Planning a trip to the great outdoors can be challenging if you're traveling with children. You want the trip to be safe and fun, and for your new campers to love camping as much as you do. So what do you need to pack in order to make the experience first-rate for everyone? Never fear, we've got a list of 10 things to bring on a family camping trip that will get you off on the right foot. Soon you'll be packed and ready to blaze the trail!
Tasty, Healthy Snacks
Camping requires a lot of energy. All that fresh air makes for some tired campers at the end of the day. So, you want to make sure that all of your nature enthusiasts have the right fuel.
The best snacks to bring along are ones that will provide energy, as opposed to sugary sweets and drinks that inevitably result in a crash. Stock up on nuts, fresh and dried fruit, granola bars, peanut butter and jelly (or honey) sandwiches and of course trail mix. Hydration is also important, so bring along plenty of drinks, such as fruit juice or water. Make sure everyone has their own reusable bottle for beverages to cut down on waste; it's also a good way to monitor everybody's liquid intake.
Now that the healthy snacks are checked off your list, you can indulge everyone's sweet tooth with s'mores. This is a camping classic, so of course your children need to be taught the finer points of s'more construction and consumption.
The essential ingredients are graham crackers, large marshmallows and chocolate bars. You'll also need something on which to skewer the marshmallows. Some campers have ready-made roasting implements, but a long stick works just as well; simply cut the end of the stick down to a point.
Just remember that s'mores are a sticky mess no matter how carefully you put them together, so bring moistened wipes along, too.
iPod and Mini Stereo
Part of the joy of camping is the peace and serenity of nature, but that doesn't mean you can't liven the place up a bit. Fill up your iPod with a bunch of music that will satisfy both kids and adults (check out our article on 10 Family-friendly Songs for the Car for inspiration). You'll also need a portable iPod dock or speaker that's appropriate for outdoor use. There are a variety of options to choose from, at various price points, but two things to bear in mind are how long the batteries will last, and whether it's waterproof. Once you find the speaker to fit your needs, your family's camping trip will have its very own soundtrack.
Family camping trips are a prime opportunity to snap some photos. The naturally beautiful scenery provides the perfect backdrop for posed portraits and candid shots. How serious you want to be about picture taking is entirely up to you; most cell phones these days have their own cameras, but more dedicated photographers might wish to bring along their own equipment.
If your family regularly heads out into the wilderness, and you're interested in high-quality photography, consider investing in a heavy-duty camera. You can find a number of models that are both water- and shock-resistant, which will serve you well in the great outdoors.
If your camping trip brings you to a lake or beach, be sure to bring all the necessary accessories. Swimsuits are obviously first on the list, followed by anything your child needs to feel comfortable in the water. This could include water wings, swim fins or a life vest. Goggles or a swim mask might be a good idea, too. And then there's the recreational gear, such as inner tubes, rafts, beach balls, and so on -- there's endless fun to be had in the water. Luckily, many of the requisite accessories are deflatable, and therefore not too tricky to pack.
No camping trip is complete without a hike through the surrounding wilderness, so make sure everyone in the family is prepared to do some major walking. Be sure to pack proper hiking shoes, thick socks and bandages for any blisters that might appear. Walking sticks and a compass can also be helpful, depending on how rough the terrain is, and how far from the campsite you're planning to wander. Make sure everyone has on layers that can be added or subtracted to suit whatever weather changes come your way. One of the adults should carry a backpack with water for everyone, snacks, bug spray and sunscreen.
After a long day of hiking, swimming and other physical pursuits, card games are a nice way to wind things down. A single deck of cards offers a multitude of games, including Go Fish, Crazy Eights and Old Maid. (Check out 10 Family-friendly Card Games for more great ideas.) Cards are also an excellent distraction in the event of rainy weather. So, slip a deck or two into your backpack -- you never know when they might come in handy.
Books for Story Time
Another quiet activity to plan for is story time. Bring some books from home to read before naps, bedtime, or whenever you and your kids want to do something a bit more low-key. While you're packing, ask your child to help you pick out which books to bring. Suggest packing a few well-loved favorites, as well as some new stories.
There are, of course, tons of camping-themed books out there. Some of the classics for young readers include: "Camping Out," a Little Critter book by Mercer Mayer; "Curious George Goes Camping," by Margret and H.A. Rey; and "Maisy Goes Camping," by Lucy Cousins.
A Familiar Item from Home
Sleeping outdoors can be a little overwhelming for young campers, so bring something familiar from home. Help your child pick out an item to take along, like a toy or pillow. Security blankets and stuffed toys are also good choices, and can help kids feel comfortable and relaxed in an unfamiliar environment. Just remember that everything on a camping trip is subject to the elements, wildlife and who knows what else; if the item is particularly beloved, put it someplace secure (like the car, or a zipped-up pack) during daylight hours.
A Flashlight or Lamp
Not only is sleeping outdoors unfamiliar -- it's dark! Lots of kids prefer to fall asleep by the glow of a nightlight when they're tucked in at home, but the lack of outlets in the wilderness makes that difficult. Instead, give your child his very own flashlight or battery-powered lantern. This is a good idea for safety reasons, too, and can go a long way towards helping your child to feel a little more secure in the unfamiliar darkness.
And there you have it -- you are now equipped with the 10 essential items to bring on a family camping trip. Time to hit the trail!
HowStuffWorks visits White Sands National Monument in New Mexico and learns about its history, geology and adventurous spirit.
- Camping Food Ideas.net. "Camp Food for Kids." (April 16, 2011)http://www.campingfoodideas.net/camp-food-for-kids/#more-176
- Inclined to Hike. "Best Hiking Boots." (April 16, 2011)http://www.inclinedtohike.com/besthikingboots.php
- Marquez, Ashley. "What to Bring on a Camping Trip for a Kid." USA Today.com. (April 17, 2011)http://traveltips.usatoday.com/bring-camping-trip-kid-2289.html