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I’ve Camped 1,000 Nights With My Kids: Here’s What I Learned

Taking the family on camping trips or wild adventures doesn't have to be complicated, overwhelming, or stressful — here are a few tips from a professional athlete on how to make it easy.

Family camping and adventure parenting; (photo/Chelsey Magness)(Photo/Chelsey Magness)
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It’s 9 o’clock at night and instead of being on the couch watching our current favorite series, my husband and I are busy getting ready for another weekend of family camping adventures while our kids snore quietly away.

I’m in charge of the inside packing (food, clothes, and hygiene). He’s in charge of the garage packing (tent, cookset, bikes, and any other gear we’re hauling along). In the morning before everyone gets up, I bike out to the family camping site while Jason drives the boys and gear.

On the last day, we switch and Jason gets to ride home.

This is not our first rodeo. In fact, we are 6 years into this venture of doing family camping adventures. We’ve become a well-oiled machine.

My husband, Jason, and I are professional athletes, and we have two kids we love getting outdoors with. It can be hectic. And it has taken us a while to get our systems dialed. As the kids have grown and changed, our system has changed slightly, too. However, once you form habits and learn what works and doesn’t work for your family, it gets easier. 

Here are a few tips that helped our family get out on more adventures easily.

Get the Whole Family to Buy In Together 

Family camping and adventure parenting
(Photo/Chelsey Magness)

Ever since starting a family, Jason and I have sat down before every season and have stated a goal and a trip that we want to go on. These are not personal or race-related goals. These are things we want to do as a family.

This spring was the first time both boys were able to understand what “goals” and “trips” meant. As a family, we chose to go camping every other weekend and go on one or two family road trips together that included climbing, biking, and packrafting. Making a family goal and plan together gets the whole family on the same team, and it sets us all up for success.

People in general like routine — especially kids. It makes them feel safe and grounds them. Having a plan also gets all of us excited for what is to come. As soon as we set our family goals into motion, we all immediately get to work, picking out our first camping spot.

Have the Car (or Bike) Prepacked With Basic Overnight Essentials 

Family camping and adventure parenting
(Photo/Chelsey Magness)

At the start of every spring, we prepack our car with a basic car camping kit that stays there until ski season hits. It includes a duffel full of adult and kid sleeping bags (Big Agnes kids bags are our favorite), pads, and a tent (the Kelty “Tall boy is what we use for car camping).

In another smaller bag, we have our MSR stove and our basic MSR cook kit which includes a pot, bowls, cups, utensils, and some nonperishable food. For bikepacking and packrafting trips that require our ultralight kit, we have a smaller duffel that lives in our garage.

Keeping this all prepacked helps us avoid spending hours packing every time we head out. It also helps us be more spontaneous at times. If we do ever find ourselves out for a day trip that runs long, we know we always have the bare necessities. We can always stay the night or have dinner out in the woods if we need or choose to. 

Choose Locations That Are Good for the Whole Family

Family camping and adventure parenting
(Photo/Chelsey Magness)

This is sometimes easier said than done, as it takes a bit of research. But finding a spot where the whole family can have their own chosen adventure is worth it for a successful trip.

My husband and I always look for a place where either one of us can bike or run while the other one drives the kids. Or to pick a place that’s easy for both of us to take turns getting a longer training mission in.

For the kids, we look for a place where they can either play in the water or on some cool rocks and trees. Kids don’t need much when their whole job is to play! Every family is different, but having this talk before looking for a spot can be very helpful. And again, it gets everyone to buy in from the start. 

Less Is More When Packing

Family camping and adventure parenting
(Photo/Chelsey Magness)

It is way too easy to overpack for a family, especially when car camping. However, when we have too many options, we get overwhelmed and we never use everything that we bring. So now we only bring exactly what we need.

For clothes, we usually bring three sets for everyone — two sets of play clothes, and one set of night clothes (which includes a warm layer and pajamas). We love wool because it keeps you both warm and cool, and it doesn’t keep odor. Our favorite kids’ wool is Chasing Windmills because it’s durable and cozy. 

As for gear, instead of bringing it all (like we used to), we choose two activities and will bring gear for those. If we are headed to a river with awesome nearby climbing and biking, we will only bring packrafts and climbing gear. Not overpacking and assuming that we will forget something is great adaptability training for everyone involved.

And the less we bring, the less overwhelmed everyone is. 

Make Sure to Have Plenty of Downtime Planned In 

Family camping and adventure parenting
(Photo/Chelsey Magness)

Just like it is way too easy to overpack, it’s also easy to feel like you have to have lots of activities planned as well.

Last weekend, our family went camping near Smith Rock to climb and bike. When we got to our camping spot, my husband and I were eager to set up right away and go climb. But our boys wanted to take in the place and play before going right away. Even though they’d been to that area many times before, it was a new spot and it had been months. It was all brand new and exciting to them.  

No Camping? No Problem!

Family camping and adventure parenting; (photo/Chelsey Magness)
(Photo/Chelsey Magness)

These tips all apply to day trips as well. If you do want to try camping with the family but are overwhelmed by it all, start small. Our kids love to head out on their own “camping trips” once in a while. They take the day to pack up everything they need and will walk to the nearby woods.

The whole process is super fun and is a great learning experience for them. We help by setting up the tent and carrying the bigger stuff, and then my husband or I will sleep out with them.

These simple child-led trips are often their favorite ones because they get to be “in charge,” and it is also really fun for us to see what they choose to bring and do! 

Adventure Parenting Made Easy: The Final Word

Chelsey Magness, professional endurance athlete, gives her tips on motherhood; (photo/Chelsey Magness)
(Photo/Chelsey Magness)

Being able to experience family camping and adventures together as a family is really special and particularly important in this era of endless screens and structured time. The outdoors can teach us all so much — no matter our ages. Hopefully, these tips can help you and your family get outside more and explore nature as easily, and with as little stress as possible.

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