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Camping tip #1: Everyone needs room to sleep
It's not true that bigger is always better, except when it is. Camping in the summertime heat means crowding too many people into a tent is best left to college students and people who don't have wiggly children. You don't need to go crazy and buy a fully-loaded RV for your family of four, but consider a slightly larger tent than you might think you need. If you're unsure about purchasing something larger, try borrowing one from a friend for the weekend to see if you need the extra space. The REI Kingdom 6 Tent sleeps six, with the option of separating the large tent into two "rooms" (REI, $439).
Camping tip #2: Air mattresses help everyone sleep better
Air mattresses might seem to take a little bit of the "roughing it" out of tent camping, but they're invaluable for a restful night. Many campgrounds are uneven, and like "The Princess and the Pea," the smallest twig on the ground under your tent bottom and sleeping bag will seem like a redwood branch to your sleep-avoiding preschooler. There's a four-inch surround cushion on the AeroBed Mattress for Kids that helps keep little ones from rolling onto the ground in the middle of the night (Amazon, $60).
Camping tip #3: BYOS — bring your own shade
Spending your days in the sun might be part of the reason you're trying camping, but applying sunblock 30 times between Friday and Sunday might get tiring. If your campground doesn't have a lot of trees, consider a screened canopy to provide a bit of relief from the sun. A screened canopy can also be a great place for one of your picnic tables. Kids can eat without worrying — too much — about bugs, and adults can use the table later for card games. The Coleman® Instant Screened Canopy is easy to assemble (Target, $161).
Camping tip #4: Protect your skin
Speaking of sunscreen, be sure to pack liberal amounts of your favorite kind — including water-friendly versions if you'll be canoeing or swimming. Camping skin protection is about more than the sun's rays. Some sort of bug repellent is important, whether you're in an area where you're worrying about mosquitoes, ticks or biting flies. Parents will have to make their own decisions about whether to use plant-based repellents or synthetic formulas containing Picaridin or DEET. Try a Bug Bam! Mosquito Band for added protection (Bug Bam, $6 for two).
Camping tip #5: Keep everyone visible
Let your little ones know they need an adult to help them "explore" the campground. As the day fades to twilight, pull out the Glow Party Pack (Amazon, $12). With 100 glow bracelets, kids — and adults — can add handfuls of bracelets and loop them together to make necklaces. Kids will love the glowing fun, and adults have the peace of mind that comes from keeping the kids visible in the darkness.
Camping tip #6: Pack family-friendly food options
Pinterest abounds with fabulous camping meals. If you plan on getting adventurous, be sure to bring along some family-friendly favorites. There's nothing wrong with sticking to hot dogs and cut-up fruit if you know your kids are more likely to eat that than an elaborate meal experiment. Campfires just beg for s'mores, and the Whimsy & Spice S'mores Kit includes absolutely everything you need for the sweet and sticky treat (Whimsy & Spice, $18).
Camping tip #7: Incorporate your surroundings into your games
Moms are used to bringing back-up entertainment just about everywhere. Overpacking is tempting when you're going camping, because you want to avoid the dreaded "I'm bored!" that seems to come just when you've finished assembling the tent and are settling into a comfy camping chair. Plan ahead a little, and you'll be able to use your surroundings for entertainment. A scavenger hunt is the perfect way to keep kids busy without many extra materials. Create your own or check out the creative printable ones available at Paper Fox Designs (Etsy, $6).