While some families may be intimidated by the idea of boondocking with their kids, it offers a chance to get away while connecting as a family. You can expose your kids to wild landscapes, allowing them to truly see the stars at night and hear the howl of coyotes.
In a world where children spend a significant amount of time on screens for schooling and entertainment, camping gives some reprise. Ted Mosby from CamperAdvise says he tries to go dispersed camping with his kids “to get them outside the house and reduce their screen time.”
Besides screen time, boondocking allows parents to demonstrate self-sufficiency and teach their children independence. Plus, it’s one of the cheapest ways to travel, so you can go further and stay longer. For these and so many other reasons, you shouldn’t be intimidated to boondock with your kids.
Considerations When Boondocking With Kids
Despite the many benefits, boondocking requires extra preparation—especially if you’re traveling with children. You still need to take into account the normal prep work that comes with boondocking, but some items require additional attention, like your camping location, gear, proximity to urgent care services, and even your site’s natural landscape.
Here are a few things to keep in mind for a successful boondocking adventure that includes kids.
Access to a Cell Phone Signal
Going off the grid is a wonderful way to connect with nature and each other, but you will want cell phone signal in case of emergencies. Reviews of dispersed camping sites on Campendium include cell phone signal reports for various carriers, and Roadpass Pro members have access to a Cell Service Overlay Map.
If you plan to camp off the grid without a cell phone signal, David Miller, an outdoor school instructor with Outdoor Schools Pro, recommends having a satellite phone. “A satellite communication device at the touch of a button can call for emergency services. This gadget acts as your insurance for the worst possible scenarios.”
How to Select a Camping Spot When Boondocking With Kids
Part of the fun of boondocking with children is finding a location where the natural environment supplies the entertainment. Bryanna Royal of CrazyFamilyAdventure uses this approach: “We look for places where each ‘campsite’ is a large area so our kids have room to run and play. We also enjoy sites where there is a river close by that the kids can play in or a beach access point.”
Samantha Edmunds, who travels full time with her family and shares their adventures on The Traveling Titans, shares another good use of natural waterways: “We recommend bathing and cleaning the littles outdoors (so park near beaches, lakes, or rivers) to maintain tank space.”
When boondocking with your kids for the first time, consider dry camping in a developed campground, like those offered by the U.S. Forest Service or National Park Service. Even if you don’t have utilities at your campsite, you may have use of campground water spigots and comfort stations. Plus, you won’t be isolated.
Some dispersed camping locations are located off the beaten path, which may not be the best when you’re boondocking with kids. Miller recommends camping in places close to ranger stations so you’ll have expert resources nearby in case you need support. “Kids typically aren’t as safety-oriented as you might be, so it’s better to always be prepared for the worst in some cases.”
Safety Tips for Boondocking With Kids
The further you go off-grid, the more your personal safety—and that of your kids—is in your own hands. Even with the best planning, things can go awry.
Pay Attention to the Natural Environment
If you want to give your kids room to roam, you need to understand the natural environment around your campsite. Are there hazards in the landscape, such as cacti or deep ravines? What wildlife might your kids encounter in the habitat?
Educate yourself and your children about these items and use situational awareness, no matter where you camp. You should also discuss Leave No Trace principles, so your kids can learn how to leave a positive impact on nature.
Locate the Nearest Stores and Services
Self-sufficiency is useful and possible on many boondocking trips—until you have a child wailing from an earache in the middle of the night. Before boondocking, especially if you’re dispersed camping, locate the nearest towns offering stores and services, as well as the closest urgent care and emergency room, in case you need quick medical care. It’s easier to research this prior to your trip, before you find yourself in a stressful situation.
Teach Your Kids How to Read a Map
Teach your kids what to do if they do get lost or disoriented and separated from the adults. Mark Evans from Summer Camp Hub recommends pointing out physical landmarks and teaching your kids how to read a map—and make sure to have a paper or digital one on hand. “You can also always download a map from Google Maps, which you can use even when your phone isn’t online,” he says.
Gear for Boondocking With Kids
You’ll need general boondocking gear while traveling with kids, but there are some additional kid-friendly items to consider.
Kid-Friendly GPS Trackers
For children, look for something they can comfortably wear, like a bracelet, watch, or tag that attaches easily to shoes or other apparel. According to Kelly Beasley, co-founder of CampAddict.com, “The GPS could be lifesaving for kids running around in the woods. They can get lost in seconds.”
Water and Utility Resources
Conserving water and electricity while boondocking is always essential. However, children make this task more challenging, so you need to plan ahead. “Since kids aren’t as concerned about the amount of water available as you might be, always plan to bring more water than what you think you might need,” says Miller. He also recommends considering disposable dishes to save on dishwashing.
The same is true for electricity. Edmunds shares, “As we don’t have solar and don’t want to run our generator for just a noisemaker and fan, we recommend an alternative smaller power source.” This could be a rechargeable power bank, portable batteries, or purchasing items that run on batteries. This also gives you a backup in case one of your systems fails or if the kids burn through your juice quicker than you expected.
Entertaining Kids While Boondocking
Kids are often natural explorers. Embrace that spirit and plan your entertainment around your environment. Read kid-friendly books about the region you’ll be visiting to learn about the local geology, geography, and wildlife.
Travel with binoculars, hiking gear, water toys, and whatever else is appropriate to the landscapes you’re visiting. Stock up on extra clothes, shoes, and linens since kids tend to get extra messy in the outdoors.
While nature can provide the best entertainment, also consider what you’ll do to occupy the kids if you get stuck inside due to weather. David Smith of BEADHoliday recommends taking along craft projects and encouraging your kids to legally gather items from the natural landscapes: “Crafting is super portable, needs no electronics, and fosters creativity and brain development.”
Kid-Friendly Boondocking Packing List
Here are a few items to consider bringing along that will help you be prepared for a boondocking adventure with your kids.
- First aid kid
- Age-appropriate medications
- Multi-purpose clothing
- Small headlamps and flashlights
- Snacks and snack carriers
- Small water bottles
- Portable pop-up shades
- Craft items and games
- Extra linens and towels
- Extra fresh water and water filtration supplies
Taking your kids boondocking can be a memorable experience for the whole family. Picking the right spot, preparing your kids for the experience, and keeping safety considerations in mind will ensure you have a great adventure as a family.