7 things you need to pack when camping with kids

I dragged my parents camping several times this summer. Some of it they enjoyed (namely, the parts where they were asleep, and the parts where they were drinking cider), some of it they didn’t. I enjoyed ALL of it. I know how to have a good time, and so I offer you my best tips for getting rid of the camping jitters and throwing yourself into the spirit of camping with kids.

What to take when camping with kids

Friends: there is nothing like a couple of middle-aged people whining about boredom to wreck your holiday. There are fields full of cow pats, haystacks to chuck over each other’s heads, worms to torment, and fire to play with. Grown-ups make no sense whatsoever, but they seem to perk up immeasurably when they have other bored middle-aged people to play with. Don’t question it just take friends, and they won’t bother you for most of the day.

When camping with kids, always take friends

Warm clothes: Irrespective of the weather, your Mum will complain about the cold at some point in the trip. Why she doesn’t warm up by playing cow-pat goalpost football, or running between drop toilets to watch poo-fall is quite beyond me, but no. She will sit shivering in a dodgy camper chair, intermittently insisting that you put a fleece on. Humour her – it’s far easier than arguing – and strip off to your vest top once safely back in the hay.

A portable BBQ: If you ask me there is nothing wrong with a sausage, and 4 nights of burgers on the trot suits me just fine, but adults are food fusspots, and won’t eat foods too close to each other in the week. We baked sweet potatoes with Feta cheese wrapped in foil in the fire, steak and aubergines marinaded in herbs and garlic, pork with a chilli rub. We griddled pineapple with brown sugar and shook a tub of whipping cream until it thickened. We dined like royalty. It made the old people more amenable, which in turn allowed us to toast bag loads of marshmallows – oh, and on that point, Haribo Chamallow – there is no other mallow worthy of toasting.

PS: I think Mummy made a shrewd move on the BBQ actually. After years of quite serious arguments with Daddy over who really enjoys building a fire more, the early birthday present was an ingenious distraction, leaving her free to play pyro-crafter to her heart’s content!

A campfire is a must when camping with kids

Bed Mats: You will need sleeping mats. Not those puffy blow-up airbeds. Firstly, odds are your Dad will forget the electric air pump, or you will have to sit through the annual “well I didn’t know it needed charging” conversation. Second, even if you get the beds inflated, your Mum will recite incessantly the advice given by the camping shop – air cools overnight and creeps up into her bones making her hips ache, blah. Or you will be told off in the morning for being a wriggly sleeper and making the bed bounce. A bed mat is surprisingly comfortable, and the “oooh I could feel the warmth bouncing back up from that mat” sermon is far preferable to the arthritis monologues.

Great sleeping bags: Proper winter-weight sleeping bags are a must. But if you are the aforementioned wriggly sleeper don’t be taken in by the compact “mummy” style bags. If you’re partial to a straitjacket be my guest, but I have always found a wriggly sleeper needs a double bed. Failing that a good-sized kids sleeping bag will do the trick. Mine is from Travel Outdoors – plenty of room in there for me to dance through my dreams. On the downside it did mean that I got into trouble for inserting my knees into the small of my mother’s back at regular intervals.

Kids sleeping bag

The Bog in a Bag: this genius camping invention may resemble a large potty lined with Pampers, but it is in fact your life saver. It will allow you to take a wee in the middle of the night without incurring the wrath of your parent. The last thing you need on a nocturnal bathroom visit is a grumbling senior staggering into cow pats, believe me. It also means you can pop up in the morning for a loo break before settling down with a book or a furtively sneaked iPhone, without even alerting your parent to the fact that you are awake before legal lights up!

Coffee, a cafetiere, a gas burner, matches, and UHT milk: trust me, you do not want to engage with a parent before coffee, after a night laying in haystacks claiming they saw shooting stars…

We camped at Eweleaze farm, by the sea, in a field full of haystacks, puppies and guinea pigs, with cider and wood-fired pizza in abundance, and the freedom to create a fab camp fire nightly. Fire-building one-upmanship aside, it was pure bliss 🙂

Disclosure: we were given our sleeping bag for the purposes of review.

17 thoughts on “7 things you need to pack when camping with kids”

  1. This post has made me so sad that we didn’t go camping this year. But tell me, these mats, are they really more comfortable than an airbed? And what is this potty/loo you talk of, please tell me more…

    • I was nervous about the mats, but I got so cold on the airbeds I decided to give it a go, and I was pleasantly surprised. They’re not as soft obviously so I do get a bit achy after a few days, but we got the thermal lined beds that self-inflate and they really do give heat back to you and keep the ground chill off, which means I sleep way better, which is immensely important to everyone 🙂
      They were about £40 each though, so really do go for the best quality. The other great thing is that they take up way less space in the car, and the tent, and they don’t make that creaky sound when you turn over on them, and your kids bouncing doesn’t wake you – I could go on…
      The bog in a bag is brilliant.

  2. I am so allergic to camping, I salute any parent who will go camping with their kids. My top thing to pack would be a room key to a nice hotel down the road.

  3. I’m not sure I would enjoy camping in an open field, but to be by the sea would be wonderful! I would certainly try it once, I always love to try things at least one time.

  4. As much as you make camping sound wonderful, I still like to sleep in a bed with a lovely mattress! Our children on the other hand camp out on the farm quite a lot. I love the perspective on your post – very amusing, thanks for linking up and sharing your useful camping tips with Country Kids.

    • Well I would say the same Fiona, but given how much fun the kids have, I find I enjoy aspects of it – this just makes it more bearable 🙂

  5. I say that I love camping, but I mean Campervan Camping! We haven’t been for over a year because The Husband sold one to renovate another and that is taking longer than expected. But the bed in the campervan was Bigger and even more comfortable than our bed at home. AND there was heating! I made our friends and family join us for a camping weekend for my birthday and couldn’t understand why they were complaining. But I suppose they had the tents and sleeping bags while we had the (more) soundproof van, bed and duvets. The husband has been pushing to get “one of those toilets” and along with his promise of emptying them, your review has now convinced me.

    • Ah now the van is probably a good bet simply for the soundproofing – other people’s babies are very noisy when you’re in a field! And sheep…

  6. I’m sad we haven’t been able to go away this year – usually we spend several weekends a year camping and a week or two as well. You’re totally right about the airbeds though – my hips kill me too – although a couple of silver emergency blankets either side of the airbed (above and below) make a whole world of difference 🙂

  7. Great post, it makes me even more determined that my wife and I are going to get away this year with our two boys. I recently read something about SIMs, self inflating mats, and I think if we go we will definitely consider them as you don’t have to pump them up. They are supposed to be more comfortable than the average lilo or airbed and obviously they are hassle-free that you just remove a small part and it basically sucks air in. I have bookmarked this site to refer back to when it gets closer to planning our own trip, so thanks!


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