How to Plan a Camping Trip with Kids

Family camping is fantastic with just a little extra planning!
young boy standing in front of small blue tent
Kiselev Andrey Valerevich / Shutterstock.com

Before kids, did you love the simultaneously invigorating and relaxing experience you can only get from camping? Now that they're here, are you thinking that camping will have to wait until they're older? Relax again! Family camping with kids can be just as much, or even more fun than when you were solo! Bringing kids into nature and teaching them some fun and useful new skills will uncover a whole new world for them. Camping benefits your health and kids (and even babies!) can benefit from nature and the fresh air that camping offers. Take a few pointers and you'll find camping with kids will return your efforts in very satisfying ways.

1. Plan, plan, plan the camping trip!

Having a good plan will ensure that you and the family are ready for anything.

  • Think about where you want to camp. Although you may have avoided these campsites when you camped without children, you may wish to set up camp near washroom facilities or the playground.
  • Make sure you have lots of activities and things for children to do around the campsite. Plan for rain (or snow if you're winter camping). Ensure you pack a tarp and waterproof bags and clothing to keep everyone dry and warm.
  • Rain doesn’t have to stop your camping trip. Ever been hiking in the rain? It's still fun with the right clothing and a totally different experience. Have a list of things to things to do in case the weather turns really bad, like playing games, reading books, taking a trip into town to see a museum, or checking out the visitor centre at the campground.
  • Have lots of nutritious snacks ready. Children will burn more calories while being active outside.

2. Include the children in the planning

Including the children allows them to really feel a part of the process and allows them to take ownership of certain aspects of the trip. Ask them what they want to do while they are camping. When you are packing, get them to fill their backpack with some gear of their own. At camp, get them to help you set up the tent, get the fire ready, and wash dishes. Tasks that seem boring at home can be more interesting outside.

3. Bring some comforts from home

Bringing something familiar from home can help ease the transition to sleeping overnight in the outdoors. Let your child bring their favourite toy, stuffed animal, or blanket with them. Try cooking one of their favourite meals on the BBQ or open fire--it might turn out to be a whole new meal! Small comforts can go a long way in getting your children comfortable enough to begin enjoying the outdoors.

Speaking of comfort, the gear you bring can make or break your experience.

Must-have camping gear

  • A tent is obviously a no-brainer. But the right tent will ensure that you and the family are comfortable. Make sure when you are purchasing a tent that it is of a high enough quality that it is completely waterproof. Rain is not an issue as long as you are dry and comfortable. Also, buy a tent that is large enough for you and your family. Is there enough space to play a board game while waiting out a rain storm? Is there enough room for all the extra gear that comes with family camping? Your tent is your home away from home while camping so make sure it is the right one for you and is comfortable for the kids.

  • Proper footwear is a must for all family members, but especially for kids. Make sure your children have the right kind of footwear for around the campsite, around the campfire, on hikes and at the beach.

  • Headlamps offer hands-free lighting for night time. Wherever you look the headlamp will shine light on it and leave you with two free hands. Make sure everyone—including the kids—has one. Make sure they are somewhere handy so when night falls you are not scrambling in the dark trying to find them (or the "toilet"!).

  • A child carrier is a worthwhile investment for smaller children and toddlers. This way, your little ones can come with you wherever you choose to hike. Like a proper backpack, make sure this one fits properly in order to distribute the weight down to your legs and away from your shoulders and back.

4. Campground Activities

  • Go for a hike. Want to wear your baby or toddler for those longer trails? There are tons of carriers perfect for long walks in the woods!
  • Rent a canoe or kayak. See if you can find a tandem kayak if the kids are very small. Parents new to canoe camping with kids should talk to the park staff at the park they are visiting. They can give you insight on possible paddling routes that would be suitable for a family with children, insight into the weather, and lots of tips only the locals know.
  • Bring arts and crafts. Looking for inspiration? Try this leaf stencil craft!
  • Bring a few good outdoor toys but remember that even sticks and rocks and old tree stumps make for wonderful active imaginative play!
  • Tell stories and sing songs around the fire. This family time can be even better when accompanied by S’mores! Yep, we even have a healthier version of these treats for you to try.
  • Try star-gazing. When the sugar from the S’mores has everyone up and buzzing, push back bedtime and give this a shot. Bring a book to identify constellations or print out a constellation guide.
  • Plan a scavenger hunt. Grab the camera and have kids find and take pictures of natural objects in and around the camp site.
  • Learn to identify indigenous plants, animals and insects. Bring some books to help guide you and then see what you can see! Many parks offer guided walks and interpretive programs that’ll help you do this too.
  • As activities go, cooking over an open fire is a family camping favourite and a must! The following recipe for traditional bannock will take camping with kids to the next level, even if it's "just bread"!

The best bread on a stick you’ll ever eat!

Bannock is about as Canadian as maple syrup and back bacon, and just as yummy! While many think of bannock as traditional food of our country’s First Peoples, in fact its origins are Scottish, making its way over to the ‘New World’ with Scottish fur traders. A basic bread leavened with soda instead of yeast, bannock is extremely versatile and can be fried in a skillet, grilled, baked and—yep—even roasted on a stick over the open fire! It’s delicious even when it doesn’t work out perfectly and, once you’ve perfected your technique, it’ll be a life-long camping staple.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups organic whole wheat flour
  • 4 heaping tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp oil (any fat will do but we like olive oil)
  • 1 cup water

Once you’ve made this basic version a few times, try adding ingredients like wild berries or cinnamon!

Instructions

  1. Measure and mix all dry ingredients together at home before you head out camping.
  2. Find a medium size straight stick (deadwood only folks!) and shave off the bark from the middle two thirds.
  3. Put the dry ingredients in a bowl or pot and mix in oil a bit at a time. The texture should be the consistency of crumbly pie dough once it’s all mixed in.
  4. Stir in the water a bit at a time. Once texture is too thick to stir, begin to knead in the rest of the water a bit at a time. Don’t let it get too sticky and wet or it’ll take too long to cook.
  5. Divide bannock dough in two and roll into balls. Allow to rest for about 15 minutes.
  6. While dough is being mixed, build a medium-sized fire. Allow it to burn down somewhat.
  7. Wrap bannock around the stick in a coil—both balls end to end if the stick is long enough, two different sticks if they’re shorter.
  8. Place sticks over the fire pit some distance from the flames for the first 15 minutes, turning regularly. If bannock gets too much heat too soon, it’ll form a hard crust and won’t rise as nicely. Once the dough begins to rise slightly, move the sticks closer to the heat and let the bannock cook for 45 minutes or so, turning regularly for even cooking, until it’s done. The trick here is to position hot coals under the bread—not flames!
  9. It’s cooked when it’s golden brown with a cracked crust. Remove from fire and let cool for a few minutes before ripping it off the stick in big, delicious hunks and smothering in (organic) berry jam. Devour!

*Originally published June 8, 2016