I started my little guy 3 -4 with a kiddie tent to play in while in the house. When he was around 5 or 6yo, I always had a ratty tent in the backyard for us to sleep in the occasional summer night. Then I had him sleep in it or forts by himself in another room (den, living room). We started camping at local state parks around 7 or 8ish twice a year and extended the trip each time e.g. weekend, 4-5 days, 10 days. At each stage we worked on camp basics, pack management, health and safety stuff as age appropriate. Last year (age 10) we road trip car camped with various stops leaving MA and landing in Big Bend NP, including some dispersion camping--3 weeks total. This last summer was over a month and a half at TRNP, Glacier, YNP, Badlands and more. We have two tents a quick 2person and 4 person for longer stays; he can pitch them both proudly. He's been starting campfires since last year. For safety reasons, I still check his backpack for longer, higher elevation hikes. I would say start them as early as they will tolerate and GEAR THEM PROPERLY (REI, I'm looking at you! :). If they are uncomfortable (with shoes, packs, temperature regulation), they will learn to hate it fast and it's hard to go back. Invest in leukotape as it is a miracle for blister management..seriously. Get out as often as you can so it becomes the norm. Have fun!
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I sprung for the ranger vest and the passport book. We (50yo mum with 11yo boy) actually fought over who gets to put the stamp in the book! This summer we took a long trip-visiting 12 NP, NM, NL- and we became a bit fatigued towards the end. Until we hit Badlands NP where the park offered multiple patches, which required extra work, in addition to the badge workbook. Finding a fossil in situ was amazing to see in real life (for both of us!) and earned him a patch (the fossil was left for others to discover too). Then some late night astronomy earned him the second patch. For the several parks that gave patches, they are residing in the big pocket on the ranger vest and the badges adorn the front and back of the thing. I let him put the completed junior ranger books in a binder which he loves to revisit. We came to love the ranger-led hikes, presentations and activities--especially a guitar wielding ranger who led a " Bear Aware!" sing-a-long in Yellowstone-Canyon. Our road trip cooler is loaded with stickers from places we visit..a lot are freebies. Happy trails!
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