How to Go Camping with Young Kids (& Still Have Fun!)

Camping with kids.
My husband and I were in the prime of our hiking/camping/backpacking infatuation just prior to becoming parents. (We were two steps from dropping everything and becoming thru-hikers, or so we like to remember it.)

When we learned in the fall of 2018 that our first child would be born on the cusp of camping season, we weren’t sure what that meant for our adventuring plans.

Conventional wisdom told us you just don’t go camping with newborns (much less tent camping). We certainly didn’t know of anyone who had done it. Fair enough — newborn life, infancy, and the postpartum period is challenging. Why choose to add to the complexity?

Even so, we hated the idea of giving up something we loved so much, simply because it would be harder with a baby along. And we knew we wanted the outdoors to be a foundational pillar in our family life.

So, we went for it.

For better or for worse, we took our son on his first (gentle) hike at two weeks old, and his first camping trip at five weeks.

It wasn’t easy.

We quickly found we had a lot to learn, adjust, and iron out. But trip after trip, year after year, it’s gotten a little less hard. We have learned (and are still learning) to keep expectations low and the spirit of adventure high.

Entering our fifth consecutive year of tent camping with our kids (now a four-year-old, a seven-month-old + two dogs), the learning curve ever broadens. Still, it remains one of our favorite activities to do together.

Now understandably, you may not want or be able to get out quite so soon after birth (no regrets, but we were probably a tad overzealous at the beginning). But if the camping bug has bitten you too, here is your voice of encouragement: camping with babies is doable! And camping with little kids can be one of the most rewarding adventures you take together.

Of course, let’s not sugarcoat anything.

Things can become unenjoyable very quickly. There will come that moment (usually during a downpour) when you seriously question packing up mid-trip, wondering how you ever thought this was worth it.

But if you stick with it — push just a little past the discomfort — you will understand why it is entirely worth it. Through their natural inclinations towards wonder, joy, and excitement, these young ages allow for a uniquely elevated and beautiful experience.

Camping with kids.

Here are some practical tips and mental shifts I’ve learned over the years to help keep camping enjoyable with babies and small children in tow.

Tips For Camping with Young Kids

Embrace the fact that it can (and will) get uncomfortable.

Being at peace with this from the start is key to having a successful trip. The camping atmosphere is a great place to foster resilience for kids and adults alike.

Keep your camping gear pre-packed.

One of the best things I ever did was create a camping box. Our 40-gallon tote keeps nearly all of our camping-specific gear in one spot. This has streamlined our camping preparation exponentially, saving me a lot of headaches.

Maximized efficiency is a parent’s best friend, and a well-thought out, organized camping box is a gateway to more relaxed camping trips.

Your box setup will be individual to your family. However, some things to consider:

  • Spend time thinking through how it’s organized so it makes efficient sense (i.e. put the tent and sleeping bags on the top if that’s what you set up first).
  • Reflect on what you truly need on every trip and only include those things. You can get by with much less than you think, and less stuff = less chaos. (Remember, things like clothes and food will be packed separately for each trip.)
  • Clean things as you pack them up at the end of the trip so you don’t have to take apart the box again at home. Then keep one person in charge of the box so it gets repacked the same way every time.
  • Keep a notepad at the top to record anything that needs attention, replacing, or should be added.

Prep food beforehand.

You’ll never go wrong with the classic hot dogs/chips/s’mores meal plan! However, if you enjoy a little variety, you may be inspired to branch out (after all, food is half the experience).

Campsite cooking can get challenging with little kids underfoot. A little bit of prep work at home can make a big difference. This might look like:

  • Pre-chopping vegetables
  • Pre-cooking meat that will be part of a bigger recipe (i.e. ground hamburger, sausage slices, etc.)
  • Combining the spices for your recipe(s) beforehand
  • Whisking up a scrambled egg or pancake mixture and packing it in a pourable bottle or jar.

While these may seem simple enough to just do at the campsite, camp cooking with hangry toddlers milling around gets stressful and can take longer than you’d think. So, streamline!

