Camping with kids - the ultimate guide!
I have fond memories of camping as a child - in our little trailer tent, walking to the on-site shop to get some sweeties and exploring the great outdoors.
Cut to me age 19, with my (future) husband and I looking for a cheap way to holiday together, squeezed into a two man tent on the South Coast on a blisteringly hot weekend. We didn't have any furniture, just a lamp and bedding, but we were hooked!
We didn't even have any furniture... but we were hooked!
When I had children of my own I couldn't wait to share our camping holidays with them. We are now 12 years down the line and camp at least three times a year as a family of five.
Honestly, there has been a lot of trial and error. We've had some disasters; two weeks rain pitched next to a flooding river was particularly tough. But those nights where we watched the sunset, toasted marshmallows over a fire, or heard owls whilst snuggling under covers, made it so worthwhile.
Camping with kids can seem daunting to the novice camper and even to seasoned campers it can be hard work. But we've had the benefit of camping as a couple, then a family of three, then four, then five, so it wasn't all at once for us, and we've learned quite a few things over the years.
If you want to give camping a try (and I highly recommend it!) it pays to start small, have a taster session and see how you get on. Book a couple of nights glamping or in a wooden pod.
If you liked your taster and have bought a tent, here are some of my tips for those who are new to camping with kids.
Take things slow
Remember to take your time - everything takes at least twice as long to do when camping - so from pitching the tent to getting dressed, allow plenty of time and try not to do too much at once, it will only lead to frustration.
There is no such thing as bad weather only bad clothes
This philosophy that we apply to outdoor play goes for camping too. Although I would argue that the two weeks of torrential rain in the Lake District was bad weather, thankfully we had our wet weather gear with us and lots of games to play in the tent!
Planning is key
Lists are essential! I have one permanently set up on my phone so we always bring the right things. And Really Useful boxes come into their own - we have a separate one for kitchen items, general items and bedding. It means that when we camp we can just chuck these in the car, along with with some clothes and food and we're ready to roll.
Be flexible with sleeping arrangements
Bedtimes and routines go out of the window, you have been warned! Our kids often end up going to bed when we do. You may need to give your littlest ones a nap in the day to catch up on sleep. You may also find your previously independent toddler in bed with you instead of their own. Embrace whatever works to give everyone a good nights sleep; it's easy enough to get back into the routine when you're home.
If the weather isn't the best, you will have to forget the perfect campfire and marshmallow-toasting, but snuggling together under a blanket and telling jokes is still a lovely way to spend your time. Maybe you've travelled further afield and want to explore but no-one got much sleep the night before. Be prepared to ditch plans and just chill on site instead.
Fresh air makes children hungry! Prepare a tub of 'help yourself' snacks in advance and keep somewhere accessible but out of reach of babies. We includes snacks such as yoghurt-coated raisins, fruit strings, popcorn, mini breadsticks and flavoured rice crackers. I try to avoid too much sugar so they don't get silly, and chocolate can be a mess to clean up so I tend to save that for treats away from the tent.
More top tips:
Keep a close eye on the weather forecast and plan accordingly - if torrential rain is on the cards, you may want to pack up early.
Micro fibre / fleece blankets won't get damp like cotton or wool blankets and are perfect for snuggling under.
Pack light but remember the layers for the evening and warm PJs for the night, it can get surprisingly cold in the UK even in Summer.
Shower with your little ones in the evening to avoid the morning crowds and help you all relax before bedtime.
Avoid the cheap camping pan sets; it's much better to take one decent sized pan than scrub food stuck to several cheap ones.
Carrier bags from food shops are handy for temporary bins, packing up dirty/wet clothes and a quick pack-up at the end.
Pop some printable activities and mini pencils in a large ziploc for instant entertainment when you're pitching - my Camping Activity Book is perfect for this as it's full of activities as well as some fun recipes for after dark.
Want to know what to pack? See my top suggestions for camping with kids.