Family Camping Hacks and Activities to Keep Your Kids Busy

Family Camping Hacks and Activities to Keep Your Kids Busy

Ah, the family camping trip: fun-filled days at the lake or river, restful afternoons lying in a hammock slung between two trees, roasting marshmallows by the fire, and snuggling into cozy sleeping bags at night.

At least, that is what glossy magazine covers and campground brochures would have you believe about the experience. If this idealized version of events does not exactly mirror your own camping experiences, you are not alone.

Want to ensure that your next camping trip is relaxing, stress-free, and focused on the fun, not the chores, in the outdoors? The following camping hacks will ensure more time in the hammock and less time over a camp stove:

Family Camping Hacks

  1. Simplification is the key to creating a relaxed camping atmosphere. Reduce clutter around the campsite and shorten your packing list by bringing a few ordinary objects that can double as useful camping tools.

  1. Instead of hauling bags of ice (and dealing with the mess), freeze plastic water bottles and let them slowly melt, first cooling your food, then ensuring hydration.

  1. Skip the bulky camping lantern: instead, simply wrap a standard headlamp around a clear plastic water jug. It will light up the entire picnic area for games of cards after dark.

  1. No need to bring sleeping pads and water toys. Sleep on plastic blow-up air mattresses that can go straight from the tent to the lake. Float on them during the day (or take a nap!), then return them to the campsite each night.

  1. You do not have to buy an expensive camp kitchen set. Bring a hanging shoe organizer to store camp kitchen supplies, such as spices or grilling tools.

  1. Why buy fire starter or chemical-based gel? Use dryer lint as your fire-starter: simply save lint in cardboard egg carton pockets, pour wax over each pod, then bring along to start your fire.

  1. If you already buy coffee at home, there is no need to buy a toilet paper roll container. Store toilet paper rolls in your empty plastic coffee containers (the big ones work best). The toilet paper will stay dry and be easy for kids to find when they need it.

Camping luxury items for outdoor comfort and fun

A dining set for every family member: Make sure to include a plate, bowl, cup, and utensils. Kids take pride in ownership, which means they will do their own dishes.

Headlamps for everyone: A headlamp can be picked up for under $10 and allows for hands-free illumination. No need for bulky, clumsy flashlights ever.

Mosquito bands and candles: Mosquitos are an unfortunate evil of outdoor recreation, and repellent spray is often unhealthy and smelly. Mosquito bands are a non-intrusive alternative, and they can be bought for just a few dollars. Ditto for citronella candles, this can be set out on picnic tables after dark.

A good hammock: Choose one that is easy to set up, comes in a compact stuff sack, and able to fit two people comfortably.

Water shoes for the family: Say goodbye to stubbed toes and splinters in little feet. Water shoes can be worn in and out of water, performing double duty as light hiking shoes.

Hydration packs: Want kids to stay hydrated? Outfit them with small hydration packs (one liter will do). Most day packs now fit hydration pack bladders, which can be purchased solo for under $30.

Sun and shade shelter: Everyone remembers a tent, but many campers overlook the convenience and comfort offered by a sun and shade shelter. These simple canopies can be set up over picnic tables for shaded meals and card games or brought to the lakeshore to protect kids from the sun.

Camping Food and Dining

Families can have all the right gear and convenient household items, but if you are still slaving over the camp stove, your trip will NOT be relaxing. The following dining hacks make meal prep and planning a breeze. We prefer to cook most of our meals over the campfire or on the BBQ to make food fun and clean-up simple.

Make pocket dinners: Create pockets of tin foil and fill with sliced potatoes, zucchini, onions, and other veggies, and then let them cook in the coals. It is best to use heavy duty foil to ensure that ashes don't get into your meal. Each pocket is customizable and fun to eat!

Grill fruit on the barbecue: Fruit is more appealing than grilled veggies to kids, and with a little whipped cream, you can skip the marshmallows. You can also create fruit kabobs with stone fruit such as peaches, pineapple, grapes (cut in half for young children), and strawberries. Local berries bought at farm stands or even picked by the family work well, too.

