Family Camping: How NOT to Hike and Camp with Kids

When my older boys were young, I decided we would be a super outdoorsy family. That was to be our “thing.” So, I started with a hike on a trail in the North Georgia mountains, about 45 minutes from my house. Did I have experience with this trail? Had it been recommended to me? No, and no. I read about it in a book. These family camping mistakes might be funny now, but the result is useful advice, so you're better prepared than I was. 

Here Are All the Ways I Was Stupid

Family eating, having snacks and coffee outside the tent at campsite
Image Credit: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock.
  • I didn't tell my husband where we were going.
  • The boys drank almost all the water on the drive up to the trail. Seriously?
  • I need help to read a map properly.
  • I *think* I had some band-aids in my backpack.

Let's move on to camping because the hits don't stop here.

Endangering Children During Family Camping

pexels photo 2398220 e1693362799552My former neighbor is a free spirit. She has four children, the younger two in line with my older two. We were always on the lookout for cheap summer fun. “Let's go camping!” she said. I was game. “Sure, let's get it on the calendar.” Her reply: “No, let's go tonight.” What now?

That did not speak to my planning and control freak heart. But I made the reservation at the nearest state park and tried to roll with it. Do you know what I did not do? Check the weather. It stormed so severely that I was up half the night listening for the tornado siren I knew would be coming. But, of course, everybody in my tent needed the bathroom while it was pouring outside, and I had no plan.

Another turn at a state park included my now-toddler. Said toddler kept falling between the cement bench and picnic table at the campsite, giving me at least four heart attacks. The boy is still not athletic, but he's a straight-A honors student, so clearly, there was no lasting damage.

Best Tips for Hiking With Kids

Family of four on a hike in the fall.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Tell Someone Where You Are Going

I didn't tell my husband our destination on that first hike. He would have had no idea where to begin a search if we hadn't come home. Cell service can be spotty in wilderness areas, so waiting until you arrive at your destination might not work.

Take More Food and Water Than You Think You Need

My first mistake was keeping the water and snacks in the backseat. The people with limited self-control helped themselves out of boredom. I didn't realize it until we were at the trailhead. Place all your food and water out of the reach of young hands. Depending on the child's age, carry their water if you think they'll guzzle it too early.

Stay on the Marked Paths

My oldest is Mr. Nature. Loves to explore. One day, he explored himself off the path and onto a sweat bee nest. He got stung multiple times and ran away down the trail, hysterical. I had to chase after him while wearing a baby. It's a less-than-ideal way to reassure yourself that your child is not allergic to bee stings.

Make Sure SOMEONE Knows How to Read a Map

 I won't sugarcoat it; my spatial awareness is seriously lacking. I was unsure which way we should go on the trail. I'm not making this up – there was a troop of Boy Scouts there that got us pointed in the right direction.

Carry Basic First Aid Supplies

While on a trail, we met another hiker with a giant dog. It was on a leash, but it took a dislike to my oldest son, jumped up on him, and got his mouth around the boy's neck before the owner could get it under control. Thank goodness the dog mouthed him and didn't break any skin. However, I was unprepared if he had been seriously injured and bleeding.

Best Tips for Family Camping

Camping on Cumberland Island, Georgia
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

If you're tent camping with kids for the first time, I suggest another adult is with you, especially while the kids are young. If a significant other can't go with you, do what I did and go with a friend and their family. Then, you'll feel more secure when those camping mistakes occur.

Check the Weather

I'm not saying you shouldn't go if the weather report predicts rain. However, it would be best to pack accordingly to ensure people are comfortable. You also want to be aware of any predicted severe weather and plan to bug out if worse comes to worst.

Teach Your Kids How to Be Safe Around Camping Equipment

My kids know to refrain from handling hot or sharp things. But on a camping trip with other families, someone else had a gas lantern. My son picked it up by the panes because he's used to our battery-operated lantern; he didn't know it would be hot. So if camping with other families, scope out their equipment and see if your kids need to avoid anything. And that brings us to our next tip.

Know Where Your Closest Emergency Care Is

Fortunately, we were camping in an area my husband had grown up in, so he knew where the closest emergency room was. Unfortunately, my son had second-degree burns on his hands. Fortunately, he exhibited an unusually cheery disposition about this and didn't let it ruin the rest of his weekend. Or ours.

Buy or Create an Emergency Toilet

This advice is essential if you have girls. My three boys have no problem watering things outside, but nobody wants to go out in the middle of the night in the rain. You can take care of this in a million ways. Bring along an old potty seat. Get a bucket. Empty bottles are handy. I bought one of those funnel-type things for women last year; it was life-changing.

Bring a Kids' Table

If your kids are tiny, that standard-issue picnic table at the campsite might not do. As I mentioned earlier, our site's cement table and bench proved to be a safety hazard for our toddler. It will be easier on everyone if you can bring a small fold-up table that's more kid-friendly.

Bring Those Games

These kids are soft, man. They spend less time outside than previous generations. Sometimes that exhibits not knowing how to entertain themselves in the great outdoors. Throw board games in your car; cards are always great if pressed for space. If the kids are a little rowdy at bedtime (maybe that fifth s'more was not the way to go), board and card games are easy to play in your tent to settle people down.

Family Camping Is Fun

Loaning equipment
Image Credit: Shutterstock

I don't mean to scare you away, honestly. Camping with kids is an affordable form of family travel. It exposes kids to the great outdoors. Most importantly, family camping tends to allow for more relaxed time together than other forms of vacation. Of course, you'll have some camping mistakes, but you'll learn from them. If nothing else, you'll have some great stories to tell around the Thanksgiving table. 

Amy Albers is a librarian in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta. When she's not getting lost in genealogy and local history, she is finding fun solo and family travel destinations to share with others. With over a dozen years of experience writing about family and travel on her own blog, Amy now enjoys freelance writing. She has three teen and young adult boys who turned her on to all things Marvel and Star Wars and a husband who has nurtured her into a committed SEC football fan. The beach and the great outdoors are her happy places but she's never mad at a luxury hotel. Her book reviews and latest adventures are found on Instagram at Exploring The Amysphere.