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Are you ready for your next family camping trip? Camping with kids is fun and wonderful way to create family memories. It can also be a lot of work to organize and keep everyone happy. Use these cool camping with kids hacks to make your next outdoor adventure easier and more enjoyable for everyone.
Our family has been camping with our kids since they were a year old. Take it from us, it’s requires a bit more planning than just throwing a tent and a bag of apples into the back of your car.
Luckily these tested camping with family tips and tricks will make your family camping trip run more smoothly. Cool camping ideas to take your campground adventures to the next level (without too much extra work).
There’s camping hacks for food, safety, comfort, hygiene, kid activities and more.
So grab your sleeping bag, and let’s go!
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GENIUS HACKS FOR CAMPING WITH KIDS
Whether this is your first trip camping with kids, or you’re a seasoned camper, these camping hacks, tips and tricks will make your stay more comfortable and fun.
1. Planning is Key
Planning is the key to an easy, fun and successful family camping trip.
You’ll want to make sure you do some campground research, plan out your meals, and activities and have a packing list so you don’t forget important items.
2. Bring Bug Repellent & Thermacells
Bug repellant & thermacells are always on the top of our camping packing list. Say no to bug bites!
We live in northern Canada (the Northwest Territories) and the mosquitos / bugs here are fierce. So fierce in fact I used a deet bug repellent for the first time in over 20 years.
It creates a bug free zone around your picnic table, or gathering space.
We use this thermacell patio shield and find it works well for keeping our small tent area & eating area clear.
You may want to buy a couple if you plan on having more than one tent, or spreading out. We brought 2 last trip, and it gave us way more bug free space.
Also don’t forget the afterbite. My daughter prefers the one for kids as it doesn’t sting as much:
3. DIY Bathtub & Shower
Keeping kids clean while camping can be a challenge. This is especially true of the youngest who like to crawl around in dirt, pick up natural treasures, and who just generally don’t mind getting dirty.
Bath Tub Options
A DIY bathtub solution for young kids is to bring along a plastic bin. Portable, safe and inexpensive. Just fill it a ¼ full of water, add a little soap, and bath time!
If you have babies, bring along a flat bottom baby bath. It can also be used as a foot wash station for the older kids and adults as well.
Not all ages are going to be able to fit in a tub, so we have some shower options too.
For an inexpensive DIY shower option, bring along a NEW 2 gallon lawn sprayer. (Don’t grab one out of the shed you’ve been using to spray the lawn with though). To get extra fancy, attach a kitchen sprayer to the end.
Hose down the kids at the end of the day. Everyone gets a better night sleep when clean.
PRO CAMP TIP: Fill your tub or outdoor shower device with water at the beginning of the day and set it out in the sun to heat up. Cover the tub so bugs and dirt don’t get in the water.
4. Do A Trial Run At Home
If you’ve never camped out with the kids before, it’s a great idea to do a trial run at home first. That way you know you have all the tent poles, and pieces to the camp stove and the kids know what to expect.
Familiarize yourself with all your camping gear, so you know how it works.
Even if your family are seasoned pros, it’s a good idea to check your gear out at home before each trip. You just never know.
We have a cheap outdoor screened canopy that I had my daughter help me put up the first couple of times at home for our yearly mom-daughter camping trip.
It was impossible to put up just the two of us, which I wouldn’t have known unless I tried it beforehand.
5. Choose Kid Friendly Sites
One of the most important camping with kid hacks is choosing a site that is great for families. One that will suit the ages of your kids.
- Think about location and distance to washrooms, playground and the beach.
- With young ones you may want to be closer to the playground so you can keep an eye on them easier. As well as closer to a washroom for those quick late-night potty breaks.
- Is the beach / water kid friendly? Does it have a lifeguard?
- Are you tent camping with kids? Is the site shaded during the hottest times of day?
If your kids like to bike or scooter around the campsite, choose a site that has a good biking area that isn’t too heavily trafficked.
