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Family Camping

Tips for a Safe and Fun Camping Adventure

Family camping can be a refreshing escape for the entire family. Sleeping under the stars in a tent, cooking over a campfire, and relaxing 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 what you need before heading out into the wilderness.

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 into a primitive campground? What do you want to do while there? Hike? Bike? Fish? Boat? Relax all day next to a stream or lake? Perhaps all of the above?

Public campgrounds are the best way for novices to get comfortable with 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.

father and son looking out with binoculars in tent

Set Clear Rules

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 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 non-swimmers 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.

The Basics

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.

  • Basic Tools: Dirt and camping go hand in hand, so remember to bring items to keep your camp site 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 a great time to enjoy a little dirt between your toes. However, everyone will be happier if you bring along some items for keeping clean, 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.
  • A 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.
  • Sleeping Gear: Invest in or borrow quality, heavyduty sleeping bags because evenings can get chilly, even in the summer. Additional blankets and quilts can be used for cushioning underneath sleeping bags, and they are good to have on hand in case it gets cold. Don’t forget pillows.

Food Supplies

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
  • cooler
  • paper towels and napkins
  • aluminum foil and storage containers
  • trash bags
  • cleaning supplies: wash bucket, biodegradable dish soap, dish towels and a sponge.

It is important to follow all food safety precautions provided by the campground. Most campgrounds recommend putting away 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.

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

Jenni Frankenberg Veal is a freelance writer and member of the American Society of Journalists & Authors. She lives on Signal Mountain with her family and enjoys writing and blogging about Chattanooga and the outdoors. Her blog is

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