Estimated Read Time 4 minutes
Even for the most avid of campers, spending a weekend under the stars gets a lot more intimidating once kids come along. What do you bring? Will they SLEEP?! Will you be racing back home on night one?!! It can be hard to take the plunge; however, the outdoors are a critical part of childhood and make for a happier, more grounded adulthood as well. You may be surprised by how much more you actually enjoy getting outside once you have kids to enjoy it with. Seeing things through their eyes as they experience it for the first time helps us appreciate things we have now become conditioned to overlook. So, it’s time to book that camping site, pack up the tent and hit the road. Before you venture out into the great unknown, we have asked hiking and camping extraordinaire, Jennifer, to share her tips for your first time camping with kids.
Jennifer is part of an organization called Hike it Baby, which encourages families to get outside with their children and experience the outdoors. With 80,000 members in 208 cities (and growing), they are truly making a difference in bringing the outdoors to the next generation. Jennifer hikes with her two sidekicks almost daily. We couldn’t think of a better person to share what she’s learned!
Q: First, tell us how you got involved with Hike it Baby?
Jennifer: I read in a Houston parenting blog in October 2014 that there was a hiking group for families starting in Houston called Hike it Baby. I was floored, ecstatic, and knew no matter what that I needed to attend that first hike. With a two year old and colicky 4 month old in tow, I was late to that first hike, but I chased them down and joined in…that day I made friends with people that have stayed in my life for the past year and half. I needed to find my tribe, my community and that is where Hike it Baby fit perfectly. Hike it Baby is a community of families from all different backgrounds with one common goal, getting outside.
Q: What camping trips have you taken with Hike it Baby? How old were the kids traveling with you?
Jennifer: I have led two group camping trips for Hike it Baby Houston. One was at Bastrop State Park for 23 families and the most recent one was at Stephen F. Austin State Park for 14 families. Our trips are two night tent camping trips usually in sites that are water only. Children have ranged in age from 2 months old to teenagers with the majority being 18 months old to 5 years old.
Q: Do you have any tips to share in terms of picking a good camping location when you are bringing the kids?
Jennifer: I look for accessibility to things such as bathrooms, trails, playgrounds, and day use activity areas. For safety, I avoid campsites that are right on the water or on an elevated site near a drop off. Campsite choice is also dependent on the time of the year. If it is warmer, I like to pick somewhere with water activity options to cool down in the afternoon or sites with lots of trees for shade.
Q: What gear do you pack for a trip? What additional items did you pack for the kids?
Jennifer: We take all of your typical car camping gear (tent, sleeping bags, etc.). In addition to that for kids, we usually bring books, “sand toys”, a ball, or any other favorite outdoor toys. Items that can come in handy for little babies are a pack and play that can be used outside as well as in the tent for a safe place off the ground for baby. A must have for me is a pop up shade tent. They are great for multiple uses: shade, rain protection, and a place to hang things for drying. If I have space, I take it! One of my favorite multi use items is one of those zip up picnic blankets…the kind you can fold and it zips into a rectangle for easy carry. You can use them as a picnic blanket, a table cloth, a warmth layer in the tent, a rug for the tent entrance, a play place, a blanket, and much more! My other favorite thing is a camp stove. It can make me coffee, breakfast, lunch, and dinner quickly with less risk compared to a long burning fire when kids are running around.
Q: What was the most useful item? What made it stand out?
Jennifer: I always bring a battery powered sound machine. It is actually the ones my kids sleep with every night. Not because I don’t love the sounds of nature, but because it helps drown out the little noises that will more likely keep me from sleeping than my kids, but it also helps as part of their sleep norm. Not sure if it was the most useful or just fun…we brought a little blow up pool this time and it was great. It not only kept the kids busy, but it was an easy place to wash them off! You could even wash dishes in it!
Q: What item would you leave at home next time?
Jennifer: I would greatly limit the food/drink items I bring that need to be in a cooler. The risk of that food going off and getting sick is not worth it. If you are bringing things that need to be in the cooler, freeze them ahead of time if possible so they will stay colder longer.
Q: Best story or most memorable moment of a family camping trip. Go!
Jennifer: That moment when all the parents have gotten their kids to sleep and are sitting together around the fire. The comradery shared in that moment is like no other.
Q: For those out there that are scared to plan a camping and / or hiking trip with kids, what advice or tips do you have that would make it easier?
Jennifer: Go with a group first and foremost or at least another family. Practically, if you forget something, odds are the other family has it! Kids entertain kids, especially if they are close in age or are familiar with spending time together. In the beginning, pick somewhere close to home. I have had my fair share of bails on camping trips whether it was in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning. When kids are involved, especially little ones, it is nice to be able to get home quickly if you need to. Last but not least, food! Bring your favorite snacks and keep the food for meals simple.
Thank you, Jennifer for taking the time to share your tips! What other tips do you have? Leave them in the comments below. Looking for more information about traveling with kids? Check out our tips for surviving holiday travel with kids!