Into the Great Wide Open {How to Camp with Kids}

Photo Credit: Lindsay Anan
Photo Credit: Lindsay Anan

To say that my husband and I are passionate about getting our family out into nature would be an understatement. As parents, we are backpacking enthusiasts turned car-camping aficionados. I’m pretty sure that during the summer months, we spend more nights in a tent than we do in our beds at home.

Why make the effort to camp with kids {and it is an effort}?

Camping With Kids | Denver Metro Moms BlogRemoving ourselves from the day-to-day distractions of laundry, cleaning, and bill-paying helps us to pause and to appreciate the incredible beauty of this great state. And disconnecting from our electronic devices affords us the opportunity to better connect with each other and our surroundings.

Giving our kids the chance to explore nature, to run wild and free, to become one with the dirt {confession: that’s not my favorite part of camping, but I do love witnessing the joy they experience from covering themselves in it}, these are the things I want their childhood to be made of. And while it might seem overwhelming to attempt to camp with young children, I’m here to tell you, it can be done {our oldest first camped at 2 months old}. And it can be fun. I liken it to what they say about having kids – it will be a lot of work, but it will be so worth it.

So, how do you get started?

Camping With Kids | Denver Metro Moms BlogYou’ll want to start with your camping basics – a tent, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads {we bring pillows too, because, well, it’s car camping, and you can}. Check out our Family Camping Pack List Printable to get our recommendations for the basics and beyond!

What do the kids sleep on and in?

One summer when our youngest was 9 months old, and refused to sleep anywhere but in the swing, I kid you not, we actually brought both our pack n play for our two year old and our swing. People would walk by our tent, puzzled by the silhouette of the swing rocking side to side. Perhaps a bit ridiculous, but we love to camp so much that it was totally worth the haul. You can also keep it simple and just make a little bed for the kids to sleep in next to you or use a travel bed like the Pea Pod.

What to pack for the kids?

Camping With Kids | Denver Metro Moms BlogLots of Clothes: I think I may have mentioned the dirt. Kids love dirt. Dirt loves kids. Pack old clothes and lots of them. I pack no fewer than 2 complete outfits, per kid, per day. If you’re an organizational fan, you can roll your kids’ outfits up and secure them with a rubber band to keep them together. My kids are mud magnets, so I usually pack at least one extra pair of pants or shorts per day. And while we’re on the subject of dirt, bring an extra towel and wipes, so at least you can wipe them down at the end of the day, if throwing them into the lake isn’t an option.

Layers: Not only is it essential to pack an abundance of clothes, it’s also important to pack layers, more than you think you’ll need. If you can fit it in, I recommend packing everything from swim suits to winter jackets, hats, and gloves – and everything in between. If there’s a possibility of rain {and in the mountains of Colorado, there’s always a possibility of rain}, rain jackets and rain boots are a great idea too.

Sleeping: As far as sleeping goes, I dress my kids in layers at night – a base layer {fitted pjs}, a sleeper, then a fleece and sweatpants as needed for the top layer. If it’s really cold, we put them to bed with a winter hat on, mostly to make ourselves feel good because it never stays on until morning. Before bed, stick the kids clothes for the following day in the bottom of your sleeping bag. That way, they have warm clothes to put on in the morning. In attempt to keep things organized, I pack all of the kids shoes in one plastic bin that sits outside of our tent. We have an old mat that we bring to step on in our bare feet before entering the tent, because no shoes are allowed in the tent.

What to eat?

Camping with Kids | Denver Metro Moms BlogWhile I love to cook at home, I don’t love to cook in the woods. I’d rather spend that time relaxing or throwing the frisbee with my kids. So, that’s why I highly recommend prepping and pre-cooking as much food as possible before you go. I bake quick breads, like banana or zucchini, so that when the kids wake up, feeling cold and instantly hungry, I have something to feed them immediately before we get the stove going for the hot breakfast. I also cut up veggies at home and pre-cook things like chili, soups, quinoa tacos, and pastas so that all they require is a little heating up at the campsite.

If you have the time, you can also do things like pre-mix pancake batter, crack eggs into a water bottle, pre-cook bacon, or pre-wrap aluminum foil dinners at home to free up time at camp. And don’t underestimate the power of a simple backcountry hot dog or grilled cheese, because they’ll taste a million times better out there than they would in your kitchen. Before you leave home, freeze a couple of gallon containers of water and use them as ice for your cooler. As they melt, you’ll also have water to drink. Last but not least, do not, I repeat, do not forget the s’more supplies and the hot cocoa. And if you’re like me, you’ll want to be sure to pack in your favorite adult liquid accoutrement for that evening cup of hot cocoa in front of the fire.

What do the kids do?

With the great outdoors as their playground, the options are endless. Our boys spend hours riding their bikes, casting their fishing poles, trying to catch things with their dip nets, digging in the dirt, playing I-Spy, climbing rocks, and searching for bugs with their bug catchers and magnifying glasses. Rain is always possible so we do bring a few books and movies, art supplies, and some fun family games. My 5-year-old beats us all at our current favorite game, Spot It Jr.

Camping with Kids | Denver Metro Moms Blog

I know it sounds like a lot – a lot of stuff and a lot of work – and it is, but it is also a LOT of fun. So get out there with your family and find your inner camper!

Do you have any camping tips? What would you add to our Family Camping Pack List?Family Camping Pack List Printable | Denver Metro Moms Blog



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Melissa is an adventurer at heart, seeking to embrace the beauty and wildness of this life with her co-adventurer and husband of 8 years, Tom. When she’s not splashing in a mud puddle with her boys, ages 4 and 5, or cleaning the remains of a diaper gone awry from the hallway walls, Melissa works part-time as a Licensed Professional Counselor, striving to empower women through her practice, Rise and Shine Counseling. Give her a mountain and some free time and she’ll find a way to play, embracing every opportunity to run the trails, ski the slopes, and bike or hike the hills. A great day for Melissa would include a pre-dawn trail run, a cup (or maybe 3) of coffee, brushed teeth, some belly laughing with her boys, a little uninterrupted (what’s that?) time to read and write, and sharing in some good conversation over a glass of bold red wine with her hubby. Her faith, her people, and her sense of humor, carry her through the peaks and valleys of this life. She attempts to chronicle the journey over at her blog,


  1. I’m obsessed with your packing list. I just came back around to it after remembering this article from the other year! It’s a lifesaver!! 🙂

  2. When our kids were young we bought those cheap inflatable pool mattresses for them to sleep on. It worked great!

  3. TONS of wet wipes was our philosophy. 🙂
    But we also brought out pack’n’play for our 2 year old. I do know you can get a draft under it (if it’s pretty cold) so we made sure to put a thick quilt under him and over him for the night.

    We gave in and bought a 2 room tent with a small divider in the middle- it really helped keep me sane to have the toddler stuff on one side and the parent stuff on the other.


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