This post may contain affiliate links. Read the full disclosure
Are you ready for the best camping hacks with kids? Camping with kids can be one of the most wonderful family experiences, getting into the great outdoors and enjoying each others company. However, taking kids camping is not as simple as packing up the tent and camp gear and setting off!
These camping with kids hacks and great tips will help to make your next family camping trip much more enjoyable. And keep the kids entertained away from their home comforts!
When camping with kids, you will want to make the process of setting up and packing away as quick and easy as possible to avoid long delays.
For new campers, or if some time has passed between camping trips, it is always a good idea to test your equipment or take a “trial run” in the backyard before venturing out on your journey.
Preparation is key to camping, whether you are a seasoned camper or a beginner. There is nothing worse than when you arrive at a campsite and realise something is damaged, missing, or the process takes longer than expected.
Becoming familiar with your camping gear and making sure everything is in working order before your trip will make your camping experience more enjoyable.
The old saying “practice makes perfect” applies to camping. And this particularly refers to the process of setting up a tent.
The simple exercise of pitching the tent in the backyard to trial the process from start to finish will make the activity quicker once you are at the campgrounds.
Don’t leave home without a camping checklist! If you are packing and planning without a list, you’re sure to forget something essential.
And kids require a whole lot of extra stuff compared to camping with just adults and teens. Create your own camping with kids checklist with everything you need before you go and make sure you tick things off as you pack!
If we plan to be in bear country, I pre-cook our bacon and sausage. Then just warm them up mixed in our eggs.
Or I make a huge batch of breakfast burritos, wrap them in tin foil and freeze them and then just warm them over the campfire. You can find over 40 foil packet recipes for camping to help save you time, pre-wrapping your meals in aluminium foil before you leave home.
Another easy campsite cooking method is using a dutch oven over the campfire. You can easily prep and store your dutch oven recipes for easy camping meals that you throw in the dutch oven and cook.
TIP: For an easy campfire dessert, try making Smores campfire cones for your next camping trip and stuffing ingredients into ice cream cones instead of holding them between Graham Crackers. So much easier!
Instead of buying ice for your cooler, freeze water in plastic water bottles or a clean milk jug and keep these in your cooler instead. This also doubles as drinking water once it defrosts as well, giving you chilled water.
Camping With Kids Essentials
These camping with kids essentials will make your family camping trip a lot easier, more organised and more fun for the whole family!
Bring A Sun Shelter
Over the years of camping with not only my own daughter but other families and their children, a great camping hack that I learned from a friend was to bring a small pop up sun shelter for the kids.
We then use this little tent as a kids play area while we are camping.
We usually place the pop-up tent just to the side of our main sitting area so that the kids have their own space. Then fill the tent with Lego, games, colouring-in books, etc all the sorts of things that kids enjoy doing.
We find the kids really enjoy having their own space and this allows the parents to have their own space too.
The great thing about using a popup sun shelter is it packs down small and so doesn’t take up much space in your car.
Plus it’s versatile. If you’re camping near the beach, you can bring it with you for shade.
Preparation is the key to enjoying a camping holiday with kids. The first stage of preparation for me is packing, followed by planning my storage at our camp site.
I use packing cubes to sort our clothing into categories. I have separate storage cubes for our day clothes, pyjamas, swimming gear, socks and underwear. This makes it easy to pull out what we need without having to sort through piles of clothing.
The next essential task is deciding how I will store everything once we are camping.
I use a five-tier camp cupboard for our clothes. If you have small children around you may prefer something lower to the ground that can’t be tipped over, such as tubs or draws.
I use hanging pockets hung from our gazebo for things I need quick access to like sunscreen, hats and bug spray. For our cooking items, I used a fold-out table with cupboards underneath.
As soon as we arrive I set up everything so I know where it is and don’t have to waste my time searching for items. Then my husband, son and I can kick back and relax, play or set off on our adventures!
