Camping Hacks: Make Your Family Outdoor Adventure Easier 

June 1, 2019 | by stephanie hobby

As Montanans, we are in an enviable spot to enjoy the great outdoors. The scenery and moderate summer temperatures make for world-class camping. Keep your trip on track with a few of these ideas. (Up the excitement factor for the kids by involving them in every aspect of the planning, they’ll love having a contributing voice).

What to eat

If you’re just doing a one-night adventure, hot dogs and s'mores, granola bars, cold cuts, and bread are no-brainers. (Don’t forget the condiments!) But a few trips later, you’ll want more variety.

Heat up freezer meals in a cast-iron skillet lined with foil. The foil makes cleanup a breeze, and the frozen meals double as ice blocks for the cooler. Sloppy joes are in our regular rotation (see recipe in the sidebar); you can even make double batches, so one is always ready to go.

Frito pies are also easy and fun: heat a can of chili, pour it over Fritos and top with shredded cheese. Chicken fried rice is another excellent option, which can be made in advance and frozen. Frozen pizzas can also be cooked in a cast iron skillet.

In the morning, breakfast burritos (see recipe) are always a crowd-pleaser. Freeze muffins so they won't get smashed in the cooler. Fruit that doesn't bruise easily like grapes and oranges are good options. We also make a batch of hard-boiled eggs and pre-cooked bacon. Hot chocolate and spiced cider help little campers ease into chilly mornings.

For lunch, cold cuts, cheese, crackers, hummus, carrots, granola bars, and pre-cut apple slices are staples.

Of course, s’mores are practically a requirement, but Jiffy Pop over a camp stove is an entertaining, retro after-dinner treat. You could also try banana boats: slice a banana open lengthwise and put chocolate, marshmallow, and peanut butter inside. Wrap the whole thing in foil and put in the coals until everything is melted.


We keep our trailer stocked with cards, coloring books, and small board games in case it rains. Another small tote is filled with solar lanterns that the kids are responsible for charging, fun flashlights, kid-friendly binoculars, and inexpensive cameras to encourage adventures.

We also keep a journal to write down which campsites we like best and whether we want to return or try a new place.

If your children are involved with Scouting, check and see if there are any badges or patches they can earn and prepare accordingly.

If you are staying near a lake, pack fishing gear and licenses; it's also a fun excuse to invest in a small rubber raft with oars. Kids love the freedom to paddle on the water alone, but make sure they wear a certified life vest and fasten a long rope to the boat so you can quickly reel them in. 

Before you leave home, download a star chart to your phone and enjoy the wonders of the heavens. Glow necklaces are fun but also serve a practical purpose for easily seeing where everyone is after the sun goes down.

Staying Organized

One of the biggest headaches can be keeping track of everything. An easy way around that is to give everyone a plastic shoebox with a lid. Taped to the lid is the list of what goes in it: socks, underwear, jammies, and one extra outfit. If somebody accidentally falls in the lake, the last thing you want to do is rummage through duffel bags in search of dry clothes. Keep those things in an easy to find bin. All the other clothes go in backpacks and get set out the night before. There’s also a bin for toothbrushes, soap, and washcloths. Color-code towels by sewing different ribbons in loops so they can be hung up to dry.

One of our absolute essentials is an outdoor RV mat; it’s large enough to park camp chairs on so people can change shoes outside. A nearby rubber tote keeps shoes - and dirt- outside.

Off brand mosquito lamps work really well and allow us to skip the painful step of getting excited campers to hold still long enough to apply bug spray.

Finally, we also keep a whiteboard on the refrigerator in the camper; before we leave, we write down the name of the campsite, the site where we'll be, and the phone number of the camp host or ranger station in case there's an emergency.

Happy trails!


Sloppy Joes
At home, brown 1 pound of hamburger with ¼ Cup onion and 1 green bell pepper; drain fat. In a separate bowl, mix ¾ Cup hamburger with 1 Tablespoon yellow mustard and 3 Tablespoons brown sugar; pour over hamburger mix and stir to coat. Can be frozen; serve with carrot sticks and chips.
Breakfast burritos
  • In a skillet, heat oil and fry hash brown potatoes, add ¼ Cup onion and a can of drained pinto beans. Add pre-cooked, chopped bacon, ¼ Cup chopped green chiles, and heat through. Lay out tortillas and cover with shredded cheese; spoon potato and bean mixture in. Roll them up and wrap in foil. Can be frozen; thaw them the night before and warm them in the foil over the fire or camp stove. 

Originally printed in the June 2019 issue of Simply Family Magazine

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