Camping with Kids - A field Guide

It's March in Ottawa so I'm rolling my eyes at the fresh snow we woke up to this morning and shifting my focus to the months ahead.... what what we refer to as camping season. We've already endured booking season - when your alarm is set extra early, and your heart pounds as you wait for the seconds to click into the open booking session - hoping you'll secure your favourite spot.

Last year we spent close to 30 nights in our pop up camper and we spend many dinner conversations pouring over memories like how to perfect the four minute paid shower, how good the fresh baked goods taste at the camp store and how many more months until we get to do it all again.

Camping is the way we travel. When we moved out to the country six years ago we looked at our existing mortgage and then used a mortgage affordability calculator to see how much more we wanted to take on. We decided to intentionally choose a home that was similar in price to our last home as we were a one income family at the time and we wanted to make sure we could go out and do the things we wanted with our growing family. We worked with a realtor and looked at options in the country so we could gain outdoor space and afford the bungalow layout we were after.

I am so glad we chose not to overextend ourselves as our camping memories are some of our best ones and two years ago we were able to save enough to buy a used pop up camper - making our camping situation that much sweeter. I often get questions about how we camp with three children so today I am offering up my tips and tricks on how to camp with kids (and enjoy it).

My tips on camping with kids

Our first ever family camping trip with our 8 month old twins involved a tent that was far too small, our car circling the campground at 10 pm so we could get our daughters to sleep and then carefully extract them from their car seats into the tent, and the ruining of an $800 camera. We've learned a ton since that first trip and I am happy to be sharing all of these tips and tricks with you! (Psst, always pack the coffee + a method to brew it + bottled water in case the campsite water is funky)... Okay on to the list!

Packing Essentials

Laundry Basket Hack

  • Forget the duffle bags that are hard to dig around in, buy one laundry basket for each of your family members and fill it will all the essential clothes first in one layer and then tell your children they can put toys & games on top of it (this limits the kid stuff).

Lake and Beach Essentials

  • Water shoes and googles for the kids
  • Puddle jumpers or life jackets
  • Mesh laundry basket for sand toys
  • Compact picnic blanket

Comfort Essentials

  • Potty in the tent/camper for nighttime use
  • Shower caddy to streamline your get clean routine

Food Essentials

  • Prep as much food as possible before you leave (pre chop, pre mix, pre freeze)
  • We use ziplock bags to store pre cut food, and premixed meals like scrambled eggs

Baby Camping Gear

  • Hook on high chair - amazing for picnic tables and having a spot to secure your child while you set up camp
  • Travel play pen
  • A freestanding baby bath is perfect for campsite baths and for washing feet.
  • Baby carriers - I love a soft structured carrier for hiking and a sling or wrap for hanging around the campground.

Bedtime Routine

  • Anticipate that bedtime will be later than usual. It's bright out late into the evening in summer and it's a new environment.
  • Sound machine (battery operated for tent camping) - you never know who your neighbours will be. A linen ring sling for doing laps of the campground to lull your baby to sleep.
  • Charged iPad or iPhone with downloaded music and/or movies to help get the kids into the tent or camper at night.

Camping Happiness Tips

  • Camp with friends (especially when your children are older). Hikes are easier, kids are happier.
  • Get a big tent (double+ the number of people in your family - we had a 12 person tent for 4)! Or (if your vehicle can tow) consider a small trailer or pop up camper.
  • Plan out playground stops on the way to the campground to break up the trip.

Camping Reservation Tips

  • Choose your #1 site pick from the campground map and have back ups in case it isn't free. 
  • Find out when reservations open and book right away. 
  • I like searching campground reviews to find the best sites in places we haven't tried.

Heads up this blog post was sponsored by @BMOcanada #AffordYourHome.