One of my most visited posts here is about our zero budget camping adventure (it’s an older post but one that’s still very relevant). And after I posted on Instagram that my family and I went camping on the river with no access to facilities with a 5, 4, and (almost) 2 year old many folks wanted to know how we made it happened and what my best advice is when it comes to camping with kids.
First, it’s important to know that my husband is an avid camper and that this wasn’t the first time our boys have camped on this river, but it was mine and Charlotte’s first time on the river. My husband and I loved backpacking before kids came so we own a lot of gear already which means we didn’t have to come out of pocket for anything other than food.
Our boat before it was loaded down…
Okay so camping with little kids – yay or nay?
Always a definite yay for us but it’s not without its challenges. So real quick, here are some basic tips for camping in the middle of nowhere:
- Doesn’t matter if it’s the middle of summer, always, always, always pack a pair of long pants and a jacket and/or sweater and socks. You’ll thank me later.
- Always bring river shoes (or strudy water shoes) – Learned this one the hard way the first time backpacking and having to cross a river. It’s a lot easier to walk through water with shoes that have grip and they dry faster than regular shoes.
- If going camping by boat, I highly recommend you invest in some dry bags for at least your clothes and sleeping bag(s). They are well worth the money as we learned this weekend when our canoe (which had the majority of our supplies took on 3 inches of water but our clothes and sleeping stuff were dry as a bone. These are similar to the kind that we have. If you’re just going car camping, you can skip this.
Okay so those are just some basic tips for making your camping trip a little more enjoyable. But what about kids? One thing I’ve learned is that kids are pretty relisant and when presented with the opportunity for an adventure they are way more willing to jump in than most of us adults.
Therefore, we keep things simple with our kids – we don’t bring any toys but we do bring their “loveys” which helps when they go to bed to at night. We give our kids “jobs” while we’re camping like finding firewood, cleaning out the tent, helping daddy fish or clean the fish, helping prepare the food, help with setting up/breaking down camp, etc.
When camping with littles, make sure you bring:
- Baby wipes – even if your child is out of diapers, bring a pack of baby wipes. It makes cleaning up soooo much easier (and makes “bathing” easier – more on that in a moment) and if you get the biodegradable kind you don’t have to worry over trash left.
- Hand sanitizer.
- First aid kit and snake bite kit.
- One extra change of clothes for them.
Most folks wanted to know how we make bathing (ourselves and our kids) a reality when, well there’s no shower or privacy really. For me, I always pack a bathing suit even if I don’t plan to go swimming and more specifically I pack a bikini even though you won’t ever see me wear one in public. The reason is because with a bikini, I clean almost all the necessary parts of my body without getting undressed and since it’s a bathing suit, it’ll dry fast.
We usually take a “pan bath” in cooler temps but when it’s really warm, we’ll bath in the river/lake/creek. For a pan bath, we literally just fill up a pan or pot with some water, take a rag with some soap on it and bathe. Now my kids aren’t really fans of the pan bath and will usually end up dirtier if we try which is why I recommend the baby wipes. You can wipe them down with one or two wipes and they’re cleanish.
But let’s define “clean” for a moment. Something I’ve learned being in the woods camping is that you’re not going to get sparkly clean but you’ll get fresh and that is better than being dirty in my book. Also, if you’re camping with others or desire a little more privacy, you can make a makeshift shower by hanging up a towel and bathing behind it.
These are some random questions that I got about camping and wanted to anwser…and yes some of these are a little awkward to answer…
“What about your wedding ring? I don’t want mine to get destroyed or lost.”
For me, I leave my ring at home in a secured spot and instead wear a plain gold band that I have. My husband actually lost his original wedding band on one of our backpacking trips but he always wears his (it’s just a stainless steel band).
“What about going to the bathroom?”
This is definitely awkward, not going to lie. Doesn’t matter if you’re camping with kids or not, it’s kinda freaky having to go potty in the woods. For me, I just go far enough away from camp that I’m hidden but not so far that I can’t see the camp. Once you’ve done it once you won’t feel so awkward anymore.
