocolate and marshmallows. It’s a great way to stay warm in the evenings. We also like to take the kind of pancake mix where you just add water and shake it and make pancakes for breakfast.
Essential Bits and Pieces You’ll Want to Take
Below are the smaller items that it’s easy to forget.
- Torches – It’s best to make sure everyone has there own torch, as well as having some lanterns for general use. Head torches* are particular good for kids
- A Mallet – for hammering in pegs
- Sunscreen – If you’re camping you’ll be outside a lot so sunscreen is a must
- A First Aid Kit – Plasters, antiseptic, tweezers for removing splinters or stingers along with medicine in case anyone feels unwell, check out this guide to what to include in a first aid kit
- Fly Repellent – Being bitten by bugs is the only thing I don’t like about camping so this is essential for me
- Washing up equipment – Tea towels, washing up liquid, sponge and bowl.
- Bin Liners – For both rubbish and to put your dirty washing in
- Salt and pepper – Many a good camping meal has been ruined by lack of seasoning
- Kitchen roll and antibacterial wipes – For keeping the cooking area clean
- A Dustpan and brush – For keeping the tent clean
- Washing and teeth brushing bits – For keeping the people clean
Also make sure you take anything that your child sleeps with at home for example a teddy or special blanket
Other Items you Might Want to Consider When camping with Kids
Here’s my list of optional extras that aren’t essential but can make camping more pleasant:
- Walkie Talkies: If your children are old enough to have a bit of freedom on the campsite but too young for a mobile phone then walkie talkies* are a great way of keeping in touch.
- Bikes – We haven’t managed to take our kid’s bikes camping yet due to lack of space but camping is a great opportunity for them to cycle.
- Bells – This is a funny one but if you have a child who sleepwalks it can present a problem when you’re camping. If you attach bells to the zip on the bedroom compartment the sound of them trying to leave will wake you up
- Foam Mats – If you’re camping in the cold then foam mats on the floor of the tent will provide some insulation as well as making it more comfortable for children to play on
- Cosy blankets – It gets cold in the evening so some fleecy blankets to snuggle under are nice to have.
Kids Camping Activities
It’s good to take some kids camping activities with you to keep the kids entertained. What you take will depend on their age but here are some suggestions:
While you may be keen to go electronics free while camping, you might want to allow them first thing in the morning in order to avoid your children waking up the whole campsite if they are early risers
- Card games
- Board games
- Swing ball
- A Football or rugby ball
- Archery Set
- Rounders equipment
- Volleyball net and ball
- Giant Jenga
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