This is a guest post by Angelica Garcia
Taking your kids camping is a wonderful way to introduce them to nature. Beautiful scenery, starry skies, wildlife, and the lack of non-essential electronic devices! Some of my most treasured memories are those simple nights spent bonding over s’mores and spooky stories.
Of course, in order to make your camping trip successful and safe, you need to be prepared (read more about how to plan for a trip with the kids). That means making sure that you have the right supplies and keeping them organised. Besides the obvious gear (tents, sleeping bags, garbage bags for tidying up etc.), you can reasonably divide the essentials into two categories–items you should bring for safety, and items that you can bring for fun.
Create a Checklist
As a parent, checklists are your friend! There’s nothing worse than driving all the way out to the campsite and realising you forgot to bring the marshmallows (or even worse, the chocolate)! It helps to draw up a list in advance and check things off as you pack or load them into the car.
Here’s a basic checklist to get you started. Keep in mind that some of the items you’ll need to bring depend on factors such as the child’s age, where you’re located geographically, the facilities available at the campgrounds, and so on. These lists are by no means complete, but they provide a good starting point.
- Flashlight and extra batteries. This is the number one safety essential to bring on a camping trip, with or without kids. The woods can be very, very dark at night. Ideally, you should bring a hand crank flashlight with radio and a USB charging port for your mobile phone. You should also have one additional extra-bright flashlight per person, powered by long-life batteries.
- Flashlight with adjustable strap. These are great for little ones. Giving the kids a forehead-mounted headlamp will keep their hands free so they can keep their balance. We don’t want anyone stumbling over a tree branch and getting scraped knees.
- Take along one whistle per person. The kids should wear theirs around their necks at all times. If they wander out of sight, you’ll find them quickly!
- First aid kit (and first aid manual). The Red Cross offers affordable first aid courses and publishes a first aid manual that no one should be without. An untreated scrape or bug bite can put a damper on your plans in a hurry.
- Whether it’s a standalone model or included in your hand crank flashlight, your radio should be NOAA compatible. The radio will keep you apprised of any impending weather events.
- Weather appropriate clothing. Even if it’s the middle of summer, the temperature at night can get pretty chilly! It’s always advisable to bring warm clothes. In case of an unexpected shower, you’ll also want to have rain gear.
- Proper footwear. Bring footwear that matches the activities that you plan on doing. For example, hiking boots if you plan on hiking, water shoes if you plan on swimming. If you do head out to the water, you should also have floatation devices.
- Matches (or fire starter). Matches, a lighter, or a magnesium-based fire starter can be a lifesaver if the temperature drops, or if you’re hungry and want to get dinner on the campfire fast!
- Packaged meals and granola bars are perfect.
- Cast iron cookware is great to use on a campfire. If you’re experienced, then you can even cook desserts in a dutch oven.
- Most campsites have water stations but bring extra.
- Water filtration device. These come in many forms, including straws, bottles, and purification tablets. Shop around and bring whatever type best suits your needs.
- Emergency blanket. Stow one of these in everyone’s day-pack. They take up very little room and, if the temperature drops, you’re covered.
- Map and compass. Great for finding your way if you’re hiking. Obviously, just as important as having a map and compass is knowing how to use them. Learn some map reading skills and compass reading skills
- Pocket knife. This is truly a multi-use tool. Use it to gather kindling for your fire, to cut food, or for emergency first aid.
- Sunscreen and hats are very important. It’s easy to forget to apply sunscreen regularly, but UV damage is no joke.
- Insect repellent. A few bugs here and there are to be expected, but no one wants to come home from a weekend in the great outdoors covered in mosquito bites.
- Duct tape. Duct tape has an amazing number of uses. You can fix the cracked sole of a shoe, a tent pole, the bumper of your car, or patch a hole in a canoe. If space is really at a premium, wrap a four- to five-foot length around a lighter so that you don’t have to lug along a huge roll.
- Ice cream ball. Admittedly, this gadget doesn’t make the best ice cream, but it is fun to use! You fill the ball with cold custard that you made at home, seal it, and roll it back and forth. Thirty minutes later, you have semi-solid ice cream!
- These are great for teaching your kids about nature. Viewing wildlife (from a distance) is always a rewarding experience. Once the sun sets, turn the lenses skyward and watch the heavens. You might even catch sight of a shooting star!
- Star Chart. A great way to start teaching your kids about astronomy. If you don’t know what to look for when looking up at night, here’s a quick guide. You can also find a plethora of great stargazing apps for your smartphone.
- Bug collection box. As anyone who has ever gone camping knows, nature is full of bugs of all kinds. And kids love them. A bug collection box will allow your kids to observe these little critters for longer periods! You can make your own with a mason jar by poking a few holes in the lid. Nothing brightens up an evening like a jar full of fireflies. (Please remember to release them, though!)
- Magnifying glass. Great for observing bugs, tree bark, leaves, rocks, and anything else you may find out in the woods!
- Another benefit of camping: the chance to get in some exercise!
- A small tote of your child’s toys. Taking along a few your son or daughter’s toys can make the car ride go a lot smoother. Just don’t bring anything that would be missed if it got lost.
- Book of spooky stories. Who doesn’t love hearing a creepy story in the woods around a campfire from someone holding a flashlight under their chin?
- Board games (travel size versions). Sometimes, when you’re camping, it rains. Here’s an easy way to pass the time.
- Some campgrounds are pet-friendly. Why leave the dog with a pet sitter when you can bring him along to enjoy nature with the rest of the family?
A huge part of taking your children camping isn’t the stuff that you bring along. It’s making the kids a part of the process. Have them help you pack and, once you’re at the campsite, give them responsibilities and chores. Camping is a lot of fun, but there’s some prep work involved. At the end of the day, they’ll get more out of the experience if they learn how to plan and prepare. Plus, there’s nothing like the satisfaction of experiencing the payout from all that effort.
Most of all, enjoy yourselves and stay safe! And, for more recommendations on what to bring on trips with the kids, check out these essential packing lists.