My boys have zero problem going potty (both types) in the woods…they get it from their daddy. 😉
“Did you bring tablets for your kids? How’d you keep them and your cell phone charged? I’m worried about keeping my kids entertained”
Our kids actually don’t know how to use my tablet or our phones so bringing a tablet for them would have been pointless. For us, camping is about nature so all electronics are turned off (they wouldn’t work out there anyway) and they are turned back on when we get to the truck. We have a dry box that we keep them (and our keys) so they don’t get damaged by the water. But since the goal is connecting with each other, we (the adults) don’t allow ourselves to even turn on our phones unless they are truly needed.
Trust me, there is a lot of fun when you’re camping. There’s nothing quite like getting to go exploring your surroundings and stumbling upon a waterfall or abandon house/factory/mine, etc. It’s fun to experience those things and your kids won’t be bored because there’s a lot to do to keep the fire going, setting up/breaking down camp, cooking and cleaning, etc.
“How do you and your husband sleep? Together or in different sleeping bags? What about an air mattress?”
Okay so I feel a little like I’m a confessing a big secret but yes, we have an air mattress and honestly, it’s worth it’s weight in gold! We’ve had it for about 6 or 7 years and it beats sleeping on the ground any day so if you have the room to pack one, I recommend it! We actually use a two person sleeping bag made for an air mattress. The one we have is similar to this one (we got ours at Walmart...I think…a few years ago).
“Do your kids sleep well in the tent?”
Yes! Charlotte had trouble initially because she kept jumping on her brothers so either my husband and I would lay with her until she fell asleep (which wasn’t long). Our boys have their own sleeping bags and they love getting to sleep in them! If you’re worried about how your kids will sleep in the tent I recommend getting either a tent light that hangs from the top of the tent for light or doing what we do – hand them a flash light (a small one – not a maglight 🙂 ) and let them have fun until they pass out!
“How do you bring water or other drinks for your kids to drink?”
Since we boat camped – meaning we traveled to our camp on the river via our boat – we were able to bring our big water container thingy (I don’t know what it’s called but it looks like this one) and a cooler. So that wasn’t a concern this time around. In the past when we really roughed it we brought water purification tablets with us (which yes, make your water taste weird but it makes it safe to drink).
For other drinks I usually bring those Horizon Milk Boxes (the ones that come in a 6 pack) since they don’t have to be kept cold and it’s a fun way for my kids to drink milk in the morning when we’re drinking coffee around the fire.
And yes, my boys had shoes but didn’t want to wear them and yes, my husband had pants but insisted that it wasn’t cold…he’s strange I tell you. 😉
If you’ve never been camping before, here are some of our “must haves” to get you started:
- Cooking Grate. or Mess Kit. (We prefer the cooking grate unless we’re planning to truly backpack – i.e. not car or boat camp because the grate would be too heavy).
- Propane Lantern (the one we have is as old as we are but it’s the best lantern we’ve ever used and has never failed us and is why I recommend a propane one over electric.)
- Fire starter (you can get the logs – what we usually use or get a flint kit if you really want to rough it 😉 ).
- Paracord (a must for hanging up wet laundry!)
- Really sharp “hunting” knife. You’ll want this for cutting the paracord, cutting food, or sharping sticks to use for roasting marshmallows. 🙂
- Salt and Pepper (you have no idea how many times we’ve forgotten this and I about cried eating potatoes with no salt…I recommend getting something like this).
- Cooking griddle.
- Tent – I know this is obvious but I want to throw this out there that if you don’t already have a tent, I recommend getting one that’s bigger than the amount of people you plan to sleep in it. For example, if you’re a family of four, get a six person tent. If you have small kids, you can get away with a smaller tent for longer – ours is a four person so it works for now.
Okay, so you tell me! Ever been car/boat/backpacking camping with your kids? What is something that is a must have for your family?
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