Introducing Your Child to the Great Outdoors: Your First Camping Trip Together

“He’s LOOKING at me!” “She’s on my side of the car!” “He’s breathing MY air!”

Yes, enough “togetherness” is never, well, enough. What can make this scenario even more memorable? Well, sleeping together in a tent that is a little too small, that’s what!

If you can survive the car ride, you have a chance of introducing your children to the great outdoors. It’s quite a bit different from sleeping in a hotel room and day-hiking. There’s nothing like the sounds of the night and an early morning breakfast on the cook stove to bring the outdoors right into your lap and make a memory that will last well into the decades to come.

You can introduce your children to an amazing new facet to their lives with their first camping trip. Maybe these tips for camping with children will enable you and your family to have a more successful foray into the wilderness.

Stay Close to Home

My kids are grown and gone now, but as married adults, they went camping in their back yard. That’s right, they wanted to test their equipment, and learned a few things. First of all, they learned to keep their tarp handy. It started raining and they spent the night in the house, but they learned what could happen to their gear in an unexpected rain storm.

The first time we went camping with little ones, the night-noises were too intense for the toddlers, so we went home. By staying close to home with our first camping excursion, we were able to have a wonderful day in the woods, experience setting up a campsite, and have many good memories. We were able to ease into it by hanging around the campfire and listening to forest sounds as the kids got older.

Location, Location, Location

These days, my kids backpack into remote areas to camp out. But, it was a different story when they were little. For the kids, the bathroom is a must. State and national parks have great facilities, and there is nothing like a nearby restroom at 3 in the morning – especially with a 6-year-old.

There are other location features to keep in mind. Choose a camping space that is not near a stream or main road. The panic of seeing a toddler headed toward a stream is not the kind of memory you want. It’s the same with the forest – make sure there is a clearing between you and the woods so that you can see the kids as they play.


Sleep is crucial for all involved in the camping trip. Crucial.

Now, the kids can usually fall asleep just about anywhere, until you NEED them to. A Inflatable Sleeping Bag on the floor of the tent may have been fine when you were a kid yourself, but the truth is, a good air mattress will make a world of difference.

Choosing the best air mattress for your needs

Read the reviews of the air mattresses before choosing one that’s best for your set of needs:

  • Think about the size (most popular sizes being twin and queen) – have in mind that most of the blow up beds (yes, even the best ones from trusted brands praised so much in the reviews you read) are not really true to size and a queen air mattress is an inch or two shorter than your regular queen bed. We recommend taking a look at this well-rounded list of top airbeds at
  • Adjust the dimensions of the inflatable bed you have eyes on to your tent size (don’t forget to factor in the height)
  • Power – plan ahead and think about access to power. Although most of the airbeds claim they are suitable for the outdoors, it’s not that simple. Most of them come with built-in pumps that need to be plugged-in to work. For your trip, go with a versatile model that has an extra valve for inflation using a battery operated or a rechargeable pump.

Once you choose

When you do get one, test the airbed out at home first. Once you make sure it’s as sturdy and durable as advertised, teach the kids not to use it for a trampoline (good luck with this one).

Learn how to deflate and inflate it quickly without losing your temper. Have a couple of air mattresses, so you can stack them and have available floor space in the tent. This gives you playroom in case of inclement weather.

Besides a good air mattress consider packing ear plugs. Sure, you want to hear at least some of the night sounds, but they can interrupt your sleep. The sounds of people walking past your camp to the bathrooms, far-away traffic, or the sounds of waves crashing on the shore can disturb your sleep. Ear plugs are a wonderful solution. I even use them when we sleep in hotels.

Flashlights and lanterns

One of the great appeals of camping is the darkness. For the first time in their lives, your children may actually see the stars! But, too much darkness becomes a physical feeling that can terrify children and adults alike. You’ve probably heard the question, “Do you run because you’re afraid, or are you afraid because you run?”

Lanterns in the campsite are a must, and there are many different brands that can provide varying amounts of light. Take flashlights in as many different sizes as you can find, and make sure you have some that the kids can operate. They have a hard time pushing the buttons on some flashlights so a lantern made specifically for kids may be a good choice.

Quality Gear

It’s not exactly cheap to get started with camping gear. It can be tempting to buy an inexpensive tent.

Don’t do it. Get a tent that is a little bigger than you think you might need. When you have kids you need room to move around, so get a tent you can stand up in. A tall tent, with two rooms if possible, will give you more room, which translates into happier people. And, put down a tarp, first!

An afterthought

These few tips for camping with your kids can make this a successful trip.

Just remember – you can always head for a hotel if weather or gear doesn’t cooperate.

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