Navigating the Wilderness and Camping With Little Kids

As I looked over at my son eagerly making his way to the pile of sand in our campsite, it dawned on me, that wasn't just natures sandbox. Turns out the heap had a purpose, to house a whole team of fire ants. As he dove right in I cried out, but it was too late. The army marched in and bit his tender skin before I could grab him. Ah, the great outdoors, and for our family, camping season had begun. 

Dealing with bugs, bears and bathroom situations prove one small part of the camping experience, and kids certainly don't make being in the great outdoors any easier. But with fresh air, wildlife, trees, lakes, s'mores and stars, spending a night or two in a tent (or mini tent!) proves totally worth it. Camping with children doesn't have to be daunting, especially if you stock up on good used kid gear and take these tips into account. 

Useful Gear

"So much gear, but worth it," says Colorado mom Sara S. Hatayama, who suggests keeping shoes out of the tent and in a special spot as well as packing extra clothes, a pot for boiling water and a whole slew of other useful things. Yes, there's a lot of stuff you need for kids, even when you're roughing it in nature. 

For starters, how about bringing a little potty. It doesn't matter if your kid can use the adult-sized toilet, no one wants to be stumbling around in the dark at 2am looking for an outhouse or peeing on some dark, unknown object. That's why having a small potty can be a game changer. Set up a bathroom station near the tent so your kid can poop and pee with ease while you get the morning fire going. A cache of disposable bags is great for dispersing of waste, or consider getting the Kalencom Potette Plus 2-in-1 Travel Potty, which works by putting a plastic bag under the rim and all the business fall right in.

If you have an infant or toddler, a hiking backpack can help on those long hauls whether doing a nature romp or camping at a spot you have to hike into. Bring a regular backpack too to carry all those snacks, a change of clothes, diapers, first aide kit, water, bug spray and anything else you might want. Also a jogging stroller proves great if you have a little one and plan on running trails. 

For chilly nights and mornings, make sure you have a lot of layers, and, as many parents suggested, a pile of extra clothes in general. You want them to have fun, and nature is messy. Expect dirt and water and a lot of costume changes. "Bring five times the clothing you think you'll need and at least a gazillion baby wipes," suggests mom Megan Broughton. "You need lots of layers for evening and sleeping as well." 

Keeping Track Of Kids

It's good to have a system in place in case anyone get's lost and talk about how far away from the camp your children can roam as soon as you get there. A ball of yarn is a good way to create a parameter around the area's trees and it's easy to role up when you're done; or a solid stick line is also an option. Of course if you want to make it more of a game, have your kids find rocks and let them make a circle around the camp while you pitch the tent.

Teach the kids the old "hug a tree" method in case they get lost, just make sure to explain to them you don't have to actually wrap your arms around the sticky trunk while waiting. Whistles too are useful so you can hear where your child might be. For nighttime shenanigans Broughton has each child wear a different color glow stick. It's great for seeing who is where and fun for the kids too. 


For Infants and Toddlers a Pack'n Play Is Gold

Though it might be a little heavy to lug around, so many parents recommended a pack'n play or some sort of portable playard that your kid can sleep and relax in. "Bring a pack'n play for the tent, it's a game changer," says Denver mom Whitney Self Kollar. "We also used it outside the tent when we were cooking or doing something where we couldn't have eyes on a crawling baby."

Don't have one? This is one item you can get second hand for a good price. Good Buy Gear carries a whole cache of open box and gently used gear by Babies 'R Us, Graco , Ingenuity and Joovy . If you're bringing a newborn, a potable side-sleeper works well, such as the Summer Infant SwaddleMe By Your Side Sleeper. Packing one of these devices means your little one will sleep better, and so will you and the campers near you. 

In the morning haul it outside so you don't have to worry about anyone crawling into the fire pit while you utilize a nearby bush. "This was the first time we didn’t bring one and she used her own sleeping bag and it was a disaster," says Cynthia Mawe, who let her daughter use a sleeping bag instead for the first time. "I’m pretty sure I slept two hours each night because of it."

To Pack Toys Or Not To Pack Toys

With any kid related adventure that really is the question. When you're camping a lot of the entertainment comes from just being outside and exploring trees, flowers, bugs, bones, rocks and whatever else is lying around. Mom Rebecca Marie suggests sand toys for playing in the dirt while you're busy getting meals prepped, and washable paint so littles can create some rock art on the stones they find around the camp. Bug nets, used toys such plastic animals or dinosaurs, insect zappers, a hearty truck or two and nature books are also nice if you want something special to do in camp. 

Night time means roasting the perfect marshmallows, something that can go hand-in-hand with a daytime stick-finding quest. It's also a good time to tell spooky, or not-so-scary stories while cuddling by the fire. Don't underestimate the power of a good flashlight to entertain, and every kid should get their own, with or without projections. And, if you can find glow-in-the-dark bugs these are fun to hide around the camp during the day and then let the kids find them at night. 

Feeding Time

Prepping meals ahead of time helps when planning the food part of the trip. Easy things to cook on the fire like hot dogs and s'mores are basically a must for most families, and it's a fun excuse for indulging. Other items prove pretty simple to cook too, like campfire pancakes and bacon, baked beans with apple, and you can even whip up a pizza

You will also need camp chairs, and lucky for us there are foldable highchairs available, pint-sized seats and ones for grown ups too. Consider packing a floor seat like the Mamas and Papas Snug or Ingenuity Baby Base to strap young ones into.

Finally, don't forget plenty of snacks and a water bottle for each child. If you're using formula or need to serve anything warmed, it's good to keep some water on the fire for both heating a bottle and wiping the kids up before meals. Just remember, whatever you pack in, pack it out again when you go. 

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