Dress them in layers. Even if the weather is warm when you start your camping trip, it can quickly turn cold at night. Early mornings outdoors can often be a little chilly even during the warmer months.
To make sure your kids stay warm and are comfortable (and to avoid any arguments about putting on a coat), dress them in layers that can be easily added or removed as the temperature changes through the day.
One of the things that stress me out the most about camping is trying to find stuff in a tiny, cramped space and then trying to re-pack the bags!
We found it made life so much easier to have a few days of outfits packed together and left at the top of the bag so we could just pull them out.
Our cubes have 2 compartments so we could easily keep the clean and dirty clothes separate.
Every two to three days we would just take out a couple of new cubes with fresh clothes. It saved so much time and hassle.
One extra benefit? Packing cubes are quite soft, especially when stuffed with clothes, and can double as a pillow – winner!
-Emma from Wanderlust and Wet Wipes
TIP: Packing cubes make it easy to keep the kid’s clothes and your clothes separate too. Have a different colour for each family member!
Headlamps & White Noise
Camping with kids is an amazing experience. We camp with our children 3-4 times every summer and more often if we count camping in our backyard.
There are 2 items that we have taken with us that make our camping trips much more enjoyable.
Headlamps: In the evenings, it can get dark quickly while getting ready for bed. A headlamp is helpful as you don’t have to hold anything, and kids love it as well. It’s out of sight and you can easily turn it on and off.
White noise machine: There can be a lot of noise at a campground in the evening. A portable white noise machine can help drown out a lot of small noises that would otherwise prevent kids from falling asleep. This has helped us get the kids to bed at a reasonable hour and fairly quickly.
Both items are a great way to help kids feel more comfortable and our recommendation on what essentials to take when you go camping with kids.
Where you camp is a big factor in having a successful family camping trip. It also impacts the type of camping you plan to do.
If you are taking a campervan or caravan on your camping trip, your experiences is made easier by having most facilities built into your temporary accommodation.
If you are tent camping with kids, you need somewhere with facilities to suit. At the minimum, this means toilets and handwashing facilities.
For longer stays, campgrounds with family-friendly facilities will improve your experience. Showers, camp kitchen, playgrounds, close to beach or attractions.
One of the best camping hacks with kids that we do for our family camping trips is to think carefully about the campsite location when we book.
If you are able to plan ahead for your campsite booking, look on the campground map for where the best campsite choice is for location and distance to bathrooms, playgrounds, beaches, and other facilities.
If you have young children, you may want to be closer to the playground to keep an eye on the kids from your campsite.
Or if you are tenting, you may want to choose a place closer to the washrooms for all those late-night bathroom breaks with your little camper.
If you have kids that love to ride their bikes on the campground, try to find an area that is circular where they can loop around back to your family campsite.
Also, next time you are camping, take note ofwhat you liked or didn’t like about your campsite location so you can choose wisely next time and making your camping easier.
We love to go camping and usually find it easier when we go with another family or as a group. With more adults around, setting up and cooking is more fun and takes less time. And with more children around our kids always have a playmate!
When we’ve camped as a family alone, we’ve almost always made friends at campsites and it’s lovely getting to know new people.
I also really appreciate the friendly nature of most campsites we’ve been to. There’s always someone happy to loan an item or lend a hand.
But still, I find it’s easier with people we already know, especially when planning is shared between the group.
If our kids are already friends, we know what to expect and they look forward to playing with their mates. And having friends of my own around means I can trust them to watch my children if necessary. And have a laugh and some great conversations with people I love.
Though camping can be tiring as a family, it’s enjoyable for us all to have time with our friends.
We’ve gone camping at Mungo National Park twice now. First just with our family and later with some mates. It was definitely more fun the second time around!
-Emma from Small Footprints, Big Adventures
Safety Tips For Camping With Kids
Safety is top priority when camping with kids. This goes beyond choosing a safe location to set up camp.
