Take Your Family Tent Camping

by John Pate

view of the inside of a tent in the woods

My family and I just returned from a two-night camping trip with some friends from church. It was restful, edifying, painful, and so worth it.

Shortly after my wife and I were married, we started tent camping. Since it was just the two of us, it was usually fairly relaxing with minimal effort.

Enter small children. We’ve continued camping (now twice a year), but the effort required with kids has increased exponentially. Here’s what’s interesting: for all the added trouble, we feel that tent camping1 has been the source of many blessings we would never have experienced otherwise. Although we don’t assume camping is for everyone, we’d like to encourage other families with small kids to give it a try too!

Before we get to the blessings, let me get some of the challenges out of the way.

  • Camping with kids is exhausting. Please remember this: it is not a vacation. In fact, it’s right about the time you return home and get the equipment unloaded that you’re going to feel like you need a vacation.
  • Camping with kids is expensive. At least at first it can be. It’s easy to think you’ll save money by not staying at a resort or hotel, but camping is sometimes where you spend a fortune to live like a homeless person.
  • Camping with kids can be explosive. When you’re trying to set up in the pouring rain and everyone’s crying or you catch your son dumping sand into the track of the mini-van’s sliding door, your patience will be tested beyond what you experience in your normal routine.

So why in the world should you go camping?

  • Getting Out of the Grind. You’ll almost have to experience this one to believe it. After the days of preparation and the hours of set-up and getting everyone in their sleeping bags, you and your wife will be sitting there in the pitch dark, and for the first time in months it will be quiet—and your phone will be dying. And it will be great! It’s like a next-level Sabbath. Tent camping may be just the disruption to your routine you need.
  • Remembering God’s Glory. Every camping trip we take, I’m struck anew with the beauty of God’s creation and the restorative effect it has on me and my family. There’s nothing quite like the smell of fall, or seeing constellations you had forgotten about, or hearing a far-off pack of coyotes to remind you of your Father’s wisdom and power.
  • Showing Your Family God’s Grace. Camping with my family gives me the opportunity to notice my children in a way I may have failed to do in our everyday routines. Because my children are far from self-sustaining, we spend a lot of up-close time with each other while camping. Those are often opportunities to love and care for my children like my Father cares for me.2
  • Making Great Memories. It’s impossible to camp with your family without awesome, crazy, funny things happening! Simple, special moments create long-term memories.

Maybe you’re not fully convinced. Could I encourage you just to give it a try? You don’t have to be Bear Grylls to experience the benefits of the outdoors. And if you do give it a try, here are a few tips that might make things go smoother.

  1. Plan well and make a list of items to bring. (Definitely include your wife on this one.)
  2. Start with car-side camping, especially when your kids are little.
  3. Pray with your family before you pull out of the driveway, asking God for safety and grace.
  4. Take it easy on yourself and your family. When camping, less is often more. Don’t try to plan five activities for one day. The magic of camping is the slower pace.
  5. Camp for at least two nights. This is so important. Night 1 may go poorly. Night 2 is there so you can try again. (Also the kids are usually a lot more tired the second night, so everyone sleeps much better!)
  6. Find a type of campground that works well for you. Indiana has a wonderful state park system with fairly uniform campgrounds. Another great way to find new campsites is Whatever you do, find something that works for your family, and don’t be afraid to stick with it.3
  7. Enlist your family’s help. As you set up camp, divide the kids up into two teams—one team helps mom and the other team helps you. It may be “help” more than it is actual help, but it’s so important to get them into the habit of serving others before they do their own thing.
  8. Invest in bins to keep your supplies organized. My family and I just purchased a hitch and cargo-carrier for our minivan to help with space.
  9. Add some unique elements to “go the extra mile.” Set up tiki torches around your tent. Bring along a game of corn hole or ladder ball. Perfect your recipe for Dutch Apple Pie—something to leverage the power of moments.
  10. Build Supplies Slowly. Buy quality supplies gradually rather than cheap supplies all at once.4 While you acquire gear, see if you can borrow from family or friends. Here’s a list of recommended camping supplies you could use to get started.

One last thing before you start packing—it’s going to be a little hectic, but don’t forget to relax! Once in a while, stop what you’re doing and just hang out. Your family will be blessed!


  1. You may notice I continue to specify we’re talking about tent camping, not the other, more domestic kind of camping. If your budget allows it, and RV camping is your thing, go for it! But I’m going to talk about the real kind of camping.

  2. Or they are painful revealers of how I’m not doing so well at reflecting my Father’s love. Camping does that too.

  3. We also like to use non-electric sites so we’re not surrounded by RVs—you know, the pretend kind of camping.

  4. Nearly any time I purchase another piece of equipment, I consult for reviews and recommendations.

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