Overall, our first family camping trip went quite well. Still, though, I’m someone who’s always looking to improve things the next time around.

So on the way home from our first camping expedition with kiddos a few weeks ago, I made a list of things I wish we’d done better. Sure, it would have been nice if we had pint-sized headlamps and folding chairs for our pint-sized campers; but we survived without them. What I really wish we’d handled differently, though, are these things:

Try on all the girls’ shoes well ahead of time

As I realized when trying to pack, Essie doesn’t have any hiking-appropriate shoes that fit her right now; the closest she had were some sturdy fabric sandals with closed toes, so that’s what she brought for hiking shoes. (Fortunately, they worked just fine as makeshift hiking shoes, with a pair of socks.)

As for Kimmie, though – she has a pair of fancy hiking shoes that I thought still fit her. Ditto for the water shoes we brought for her to wear while showering and hanging out at the pool. As we discovered on the trip itself, though, both these pairs of shoes are actually tight enough on her at present that she complained the whole time she was wearing either her hiking footwear or her wet shoes.

Pack a few diversions for the girls


My dear husband and I were so intent on remembering everything we needed for camping, from hiking gear and bathing suits to food and cooking implements, that we forgot to bring any entertainment whatsoever for the girls. A few age-appropriate storybooks about camping would have been a super place to start, if we’d been planning ahead. Even a ball for them to toss, or some containers of bubbles, would have been better than nothing.

picking berriesFortunately, our campsite was surrounded by wild berries, so pointing these out to the girls to pick kept them entertained – for about five minutes. Unfortunately, the surrounding woods were also full of poison ivy, so their exploring was otherwise limited to our campsite itself.

To their delight, said campsite was filled with gravel. It’s one thing for kiddos to turn themselves gray with gravel dust; after all, getting grubby is a part of what camping is all about. But when they track the gravel into our tent, being careful to deposit it on Mama and Daddy’s sleeping space rather than their own – after taking turns filling the grownups’ spare shoes and socks with as much as their little hands can dump in – well, that’s where I draw the line.

blackberriesPlan plenty of age-appropriate camp chores

Even better, we should have figured out more ways to put them to work. They were thrilled to be able to help with setting up the tent, and Kimmie loved learning all about doing dishes camp-style. I even got them to gather berries to go into their bowls of oatmeal on Saturday morning.

But for all the mental energy and effort I expend thinking of ways to keep them busy around the house, I never stopped to think ahead of time about ways in which we could similarly include them in the tasks of daily living around our campsite. Doing so would have helped immensely with keeping them out of trouble, and out of harm’s way.

Make sure even your toilet-trained kiddos have spare clothes in their packs

I was very proud of the girls for making it through our hike accident-free. But it never occurred to me that overnight backpacking trips have given me a level of skill, when it comes to the delicate art of peeing in the woods girl-style (without getting your clothes wet, that is!), that those with less experience in this area would not yet possess. (And needless to say, this isn’t exactly an accomplishment the girls and I get to practice on a regular basis in our day-to-day suburban existence.) Lesson learned.

Anticipate how sleep deprivation can affect your plans

roasting marshmallowsSee the above points on the need for diversions and chores. We did a lot of things right: we got into camp plenty early enough to set up our tent and make dinner well before dark, I had our bedtime stuff ready to go when the time came, and we even brought eyemasks for the girls to help them sleep past the break of dawn.

Still, though, between the s’mores for dessert and the fact that bedtime just takes longer when you have to substitute a shower down the trail for a familiar bath down the hall – not to mention all the excitement inherent in one’s first night camping in the great out-of-doors – the girls slept about 2.5 hours less than usual on Friday night.

They were raring to go when the light of day awoke them at 6:30. But even the modest hike we planned proved more challenging than it should have been, when you factor in their sleepiness. And we hadn’t brought the baby backpack, because we didn’t think Essie needed it. So instead, she kept dozing off on Daddy’s shoulders.

And while It’s one thing to be too tired to hike, it’s another to be downright uncooperative. Do your kids get selective hearing and short fuses when they are overtired? Mine sure do. When kids fight with their siblings or ignore adults’ requests at home, most of the time it’s just plain annoying. But when you’re surrounded by everything from poison ivy to the open flames of a campfire, something as simple as two grumpy kiddos giving each other a shove can suddenly become a lot more dangerous.

What about you? If you’ve taken your family camping before, what lessons did you have to learn the hard way? Do let us know your suggestions for family camping done better in the comments!

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