Hello, community! My name's Andy, I'm a husband of one, father of two, and we love the outdoors! Consequently, we also love REI! The "camping store" my kids call it. My wife and I have done plenty of camping ourselves, but now that we have little ones coming of age to take out, we're getting ready to embark on a whole new kind of adventure. Advice welcome!
Hi Andy - Welcome to the community. Thanks for sharing such a great introduction!
It's amazing to hear about your love of the outdoors and your love of REI. Hopefully this new space turns into another piece of your REI experience that you come to enjoy!
You are not alone here as a parent looking for advice on getting kids out side. We're hopeful you will be able to connect with others to learn some tips, share your own experiences, and tell all of the wild stories that come from camping with little ones! Some conversations that stand out that you might want to read through or jump in on include:
Around the campsite we like to bring a climbing robe along to create some in-campsite rope swings (a winner for kids of all ages) from nearby trees and kinetic sand inside a small to medium rubbermaid container is perfect for matchbox cars. Coloring books and boards games usually go over well too. My kids are both under 7 though, so older ones might appreciate some time on smart devices (though hopefully not too much). We keep hikes short and beach/river trips (where applicable) longer. Cooking over the camp stove with kid favorites like mac n' cheese, pie-iron pizza, foil dinners, chicken, or hot dogs. Nighttime s'mores are also a hit before heading to the sleeping bags in the tent. My kids haven't had issues with tent camping, but some of my nieces needed a pack and play setup inside their tent or SUV. We do prefer camps with flushable toilets and regular showers, but we will do primitive camping/hike-in sites as well.
Hey, @andr3w1sh , Welcome!
How old are your kids? Mine's grown now, but I (kinda) remember what worked and, more importantly, what didn't!
The first thing to remember is, we learn and build confidence by taking chances. Obviously you don't want your kids to climb out on a ledge 30 feet up where a fall could be fatal! But, I had to learn to let go just a little. If the physical risk is truly minimal (a fall into water that isn't moving or is only moving slowly, on a warm day, for example), let them try crossing the stream by walking on the log. Let them get absolutely filthy! And tired!
I recommend getting the kids into their own tent just as soon as possible. They sleep in their own room at home, right? A tent is no different... you're still "right there". The sooner they start sleeping in a tent by themselves, the more comfortable they'll be later.
Let them help as much as possible. Modern tents aren't difficult to pitch... with a little direction even a young child can do much of the work. (Freestanding designs make it a whole lot easier!) Doing dishes can be fun when you're camping! Be sure to teach them Leave No Trace techniques, of course.
Things to watch out for... They can become too hot, too cold, dehydrated, too tired, etc much more suddenly than adults, and they might not realize it in time. Pay really close attention to how they're dressed, how much they're drinking, etc. Don't wait for them to complain!
It's a good idea to really push them just once in a while. Don't do anything truly dangerous, of course, but if it's a long hike and they're tired, make them keep going. It's better to hold their hand than to carry them... they can learn what it's like to keep going when it isn't easy, and more importantly they learn that yes, they can keep going! Just keep them next to or in front of you... don't let them fall behind even a little. And of course, if they start really having trouble, well, you might just have to carry them.
If they have questions and you're in a place with rangers or other staff, tell them to go ask their question themselves. Not only does it help build their confidence and communication skills, but most rangers seem to love answering questions from kids!
Basically, it boils down to, try really hard not to be a helicopter parent!
(Oh, and don't forget to have fun!)
It's hard to add to what's already been said! We've done the pack-n-play in the 6-person tent (she's 2.5 yrs now, probably a little too big for that, but we haven't gone camping in a while and haven't had to figure out what we'll do next, kind of waiting for potty training to be better...) We also sort of threw expectations of naps/schedule/routine out the window. If your kids are older than toddlers, then I guess this doesn't help much, hah!
Camping with a toddler... wow!
I did see a couple with an infant 8 miles up a trail in Olympic National Park once... on the mother's back. The father was carrying everything else.
One of the biggest keys for us was making sure they were involved in what we were doing no matter what it was. Pitching tent, tying knots, gathering fire wood, helping start the fire, helping cook and clean the dishes, all of it. That way they were learning as they go what needs to be done. But be ready, in a few years the time will come before you know it when they want to borrow gear to go out on their own and hopefully teach their friends all that you have taught them.
Thanks, everyone, for the good advice. A lot of good stuff so far. Our oldest is 3 and youngest is 1. We tried a backyard camping dry run with the oldest when she was 2. Once the sun went down and it was dark she ended up running back and forth in the tent yelling "loo loo loo loo loo" until she finally just crashed lol.