Eagle County moms share their tips for camping with kids | VailDaily.com

Eagle County moms share their tips for camping with kids

Caramie Schnell
Ethan Grompf, 2, digs in the dirt during a family camping trip in April.
Special to the Daily |

What to pack

Bug spray


Nonperishable snacks

Water bottles

Battery-operated glow sticks and lanterns

A whistle (for the kids to wear; Teach them how to use it in case they wander away)

A first-aid kit

Sleeping pads or a blow up mattress with a battery-operated pump

A favorite stuffed animal or security blanket for the kids

Extra clothes

Plenty of diapers and wipes if you’re children are still in that stage


Camping reservations for most national forest campgrounds can be made at http://www.recreation.gov. For state park campgrounds, visit http://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/camping.aspx.

There’s been a lot of chatter about the benefits of unstructured playtime outside for kids, away from screens, homework and school activities. For parents who spend the majority of their time strapped to a chair and a computer during the week, unplugged time is just as essential. A weekend spent camping in the outdoors might be in order. For parents of little ones, the idea might seem daunting. Plenty of local families not only do it but do it well. Three local moms shared their tried-and-true tips for camping with kids.


Rebecca Cohen’s main advice is to keep it simple.

“That goes from the food you bring, to where you camp, to the activities you bring,” said Cohen, who lives in East Vail with her husband and two sons, Harmond, 13, and Warner, 10. “You don’t have to plan for weeks to go camping — look (online) at a state park (visit www.cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/camping.aspx) that’s nearby, register and you can literally plan it for that weekend if there’s availability.”

To prepare for a camping trip, consider testing out your gear beforehand, making sure the batteries in the battery-operated lantern and glowsticks (something Cohen definitely recommends bringing along) are still functional and practicing putting up the tent, including how to put on the rainfly.

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“I’ve had the experience of putting a new tent together by myself in the dark, which I did do, but it took me a long time,” she said.

Once out there, Cohen, who is the author of “15 Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kid,” recommends doing a scavenger hunt.

“It’s so easy; you can even make it up on the fly,” she said. “Have them look for three things: a pinecone, a favorite rock and sticks to form a letter. That can even be a separate activity: spelling out words using sticks.”

National park campgrounds often have junior ranger programs to check out.

Other simple pleasures might “skipping rocks, crossing logs and climbing trees,” she said. “Pack bathing suits, beach towels, water shoes with tread and life vests for the smaller kiddos if you plan to be around water.”

And don’t forget to bring layers.

“Bring non-cotton synthetic layers as you normally would for winter weather since temperatures can drop significantly at night,” she said.

Realistic expectations

Gypsum resident Mandy Ivanov and her husband, Ivo, camp often on the Western Slope and in Utah with their three kids, Kalina, 5, Jordan, 3, and Tenaya, 1. Her advice? Set very low, very realistic expectations.

“Kids want to help with tent set up and fire set up and those little things become the activity,” she said. “The first few times we went we were like, ‘We’ll hike here, we’ll do this.’ Now we plan to go and set up the tent. Keep your expectations realistic; consider how long it takes to make food and where the kids’ energy level will be.”

While Ivanov used to pack a lot of toys for the kids, she’s learned that less is more and usually brings “a couple of good sand toys and a Frisbee.”

Once the kids are out in nature, natural elements like sticks and rocks become the toys.

“We camped in Grand Junction when Kalina was 3 and Jordan was 2 and there was small, pebbled gravel,” she said. “They played in that for three hours straight using sand toys. It was great.”

Start a list

As far as the other items Ivanov brings, she keeps a document on her computer with lists of what to bring based on how many nights they’ll be away from home; she updates it after each trip.

“It makes packing a whole lot easier,” she said. “If we forget something, I make a note of it so we don’t forget it again. It’s really expedited the whole planning process and cuts down on what we forget.”

She brings kid-size camp chairs for sitting around the fire, though her ideal campsites have a picnic table. If there’s not a table, she always packs an old sheet.

“The kids end up eating a lot on the ground, so we’ll take a sheet they can sit on and we can just pick up the mess and tuck it away in a bag to take home,” Ivanov said.

The family sleeps in a large, four-person tent with a separate screened-in, separate “porch” on the front, where gear and shoes can be stored.

She also lets each child pack one stuffed animal and their security blanket.

“We still try to create a bedtime ritual, and I think that helps minimize them getting scared or staying up and acting all crazy,” Ivanov said.

snack happy

When it comes to meals, prep as much as you can at home. Ivanov opts to pack meals that can be prepared quickly and always has lots of snacks, like dried or fresh fruit, on hand.

“If we’re able to have a campfire, I’ll do a foil meal,” she said. “I’ll freeze breakfast sausage links, cube up root vegetables and when we get to the campsite, I’ll throw it together with seasoning and oil and put it on the fire.”

If fires aren’t allowed, she’ll make a stew, soup or a casserole and freeze it before hand so it stays cold in the cooler.

“We’ll put it into a pot on the JetBoil and let it heat that way,” she said. “It’s already cooked and there’s minimal mess.”

Cohen prefers to bring buns and hot dogs, which the boys roast over the fire on long skewers she brings along; her other go-to camping food is something she calls “solar s’mores.”

“I individually wrap s’mores servings in tin foil,” she said. “When you get to the campground, put it on a sunny rock and see how long it takes to melt,” she said. “It’s a little science experiment with a snack associated with it,” said Cohen, who tends to keep all of her food in the car when camping to avoid any issues with animals.

Eagle resident Melanie Grompf said snacks are key when camping with youngsters.

“A hungry child is no fun,” she said. “We make sure we have snacks that are going to last and not go bad in a few days, like crackers and granola bars.”

Dirt don’t hurt

While camping, it’s important to remember that a little dirt won’t kill you, or your kids. Grompf had to “accept the dirt, and just be one with it,” she said. But she brings along a portable bathtub on camping trips — to scrub off the dirt every few days — along with a first aid kit in case of cuts and bruises.

Grompf and her husband, Justin, started camping with their son Ethan, who is now 2, when he was 5 months old. While Ethan sleeps in the tent in between his parents at night, they still bring a portable crib along to use for naps.

“It’d be too hot in the tent,” she said. “We’d bring a fitted sheet to go over the Pack and Play and shade him and hide him from dust.”

This spring the Grompfs spent three days camping in Moab and then continued on to Sedona, Arizona where they camped with friends. They were the only ones with a child.

“It was the longest (camping) trip yet,” Grompf said.

Ethan slept better than on past trips, likely because he played so much during the day. But there were challenges that come with any toddler, including some screaming fits common for 2 year olds. “It’s one thing to be at home if he’s loud and obnoxious, but it’s hard to be in view of everyone all the time,” Grompf said.

But mostly Ethan “had a ton of fun running around, playing and enjoying the outdoors,” she said.

Mission accomplished.

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at cschnell@vaildaily.com.

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