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Camping with kids, especially more than two or three kids, takes some real planning, forethought, and a few good camping hacks. We have been camping with our large family since 2002 when we had six kids seven and under! Over the years I have learned a few things that have helped simplify our family camping.
Large Family Camping Hacks
Create a Packing List as Soon as You Begin Planning Your Trip
Outdoor Union has an amazing camping checklist. You can use the interactive checklist to generate your personalized list, then print it out or you can simply print out their premade list. This will help you with your planning from the very start.
Consider Renting a Trailer
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box (or moving truck) when planning a large family camping trip. We drive a 15 passenger van which means there is virtually no storage space unless we removed the back seat. In 2015 we were only taking nine kids camping, so we had the luxury of removing the seat, but it still wasn’t enough room. Chuck rented a small Uhaul trailer which we filled with camping gear and eleven bikes. It was small enough that it was easy to pull and large enough to haul our gear.
Organize and Label Everything
A few years ago, Chuck bought these bins with flip-top lids to store our camp kitchen supplies. As we packed, I wrote each item on the outside of the bin. This not only helped us quickly identify what was in the bin, but it has helped with every single camping trip since then. The bins are now prelabeled which means the older kids can pack these with minimal help.
Take Along a Sharpie to Add Any Forgotten Items to Your List
I took a sharpie along and labeled the bins on our trip. As I unpacked and rearranged things I listed everything in the bin along with any items that we wished we had. This way I knew exactly what we needed (the items we remembered and the ones we forgot).
Take a Well-Stocked First Aid Kit
I recommend keeping this in your kitchen bin or in your vehicle and make sure everyone knows the location of it. We have a couple of premade first aid kits that we supplement with items we consider necessary. Make sure your first aid kit includes burn cream with lidocaine.
Setting up a Camp Kitchen for Family Camping
5-gallon Igloo Water Cooler We always take this cooler filled with fresh water from home. We each bring our water bottles and this is what we use to drink out of all weekend.
Coleman Gas Stove This is what we use to do any cooking not done over the fire and to heat water for hot chocolate, tea, and coffee.
We take along one large pot and lid for boiling water, one large frying pan with a lid for cooking, a spatula, metal flipper, utensils, paper plates and bowls, water bottles, and cups with lids for early morning coffee and hot chocolate.
We always set up a plastic table to give us extra space for cooking and preparing. We cover both the campsite picnic table and our plastic table with a disposable table cloth that is easy to wipe down.
We use a five-gallon bucket and garbage bags to keep our campsite tidy.
We take two dishpans and soap, scrubby and several dishtowels for dishes.
Always hang up a close line. This is great for drying dishtowels, washcloths, and any wet clothing.
Be smart about how you pack your coolers.
Chuck had the brilliant idea to get a bar mat and cut it to fit in the bottom of our coolers. This way as the ice began to melt, we didn’t have food floating around in the water. This worked out so well. Once we were set up in our campsite, he opened the drain on the side, the water drained out as the ice melted and our food stayed cool and dry for days.
Shop on Location
Unless you are camping in the wilderness, you may be better off shopping at your destination than home. For the past two years, we have driven from northwest Washington (we are only 20 minutes from the Canadian border) all the way to the Oregon Coast. That is a long way to haul meat and loaves of bread. Our campground was only about 10 minutes from a Costco and Fred Meyer. Next year we’ll be buying our perishables in Oregon.
Camping Hacks for Making Mealtimes Easier
Plan, plan, plan.
Do I even need to say this? Of course, you need to plan your meals and plan well. This year we have a variety of options for breakfast every morning (granola, yogurt, instant oatmeal, muffins, and fruit). I laid these out each morning and everyone chose what they wanted. Eggs in a bag have been a huge hit in the past.
Lunches consisted of sandwiches, chips, fruits, and veggies. Dinner is where I spent most of my time planning and prepping.
Campfire Cheesesteaks were a huge hit again. This has become a favorite camping tradition.
Other favorite camping meals include fajitas (have everything prepped ahead and just reheat), chili dogs, yogurt parfait, nachos (cooked over the fire in an aluminum pan), and meals wrapped in foil and cooked in the fire.
Here is a simple premade camping menu if you’d rather not have to do any thinking or planning.
Click on my Large Family Camping Meals Pinterest board for more great camping meal ideas.
Purchase Your Tents Strategically
Tents the size of the Taj Mahal seem like a great idea…until you try to set them up and cram your entire family into it. We have found a little space can work wonders for family unity! Chuck, Apollo and I sleep in this Hooligan 4-man tent and we own several of these 3-man tents for the kids. They are inexpensive but do the job well. Also, the best thing we have ever done is to give our children with sensory needs a tent of their own. There is no one to fight with and they get their space at night which helps them keep regulated so much better during the day.
Another important consideration is the climate where you live. We are in the Pacific Northwest and it can get chilly at night in the summer, particularly if we are in the woods or on a mountain. Larger tents are much harder to keep warm. For camping in cooler areas, we have found a few small tents will keep us warmer at night than one big tent. If you live in a hot climate, you might opt for bigger tents to keep you cool.
Taking an idea from Teen Missions, I inspected tents each day and handed out licorice to anyone with a clean tent. Let me tell you, those tents were darn near perfect! It was well worth the sugar and artificial colors.
Other Camping Gear You Need
Sleeping Pads- Sleeping pads are necessary because even in hot climates the ground tends to be cold and has a way of leaching the warmth right out of your body. Chuck and I both use these TETON Sports Outfitter Camp Pads. We have used them twice on weeklong camping trips as well as for shorter trips.
Sleeping Bags- Because we do so much camping as a family, and our boys do even more with Boy Scouts, we have a huge variety of sleeping bags. I suggest you purchase good quality for the climate you live in.
Hammock- Our teens love sleeping in hammocks while we camp. We have a few different brands including this great HONEST OUTFITTERS hammock set that comes with everything you need to set up your hammock while camping.
Fun and Simple Activities for Large Family Camping Trips
These giant bubbles were a huge hit at our church campout. We were attracting ever kid under the age of ten…and many older kids (and adults) as well.
For me, a huge part of the appeal of camping is to spend a few days outdoors enjoying nature and the simple things in life. Because of this, I have never been one to pack a huge bucket of toys for a camping trip. I am a firm believer that kids benefit from boredom and free play.
I have, however, found a few simple activities to keep the kids calm and creative during our camping trips.
Giant Bubbles (I will be adding my own recipe and tutorial here soon, but for now, check out this link).
Playdough (preferably homemade)
Plastic Animals- We prefer the Schleich brand. Not only are these realistic and detailed but they are durable. Apollo is still playing with ones we bought for his only siblings back in 2001!
Other than this, our younger kids occupied themselves by digging in the dirt (we just let them use cups and containers from our camping), collecting leaves, acorns, bugs, and whatever else they can find.
Other Resources for Camping with Kids
Follow my Large Family Camping Pinterest board for more large family camping hacks.
What are your favorite large family camping hacks?