The first time we went camping with our daughter she was 15 months old and I brought her high chair that straps to a chair, but we used it on the ground. I remember she scooped up a lot of dirt and sticks with her food. It was a busy trip and I remember how much she enjoyed the freedom and openness while I tried to keep her safe from the road and all the hazards that come with camping.
As we book our camping for the summer, I cringe and get excited at the same time. Here is my essential camping list for good, old-school roughing it in a tent—not a heated RV with a flush toilet, a shower, and a TV (although, I can see the appeal of these items, too)!

1. Safety
If you are camping before the annual fire ban starts, be extremely careful around the campfire. If you are using a propane fire pit or stove, ensure that you establish safety rules for your kids.
• Ensure your children walk a wide perimeter around the fire or stove.
• Ensure there are no tripping hazards by the fire or stove.
• Ensure the smoke and sparks are not shooting in your child’s direction.
• Ensure there is always an adult designated to stay by the fire and keep the kids safe.

2. Sleep
Every year, I get excited for camping and then once I am trying to sleep in the tent I remember how uncomfortable it is to sleep on the ground. I’ve tried air mattresses and lots of blankets piled up. However, this year, we finally bought self-inflating mats (which will hopefully be warmer than a cold air mattress).

I don’t like to think of myself as a paranoid parent, but I always sleep in front of the tent door. No one is getting in or out unless they trip over me first. Even though we establish a rule that you must wake me up before leaving the tent and no one leaves the tent alone, (I would likely hear the sound of someone attempting to leave) I still worry about a child leaving the tent unattended. When my son was three, one morning at 5 a.m., he left our house and went into our backyard to play. Thankfully it was our fenced backyard and I heard him.

3. Staying Warm & Dry
It will be easier to sleep if everyone is warm. More layers, less layers, toque, mitts, and slippers or a fleecy sleeper in an adult size (I am adding this to my packing list right now), sleeping bags that keep you warm until -10°C. I have tried all of these things and I still tend to get cold in the night and I’m usually always hot. I’m not sure if there really is a magic formula, but a heating pad would be great. It would also be great if you could have solar panels that radiate heat into your tent at 4 a.m.
All fantasies aside, I do know that slip-on shoes are a must for all family members, so you can visit the bathroom without having to lace up runners. I tend to dress the kids in their warmest fleecy sleepers and then I use a sleep sac and blankets or a sleeping bag and pjs when they are older. I find that putting a tarp down on the ground under your tent can helps, too. Rain gear and tarps are a must have.

4. Fun & Games
Bring bikes, skipping ropes, baseball equipment, a Frisbee, cards, and board games. The possibilities are endless because you are in nature and you don’t have the usual to do list of chores that you do when you are at your home. You are on vacation. Pick a campsite with a playground or waterfalls. Goldstream has both and a kids bike track.

Take the time to stay up late and star gaze. Listen to the birds chirping in the morning and the crunch of the first campers walking around the gravel circle.

5. Back-Up Plan
I recommend camping close to home, near a friend’s house or another family member’s. This way if you get rained out or your tent leaks then you have somewhere to go and dry off.

If you implement your back-up plan, turn it into a teachable and fun family memory.

6. Food
Camping becomes worth the effort for me when I have done all my food prep ahead of time. I have a small car, so I don’t have room for cutting boards and dish basins. I chop everything ahead of time. I chop up fruit and make veggie packets in tinfoil for sides. The sandwich makers that go over the fire are great for making pizza sandwiches or pie sandwiches with pie filling and cream cheese. Don’t forget the classic hot dogs and s’mores, too. With everything prepped ahead of time, I can help watch the kids by the fire while my husband cooks.

A propane fire pit is a must because they are usually permitted even with the fire ban and then you can still roast your hot dogs and marshmallows. The bonus is there are no sparks and no camp fire smell. Don’t get me wrong, I love the camp fire smell in the moment, but not after.

7. Potty
All three of my kids refuse to use an outhouse. Therefore, I always bring a potty with us. In fact, we have a pink bucket as our potty at the beach and an ice cream bucket in our car. At the store, my son once asked: “Why would someone put ice cream in bucket we pee in?” Even if your kids tolerate using an outhouse, no one likes to walk there at 4 a.m. We’re fortunate that our tent has a separate porch that zips shut and is outside our main sleeping room. This is where I set up our bathroom.

There are quite a few new child friendly camping inventions since we first took our daughter camping six years ago. For example, there is a camping chair high chair and a camping activity center station too. Hopefully you’ll find some great products and ideas to help make your life easier while camping.

Happy tenting season.

Serena Beck enjoys spending time at the beach with her husband and 3 kids, ages 7, 5, and 3.