Sleep In The Dirt

“Just do it!” Successful Camping with Kids

Essays From the Field

Go camping with your kids they said. It will be fun they said. They were wrong.

Often, even to experienced campers, the idea of camping with children is really daunting. People often ask us when we started camping with our kids, and though the specific challenges may differ with age, there are principles that apply no matter the age of the children. So for the sake of this article, I’m going to use the term “kids” to refer to babies, toddlers, and hoodlums of all ages.

You may be thinking, “My kids are a handful at home, how will I ever handle them out in the middle of nowhere? That doesn’t sound fun.” You’re wrong. Before I get too deep into this, I must say that the first step to any of this is to make a freaking decision! Just go. Just do it. It’s one night. I can’t tell you how many times families have told us how they’ve been really wanting to go, “but”…so make a decision that you’re going to do it or just accept that you’re going to stay home and work in the yard every weekend instead.

A recent backpacking trip we went on with our four boys, Zev (8), Kai (6), Liam (4) and Shem (2) embodies a lot of the principles we’ve found to be necessary in having a good time out with your kids:

Be realistic. What works for one family won’t work for another. Make your best assessment of your kids, and make a plan that you think could work for their current tolerance for discomfort (heat, cold, bugs, dirt, etc.), hiking, sleep, attention span, etc. This particular weekend we had three days we’d be exploring, so we decided to go backpacking. Liam is our limiting factor, so based on last year and it being the first backpacking trip of the year, we knew that we should keep it to 2-3 miles each direction each day.

Plan. I personally don’t like being near others when I camp so I resort to Google Earth a lot. What type of area will best serve the needs we identified above? Spend time researching. What will you do that night? What will you eat? What will the kids do while you prep meals? How long will you be in the car? Where will you go during the day? What will you do if that slight chance of rain turns into a downpour? What will you do to try and keep bedtime from turning into a drive home in the middle of the night?

Don’t get attached. You’re already thinking that your first camping trip with your little one(s) may not go according to plan – and you’re right! It probably won’t! It took me longer to wrap up some things for work so we got to our parking spot late and ended up racing the sun the first night of our trip. But we ended up a mile short of the 3 miles and finding a really rad place to lay our heads down and wake up to! I’ve struggled with this principal (probably also because I often spend hours on Google Earth the night before trying to find the most radical of spots), but it really really, helps with the next two points…

Adapt. On this trip, nothing went to plan. We didn’t camp at either location we had originally planned on, nor the backup spots. We didn’t even do the hikes we planned on. Heck, we lost our keys on the second night in the middle of nowhere with no cell coverage. Communicate with your significant other. Assess and adapt as the day progresses. It gets interesting sometimes!

Just have fun. We have to remind ourselves all the time. Sometimes kids complain, kids don’t help, they don’t listen, etc., etc. Focusing on a positive attitude is a constant for us. I mean, four boys under the age of 8 will make you want to punch yourself in the face sometimes. Sometimes focusing on making the trip a positive experience really has to be the only focus and sometimes that’s a challenge. Regardless of what happens on your trip, you’ll look back at it with less regrets if you focus on having fun.

Use that drive home to asses. You’ll already know how you feel when you’re on your way home but see if you can identify the exact positives and negatives of the trip. Ask your kids too – if they’re old enough to talk! What stood out to them will be helpful insight to your next trip! Yep, ’cause you’re going again, you pansy.

The more you go, the more both you and they get the hang of it. And it’s worth it cause who wants to stay home to work on the house anyway? If you go in with proper planning and expectations, chances are you’ll come home and still say “that was fun”. And that’s usually enough to get you to try it again.

Nathan Leavitt/WildRoots Outdoors is a dad and family living the outdoor life and teaching his four boys how to do the same. Check them out at

Comments (2)

2 responses

  1. Marlene

    Love this! Not so sure about backpacking with a 2 year old but I took my 3 camping every change we had. Not always easy but always enjoyed it. Today they are adults with memories they will always carry with them.

  2. Matt

    I had my girls out for their first backpacking trip three weeks ago. It will be some time before I convince my wife to take our son (he has special needs). How did you guys split up tents?

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