There's nothing like taking the kids out for a relaxing weekend camping. Or does the thought of planning for the trip and packing the gear make you want to crawl under a rock and hide? I used to say it wasn't worth camping unless we were going for at least a week. All of the time and energy I would spend getting ready for a weekend campout didn't seem worth it. I've discovered that if you do some simple pre-planning it can make the trip more enjoyable for everyone.
If you're big campers and plan to be out a lot this year do your pre-planning at the beginning of the calendar year. If you're occasional campers, you probably don't need to worry about it until closer to camp time.
Test gear for functionality
Make sure you stove still works, that there's gas left in the fuel tank, the air mattress doesn't have holes and the flashlights have fresh batteries.
Plan for activities
Visualize the different activities you will be engaged in and then consider what you need to bring for each. Will you be hiking, eating, sleeping, or traveling a substantial distance in the car?
Plan for individual family members
Visualize each family member engaged in these activities. Does someone need a particular item? Small children, in particular, benefit from comfort items and a familiar toy or two.
Be prepared for mishaps
Plan for those events that you don't want to happen like bad weather or accidents. First aid kits are a must for every camping outing.
Make a reservation
Many camping sites can be booked up to a year in advance. If you know you want to go on a high traffic week-end like the 4th of July, book early.
If you do a little pre-planning you'll have time to pick up any extra gear you may need to replace or repair. This is also a good time to establish a large tote that is dedicated to holding camping gear. We like to keep a list on the lid of the tote that lists the contents. We include items that are used on almost any campout so we don't have to rethink the same list every time. This really helps to simplify packing when you're ready to hit the road.
Each camping trip has a few unique specifics you should consider as a part of your preparation.
Before you go
Know your location
Are you going to need to bring your own water, is there a shower, etc.
Know the weather
(At least as well as you can.) How cold will the nights get? Do you need back up plans for rain? Pack layered clothing. Even the best weather report can be off.
Make a list and check it off as you pack
Don't make the common mistake of thinking, "oh I'll grab that in a minute" and check something off the list. Odds are a distraction will make you forget something important-like the matches!
Pack for easy access
Pack the things you need first (like a tarp and tent) last.
Plan your meals ahead
Our family loves to include the kids in the planning and cooking. They are much more excited about being 'in charge' of meal prep if it's the meal they picked or helped to plan for.
Freeze your ice packs ahead of time
Empty gallon milk jugs make good ice packs. They take longer to freeze, but also stay cold longer.
Our family loves camping for the opportunity it gives us to enjoy nature together. Because of that we don't feel a need to bring lots of toys or other unnecessary items. We do like to include a couple items like marshmallow roasting sticks, a GPS for geocacheing, hand shovels and buckets, or binoculars. These items help to enhance our outdoor experience with our kids.
Here is some helpful gear when camping with kids
Hands free lighting such as a headlamp or battery operated lantern.
Kid sized mummy bags for cold nights.
Kid sized camping chairs. Everyone wants to sit around and enjoy the campfire and a child sized camp chair is much safer for kids.
The most important thing to remember, of course, is to relax and have fun. Camping can be a great way to spend some quality family time.