As I go to hit the “publish” button on this post, I find myself remembering that there is a much less family-friendly interpretation of the word “tenting.”

I am going to hit publish anyway, because I think that’s funny.

We are now officially People Who Camp. I have declared this to be so via the ordering of several hundred dollars worth of camping supplies on Amazon. (The goal being to be able to vacation easily and inexpensively over the longer-term, and to make our kids happy because, as it turns out, they’re obsessed with camping.)

Having gone camping exactly once as a family of four (plus two dogs), we are now experts, and so I am going to gift you with a few pieces of knowledge. (And then I’m going to ask for your help on all the rest. Sound fair?)

the best inexpensive tent for families

This is important: Our tent – a purchase that I agonized over for weeks because tents can be very expensive, and I was worried that a tent in my price range would be more in the “tarp” category – is amazing.

The description says that it sleeps 12 people, so I thought it’d be almost embarrassingly huge, but having slept in it, I think it’s actually a perfect pick for families with kids (it’d be perfect for two couples, too, since they could each have a “bedroom” (plus a small living room in between). The removable room dividers are actually why we bought it – we pictured our kids in one bedroom, and us in the other, and the dogs in the middle room, and hahahahahahahaaha. What happened was Kendrick slept with our son, I slept with our daughter, and the dogs slept on my head.

P.S. it’s the easiest thing to set up ever – you just sort of pull on it the right way and it pops up into place.

how to make the best campfire baked potatoes

Next: few things are more delicious than campfire baked potatoes.

(I made these by cutting each potato in half, adding a bunch of butter and salt to the middle, then smooshing the two halves together and wrapping them tightly in tin foil before tucking them into the coals for about 45 minutes.)

camping breakfast using leftovers from dinner

Oh, except for breakfast made from the previous night’s campfire potatoes and other assorted leftovers that I wanted to use up before we headed home. To make this hash, I cooked a bunch of bacon, then diced up the leftover potatoes and hamburgers and cooked them in the bacon grease until they were warm. Then I pushed the potatoes over to the side, fried a couple of eggs in the space, and mixed the whole mess together.

Now moving on to the stuff I could use some help with.

Sleeping! Our sleeping situation was not okay. I bought two of those skinny self-inflating mattresses and figured we’d pile a blanket or two on top and call it a day, and nope nope nope. I did a little online research and picked up this cot, but if you have any other affordable suggestions for how to make my vertebrae stay in the spots where they’re supposed to be, I’d love to hear them.

 Recipes! Any ideas for things I can prep before we leave on our next trip? I feel like I can get more creative than hot dogs/hamburgers/etc, but don’t want to spend all my time cooking (or have too many dirty dishes).

Stuff To Do! Last time we brought a velcro catch set and a few board games, but since our kids spent most of their time rolling around in the dirt around the fire pit and locating anthills, zero boredom happened. I’d still love to bring a few more fun daytime activities, though, just for variety.

…Any suggestions?

(Also if anyone’s from the Bay Area and can tell me where to camp that’s family-friendly and not too far, I’d be so appreciative. Yelp is not helping me with this.)

  • Val

    Food advice:

    Walking tacos. You’re probably familiar, but if not, you need to get acquainted now. Individual bags of Fritos (or Nacho Cheese Doritos), open the top and add taco fillings – beef, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, whatever. Eat with plastic fork. Kids love this shit.

    Pre-made burritos wrapped in foil that you can stick in the fire to warm up. We like breakfast burritos (my friend Lauren makes a dozen at a time and keeps them in her freezer) but obvi burritos are the perfect food for any/all meals, so you do you.

    Breakfast hash type thing in foil packets. Make individual foil packets with potatoes, meat, veggies, cheese, or whatever you like. Crack an egg or two on top of all that stuff, seal it up and throw it on the fire. Cooks in like 5 minutes. Let the kids assemble their own.

    You can also make French toast with fresh fruit in foil packets. This discovery changed my life. I mix up the egg/cinnamon/milk mixture at home and bring it in a cooler in a mason jar. Make the foil packets, tear up bread into chunks, pour in some egg mixture, add blueberries/strawberries/bananas. Seal and shake it around a little to distribute the egg. Or, put the egg mix and bread in a gallon zip-loc bag and squish it around before you dump it into the foil packets. You can add maple syrup before or after cooking.

    Toasty sandwiches cooked in foil – ham and cheese, nutella/banana, you get the idea.

    Basically, my goal is NO DISHES to wash, except our tin coffee cups, French press, and one skillet which we inevitably use multiple times a day. Anything you can cook in a foil packet is a godsend (and pretty much anything can be cooked in a foil packet). Just be sure to fold up the sides/corners before you add in eggs/liquidy stuff. Also, cooking spray is your friend here.

    About a gallon of olives, a shit-ton of pre-cut fruit, giant bags of nuts. That’s just me.

    Don’t mess with those pre-packaged dehydrated “trail meals” things; those are only for backpackers and since you guys are car camping you don’t need that crap. Most of it is expensive and if it’s not it’ll taste like garbage.

    Yay camping!!

    • jordanreid

      this is AMAAAAAAAAAZING. walking tacos!!!!! all of this, thank you.

      • Val

        Walking tacos, dude. 👌💯

  • Nico

    My favorite is baked apples. Basically the same as the baked potatoes, but with brown sugar in where you take the core out. The best desert.

    • jordanreid

      omg YUM.

  • Heather

    Big Basin Redwoods State Park has been a favorite of ours — kid-friendly hiking and exploring, plus tent-cabins if you don’t want to actually deal with a tent (although tent-only is a campsite option too), plus a gorgeous redwood forest! Driving up there involves some very twisty roads but it’s worth it:

    • jordanreid

      ugh just tried to book this for next month and it’s full. next time 🙂 🙂

      • Heather

        Forgot to mention that unpleasant part — they book up months in advance, basically on the first day you can book. But worth checking for last minute cancellations!!

        • jordanreid

          yeahhhhhh….I’m going to have to plan a little earlier next time, haha.

  • Rebeca

    Get a couple cast iron camp pie makers! – best investment ever!! They are just basically little closed iron skillets on stilts so you can cook them over the fire. Buy bread and all sorts of toppings- cheese and mozerella sauce for pizza camp pies, nutella and bananas for desert pies, breakfast ingredients, etc.. Anything thing can go in there. Put it all between two pieces of bread, slab a little butter on the skillet before you close it and cook your dinner like you would marshmallow over the fire. So fun and so delish when they’re done!

  • Nicola Emms

    I haven’t really got any recommendations of recipes since we keep it simple but one tip I have which is FREEZE EVERYTHING! Wine, milk, meat etc, then put it all in a cooler box just as you’re leaving, everything stays colder for longer. I make a cake and also salads already made up to take that last a couple of days.

  • Sarah M

    Not exactly a recipe, but a tip I learned from my mom is to pre-measure pancake mix in a gallon Ziploc bag before you go…then you just have to add the liquid to the bag, and shake to mix. And when you’re done, just throw the bag out. Usually use Krusteaz brand because it only needs water to mix!

    • jordanreid


  • Jill

    This website has the best camping recipes:
    Have fun!

  • Ronja Stavrou

    Pack a large knife for cutting by wrapping it in aluminum foil so you dont cut yourself. Try marinating some chicken and packing in ziplock to reduce dishes. I love having cold pasta or tortellini salad when camping.

  • Gaile

    Here’s some recipes that might even tempt MY husband to try camping!