Extra time spent outdoors brings new challenges and risk, no matter how careful. Bumps and scratches, allergic reactions or getting lost are all considerations.
Especially if camping with toddlers and younger children!
Setting Rules & Knowing Surroundings
Camping is a fantastic experience that provides bonding time for the entire family. However, being in a different environment can increase the chances of the kids getting lost while exploring or getting hurt playing outdoors.
Taking a few minutes to set safety rules upon arrival at the campsite can help you minimize many of the risks and make sure everyone has a great camping experience.
Here are a few safety tips for going camping with the family:
Familiarize the kids with their surroundings: Go on a walk around the campground and your pitching location with your family. Make sure the kids can easily spot where your tent/camper is set up. Look for landmarks around your pitching area that can guide the kids back to the tent.
Set rules for the playing area: Set the boundaries of where the kids can go and how far from your pitching area is allowed. These rules will depend on the age of your kids and your level of comfort of how much they can explore.
Have a first aid kit on hand: It’s better to be prepared for any small accident.
Give the kids responsibility: Determine how often they must check back in with you. Ask them to always check back in when they change playing location and however often you feel comfortable.
These simple rules can make camping with kids easier and safer.
A first aid kit is one of those essential things you must take with you when camping, especially if you have active kids in tow that enjoy exploring.
We quickly found that it was important to have a kit in the caravan, one in the car and some essentials in the backpack, as little accidents always happen when you are not expecting it.
Prevention is always better than the cure, so the first thing to pack is the sunscreenand insect repellent! You can grab a simple first aid kit from the pharmacy and then add to this as required.
I always include a few instant icepacks for treating sprains, bumps and knocks. When the icepack doesn’t have the desired effect you can pull out a range of bandaids suitable for any occasion.
Our family travelled around Australia for 7 months and thankfully didn’t have too many injuries however one evening our camp was attacked by sandflies.
Now we never travel without some tropical strength repellent along with some antihistamine tablets, calamine lotion and aloe vera to treat these tiny excruciating bites!
-Natalie from Curious Campers
Pool Noodles Over Tent Ropes
Keep the whole family safe from tripping over the tent ropes by making them highly visible. Slice through the centre on one side of a pool noodle and place the pool noodles over the ropes to make them easy to spot.
The best way to do this is to have your noodle as close to where the rope meets the ground as possible and choose bright colours.
This is an expensive camping hack that will prevent a few scraped knees.
Keeping Kids Entertained While Camping
While most kids appreciate the experience of new surroundings and a break from routine staying outdoors, some kids find the idea less appealing.
Especially if it means saying goodbye to tech and home comforts for a few days.
With some pre-planning, these family camping hacks will help you keep the kids entertained and happy during your trip.
Prepared Activities While Cooking
Our family enjoys tent camping and we’ve taken our children from babies to teens. I’ve found that the single most difficult time of day is while I’m making dinner. I’m too busy to engage the kids and my husband is managing the littlest ones.
I believe that camping is the ultimate entertainment, but that hour is much less stressful when I’m prepared with an activity.
Rock painting is always a great choice. I pack paint markers to make this easy and mess-free.
The kids collect rocks throughout the day, then paint them while I cook dinner. Sometimes we hide the rocks in the campground for others to find.
One of our top hacks when camping with kids is to pack both outdoor and indoor games to keep them busy.
For outdoors, there are so many great options. A lightweight portable badminton set is one of our must-pack games when camping with kids. It doesn’t take up a lot of space and can be packed away quickly at the end of the day.
The wooden game Finska (also known as Molkky) is a log-tossing game, like bowling, that quickly becomes addictive for kids and adults alike.
A set of boules (bocce) is another fun outdoor game to play with kids in camp. The great thing about these games is they are quick to play and easy to score, which makes them perfect to play with kids.
TIP: If you’re really organised, you could even make your own camping scavenger hunt for an exciting activity during your trip, or find a free printable version online.
