This past summer we committed to a family vacation that involved 8 days of tent camping. I’m not entirely sure where along my path of 4 kids under 10yo in a tent for 8 days sounded like an okay idea, but the commitment was there and now I had to make it work.
While my family spends a lot of time outdoors, we haven’t spent much of it in tents. Before our 8-day adventure, we decided to do some practice runs so we could gauge our packing needs and kid-needs. Let me tell you — if you have not camped with your kids in tents then be SURE you do a test run before an extended stay. You will learn a lot, even if it is just one practice night.
Here are my top 5 must-do ideas to keep things happy and comfortable.
TIP # 1: Bring A LOT of extra blankets.
You may think it is just taking up a bunch of extra room, but let me tell you how many times our 20+ extra blankets (that’s right, 20!) came in handy for our 6 family members. Unexpectedly cold nights can be no big deal if you have extra covers to throw on the kids. Sometimes kids don’t listen to you (calm down, it’s true) and then bring soda in to the tent and then spill it ALL OVER their top cover RIGHT before bed. I know, I know. Your kid would never do this, but having an extra blanket just in case is a life saver. Also, these extra blankets can be used as padding under their sleeping bags. Not to mention that what seems like “warm nights” can quickly become cold if you are sleeping without much insulation between you and the ground. These fleece blankets are a great option and double as a campfire lap blanket.
TIP # 2: Provide each kid with their OWN flashlight, that MUST stay in the tent.
This was an absolute must that I discovered on day 1. You only have to survive one mishap when someone has to pee and no one can find a flashlight to know how important this is. Get each kid a flashlight (I love these LED ones) and tell them they are ONLY to used when they are in the tent. We told each kid to keep it under their pillow so it was always in the same place. That way, if kid 1 had to pee, kid 2 wasn’t stuck in the dark tent ALSO having to pee with no light available. They can take the flashlights with them when they need to during the night, but during the day (and when sleeping) they MUST remain in the tent, under their pillow. Everyone is responsible for their own flashlight.
TIP # 3: Buy good-sized carpet remnants to place in front of the tent door.
Knowing myself, I would read this tip and say “Oh, I’ll just throw a towel down in front of the tent.” Don’t do it. Don’t skimp on this one. You can purchase carpet remnants for super cheap at home improvement stores (they tend to be back by the large carpet rolls on the wall, already pre-rolled). The remnant his heavy enough it will stay where you place it; it’s thick enough that the kids can step on it barefoot and not get rocks or slivers or thorns; and if you get it big enough, then each kid isn’t trampling on the other when they are trying to get in and out of the tent. If you plan on camping in a place that will rain, you’ll want to either find a way to cover with plastic, or buy multiple plastic door mats (you can get them for a couple bucks at Walmart) to create a large entry space.
TIP # 4: Have plastic buckets/totes (with lids) for shoes to stay protected outside of the tent.
Mind you I am not offering tips for a single overnight camping trip. This was helpful during our extended trip. I didn’t start the sock/shoe bucket until a few days in and it helped tremendously. I purchased 1 clear plastic tote per tent. These totes had the winged lids which stay attached at all times. Because we were in the damp pacific northwest, the kids would wake up with “dew-ie” shoes, but they were too dirty to bring in the tent. The tote was a great solution. Shoes and yucky socks (or other items) go in the tote at night, close the lid and it’s protected from the elements while NOT getting the tent all mucky on the inside. These are also useful for “put your stuff away” storage as it is found around the campsite; said stuff gets added to the proper tent’s tote to be put away at the end of the day. If you are camping in a rain-prone area, you could buy totes with snap on lids for a weather-proof option, or bring extra tarps to cover as needed.
TIP # 5: Understand typical nighttime needs and don’t try to make kids change just for the camping trip.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but as parents, we really need to consider the little ones first. If your children have not spent a lot of time camping/sleeping outdoors, then you can’t expect them to just “be fine” the first few times you take them out (if the stars align, they may be!). I am a BIG believer in bedtime routine. This has its pros and cons. Pros are we have an amazing time when bedtime rolls around at home; no fights and the kids sleep well and go to bed at 730pm/830pm nearly every night. The cons are they have a hard time sleeping anywhere that isn’t their bedroom. When it came time to camp, we had a lot to consider, including which kids paired well together in a tent. We tried all 4 in one tent at the start — um, no. The little kids were in and out all night (and waking up the big kids because they couldn’t get the zipper to work) asking me and my hubs (in a different tent) questions, or needing help to go to the bathroom, or just because they were uncomfortable. We should have known these things would happen going in to the camping trip, but again, our test run was SUPER helpful. Although being alone in the tent with my hubby was ideal for US, it was not ideal for the 4 and 6 year old trying to tent camp for only the second time in their life.
Another thing to consider is their sleeping habits. My oldest has night terrors when he is sick (even a slight cold brings them on). He thrashes about, yells and cries in his sleep. At home we all ignore it knowing it will pass (and no one has to share a room with him when it happens), but at a campsite with brothers in a tent as well as hundreds of other strangers listening at 2AM, it got awkward. Have a game plan if you have a similar situation (sleep walkers anyone?) and pre-plan how you will deal with this. Do NOT go in to the trip assuming you’ll just deal with it if/when it comes up. Better to prepare a plan that isn’t needed then to not have a plan at all when the need is there.
Extra Tip – Because I love you: Create “pee parameters”.
Parents of only girls, you can skip. Or can you?? Either way, believe me when I say you should set up a “pee parameter” for boys who think they can potty ANYWHERE in the middle of the night. Hearing the splashing of pee on the backside of my tent at 12am wasn’t ideal — letmetellya.)
Have fun! Have fun! Have fun!
All in all, kids adapt pretty well to new environments and if you can find ways to make it easier on them, as well as yourself, all will work out. Our 8 days of tent camping went amazingly well! I honestly don’t have one complaint and would even, possibly, maybe, kinda think about doing it again (but the packing…sigh…that’s another blog post). I think it is so important to give your children new experiences and teach them that stepping out of your normal routine can be fun and healthy. Don’t be scared to try something new with the family! GOOD LUCK!
A few of my “gotta have it” items from our trip!
- Instant TENT — instant is the key word!
- Wet Wipes
- 2 person zipper sleeping bag
- Electric inflatable bed
- Gallon Ziploc Bags — I used these for EVERYTHING