Summertime, the season of cookouts and camping trips…or at least it used to be.

Because let's be real, things change after you have kids.  

Pre-kids, I would enjoy sitting out by the pool, floating down the river, going on long hikes and hanging out by the campfire. Now those things are basically just a bunch of different ways for my toddlers to try and kill themselves.

Long gone are the days of relaxing and enjoying the sunshine—they have been replaced by a constant battle to spray sunscreen on squirming, screaming little bodies and a never ending session of tug-o-war with wet swim diapers and life jackets. I’m honestly working up a sweat just thinking about all the work involved in summertime with young kids.

Even though my husband and I are fairly intelligent, well-educated people, last year for Mother’s Day we decided to take our four small kids (at the time we had a 4, 2 and two 1-year-olds) on a tent camping trip. There are not enough words in the English language to convey what a disaster that was.

Since then, we’ve bought a 26’ camper, resplendent with a couple of bunks, a toilet, running water and a whole drawer dedicated to housing diapers and wipes. It might not seem like a lot, but to me - it’s heaven.

I always joke that my husband intentionally set the bar low (culminating in our disastrous camping trip last summer) that now anything beyond a couple of tents staked in the ground and digging a hole for a toilet feels downright luxurious.

Now, I’m no sissy. We took our 3 week old daughter dry-camping back in 2011, but that was when we only had the one kid. If you have more than two kids, the draw of letting them watch DisneyJr’s interpretation of summer on the Disney channel is real.

But, if you’re going to brave the great outdoors with little kids, here are some things you’ll want to pack. This list was devised from things I’ve picked up through trial and error (mostly error).

1. Ziplocs. First and foremost. It might seem strange to put Ziplocs on the top of the list but hear me out. You can pack food in them, use them for leftovers, pack clothes so they won’t get wet, use them for dirty diapers so the smell is contained - the uses are endless. If you’re gonna go camping with little kids, get Ziplocs. Lots of them and in many sizes.

2. Wipes. If you are a parent you probably already know the versatility of these puppies. But did you know that beyond cleaning your kid’s butt and your tabletop at home when the in-laws call to say they’ll be dropping by in 5 minutes, these suckers are basically showers in a bag? Your hair will still smell like camp smoke, but the rest of your body will be grime-free.

3. Batteries. In all sizes, in many places. You’ll inevitably need them for a headlamp or flashlight or the tablet-charger you bring so that you can turn on a movie for Junior so you may enjoy the peace and quiet of the great outdoors for seven whole seconds. Use your Ziplocs and store them all over the tent.

4. Bubbles. Even thought you might find tranquility in the sound of the birds or the wind rustling through the leaves, I can guarantee your 3-year-old will not. Bring bubbles. Bonus points if you have the space to bring a bubble machine because then you do not run the risk of the toddler spilling the entire contents of the bubble bottle in the first three seconds, thus defeating the purpose of trying to distract them in the first place.

5. Coloring books. I was coloring before coloring was cool. And now that Michael’s says it’s cool, there’s no reason not to stock up on coloring books and crayons for the whole family to use when it inevitably starts to rain and traps you and your partner in the tent with your little one(s).

Here are some of our favorite campgrounds recommended for families:

For a list of local campgrounds, check out the county website at or check out the BLM campgrounds in Douglas County at 

Also, if you are up for a something a little different, check out Hip Camp. They have a list of glamping sites and other unique campgrounds including the one I visited in Mendocino, California.

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Water - for both drinking and cleaning up.
Paper towels - cleaning up and double as napkins.
Baygen radio - hand crank so no batteries.
Baygen flashlight - no batteries.
Cell phone - general contact and emergencies.
Blankets - it still gets mighty cold at night.
At least a half tank of gas.
Pepper spray - protection.
Bug spray - there are lots of creepy crawlies out there.
Sunscreen - obvious.

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