Another great trick is to make double portions of your regular home meals and freeze the extra for camping. You can do this any time throughout the year. Then, just before you leave, pull it from the freezer, let it thaw on the drive (or during the day at the campsite), and simply reheat it over your camp stove or fire for supper!

Slow down.

Little kids slow you down. This isn’t always ideal in the rush of modern life. But nature is the perfect companion to it.

Borrow a page from your toddler’s book. Take time to stop and notice every little thing. Even the most seemingly boring thing (like the 20th rock they hand you) can become fascinating the longer you sit and truly study it.

Really listen to your kids’ questions (they’ll have a ton). Take time to ponder the answers without whipping out your phone. Use their frequent stops to look up and breathe deeply.

Be present.


Allow yourself to be awed, not entertained.

Allow space for nap time.

When camping, the hours tend to slip by very unnoticed. This is great many ways. But it can make it easy to overlook nap times. And we’ve all been on the receiving end of that…

Build in quiet time at the campsite. Be on the lookout for nap “cheats.” For example, if we are doing an outing away from camp that requires a little driving, we’ll often plan to start the drive right around normal nap time, so our kids just conk out in the car. If your child is one to easily fall asleep in a carrier, you could also plan a gentle hike around that time.

Mimic your normal nighttime routine.

It’s inevitable that camping is going to disrupt the predictability and routine most kids thrive on. Additionally, sleeping outdoors can either prove very soothing or be really difficult for a child (my oldest did great as an infant and struggled as a toddler). And sometimes all that fresh air and excitement backfires, making them overtired.

The times we’ve had the most nighttime sleep success come when we honor our sons’ normal evening rituals. We keep everything the same as much as possible — time, order of bedtime routine, reading books, etc. Also, make sure to pack any current bedtime comfort items.

Keep your expectations low.

Kids can be unpredictable. Mother Nature can be unpredictable. The two added together may give you an entirely different experience than you were anticipating.

That is ok.

The truth is, even on our worst outings we’ve come home with some really beautiful pockets of memories.Camping with kids.

Being outdoors exploring, resting, and connecting as a family is enough. Keep that as the main goal. By lowering your expectations for everything else, the highs are that much higher, and the lows are a lot less dramatic and paralyzing.

Have a ritual just for you.

Whether this is a glass of the good stuff around the fire, sneaking out of the tent for some alone time while you star-gaze, or brewing the “fancy” coffee in the morning (my personal fav), have a secret-extra-special-just-for-you camping thing.

Remember: It takes practice.

Don’t let a bad trip discourage you. Seasoned camper or not, camping with kids takes practice. Start small and simple. The more you do it, the more comfortable everyone and everything becomes.

There is no environment more boundlessly enriching for all ages simultaneously than the outdoors. With a little bit of forethought, flexibility, and deep breaths, camping with kids of any age can really be a beautiful return-on-investment for your whole family.

Happy camping!

And for more ideas on where to camp locally and camping tips, see Camping Spots Near Fargo (Within 2 Hours) and 5 Camping Tips for Beginners.

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Caitlin grew up in a large family just outside of Fargo. After moving around in her college and Army National Guard years, she settled in Barnesville with her husband, Dan, in 2015. They have two young sons, Oliver and Finn, and two dogs – a Beagle named Frankie and a crazy Lab mix rescue named Haddie. Caitlin was the owner of a small blog and Etsy shop for a couple of years and a licensed veterinary technician for nearly 10 years. She recently set aside all to focus on being a full-time stay-at-home mom. She is hoping to homeschool in the coming years. Caitlin loves the outdoors and is passionate about the benefits of connecting and reconnecting children and adults to nature in a technology-saturated world. Since their infancies, she and her husband have strived to include their boys in all their outdoor pursuits, cultivating a lot of good life lessons through the triumphs and failures this has allowed them. They particularly enjoy hiking/backpacking, tent camping, fishing, gardening, and exploring the nooks and crannies of Minnesota, along with unearthing the diversity in their own (itty bitty) backyard. Caitlin also enjoys reading, woodworking and crafting, learning “homestead-y” skills, birdwatching, traveling, and writing. She’s on a journey of learning to source more locally through makers, farms, and other businesses and loves exploring these resources in the area. Her (unofficial) love language is coffee.


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