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Camping in a tent is a simple pleasure. Living outdoors for a day or two settles your soul, and problems seem smaller when you’re breathing fresh air and basking in sunshine.
The first rule of tent camping with kids? Be flexible enough to roll with changing plans and unforeseen inconveniences. You’re going to forget something important and you’ll adapt. Embrace the relaxed chaos.
Before trying tent camping for a weekend, set up and check the tent in your backyard. Set up at camp will go faster, and you’ll know about any leaks or tears in time to repair them.
Once at the campsite, set up the tent first. Many campsites will have a parking space, a fire ring, and a picnic table. As you survey your campsite, consider the best spot for your tent. You’ll want to keep your cooking, eating and sleeping areas separate, yet close enough for relative convenience.
Your tent should be near some shelter like a wooded area in case of a storm, but away from dead trees or limbs that might fall. If you’re near a river or creek, make sure you’re out of a possible flash flood area – don’t set up the tent right next to a waterway, since you’ll have no real ability to foresee and avoid a flood during the middle of the night.
Ideally, your tent should be on level ground and a safe distance away from the fire pit and cooking areas. Consider your tent stakes and lines coming off your tent; these will trip people in a high-traffic area.
To be decently comfortable at night, bring a GOOD mattress, either a foam pad or air inflatable. If an inflatable, get one of quality and do NOT let anyone jump on it (this will damage the seams and cause leaks), and test it thoroughly at home by even sleeping on it all night, so you can be sure it doesn’t leak during battle conditions.
To be even safer, bring a patch or two if a leak does occur. Foam pads are less risky, but take more space for the ones thick enough to matter.
1. Remove sticks, rocks, and debris and lay down your waterproof tarp (we always put down a ground cloth as a moisture barrier). Fold any exposed part of the tarp under your tent’s footprint.
2. Rotate the tent so your head will be on the uphill side when you’re sleeping, and you’ll likely want it facing the fire.
3. It’s a good idea to put a small mat just outside the tent entrance, to be used to keep footgear and reduce dirt getting into your bed area.
Pro Tip: While the adults set up the tent, get the kids to gather kindling and firewood.
1. Never let anyone inside the tent with shoes. When in camp (and not out on a hike or other activity that calls for laced footgear), have everyone use slip-on shoes, so they can come and go easily in and out of the tent as needed, without having to tie and untie shoes repeatedly.
2. Bring a whisk broom to sweep away dirt that happens to get in.
3. Keep dirty clothes in a separate bag away from the clean ones from the very beginning.
4. Get a couple of lightweight lanterns (battery-operated versions work well) and figure a way to hang them inside the tent. You’ll like the overhead light while lounging in the tent before going to sleep.
1. Know your campsite’s check-out time (if there is one).
2. Extinguish your campfire with plenty of water and spread out the logs. IMPORTANT: Never leave a fire pit without making sure the fire and its embers are completely doused.
3. Challenge your family to leave the campsite cleaner than you found it.
4. Follow campsite rules about garage disposal.
5. While you work, talk about what you want to do again or do differently on your next family camping trip.
Truth in advertising: camping is a messy sport. But there are ways to keep the grime at bay so you can enjoy the weekend more fully.
Don’t sweat the dirt too much. Kids are going to get dirty (and they’ll like it), and you’re going to feel grimy and that’s ok. We wash our hands (with biodegradable soap) before eating and wipe down the boys with baby wipes at least a little before bed. We also have hand sanitizer readily available.
You can also use a portable shower bag, which works really rather well, as a decent substitute for a shower. You’ll have to play it by ear on how far you strip down, depending on how proximate other campers are. If you’re near a lake or freshwater river, a swim absolutely counts as a shower.
But ultimately, no matter how clean you try to stay during the trip, that first hot shower after your return is going to feel oh so good.
1. Use a single container or bag to hold all your bathroom stuff (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, conditioner, and so on).
2. Bring extra clothes, and if it’s likely to get cold at night, take the time to change undergarments. Having dry clothing next to your body will make your night’s sleep much more comfortable.
Pro tip: Dry shampoo or baby powder on your roots helps keep your hair looking good.
We hope to inspire your family to head outside with these tent camping tips — tag us in your social media pics @gowaxhead and #thriveinthesun so we can see what you’re up to.
We built Waxhead’s four modern, sun-safety strategies on traditional methods used for thousands of years.