I have had my share of camping nightmares.
Camping with your children can be a wonderful adventure that brings everyone back to the simplicity of nature. The key to a successful trip is to be prepared, there's nothing worse than arriving to your campsite only to realize you forgot to fill up on fuel for the gas stove, or forgot the rain gear if a storm strikes.
The other thing to remember is that the nightmares in the moment can always be looked back on as funny stories and fond memories (as long as everyone remains safe)!
With May long weekend just around the corner, this often marks the start to the camping season and many families head out of the city to enjoy the great outdoors.
Before You Go
The quote "by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail" has never rung more true to me than it does when I think about camping.
Like I said, I have had my share of camping nightmares. Luckily these sorts of life experiences help you learn, and I am happy to say that by following some of these tried and tested tips I've been able to keep family camping trips (mostly) nightmare-free.
1. Get your campsite booked.
First and foremost, you have to secure a spot so that you can camp. Campgrounds can fill up far in advance so it's important to reserve ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
Many do reserve a certain amount of campsites for those who arrive on a first come- first served basis. This can be risky, so I highly advise calling ahead to learn more about the number of spots and when they would recommend showing up (you might have to show up early or mid-week to avoid the peak time).
2. Check the weather forecast.
Know what to expect, and plan accordingly. Weather predictions can change so don't trust the 7 day forecast, make sure you check back regularly and a final glance the day you leave.
Even if a hot sunny weekend is ahead, check the nightly lows to ensure you've got enough warm blankets and clothing when the sun goes down. And don't simply leave your rain gear behind completely, it's still good to be prepared (just in case).
3. Create a packing checklist for the whole family, and check it twice!
If your kids want the responsibility of packing for themselves, make sure you double check that they've got everything. This isn't singling them out, you should double check your list as well.
We've created your essential family packing list below to help you out.
4. Test your gear, especially the air mattress.
There's nothing worse than realizing once you're already there that there's a hole in the mattress.
If able, set up camp in your backyard prior to your first trip that year to make sure everything is in working order, plus it can help get the kids excited!
5. Prepare the food.
As you probably noticed, we didn't include food in your packing checklist, you'll have to create that one on your own based on your families favourite meals and snacks.
We suggest writing down each meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner) for the number of days you are there. For anything that can be prepared ahead of time you can do so to make your camping life easier (marinate the meats, pre-cut the veggies, prepare some salads, etc).
When you pack the cooler you can put them in meal by meal.
I find mealtimes can often be scattered and kids are busy enjoying the day. I have lots of snacks on hand so they can grab-and-go or easily bring things along to the beach.
6. Stock up on water.
Don't let your trip get ruined from dehydration! Some campgrounds have running water that you can drink (or you can always boil it). While a big pack of water bottles isn't the most environmentally friendly thing to do, it provides easy to grab, safe drinking water.
Our favourite thing to do is freeze all the water bottles so that they keep cold all weekend long and help keep all the food cold in the coolers (plus no watery mess from the ice melting)!
When You Get There
Be sure to get the kids involved every step of the way so that they learn and become comfortable with camping and the outdoors.
7. Assign camp chores.
Surprisingly, these can actually be a lot of fun for kids. Have them help you set up the tent, cook a meal, collect firewood, etc. The novelty of camping seems to transform what would be a monotonous chore at home to a little adventure where they can help out mom or dad.
8. Plan outdoor activities
Try to experience the outdoor activities with your kids and teach them about safety and respect for nature along the way.
Some fun things to do are taking small hikes, going fishing, flashlight walks, stargazing, packing a picnic to eat in a meadow or at the beach, or talking about the wildlife and plants in the area.
9. Bring games & crafts
Although kids are pretty good self-entertainers, make sure you're armed with games and craft ideas in case the kids get restless and boredom strikes. This is especially important if rain is in the forecast.
- Scavenger hunt- hand your kids a little bag and a list of objects to find throughout your time camping (moss, red leaf, shell, bark, etc.)
- Pet rocks- bring markers or paint so you can gather rocks at the beach and turn them into an imaginative wild creature
- Board games, books, puzzles, and cards- the more the merrier
- A scrapbook & glue stick- to make a collage with the natural objects found around the campground
10. Cook on the campfire!
Last but not least- make sure you utilize the campfire for some authentic (and delicious) meals, that's what camping is all about!
- Campfire Pizza: Using pita bread, cover with your pizza sauce base, then have a pizza party where everyone designs their own! Place the pizza on foil and wrap around to cover the top and create a tent. Cook over top of coals for approximately 10-15 minutes. Voila!
- Campfire Banana Boat: Leaving the skin on, slit each banana lengthwise but not all the way through. Line the slit with mini marshmallows and your favorite chocolate chips, then sprinkle lightly with brown sugar. Wrap it up tightly in foil (sealed on both ends) and place on a grill over the campfire. Wait approximately 7 minutes, remove to let cool, and then indulge in this campfire delicacy!
Your Essential Family Packing List
Here is a great starting point for ensuring a seamless camping trip with your family. Preparation is key, especially if your campground is not close to any city or shops.
✅ Tent, poles, stakes, fly
✅ Ground cover for your tent (some include this) or a tarp
✅ Extra tarp or canopy
✅ Sleeping bag for each camper
✅ Pillow for each camper
✅ Mattress or sleeping pad for each camper
✅ Repair kit for mattresses, tent, tarps, etc.
✅ Extra blankets
✅ Folding chairs
✅ Flashlights, lanterns, headlamps for nighttime
✅ Matches and/or lighter
✅ Firewood (they'll likely have this available at the campground, but check beforehand)
✅ First Aid Kit
✅ Stove (with enough fuel)
✅ Frying pan
✅ Food containers
✅ Cutting board
✅ Cutting knife, spatula, flipper, large spoon for cooking
✅ Portable coffee maker
✅ Corkscrew and bottle opener
✅ Plates, bowls, forks, spoons, knives (enough for each camper)
✅ Cups and mugs (enough for each camper)
✅ Water bottles
✅ Biodegradable soap
✅ Dishcloth, towel, scrubber
✅ Paper towel
✅ Washing bin
✅ Foil and/or cling wrap
✅ Garbage bags
Clothing (Per Camper)
✅ Daytime wear (tshirts, tank tops, shorts, comfy pants)
✅ Warm sweater and extra layers for warmth
✅ Rain jacket and/or poncho (worst case scenario you could use a garbage bag)
✅ Walking shoes, slip ons, water shoes
✅ Hat with brim
✅ Gloves (if cooler weather is expected)
Personal Items (Per Camper)
✅ Toothbrush and toothpaste
✅ Insect repellent
✅ Washing toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, soap)
✅ Towel (one for the beach, one for showering)
✅ Medications if applicable
More Essential Items
✅ Maps of the area
✅ Phone charger for the car (in case of emergencies, it's good to have your cell accessible)
✅ Cards and board games
✅ Bikes, toys and games (bocce, horse shoes, spike ball, badminton, are all great games with easy set up)
✅ Camera or smartphone, so you can capture the memories