PRO CAMP TIP: Take note of what you liked and didn’t like about your campground and campsite, so next camping trip you can plan accordingly.
BEST CAMPING HACKS FOR FAMILIES – FOOD PREP
6. Make Food Prep Easy – Plan Meals & Snacks Ahead
First step to a successful trip, is to make a camping meal plan.
Plan out simple meals like sandwiches, smokies, burgers and pasta. Or bring easy to reheat food like soups, chilis or stews.
Let go of some of the rules, you’re on vacation.
Use pre-made, make ahead or canned food ideas / recipes to cut down cooking time, and let you enjoy your holiday too.
Like these easy to eat and pack family favorite snacks:
- Dehydrated Cinnamon Apples
- Roasted nuts
- Protein or granola bars
- Pepperoni sticks
Our favorites are things we don’t usually eat at home; chili in a can, cup of soup, smokies to roast over a fire, s’mores (from a kit), store bought muffins etc.
Check out our list of easy make-ahead foil packet recipes. Quick n’ easy prep, & clean up.
7. Prep Meals Ahead Of Time
Prepare as much of your food ahead of time as you can, so you can decrease the amount of time cooking and preparing food at your campsite. Ie. “Make ahead meals.”
Plus all the mess of prep is at home, not in a place without easy access to running water and your dishwasher.
An essential camping trick, so the adults don’t spend their entire time prepping food and cleaning up after the hungry beasts.
- Cut up hardier veggies, and fruit and store in ziploc bags or bins
- Cut up meat, or use deli slices
- Pre bake cookies, muffins, biscuits
- Make easy to reheat chilis, stews, stir fries and freeze them in ziplocs or reusable
Check our ultimate list of 50+ easy & make-ahead camping meals kids will love.
8. Freeze Juice or Water Containers to Use in Cooler
Anything that can do double duty is a bonus. Freeze tetra pack juice containers to use as additional “ice” in your cooler. It will help keep things cold longer and you get juice to drink once it’s melted.
Not into juice? Freeze gallon jugs of water instead. You’ll have more cold, clean drinking water on hand.
9. Packing Food Camping Hacks
Here are a couple of easy tips for packing food and water for your next family camping adventure:
- Keep your matches dry – Put your matches in a mason jar, plastic ziploc bag or reuse a plastic toothpick bottle. Have at least one pack of waterproof matches, or lighter as back up
- Freeze as much food as possible – freeze as much food as possible so it can act as ice, and keep everything cooler longer
- Pack in Layers – Layer your food so the items you need first will be on top.
- Remove items from original packing – Only if it decreases the amount of space it takes up and makes sense.
- Keep your cold food separate from dry goods – Condensation from wet foods, can dampen your dry goods.
- Re-use tic tac boxes, or use small reusable condiment containers for spices – We use those small round condiment containers that come in lunchbox kits sometimes to hold our spices.
- Re-use condiment bottles for pancake mix – Mix up pancake batter ahead of time, and put in clean condiment bottles, for easy pancake grilling.
- Plan meals with similar ingredients – Plan out meals where you can use leftover ingredients for the next meal, cutting down on the amount of space you need.
10. Pour Your Scrambled Eggs
One easy way to make your morning scrambled eggs is to have them already cracked in a plastic container. Ready to pour and cook.
Use a clean, clear plastic bottle. Label every 2-3 eggs with pen on the outside, so you know how many to use.
11. Cool Camping Ideas: Camping Cooler Hacks
You’ll want to make sure your food stays fresh as long as possible. Use these cool camping ideas & cooler tips and tricks to keep your ice longer, and food cooler (see what I did there).
- Pre-chill your cooler
- Use 2:1 ice to food ratio
- Keep your cooler full, with little air space
- Pack food and the drinks / items you’ll want to access frequently seperately
- Keep your cooler closed, try not to open it too often.
- Leave your cooler in the shade. Create some shade with a towel if needed.
