Our First Family Camping Trip, Done Better (Learn From Our Mistakes!)

While there were plenty of things we did right on our first family camping trip, there are plenty of others we could have done better. Learn from our mistakes, so you don't have to repeat them!

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:

Things We Could Have Done Better on our First Family Camping Trip

1. 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.

2. 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.

Fortunately, 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.

3. Plan 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.

4. 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.

5. Anticipate how sleep deprivation can affect your plans

See 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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14 thoughts on “Our First Family Camping Trip, Done Better (Learn From Our Mistakes!)”

  1. These are some great tips for camping with kids! We havent been brave enough to try just yet but I’m thinking in a year or two when he’s a bit older. I’m gonna bookmark this for later so we can use these tips. I love the chore idea- great way to get the kids involved and give them some responsibilities. I love the ones you listed, were there any more you gave them?

    1. Super Mom Hacks

      As the girls have gotten older, we’ve gradually given them more jobs over time. Helping with the dishes is a great job even for littles – I like having them hold our hanging mesh drying bags off the ground, so I can put the clean dishes in as I wash them.

  2. I’m always surprised by how many outfits the kids go through when we camp, great tip! I hope you guys have fun on all of your future camping adventures 🙂

    1. Super Mom Hacks

      Each one def gets a little easier, and not JUST because the girls are a bit older! (though that DOES help!)…

  3. Loving these tips to avoid girl! My kids are still too young for camping, but I can’t wait to take them on a family camping trip. Definitely going to need to remember these!

  4. so cute! We are going camping next weekend upstate NY, do you have any tips with the baby? we are bringing our 10 month old! I am kind of scared about it lol. We will be brining the travel crib to help as she doesnt walk yet . do you have any tips of where to get some of the equipment, like skewers for smores?

    1. Hey there – sorry for the delayed response, I’ve been fighting a nasty cold that’s had me wiped out for days! Anyway, kudos to you for daring to bring along a 10month-old; that’s a frontier my dear husband wasn’t willing to brave. There are some really nice skewers on Amazon, like this set I recently got for my friend Keisha – it’s actually nicer than the ones my mom originally got me! We’ve actually had good luck finding lots of the gear I mentioned in the original post on Amazon (and, I admit, we’ve gotten a bit addicted to the 2-day free shipping with Amazon Prime). Do let us know how your trip goes, and if you learn any other great hacks along the way!

  5. I have been camping since my mom was pregnant with me. I was a infant camping and she was pregnant with my sister as well. There is 3 of us girls. Can’t tell u how my parents managed it with us. I love camping and take my own boys camping, by myself. First time in a tent my one didn’t sleep much so I didn’t sleep. U are never to young to sleep in a tent. I did it as a baby in a tent. My boys was very scared of fireworks and storms till I started taking them camping. Now they do well with it. Kids adjust very well if u give them the room to do so. I let them fill a mesh bag of toys near and dear to them as well as have some out door toys. I also have a rainy day pack for each. Only when it rains I bring it out. Play dough and bubbles. I get at the dollar store along with a tablecloth. Once they are done with the play dough I toss it cuz in not picking grass out of it or any other what not. They sit on the tablecloth and play with it. I got a beach blanket for the other toys so they sit on that. Bath time I give a wash up normally. Where I camp I have to bring in my own water and light so a sponge bath is what I do. I wrapped bottles in black tape to help the water warm up and stay a bit warm for evening washing.

    1. Thanks for sharing your wealth of experiences, Megan! I’m so impressed that you camp with kiddos as sole grown-up; kudos to you. (Then again, I didn’t go on family camping trips when I was little; before meeting my hubby, all my camping experiences were through Scouting. So you were super-lucky 🙂 .)
      I especially love your idea of sponge baths and your ingenious way of warming the water! Before this summer, the girls were TERRIFIED of showers, so this is a great idea for any parents struggling to get their little ones refreshed enough to go to sleep after a grimy day of camping!

  6. Hi there.

    I have two small boys. They are still too small to go anywhere overnight (in a tent), but we did try a small hike and roasting hot dogs over a fire today.

    Lessons learned: bring my own wood…I did it old school and collected wood and started a fire with small sticks first, then larger bits, … by that time, we were too hungry and shoving and crying started. So, we slightly heated up the hot dogs over the wimpy (mainly wet) fire.

    Overall, it was the experience. My 4.5 year old loved it! My husband and three year old were less impressed and cold.

    I would do it again…but I would bring my own dry wood for the fire….


    Thanks for the link and my memories as I revisited my own story.

    Maybe I can start blogging regularly again. My own life hacks…:-)


    1. Aargh – I can just imagine the scene you describe: hungry kiddos, wet hubby – not good! With any luck, they won’t give up on this process completely! Kudos to you for the attempt, even if it didn’t come off as smoothly as you’d hoped.

      As for the wood, good point – with a caveat. For any readers who are relatively new to this sort of thing, bringing your own wood works only if you’re going somewhere relatively close to home. Due to the spread of such invasive species as the Emerald Ash Borer, many states in the U.S. have enacted bans on transporting firewood across state boundaries in recent years.

      This is less likely to be an issue if you’re just doing a local day hike near home, of course. Another possible solution is to keep your eyes open on your way into the park, for a local resident with firewood and/or kindling bundles for sale. We picked up a dry bundle from under a tarp on our way into the park for our Friday night marshmallow roasting.

      Anyway, here’s hoping that next summer you can get your boys out on an overnight, YukonJen; I look forward to reading about it!

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