Dos & Don'ts of Taking Kids Camping

Peter Brown Hoffmeister, author of Let Them Be Eaten By Bears: A Fearless Guide to Taking Our Kids into the Great Outdoors, offers these tips for parents who want to take their kids into the woods.


  1. One great way to get to know the campground or wilderness area at the start of the trip is to play hide-and-go-seek (or a variation like kick-the-can). Set boundaries, then have people hide. They will be running and smiling and feeling comfortable in the first five minutes.
  2. Unstructured play builds creativity and problem-solving skills. Once the tent is set up and the beds are laid out, tell the kids to “go play.” Repeat that mantra over and over.
  3. If it’s cold at night, fill a Nalgene bottle with hot water and place it inside a thick wool sock. One of those in a sleeping bag will keep a sleeper warm all night long.
  4. Turn off technology for the entire trip or limit it to 15 minutes a day. Replace it with what hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail call “caveman TV”: a campfire.
  5. Take and make really good food: fruit and vegetables, cold pizza, dark chocolate, avocados, and s’mores—no camper should be without a few s’mores.




  1. Skip locations known for high mosquito counts. Check online. No one wants to eat mosquitoes with breakfast or watch the toddler’s eye swell shut.
  2. Avoid a middle-of-the-campground site on July 4th. If it feels like a line at Disneyland, it’s not quality camping.
  3. Make a group-wide rule that there’s no whining. Nothing kills a trip like a group whine-a-thon. One friend of mine makes a rule that each whine earns the person five pushups. That gets people in shape quick.