Tent Camping With Kids Isn’t Just for Crazy People

You, Too, Can Take Your Kids Tent Camping

A few weeks ago we posted a Huge List of Great Places to Take Kids Camping in Michigan. But…if you haven’t camped before, where do you begin?!

Chances are if you’re just starting out, or don’t plan to camp more than one or two times a year, you’re not going to run out and buy a camper. This leaves you to either rent one or to (gulp) use a tent.

For those wanting to try out camping without making a full commitment, Bill & Paul’s rents tents for $20 for 1 day, $45 for 3 days, or $90 for a full week. They also have youth and adult backpacks available, as well as kayaks.

If tent camping sounds like too much, there are also some more sophisticated options available for rent in the area. Check out American RV or General RV — they rent everything from RVS to travel trailers, pop-ups, truck campers and more.


Our family has chosen the latter for four years now. I can’t tell you the number of moms that have said to me, “Tent camping…with kids? Are you crazy?”

Yes, tent camping…with kids. And it’s fun and totally do-able!

There are lessons to be learned, and it takes more than one trip to feel like you’ve figured things out, but the time spent with your family and the memories you make (the good and the bad) are worth it!

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Getting Started With Tent Camping in West Michigan



  • Try a backyard campout before making reservations. Often kids are intimidated sleeping in the great outdoors, especially if you’re using a tent. The dark skies, cool (or hot) temperatures, and night sounds can be scary. Do a test run to make sure your child is ready for the real deal.
  • Scheduling – Weekends, especially around holidays, are very popular times to camp. Schedule your trip far ahead of time or find days during the week to go, when things are less busy. I’d suggest staying close to home on your first trip and keeping it short (1-3 days), not knowing how your child(ren) will enjoy his/her time in the great outdoors.
  • Picking a lot – Make sure your lot is near a bathroom, but not too close to it. If you’re right in the path of travel, people will be wandering by your tent all day and it can get loud. Ideal lots also have a mix of shade and sun. Lots free of trees are much less buggy, but make tents extremely hot on sunny days.
  • Make a menu – Knowing what food to bring, and the tools you’ll need to prepare them can be very helpful when camping. Something I often forget is that it takes time and wood to start a fire, so although three campfire meals a day sounds like a lot of fun, it will eat up extra hours and supplies.
  • Have a check-list. I started a check-list the first time we went camping and have modified it each year. I can’t tell you how helpful it’s been! Make sure you have a list that you can work from when camping.




  • Tent – Make sure it’s big enough for your family. A tent labeled as a five person may fit five bodies, but doesn’t take into consideration any gear, and certainly won’t accommodate a Pack n’ Play! Our family of five uses an 8-person, two room tent and brings an extra along for our fur baby’s crate and gear.
  • Tent extras – Be sure to include a tarp to place under the tent, a hammer to nail the stakes into hard ground, a small broom and dustpan. A tent light and fan are also helpful.
  • Bedding – Sleeping bags work great, but for those who have trouble sleeping on hard ground, you may want to consider an air mattress or cot. Just remember to fill them ahead of time, or bring along a car compressor to fill them on site.
  • Bedding extras – Don’t forget pillows, night lights, soothing noise makers, and security items (blankies, stuffed friends, etc.) that will help your little ones to sleep better.




  • Leave the fancy stuff at home – Camping has dirt and lots of it. Be sure to bring clothes that are simple and functional, and bring a few extra sets.
  • It gets cold – Don’t forget long pants, sweatshirts, and at times…coats! Even when warm day temps are predicted, it can get quite cold at night.
  • Water play – Many campgrounds have a water component of some sort. Bring along a few bathing suits and at least one towel per person.



