Camping with Kids

Getting dirty, finding resources, packing and making memories

By Janelle Barquist May 7, 2019

When I tell people we camp with our kids they are impressed and always ask “how do you do it?” We have five kids so everything is a production, especially camping.   

Let’s back up a bit. When I met my husband we both had an interest in camping and backpacking. We didn’t have a ton of experience but had enough from our younger years to know how to do some things. We also have enough experience being dirty, not showering for days and using the bathroom in the woods (when it's needed).   

When we had kids we knew we wanted camping to be part of their childhood memories. We wanted them to fall in love with the outdoors, we wanted them to experience boredom –which always leads to the most creative games-and we wanted them to embrace camping in every element. Camping has been something we try to do every summer and we have done since our oldest was only 5 months old. When I am referring to camping I am talking about a campground, tent, and easy access to water.   

As a mom these are the things I have learned that have made camping easier and such a joy to do with our family. 

  1. Know your why? The most important thing is to “know your why”.  Why do you want to make camping a priority.  If you keep this in mind it will help when things aren’t going perfectly. TIP:Camping never goes perfectly.  
  2. Have an out. As a mother with small children it is easy to start playing the “what if” game. What if one of my kids falls into a bee hive and has an allergic reaction? What if it is SO cold that the kids are crying and won’t stop or I’m crying because I’m TOO cold?  What if we run out of coffee?  There are so many situations and scenarios that could happen most that we can never even plan for. So I always make sure I have “an out” - an escape plan.   I remind myself that we can always pack up our stuff and head home. There is nothing requiring us to stay. If it is so unbearable and so miserable we can be done. This gives me a peace of mind about any of the “what ifs”.
  3. DIRT – If you go into the experience knowing you are going to be dirty and the kids will be dirtier then it makes everything easier and dirtier.  There is less yelling to stay out of the puddles and not get dirty. And when your tent smells like dirt and sticky socks there isn’t much you can do anyways.   
  4. RESOURCES - Use your resources. Websites, REI, friends. You can find lots of information about packing lists, places to camp etc.    
  5. FRIENDS/FAMILY - Plan a camping trip with family or friends. This is so fun and it helps when you forgot something because it is likely they will have it.  
  6. Packing. Have your kids pack their clothes. This has been HUGE for me. It is always a bit stressful planning and preparing for a trip but if I can start to get my kids involved in the process it will eventually get easier, right? Make a list for them and have them pack their bags.  But double check it.  Our five year old packed shorts, a scarf and a magnifying glass. Because those things are so important.  He also had no extra underwear (refer to the dirty paragraph). Thankfully his brothers were able to share some of their clothes. If they pack then you can focus on the other camping essentials. 
  7. Unpacking. Just be prepared for the laundry and unpacking you have to do. Don’t schedule anything on the day after you return.Trust me. I’m still learning this and it is also a reminder to me.  
  8. Making Memories – In all our adventures, camping or just life with 5 kids, my husband and I will often look at each other and remind each other “we are making memories”. And we are. Some of them are crazy, strange memories (nursing a 4 month old in the middle of the night in the freezing cold) but they are memories that we will cherish forever.