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        still from Parent Trap of twins in a tent

        Parental Arts

        How to Go Camping This Summer (Even if You’ve Never Camped Before!)

        Pitch a tent and camp like a champ with tips on how to rough it from fellow city-dwellers.

        Written By
        Marnie Schwartz

        We’re all craving less time with zoom and more contact with nature. In fact, a survey from Kampgrounds of America (KOA) finds that in 2021 more than half of travelers (53%) included camping in some or all of their travel. While the trend in camping started as a COVID-friendly alternative to hotels it looks like the trend is here to stay as 44% of urban residents are planning to replace a leisure trip with a camping trip in 2022. 

        It makes sense in a time when its harder to disconnect from work the the news cycle and connect as a family. Waking up with the sun. Dipping your toes in a cold summer stream. Cooking s'mores over a fire. A break from Cocomelon. What's not to like? But even if you’re intrigued, camping can seem intimidating if you’ve never done it before. Here’s what you need to know.

        How To Pick a Campsite

        Reserve a space online ahead of your trip. Browse the website of the National Parks Service, look for a state park near you, or look for a private campground like a KOA, which may offer more amenities (clutch with kids). Use the online map to pick a campsite near good hiking or swimming, and make that the main activity. Get picky about your camping spot—you may want to find a location closest to the beach or far from other campsites if you're worried about the loud middle-of-the-night wake-ups with babies and toddlers.

        Consider whether you want to do the full tent experience, if you'd rather find someplace with a cabin, or even a glamping-style situation, and think through your plan for things like shared restrooms and other facilities. For first-timers, stick to a campground or cabin camping and leave backcountry or canoe camping for another time once you've got a little bit of experience. Make your first trip a one-nighter (maybe two, if you're feeling gutsy), and stick relatively close to home—there's no shame in wanting to bail if the weather suddenly turns or your four-year-old refuses to sleep in her sleeping bag.

        Camping Gear To Pack

        The biggest piece of equipment you'll have to source is obviously a tent. Outdoor gear stores offer rentals, so you can test out camping before investing—or put a call out to your group of friends or local Facebook group to see if anyone has a tent they're looking to offload or willing to loan out. The bigger tent, the better, so kids have room to squirm throughout the night. And once you get your hands on your gear, check that all the parts are in the kit before heading out. (Trust us on this one!) It also doesn't hurt to do a dry run on setting it up. 

        After the tent, your most important equipment will be a sleeping bag and a sleeping pad—a thick, often inflatable pad that goes between you and the ground and can make the whole sleeping-on-the-ground thing more palatable.

        Play It Safe

        Load up on sunscreen and bug spray, and choose pants that can be tucked into socks if you’re going to a place where there are ticks. Bring warm layers—you’d be surprised how cold the woods can get at night, even in the summer—as well as just-in-case rain gear. Pack a flashlight or headlamp for each member of the family. For more info on safety items, like first aid kits and more, check out the National Park Services’ list of ten essentials.

        Hype It Up

        Get kids excited (and avoid meltdowns) by talking your trip up ahead of time. Nearly every National Park has a Junior Ranger activity book you can print and explore together. Read books about the animals and plants you'll see. Pick up a pair of binoculars. Download a sky-gazing app like Night Sky or Star Walk. Go for a practice run by setting up a tent in the backyard before your trip.

        Let kids help with the packing process. For little kids, let them know your plans and choose what to bring, "We're going swimming and hiking. Should we bring a bathing suit?" For older kids, make a packing list and let them pack their bags solo. You don't need many options but want to make sure you have appropriate clothes for the weather.

        Manage Expectations

        Getting babies and kids to sleep at home is hard enough. There isn't a secret to a blissful night's sleep in a tent with the whole fam, so just be prepared for a disruption to your regular routine. Kids may not be able to sleep until the sun goes down and may be up more throughout the night. Try to provide structure where you can but go with the flow and take breaks throughout the day if kids lose steam. Don't bring everything you have from home, but a stuffed animal, a few go-to books, or a blanket can help make bedtime routines a little more routine.

        Camp Food

        For cooking, you have two main options: a camping stove or a campfire. If your campground allows it, go for the campfire and watch your kids become mesmerized. Just be sure to set strict rules about proximity to the fire. For little kids, it may help to bring a small chair just for them and put it at a distance from the flames, or for babies, bring a playpen to contain them while the fire burns. Bring matches, lighters, newspaper for kindling, and firestarters, and pick up firewood at camp or nearby – look for heat-treated firewood that is bundled and certified by the USDA. (It’s also good to have a camping stove in case of rain, to boil water.) 

        Plan your meals in advance so you can pack everything you need—for example, not just the corn, but the foil you’ll wrap it in for cooking, too. Keep meals as simple as possible: Hotdogs roasted over the campfire, followed by s’mores, are classic for a reason. They don’t require much by way of ingredients or equipment, and kids will love making them. Don’t forget instant coffee, booze for after bedtime, stuff for breakfast and lunch, a backup meal you can make if it’s too wet for a campfire (instant noodles works great for this), and lots (and lots, and lots) of snacks.

        First Things First
        Get to your campsite early and before you do anything else, scope out a spot for the tent and set it up. It always takes longer than you expect and the last thing you want to be doing is racing against the sunset. Have half your family work on the tent while the other half forages for kindling (small sticks to help you build a campfire); you’ll want it later on.

        Be Mindful of Bears

        Don’t leave any food out unattended or overnight, and follow the campground's guidance for storing food and coolers. Becase, bears. In some parks, you may be advised to keep your cooler in your trunk rather than the back seat, as animals may see it through your car windows. Bring a bag to pack your trash (and diapers) in, too, and make sure to take it with you when you go.

        Have Fun!
        You’ll also want to bring a few toys and board or card games for the kids in case of rain, speakers to play music while you hang out at camp, and outdoor toys like frisbees and balls. Leave your screens in the car if you can, and explore the beauty and wonder of the outdoors with your kids.

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