Skip the dishes: Use empty snack-size chip bags as individual serving bowls for chili, stew, or even oatmeal. Kids love these on-the-go containers.

Pack milk substitutes instead of cow milk: Milk substitutes like soy, almond, and rice milk do not have to be refrigerated, and vanilla or chocolate flavors are appealing to most kids, so there's no need to worry about keeping milk cold for breakfast cereal.

Don't get fancier than boiled water: If you really want to simplify mealtime, buy dehydrated backpacking single- or double-serving meals. They taste just fine in the wilderness, require only boiling water, and take about five minutes to prepare.

Camp Close to Home

There is no need to drive hours for a family camping trip. Find a campground close to home to keep stress at a minimum. Plus, being near home allows for spontaneous camping or quick returns home for forgotten items. Check your region's state park listings and then search for available sites online. A short drive and familiarity with the surroundings helps campers to relax more quickly.

Keeping your kids entertained and busy

To make the experience one that the family will enjoy and remember, plan some activities that will keep your kids entertained throughout the whole trip. Here are some really cool camping activities you can try with your kids:

  1. Water activities

If you are going camping near a river, lake or pool, don't forget to bring your swimsuits and water equipment. You can skip stones, fish, swim, float around, or play water volleyball/basketball. You can also go rowing on an inflatable boat.

Good inflatable boats can fit three people and come with oars, sturdy oarlocks, all-around grab rope, repair patch, tow ring, and other useful features. They're also comfortable and good on rough waters. If there's no water near your campsite, then consider a water balloon or squirt gun fight, swim in an inflatable pool, or create a makeshift pool by covering a truck bed with tarp and filling it up with water.

  1. Sports and physical activities

Pick an activity that suits your style, including Frisbee golf, ring toss, lawn bowling, football, biking or hiking. If you would be camping with many people, then games such as capture the Flag, hide and seek, and tag would be fun for everyone to play.

  1. Rainy day activities

On a rainy day, there are a range of activities you can do in the tent, like reading books or magazines, watching movies or playing games on your portable devices or making up stories.

  1. Campfire activities

Campfires are the best part of camping, so have your kids help you with building the campfire. Gathering around the campfire at night with your family and doing fun things can be a memorable experience.

Think marshmallows, damper, truth or dare, singing songs, playing an instrument, dancing and making coloured fire. One of the best things to do around a campfire is to tell stories.

Have everyone tell a funny story about a family member or make up a story and have everyone add a sentence to it. You can also tell ghost stories, but only if you don't have younger kids!

  1. Night time activities

There are a lot of other fun things to do at night, like making shadow puppets, going for a walk or swim, playing flashlight tag or hide and seek, studying the stars, shooting fireworks, releasing sky lanterns and playing glow-in-the-dark bowling.

  1. Make snacks

This will help your kids learn how to make food - and everyone loves to eat! You can make s'mores, a trail mix, ants on a log, or a pepperoni and mozzarella sandwich that you can cook over the campfire.

  1. Create art

If the weather isn't favourable or your kids are tired from hiking, you can help them pass time by creating art. You can create window nature art with leaves, petals, wildflowers, small sticks, contact paper, a scissor, hole punch and ribbon.

You can also create a stick vase with twigs, sticks, rubber bands, a Mason jar, ribbon and wildflowers. Or just head out to the sand or dirt and make patterns.

  1. Play games

Playing games can help strengthen your family's bond and allow everyone to learn to cooperate with each other. Consider card games, board games, charades or I Spy, and playing hangman or tic-tac-toe.

  1. Explore nature

Camping in the great outdoors allows you to get closer to nature. You can watch birds and other animals, catch fireflies, collect bugs or leaves, gather pine cones or flowers, or search for berries or nuts.

You can also go on a scavenger hunt and hunt for things like pine cones, bird feathers, maple leaves, smooth rocks, and a cup of stream water. A photo scavenger hunt would also be fun for more tech-savvy kids.

  1. Relax

It is important to find time to relax between your camping activities. Consider swinging in a hammock, watching the swaying trees, listening to the sounds of nature, and reading, taking plenty of naps, daydreaming and stargazing.

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