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What’s it like to take four boys camping? An Arizona Mom spills her secrets for a campout success

Brandi Hansen believes that when you take your family on an outdoor adventure, you’re saying “not today” to technology and “yes way” to reconnecting with nature

Camping is something my family and I have only recently started doing, within the last three years, but it has quickly become one of our favorite summertime activities. That being said, camping with kids can be challenging. You aren’t just planning a quick getaway where you can pack for a few nights and leave behind some unmade beds. To celebrate the first week of summer, my four boys, my husband, and I camped at a KOA in Flagstaff, Arizona. And while we had such a great time, I will tell you this: Camping requires a lot of planning, and camping with kids basically requires an entire backstage crew to bring that production to life.

So, instead of hiring a full crew, I’m going to share my top five tips for making camping with kids (almost completely) stress free.

Brandi, her husband, their four boys, and their two dogs
Brandi, her husband, their four boys, and their two dogs. | Photo: Brandi Hansen

1. Let the kids plan the camp

While your kids may not be able to plan the specifics for things like rental cars or food budgets, you’d be surprised at their ability to make a simple yet exciting plan for some of the other camping elements. For example, let the kids plan who their tent or bunk mate will be, what games to play around the campfire, what activities to do during the day, and what to have for lunch on hikes.

When you let your kids plan the activities and meals, you are saving yourself a great deal of time and thought. Allowing your kids to plan their tent or bunk mates prevents nightly battles of who gets to sleep near who. And letting them plan out the meals not only saves you time but also money. Most kids want to make campfire meals, which are often simple, cheap, and efficient (think hamburgers, hotdogs, and smores). In addition to letting them plan the activities and meals, you can also put them in charge of their own ideas and tasks. I like to take various camping duties, list them out in an agenda, and pass them around before we leave. This helps assign roles in advance, and allows my kids to know what specific and important tasks they must complete in order to have a successful trip.

The KOA campground in Flagstaff, Arizona
The KOA campground in Flagstaff, Arizona. | Photo: Brandi Hansen
Boys posing in the RV cutout at the campground
Boys posing in the RV cutout at the campground. | Photo: Brandi Hansen

2. Checklist the small stuff

Whether you are camping in a cabin or pitching a tent in the wilderness, the small stuff matters. Here are a few things I think you should always bring on a camping trip.

  • A first aid kit: You never know when you might need it.
  • Flashlights: Lights are especially useful on any overnight adventure.
  • Sweaters or extra blankets: You can’t count on the weatherman to have your back on your camping trip. I can’t tell you how many times I have been camping with my family and needed some extra warmth.
  • Lighter and fire starters: Fire starters include things like lint, paper, and even lighter fluid. It doesn’t hurt to bring some extra firewood as well. Just make sure your campsite allows fires.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray: Even in the off season, sunscreen and bug spray have always played a key role in our camping success.
  • Drinking water or filtration system: Some campsites do offer clean washing water. But, in any case, it’s nice to have purified drinking water, whether you bring it or filter it yourself.
One of the cabins at the KOA Flagstaff campground
One of the cabins at the KOA Flagstaff campground. | Photo: Brandi Hansen

3. Do your research

The great outdoors is an exciting place, but nothing bites the dust more than not being able to see that great open space. It’s important—on any camping or outdoor adventure—to know your area. If you’re looking to go hiking, fishing, or even setting up your campsite, be sure you have the necessary permits to do so.

“Making a priority to reconnect with, not only nature, but family is a great adventure in itself.”

There are so many amazing places to see in every state here in the U.S. As my family and I have made a point to get to know our home state of Arizona better, we have realized there are some restrictions when it comes to accessing many of Arizona’s greatest adventures. Be sure to purchase permits for camping or hiking in advance, or double check if you will even need one. With our recent stay at KOA Flagstaff, we loved having the Elden Trail right up against the campgrounds, which offered us access to hiking without a fee or permit. We also loved that the campground had road bikes available for rent (which our boys took full advantage of). Had I not looked up the amenities offered at the KOA before we left, I would’ve deprived my boys of hours of three-wheeled fun.

Road bikes are available for rent at the KOA in Flagstaff
Road bikes are available for rent at the KOA in Flagstaff. | Photo: Brandi Hansen
Cruising around the campgrounds
Cruising around the campgrounds. | Photo: Brandi Hansen

4. Say “not today” to technology

These days, it can be really hard to put down our devices and connect with nature. I recommend bringing a small bin or box that says “not today,” where each family member can store their phone or technology device. Making a priority to reconnect with, not only nature, but family is a great adventure in itself. We all love our immediate access to WiFi (which KOA Flagstaff did provide), but it was so nice to spend a few days just being with each other and the forest. When we can put down our easy access to the world wide web, we can better connect with the people and things right in front of us.

5. Seize the day

For every camping trip you go on, if there is one key piece of advice that I can leave you with, it’s this: Make a point to get up early one morning. I can’t think of any early morning adventure where someone has said, “that wasn’t worth it.” There’s magic in a brisk morning hike, shortly after sunrise, when everyone is seeing the world in a different light. Get your kids up early, even though they may want to sleep in. I know my kids love to sleep, but what they love even more is the amazing memory of seeing something totally new. In those early morning hours, the trails are quiet, and nature is full of life. The birds are out, the air is fresh, and everything is ready for the new day. One of my favorite parts of the trip was hitting Elden Trails, right near our campsite, super early on Sunday morning. The fellow early morning hikers and explorers were equally as friendly and happy to greet the day.

Brandi and her family having breakfast in their cabin
Brandi and her family having breakfast in their cabin. | Photo: Brandi Hansen

Camping with kids can be a hassle, but making it a priority to plan and truly connect with nature makes it all the more worthwhile. On our recent trip to KOA Flagstaff, we were able to unplug, reconnect with the great outdoors, and ultimately have a complete campout success.

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