12. Bring A Camping High Chair for Babies / Toddlers
CAMPING HACKS – PACKING, TENT & SET UP
13. Arrive Before Dark
One of the best camping hacks for families is to arrive and set up your camp before dark.
Setting up camp in the dark can take longer and be way more stressful.
Aim to arrive at least a couple of hours before sunset. That should give you enough time to set up everything you need for an awesome family campsite.
14. Pack Your Car in Order of Items Needed
Put the items you’ll need first to set up camp closest to the doors. Yup, I learned this the hard way.
Pack the tent, and sleeping items within easy reach. That way you don’t have to pull everything out of your vehicle before setting up.
15. Pack Camping Items In Clear Tubs
I can’t tell you how many times having our camping items packed in clear tubs has saved the day.
Not only is it easy to see where everything is, but they are easy to stack and waterproof. Unexpected downpours can happen at any time.
Organizing your camping supplies ahead of time will make things easier at the campsite. For extra points, keep like items together and label the bin:
- Kitchen Supplies
- Food & Snacks
- Toys & Games
- Sleeping Equipment
We typically just use reusable grocery bags for our clothes, as we have a small car / small trunk, and it’s easier to squish them into smaller spaces.
If you’re worried about clothes getting wet, dry bags are another great alternative.
16. Pack Layers When Camping With Kids
Layers are essential for camping.
While days may be warm, nights can get cool. They also work well against bugs.
Dress your kids in layers to avoid arguments over “I don’t want to wear my coat.” That way they can remove clothes over the day as it warms up, and put more layers on at night as it cools off.
17. Pool Noodle Tent Hack
Who gets tired of tripping over tent wires? Me, me, me. I know they are there but……..
Use pool noodles over your tent wires so you can see them better.
- Cut up pool noodles into needed lengths.
- Slit down one side so you can open the pool noodle and place over your tent guy lines.
When tent camping with kids it’s also a good idea to make those tent wires easier to see, and avoid.
PRO CAMP TIP: Bring a sarong to wrap over your head to keep the bugs off. It’s lightweight and works great around the campfire, at meal times, and can also be used as a beach cover up, beach blanket, fort and more.
18. Use Packing Cubes
Packing Cubes can be a lifesaver when packing your clothes for many types of travelling vacations. Some pro tips for using packing cubes:
- Use a different color for each family member
- Buy the cubes with two compartments, so everyone can keep their dirty and clean clothes separate
- Pack a couple of days worth of clothes into each packing cube. Makes it so much easier than digging through a pile of clothes each day.
19. Let Your Kids Help Set Up Camp
Learning to set up and take down a campsite builds essential life skills.
Not to mention gives them a sense of accomplishment of learning new skills, and contributing to the family’s experience.
Younger kids can fill up water bottles, set up camp chairs, carry their sleeping bags to the tent.
I usually give my daughter the task of setting up the bedding, once the tent is up. She likes hiding away from the bugs, and it gets the tent ready.
As they get older, they can do harder tasks such as filling up the water jugs, setting up tents, and putting together the camp stove, campfire etc.
20. Use A Tarp Over Your Tent
A tarp over your tent is dual purpose. For rainy days, it will provide extra protection from the rain.
On sunny days, it can provide a little shade for your tent.
It can also be used as a shade area over your picnic table. Multipurpose. Just bring extra rope.
You can buy different sizes of tarps on Amazon, or your local hardware, or outdoor store.
If I know it’s going to rain alot I also place a tarp inside my tent. Nothing worse than a river of water soaking everything.
CAMPING HACKS WITH KIDS – SAFETY & COMFORT
Here are a few more of our favourite kid camping hacks for tents, sleeps, and more.
⛺️ Grab some useful & fun camping gifts for kids for their next outdoor adventure.
21. Use a Screened Outdoor Canopy – Bug Free Space
Having a bug free space can make or break a family camping trip.
We use this thermacell patio shield and find it works well for keeping our tent & eating area clear.
