Car Camping with Children
This is tailored to taking young kids out. The older they get the simpler this should be for you. This is also bare bones car camping, no frills, nothing extra. If you or your kids need it, and you have the space then certainly bring it along. My only reason for camping with the kids is to get multiple day trips of hiking and sightseeing without having to drive home for the night. When my wife can come along, I do tend to bring more items like camp chairs and cooking items.
Looking for a camp
Leave the kids in the car if itís cold out or if you donít like the terrain around the camp. Immediately stet up the tent and throw in the sleeping bags and pads. If itís dark, a headlamp will be more helpful than your cars headlights. Now I throw the kids in the tent with a battery powered lantern and let them play. Next I start throwing in everything for the night. The bucket of toys, blankets from the car, kids duffel, my duffel, food bag if safe and the diaper backpack. Just outside the tent is the cooler, extra water bottles and camping bag.
While the kids are happy (hopefully) in the tent, I reorganize the truck back and clean it. Finally I jump into the tent and organize it. While in the tent, the kids want to play, with toys, with each other, sometimes on you. Usually they are very mobile activities including chasing each other. The more theyíve been inactive in the car or in the backpacks the more energy they seem to have. Iíve been able to cope with this by reading a book or writing. They crawl over me and bump me but as long as you have something to do Ė youíll survive. They play until they are tired or Iíve had enough. Getting them asleep is probably the hardest thing for me, especially if Iím really tired from the day's activities. What works for me (assuming they are tired) is turning off the lights and letting their eyes adjust to the dark, then yelling bedtimeÖ.go to sleep.
Since my kids are young, I try to pitch camp just before dark. In the tent, I have total control over their environment not having to manage where they are or what kind of trouble they are getting into. If Iím with my wife, hanging around camp is great; a second set of eyes and hands makes a big difference. As the kids grow older, Iím sure I will enjoy more camp activities with them when camping without my wife.
Whatís nice about arriving late is grabbing a spot that most find unappealing. Since you only need it for a few hours, it really shouldnít matter if it has no view or is even close to the road. I just try to find a spot that is level and completely off the road. Most are spots others have been, usually on National Forest land. I totally avoid public campgrounds unless itís off season and I have the whole place to myself. When my kids were under one, once in awhile one would wake up screaming for no reason and I would hate to be around other campers if that happened.
Getting Packed and Organized for an overnight trip
Bin of toys/books
Kid Carrier for each kid
The morning of the trip I like to wake the kids up earlyÖaround 3 hours before they usually get up. Iíll put them in the car and have some food for them if they want it. Usually they are in a daze for 30 minutes before falling asleep again. Then I usually have a few hours to get to where I need to, hopefully they wake up as we approach the start of the first hike.
Clothing for trip
Hiking socks and boots
Warm fleece and fleece hat
Hiking shoes and socks
1 piece outfits for infants
Extra zip lock and grocery plastic bags
Drinks: Lots of water in sportdrink bottles as well as juice for 3 days
Breakfasts: Cold cereal in baggies, Breakfast Bars, Granola Bars
Lunch: PB & J Sandwiches, Bolona Sandwiches, Hot Dogs, Bread
Dinners: Canned food such as Progressive Soup or Spaghettios
Snacks: Apples, carrots, oranges, bananas, cookies, Ritz, Raisins, Pretzels,
Pudding, Fruit cups or fruit in a can, Fruit Snacks, Vanilla wafers,
cheese-its, Triskits, whatever they will eat.
It helps to know everything has a place, so you can find it. It gets frustrating when you are handing your kid a pudding cup but can't find a spoon anywhere. Below is a camping checklist that gives you the ability to go hiking by day and car camping at night. If there is more than one adult and you want the option of an overnight backcountry hike, the gear is essentially the same except you would need to bring a large overnight backpack.
Kids Clothing Bag
Battery powered lantern
Stove/fuel and Cooking pot
Canned food dinners
Plates, Bowls, Utencils
Headlamp & Matches
Bear spray, snakebite kit
Packed in Car
Blanket for each child
Toilet Paper - half role +
First aid kit
(For young children)
Formula & dispenser or Milk
Bottles and water
Small radio for inside tent
Milk, Yogurts, drinks
Any other foods you want cool
Clothing for first day
Comfortable driving shoes
Cell phone/wallet/keys/chap stick
During the Night
If it is a cold night, I have to get up several times to make sure my kids are ok. Typically, one is halfway out of their bag, not on their sleeping pad or their hat has come off. I've also had some long uncomfortable nights with an infant in my bag during below freezing temperatures. Warm summer nights really are the best time to go camping with the kids.
In the Morning
I usually like to get going right away especially if it's a chilly morning. I'll pack what I can in the tent, then jump out and put everything in the car except the kids sleeping bags and pads. Next I warm up the car if neccessary, put the kids in (still wearing their pajamas), and finally pack up the tent and remaining gear. Since everything has a specific bag and place this process only takes minutes.
Cold night in Northern Idaho
Canyonlands National Park
Cedar Mountains, Utah
Pahvant Mountains, Utah
Beaver Dam Mountains, Utah
Wasatch Plateau, Utah