10 Hassle-Free Camping Tips Every Family Should Follow

So you are going camping and suddenly the idea of packing kids, pets and gear for a weekend of outdoor bliss seems insurmountable. Since when did getting back to nature require so much stuff? While you’ll have to spend a few hours getting ready, it’s not quite as bad as it seems. By keeping things simple and streamlining your camping process, you’ll minimize your worry and maximize your time spent in a camp chair. Here’s how to get started: 

Family camping in the forest

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GETTING STARTED

Decide on the park. Most car campgrounds are in state or national parks close to desirable outdoor amenities. You can also stay at private campgrounds, RV parks and more. Decide on the kind of atmosphere you’re looking for and pick out the activities that are important to you. 

If you have a carload of kids who want to go swimming, don’t book a tent site in a campground that’s famous for its access to a bike trail. If you want a quiet woodland retreat for hiking and relaxing, don’t tent alongside a popular waterskiing lake. 

PRO TIP: Choose something close by to start out and then get more adventurous. If you are going for a weekend camp, don’t camp somewhere that’s going to take six hours to get there. You’ll end up spending more time in the car than in your tent. 

Choose when to go. Most people go camping on the weekends and you can, too, if you’ve successfully booked ahead. However, do keep in mind that many campsites are cheaper and less crowded if you can camp during the week. If it’s a holiday like the 4th of July, or Labor Day, expect the campground to be jam-packed.   

Pick your tent site. Get a map of the campground and then choose where you’d like to be located. Is it more important to be closer to the bathroom or the beach? Do you want a waterfront campsite, or a remote woodland clearing? Where are the crowds likely to gather? Pick your tent site strategically.  

Get reservations. While it may seem like fun to just breeze into a campground like a free spirit, you may show up to find the one remaining tent site is being used as an overflow party pad by the college bros next door. It’s important to book ahead to make sure you don’t arrive to any unpleasant surprises. Many popular campsites book their best tent sites months in advance. 

Call ahead. Most campsite reservations can be made online now, but there are some holdout parks. If you can’t register online, or are having trouble with the website, give the ranger a call to work something out. The ranger can also give you updates on the park’s conditions and suggest tent sites and activities that might fit your needs.  

Cooking in a pot over campfire

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PLANNING WHAT YOU NEED 

OK – so this part can get insanely complicated and it’s usually when people start to regret planning a camping trip. Luckily, it’s easy to streamline the planning process. After one or two trips, you’ll be a seasoned pro at packing. 

Pack simple meals. It’s easy to go absolutely all out on elaborate camping meals, but reign yourself in. You may want to enjoy fresh salads every day, or whip up a cake over the campfire, but it’s hard to pull off and requires a lot of extra packing and planning effort. Pack plenty of snacks, try to prepare foods ahead of time and bring plenty of ice in your cooler. Sculpting the exact menu for the weekend makes grocery shopping and packing easier. Unleash your inner control freak and map out your meals on paper. 

Getting gear in order. For most of the year, your camping gear is probably sitting in a closet waiting to avalanche out onto you the minute you open the door for your first trip of the year. How on earth are you going to make sure you have all the parts and pieces you need for a successful trip? If you’re a list person, you’re in luck because now is the time to make one. Try using this camping list as a baseline:

  • First aid kit – double check you’ve got everything you might need inside
  • Tent, rain fly, tent pegs and ground cloth – it’s the easiest thing in the world to forget a part of the tent
  • Sleeping bags – Make sure your sleeping bags are clean, dry and rated for the appropriate temperature
  • Sleeping pads – Camp mattresses, foam mats, air mattresses, whatever … just make sure you pack them
  • Pillows – Up to you how you rest your head at night
  • Camping stove – Turn it on before you camp to make sure it works and all the pieces are there
  • Stove fuel – Did you buy the right kind of fuel? Do you have extra canisters? 
  • Matches or a lighter – Campfire, camp stove, candles…you’re gonna need some way to create fire
  • Water carriers – You won’t have a sink right at your campsite so bring big containers to store water
  • Food containers – These’ll keep animals out of your food and allow for easy car packing
  • Camp kitchen – Plan your camp kitchen in coordination with your meal planning, and bring a tub to wash dishes
  • Coolers – You won’t have access to a fridge, so perishables must be preserved on ice
  • Flashlights and batteries – Good for finding your way around after dark, or reading in your tent
  • Lantern – Bring along extra batteries for the lantern too
  • Sunscreen – You’ll be outdoors all day with no break from the sun
  • Insect repellent – What if the bugs are really bad this year? You could also pack a screen tent
  • Rain gear – A rainy day doesn’t have to ruin your trip. Bring some games for extended periods of drizzle

PRO TIP: When you’re finished with this camping trip, clean and air out your gear in preparation for the next trip. Use storage boxes to keep things organized. Next time, an impromptu trip will be possible because you need only lift up the boxes, give them a once-over and throw them in the back of your car. 

Boy kayaking on the river

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Pack the right clothing. Packing clothes can be tricky for camping. You may want to bring warmer clothes than you think you’ll really need. Hats, sweaters, light jackets and gloves can come in handy during cool nights. Packing a few extra socks and a change of clothing to slip into if your clothes get wet. Make yourself a list and stick with it. If the list works, hold onto it and use it year after year. 

Pack for fun things, too. Camping trips are supposed to be about fun, so make sure you have everything you need to have a good time. Bathing suits, board games, novels, hiking boots – whatever it is you do for leisure, make sure you bring it. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate and treats can add to the festive air as well. 

Double check your gear. You really, really, really don’t want to arrive at your tent site to realize that you forgot a sleeping bag, or left a cooler at home. Make sure your most important gear is accounted for. You should have all the parts for your tent, stove, food and sleeping supplies. Catching a mistake could save your trip. Approach this task with camping list in hand to make sure you don’t leave anything out. 

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Carmen Fifield

The delight of finding an unknown park, a captivating history museum or a fantastic desert means exploration is never far from Carmen Fifield’s mind. Carmen’s favorite travel memories include biking to historic sites on the island of Guernsey, huffing and puffing up the stairs to the Great Wall of China and eating the most delicious crab cake ever in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Carmen’s Favorite Travel Tip: Say goodbye to airplane food and tuck some fruit and your favorite sandwich into your carry-on.