For babies, toddlers and littles, a screened outdoor canopy area can create a safe play space. Put down a sand free mat or blanket.
We like to use ours to cover our picnic table, for more enjoyable meals, as our kids are older.
Just be sure NOT to cook with a propane / gas stove with the tent all closed up. You don’t want to get carbon monoxide poisoning.
Choose a screened outdoor tent canopy that’s easy to set up, light weight and spacious.
We have one that is not easy to put up, and I wrestle with it everytime (but I am too cheap to buy a new one as this one still works). Do yourself a favor and pay a couple of extra bucks for the one that is easy to put up.
PRO CAMP TIP: Use hanging pockets in your screened gazebo to give quick access to things you use all the time like sunscreen, bug repellant, sun hats etc. Or to put essential cooking supplies.
22. Bring A First Aid Kit
Bringing a first aid kit is essential for camping….there’s so many ways to scrape, cut or get splinters when camping.
We don’t really use the ready made kits as is, rather use the cloth carrier, and then put together our own favourite first aid items.
Besides the usual bandaids, tweezers, gauze etc. that come with the kit we bring the following essentials:
- These are our go-to Oral Rehydration Tablets for adults
- Pedialyte powder, single use for kids
- Moleskin and blister bandaids.
- Antibiotic Cream
- After Bite for kids
- After Bite for adults
- Small bottles of pain relievers for both kids & adults
- SPF Lip Balm
- Tick Remover
- Healing Salve
23. Better Sleeps – Camping Tips for Family Sleeping
Bring along a portable travel pack n’ play if your baby is used to sleeping in a crib.
To keep the bugs off, pack an extra sheet, or mosquito net to throw over top at nap and bedtimes.
Pack n’ Plays are great as play areas as well. They are easy to move around, and can keep your babies safe while you are prepping meals, or getting tasks done around the campsite.
We use camping sleep mats like these for our older kids and us.
But if you are avid campers, and are planning on spending a longer time roughing it, this double camping cot is deluxe. A bit of an investment, but well worth a good night’s sleep.
PRO CAMP TIP: Bring empty pillow cases to use as pillows. Then just stuff with sweaters or jackets. Saves space and keeps your jackets handy for the midnight or morning potty runs.
24. Use a Sleep Sack for Babies & Toddlers
Using a sleep sack is one of the best camping hacks for babies and toddlers.
It’s a wearable sleeping bag. Just choose the weight, depending on the camping conditions / weather.
We found this was the only way to keep our youngest warm when we took her on her first camping trip at a year old.
FAMILY CAMPING HACKS – HYGIENE
25. Bring Baby Wipes
Baby wipes…….not just for babies!
This is our number one family camping hygiene hack.
Bring extra baby wipes as they are so useful. Kids (and adults) get dirty while camping. Wipes are great to have on hand to wipe up dirt, hands, spills, bottoms and more.
Especially for those sites where showers, or running water aren’t readily available.
26. Portable Potty
A portable potty is handy for toddlers who are potty training. Or for any little kid who needs to go frequently while on the road or at the campsite.
It’s also useful for avoiding those late night treks to the outhouse.
This compact portable potty is similar to the one we used all the time when our youngest daughter was little, for camping and road trips. We kept it in our car at all times, and used it on many occasions. Just be sure to buy the potty liners to go with it.
Or bring along a plastic bucket with lid, but only use it for Number One.
27. Keep Toilet Paper in a Coffee Can
Nothing worse than soggy TP.
It’s always a good idea to bring extra toilet paper, and not rely on the campground to supply it.
Putting your TP in a clean coffee can will keep it safe and dry.
CAMPING IDEAS KIDS ACTIVITIES
While most kids can be entertained by roaming the forest & playgrounds it’s a good idea to bring some entertainment & activities.
This is especially important for those rainy days.
28. Games & Camping Activities for Kids
There is only so much time you can spend roasting s’mores over the fire. Although my 9 year old would argue differently, as s’mores for breakfast is a common sight with us.