Food and Fire

  • Fire gear – If you’re planning on cooking over the fire, include aluminum foil, fire tools (hot dog pokers, hobo pie maker, popcorn popper, etc.), cooking spray, tongs, and an oven mit. Also helpful is a fire-starter of some sort (lint and newspaper are two of our faves) and a lighter, unless you’re a pro at rubbing sticks, as well as a teepee or grate to cook on.
  • Firewood – Many sites require that you purchase wood on-site to avoid bringing in unwanted pests. However, a small saw and heavy gloves are often good items to have, just in case.
  • Stove – To keep things moving we plan a few of our hot meals on the camp stove or small grill. Just be sure you have fuel to run it.
  • Coolers – Pack a few coolers and check that ice is stocked at all times. Friends of ours ‘toss-in’ a mini-fridge and place it in their tent for meats and dairy.
  • Water – Make sure you have plenty of water and other drinks on hand to avoid dehydration. Jugs of water are also helpful for hand washing, teeth brushing and washing dishes.05_dishes
  • Dishes – We bring along a picnic basket with at least one re-usable plate, cup and bowl for each person in the family. Include large bowls for mixing (eggs, pancakes), a cutting board, utensils, a can opener, and any pans you may need for frying.
  • Clean-up – Any dishes you use will need to be cleaned. Be sure to include small tub, dish soap, and towels.
  • Extras – Trash bags, a tablecloth, a bug net or screen tent, and Ziploc bags are always helpful!



  • Flotation devices – Be sure to bring along life jackets, swimmies and other floatation devices.
  • Sand toys – If you’re going to a site with natural body of water, sand toys, nets, and fishing pole and gear are nice to have along.
  • Outdoor gear – Camping is all about getting out into the great Michigan outdoors. Bring along fishing poles, binoculars, and a nature scavenger hunt to keep kids interested.
  • Rainy day fun – Card games like Uno and coloring books and crayons are nice to have along in case of rain.
  • Ride-ons – Our kids love meeting new friends and riding bikes or scooters with them. Be sure to bring bikes and helmets and set rules on where they can go. Horns or bells for little ones are nice, as you can track where they’re riding.[clear]08_rainyday

Other Necessities

  • Camping Chairs
  • Sunscreen and aloe
  • Bug Spray and itch lotion
  • First Aid
  • Wipes
  • Toiletries
  • Flashlights and batteries
  • Extension cords

What’s your favorite West Michigan camping spot?

About The Author

2 thoughts on “Tent Camping With Kids Isn’t Just for Crazy People”

  1. My favorite place is grassy and has a lake with nice beach, a few pools, tennis courts, water park, shuffleboard, horseshoes, lots of kids activities, several playgrounds, camping spaces are stretched out so you don’t get the noise of other campers, and clean bathrooms.

    Sounds like a lot of gear to gather together. Borrow from a friend. And you don’t have to have a huge car for a trip either. I manage to tent camp with 4 kids and one of them is a newborn baby. My life saver tips that I learned camping is:
    1. have a screen house that has fabric that pulls down over the sides. One of the only manufacturers of this is Kelty. Most screen houses only keep the bugs out, Kelty’s keeps the bugs and rain out. http://www.sierratradingpost.com/kelty-screen-house-shelter-large~p~3237v/?utm_source=Amazon&utm_medium=PaidShopping&utm_term=Kelty_Screen_House_Shelter_-_Large&utm_campaign=PCAMAZON4&codes-processed=true
    2. Place a blanket in the open spaces in your tent – where the kids get dressed, likely the same place where you change the little ones clothes/diapers. When it gets covered in sand its easy to shake outside and hide the dirt underneath it. (I can’t stand the feeling of stepping on a gritty tent bottom, the blanket hides that.)
    3. Also if you are worried about your little one unzipping the tent at night and sneaking out, I use twisty ties to tie the two zippers together.
    4. We only camp when we are staying at least 3 nights. If its just for the weekend, if feels like we spend a good portion of the day Friday getting ready to go, then by the time we get to camp and are set up its time for bed. And then there is Saturday to play/relax and Sunday we wake up and pack up and go home and put everything away. It feels exhausting to me. But if we arrive on a Thursday evening then we feel like we have some decent time to relax.

    Camping is the thing my kids would pick to do every time. Its not for everyone, but we love it.

    1. Great ideas – thanks so much for sharing! I love the tip about twisty ties – our little ones are old enough where I don’t have to think of things like that anymore. Great to have another perspective. 🙂 Happy camping! – Stephanie

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