Treats To Get Through Hard Moments
As a canoe guide at a summer camp, I spent five summers leading large groups of children on camping trips and learned that a little incentive (bribery?) goes a long way.
I bring a secret snack, like king-size chocolate bars or sour gummies, and only pull them out when I think we have reached the hardest part of the trip.
For example, if we arrive at the campsite and it’s pouring rain or there are hundreds of mosquitos, a little sugary incentive keeps them from complaining until we can get the tents up.
The treat can either work as a reward for getting something difficult done, like setting up their tent. Or as a boost of energy to get them to keep going, like finishing a long hike.
I usually bring a few treats just in case there is more than one challenging moment.
And if we get to the end of the trip and haven’t needed to use them all, we have a big feast to celebrate the camping trip!
-Mikaela from Voyageur Tripper
TIP: We do similar with our travel activity kits by always including something new, such as a small toy or activity.
Glow Stick Dance Party
Whether camp days are spent lounging in the hammock reading or hiking gnarly switchbacks all day, somehow kids seem to get an injection of wiggles when it’s time to get tucked into their sleeping bags.
This can make bedtime a tornado of fights, meltdowns, and frustration.
When our daughter was about 15 months old, we created a kid bin for our camping trips. It included things like a bug catcher set, a pair of binoculars, a trusty compass, crayons and nature-themed colouring books, and a cornucopia of glow sticks.
From this fountain of glimmering necklaces and luminous headbands, one of our family’s most treasured traditions began.
The ultimate after-dinner glow stick dance party. Complete with respectful music levels, of course.
Playlists are planned well before we even set foot at the campsite. And after three or four dance-til-you-drop songs, kids and adults both sweating and ready for cool wipe-downs and warm tuck-ins.
You may be amazed at how much impact a few of these easy camping hacks have on your overall enjoyment. Sometimes the most simple item or habit can make your whole trip a whole lot easier with kids!
Solar String Lights
Add light to your campsite at night without needing power by hanging solar powered string lights to the outside of your tent or nearby trees.
Make sure you hang them as soon as you are set up to give them time to charge during daylight.
The extra light will help kids feel more at ease outdoors. Plus it looks really cool too!
DIY Fire Starters
Instead of spending big having to buy fire starters, make your own DIY version using toilet paper rolls. Use dryer lint or cotton balls to stuff the empty toilet rolls.
You can also make your own fire starters using cardboard egg carton pockets, either cut into single sections or using the whole carton.
Another option so you don’t have to buy a fire starter is to dip pine cones in wax and burn these. If you want more options, check out these other cool DIY fire starter ideas.
Vinyl Table Cloth Ground Cover
Instead of spending big on a floor mat for underneath your tent, you can pick up a flannel back vinyl table cloth for a few dollars and use this instead.
Place the vinyl side down and the flannel side up so that it helps keep the bottom of your tent dry from moisture.
This means you have less chance of packing up a wet tent after you finish, and reducing the risk of mould growing on your tent between uses too!
This isn’t just for potty training kids. This is for kids of all ages, and even parents. (No judgement!)
Traipsing to the campsite toilet when nature calls in the middle of the night or at first light is such a chore. So we take a little bucket with a lid (a potty will do) to be used in these instances.
It means that us parents can stay snuggled up warm in the sleeping bag whilst our boys do their business.
You will be surprised how many people do it! Although we very much recommend taking a lid so people can’t see the contents when you finally do walk to the toilet to empty.
We also have a rule of no number twos in there!
We first saw this at a festival a few years ago, and since then our bucket with lid has become an essential family camping kit.
Just make sure you put it somewhere in the tent where it’s not going to be knocked over! If a bucket doesn’t sound like your thing, you can also use a portable potty for younger kids. Choose one with a lid.
Time to load the car for your family camping trip using these genius hacks and tips to make your family time memorable and fun! Save yourself time, effort and the sounds of ‘I’m bored’ during your camping with kids adventure!
Do you have any of your own family camping hacks? Share in the comments!