One of the best family camping hacks is to bring along a few board games or card games. They make great after dinner and rainy day camping activities.
Some family favorite toys and activities for kids while camping include:
- Outdoor Scavenger hunts
- Card Games
- Bug Catcher Kit
- Soccer balls, foot balls or beach balls
- Craft Kits – rock painting, Tie Dye and Green Kids Crafts are family favourites in our house.
- Camping Bingo
- Coloring and Activity Books
PRO CAMP TIP: Bring an extra tent and set it up as the “play tent”. That way all the toys and activities can stay clean and in one spot, and not make the sleeping area messy with toys and dirty feet. Plus it’s also an extra shaded area.
We have an inexpensive two person tent for this, that also gets used at home for summer fun and backyard campouts.
29. Make DIY Fire Starters
Making your own fire starters is a fun camping hack to do before your trip. That way you can decrease the amount of kindling you’ll need to start your campfires.
There are a few ways to do this.
In Girl Guides we learned to make ours out of the pulp egg cartons (not styrofoam), dryer lint and melted candle wax.
- Place dryer lint in egg carton holes
- Melt candle or beeswax and drip over lint. Let it cool and set.
- Once set, cut out individual sections, and use one or two to start your fires/
For an easier version, just use cardboard toilet paper rolls stuffed with dryer lint.
30. Bring Walkie Talkies
Camping can be a great way to start to give your kids a little more independence.
One way to do this, and keep an eye on them is to bring walkie talkies. That way you can check up on them more easily.
Plus in our experience, they’re always a hit with new camping friends
31. Bring Water Guns & Water Blasters
It gets hot camping.
Bringing water guns, or water blasters is a great way to cool off, and make new friends with fellow young campers.
Just make sure to have the ground rules talk before they start. No face shots, or getting unsuspecting campers, or tents wet.
MORE CAMPING HACKS TO TRY
32. Keep Firewood Under Cover
It’s a good idea to keep your firewood under your car, the picnic table or your canopy, in case it rains.
You don’t want to have wet wood when trying to start a fire those cool mornings. Or with hungry kids who need to roast their hot dogs.
33. Warm Up Clothes
Keep your next days clothes in the bottom of everyone’s sleeping bags, so they’re warm the next day.
Up the luxury by bringing hot water bottles, and warm your bed and pj’s up before bed.
34. Bring Lights for Night Time When Camping with Kids
You’ll want to stock up on some form of lighting for night time safety.
For older kids, we love using headlamps, as they are reusable, and perfect for wandering around camp at night, or reading.
To make a DIY lantern, attach a headlamp to a jug of water or water bottle. Or bring along a few rechargeable lanterns to light your way around your site.
Glow sticks are another fun thing for kids to wear as a necklace or bracelet, to help you keep track of them in the dark.
They also give off the perfect amount of light as a nightlight, when you hang them in the tent. Just enough light to see by, if you need to get up in the middle of the night.
They are cheap, but not reusable.
35. Bring A Bin for Shoes
Keep the dirt out of your tent by placing your outdoor footwear in a plastic bin. You can either keep it just outside the door or inside the tent.
Just make sure to put the lid on if it’s going to rain outside.
I also saw a clever hack where you put those plastic shower caps over the bottom of your shoes, to keep the dirt out of the tent.
36. Use a Picnic Blanket in the Tent
When camping in cooler weather, the cold can seep up from the floor of the tent through your mats & sleeping bags.
Place a picnic blanket (the one’s with a plastic bottom), at the bottom of the tent for an extra layer against the cold.
It’s a cheaper option than an official camping rug.
Related camping and family travel tips & destintations:
- Best Camping Gift Ideas kids will actually use
- RV Gifts Ideas for all ages and budgets
- Easy Road Trip Meal Ideas you can use for camping too!
- Snacks, Snacks & More Snack ideas to tame the hangry beasts
- Bryce Canyon in One Day – Family friendly hikes, sights and places to stay
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