Key to fun family camping: preparation -

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Key to fun family camping: preparation -
Apr 15th 2012, 13:26

Sleeping under the stars in a tent, cooking over a campfire and spending relaxed days in the great outdoors can create lasting family memories and a ritual of lifelong outdoor fun.

The key to an enjoyable family camping experience is preparation—mapping out where you want to go and the supplies you'll need during your outdoor adventure.

Find a campground
To begin, identify where you want to go and what you want to do. Are you interested in visiting a private campground close to home, a state park or a national park? Do you want to camp at a campground with a bathhouse or hike to a primitive campground? What do you want to do during your trip—hike, bike, fish, boat, relax or all of the above?

Public campgrounds are often the best places for beginners to try out camping. However, some campgrounds are more child-friendly than others, so it is a good idea to know as much as possible about a campground before arriving. Ask for advice from other families, do online research and call the campground if you have questions. With children in tow, it is important to have a thorough understanding of potential wildlife in the area, such as bears or alligators.

If you are visiting a campground for the first time, it never hurts to have the name of another campground in the area—just in case the site isn't all you imagined it to be.

Create a supply list
Prepare for your camping trip by creating a simple camping supply list that anticipates the needs of your family. This may seem like a daunting task at first, but the good news is that you can fine-tune the list with each subsequent camping trip.

Here are some critical items to remember:

—Sleeping bags: Invest in or borrow quality, heavy-duty sleeping bags because evenings can get chilly, even in the summer. Additional blankets and quilts can be used for cushioning underneath sleeping bags and are good to have in case it gets cold. Don't forget pillows.

—Tools: Dirt and camping go hand in hand, so remember to bring items to keep your campsite neat and tidy, such as a rake, dust pan and broom, and a mat for outside the tent. It's also a good idea to bring along a tarp, some rope and a few tools, such as a hammer, screwdriver and jackknife. Pack a flashlight for each family member, lanterns and extra batteries. Don't forget to bring some folding chairs for around the campfire as well.

—Toiletries: Camping is great time to enjoy a little dirt between your toes. However, everyone will be happier if you bring along some toiletry items, such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste and towels. Keep bath items in a tote that can be easily carried to the bathhouse or an outdoor faucet. Include flip-flops for use in showers.

—Tent: Try out your tent—especially if it is brand new—prior to leaving home. You don't want to discover at the campsite that your tent has a defect or that it isn't big enough for your family.

Meal planning
Meal planning can make or break a family camping trip. Look for fun camping recipes online and be sure to include snacks and drinks—especially water—in your food plans.

The following is a basic list of food prep supplies you will need:

—Camp stove and fuel
—Matches and/or a lighter
—Cookware, which can be easily stored in a crate
—Cooking and eating utensils
—Percolator for morning coffee
—Plates, bowls and cups (washable or paper)
—Can opener
—Paper towels and napkins
—Aluminum foil and storage containers
—Trash bags
—Cleaning supplies such as a wash bucket, biodegradable dish soap, dishtowels and a sponge

It is important to follow all food safety precautions provided by the campground. Most campgrounds recommend putting up food and odorous items (such as candy, deodorant and other toiletries) when not in use, either in closed containers in the car or up in a tree, and placing all trash in designated areas in order to avoid potentially dangerous interactions with wildlife.

Kids' activities
Be sure to pack some simple, child-friendly activities to engage or quiet children when needed:

—Books for quiet reading on rainy days or before bed
—Watercolor paints and/or crayons and paper
—Bikes for campground exploration
—Buckets, shovels and other play tools for exploring creeks and water
—Nature journals for painting, drawing or writing about the trip

Use common sense
Avoid hazards by discussing potential dangers and setting clear rules with children ahead of time.

—Campfire safety: Set clear rules for the campfire. Do not allow children to play around or carry blankets near the fire. Remain acutely aware of where your children are once you light a campfire.

—Water safety: If you are near a lake, pond or river, scout out water depth and currents before letting children wander on their own. Set clear rules with children about water safety and make sure nonswimmers are wearing appropriate safety devices.

—Wildlife safety: Avoid touching, feeding and getting near wild animals. Use insect repellent to protect family members from mosquitoes, ticks and other insects.

—Biking safety:  Most campgrounds require children ages 16 and under to wear bike helmets while biking, so don't forget to pack them with the bikes. Be sure all bikers understand and follow bike safety rules and are courteous to other campers.

Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace is a nationwide movement that encourages outdoor enthusiasts to "leave the places you enjoy as good as or better than you found them." Some of the benefits of adhering to Leave No Trace concepts include cleaner water, less campfire impacts, fewer negative encounters with wildlife and less damage/loss of cultural and historic artifacts. Learn more at

Jenni Frankenberg Veal is a freelance writer and naturalist who spent her childhood playing in creeks and meadows, which fostered her appreciation for the natural world today. When she is not busy playing outside with her daughters, she writes about outdoor wonder in the southeastern United States on her blog at

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