First Time Tent Camping with Kids — Don’t Panic!

Thinking about planning a first-time camping trip with the kids but not sure where to start?  We’ve got all the best advice on what to pack for a family camping trip and tips for tent camping with kids.  From campsite meal prepping to our free downloadable camping gear checklist, your dreams of a family camping trip can be a reality!

Prepping for a Family Camping Trip — Where to Start

First time tent camping with kids blog post by Mountain Mat

Do you love camping (or at least you love the idea of camping)?  Do you want to introduce your family to the great world of campfire cookouts, starlit nights, and mosquitoes (okay, maybe scratch the mosquito part)?

There is no better way to teach your children to have an appreciation for the outdoors than a family camping trip.

But, after your initial excitement of the idea of a camping trip — you realize that you have no idea where to even start to address the question “What things do I need for camping?”  And the more you think about the upcoming camping trip, the more you start to panic – can you do this??

YES!  Yes, you can!!  We’re here to help!  Its not as overwhelming as it seems!  We’ve got some tips, tricks, and best of all – we’ve included a FREE downloadable Camping Packing List for Families that tells you in detail everything you need to bring for a successful family camping trip.

Things You Need for a Camping Trip with Kids

At least two weeks before your camping trip you need to start organizing your pack list.  Your camping supplies will fall into the following categories:

  • Shelter (tent, tarps, pop-up sun shades, campsite mats, etc)
  • Sleeping (air mattress, sleeping bags, pillows, etc)
  • Kitchen (pots & pans, mess kits, dish washing supplies, etc)
  • Survival Gear/Fire (flashlights, medical kits, camp chairs, bug repellent, etc)
  • Food (pre-planned meals, snacks, drinks, etc)
  • Clothing (pants, shirts, clean undies, etc)
  • Optional (entertainment items, bikes, swim gear, etc)

Don’t worry – it looks like a lot – but once you know what you need you can start compiling your gear and then you’ll know what you still need to purchase.

Hint: You can find amazing camping gear at thrift stores!  Cookware, hiking backpacks, clothing (especially for kids – because they WILL destroy their clothes with dirt!), and even tents, tarps, and more!

Meal Planning for a Camping Trip

foil wrapped meal over campfire

Camping trips are all about two main activities: spending time in the outdoors and eating.  Often these two happen at the same time.  Guaranteed, the very first thing on everyone’s mind once you arrive at your designated campsite is: What do we have to eat?

Planning your camping meals ahead of time will save you hard work at the campsite.  Here’s how you do it:

First, make a list of every meal that will be served during your camping trip.  For each meal, make a list of ingredients needed – don’t forget spices, salt and pepper, and any cooking oils you might need.  Compile these ingredients onto a master pack/shopping list.  Next, make a list of all the snacks, drinks, and treats you want to have and add those to your packing/shopping list.

A few days before your camping trip, start packing up all the non-perishable food on you list that you have in your pantry.  Anything you pack, cross off your master list.  Do the same for perishables (putting them in a separate section of your refrigerator so no one eats them!)  Once again, as you put camp meal ingredients aside, cross them from your master list.

Now you’ll have a list of only the food items that you need to purchase for your camping trip.  Use that list to hit the grocery store and stock up on everything you’ll need for your camping trip!

Meal Hack: pre-assemble your first meal at the campsite so you don’t have to cook the first night.  You can make it picnic style with sandwiches, chips, veggies, and cookies.  You may not win any cooking contests, but you’ll enjoy relaxing by the campfire after setting up the tent and campsite!

Our gift to you: Check out our amazing 3-Day Camping Trip Meal Plan.  We even include a complete shopping list.  There – DONE.  Doesn’t that feel good?

Sticking to a Schedule – Or Not

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m the kind of parent who LOVES a good schedule.  I love bedtime routines, standard meal/snack times, scheduled screen time, chore time — I love it all.  It gives my life a sense of orderliness and my kids seem to thrive on it.  Maybe this is you too?  Or perhaps you are a parent of the variety of ‘figure it out as we go’.  You handle situations as they come up, make decisions on the fly based on what’s happening right then – you are an adaptable parent.

Whatever breed of parent you are — a camping parent must be flexible with schedules.  Nap times might or might not happen, meals may be delayed and all-day snacks might end up being dinner, bedtime is not necessarily a set time, but more of an idea…  This was hard for me at first, but even I was able to embrace camping life with kids.

Its true that by the end of your camping trip, you may not feel exactly rested – but your whole family will have made amazing memories.  That’s why your putting yourself through this whole experience, right?  For the memories!  Just keep telling yourself that and not only will YOU survive, but everyone will be relaxed.  Trust me!

What to do While Camping – Activities

First time tent camping with kids blog post by Mountain Mat

After you’ve conquered the packing and meal planning for your upcoming camping trip, you may be tempted to panic about what to do when you’ve actually started camping.  You may be asking, “but what does one DO when camping?”  Well, I bring tidings of good news!  Camping activities for kids are endless, cheap, and super fun.  A little prep is all that is needed!  Obviously there are nature walks and roasting marshmallows over the fire.  But you can get creative with scavenger hunts, ghost stories, and good old fashioned, playing in the dirt (my kids’ personal favorite).  The dirtier a kids can get, the more fun they have.  (This is why I suggested thrift store camping clothes).

Another trick I like to do is called, “help Mom cook”.  This activity is actually a chore, but disguised as fun!  And it really works!  Add a little danger to any chore (like cooking over an open fire) and suddenly you’ve got your hands full of helpers!  Older kids can cut things, younger kids can stir, everyone can get s’more’s ingredients ready to go.  Yes, cooking is one of those wonderful activities that kids can do that is actually useful to the whole family!  Now, if only I could drum up as much interest for the cleaning up part…

Tent Camping with Kids – You Can (and Should!) Do It

The idea of your first time tent camping with kids can vary between exciting and terrifying.  You are totally right – it is BOTH exciting and terrifying.  But its also one of the most wonderful family activities you can introduce your children to.  Digital devices are put away and everyone gets a chance to work together, play together, and relax together.  Family traditions and inside jokes are born during camping trips.  Kids gain new confidence levels as they learn new skills like fire building, cooking, and tent setting up.  YOU gain new confidence as a parent – for planning a trip like this, keeping your children warm, dry, fed, and alive – all out in the wilderness!  (Gives you a new appreciation for Little House on the Prairie!)  Best of all, camping with kids brings you all closer – with nature, with each other – and that is the sign of a happy, bonded family.

So what are you waiting for?  You CAN do it!  Download our FREE camping checklist and start your camping plan today.  Once you’ve gotten your first tent camping trip under your belt, you’ll be ready to plan the next one!

Cheers and Happy Camping!!

Complete Family Camping Checklist

packing list for family tent camping trip

Download our exclusive complete packing list of everything you need for a family camping trip.  This 2 page list is detailed – but that’s what you need for a successful trip!

Download Checklist here:
Complete Family Camping Trip Checklist

Mountain Mat USA

Jennifer Hillberg is the Founder and Creator of Mountain Mat, LLC, the USA’s first 100% recycled plastic, reversible, outdoor recreation mat. As an avid outdoor recreationalist, Jennifer has hiked and camped in some of the world’s most remote places alongside her husband and three children. Learn more about The Mountain Mat Story.

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