Camping with kids: essential tips from the 'Happy Camper'

Kevin Callan, the ‘Happy Camper,’ recalls one of his 12-year old daughter’s favourite camping adventures. “She says, ‘remember the time when you protected us from that bear?’”

“In the woods," says Kevin Callan, "you are your true character”

Kevin Callan, 'The Happy Camper,' encourages parents to get their kids camping with the family early in their lives. (Submitted)

Kevin Callan, the 'Happy Camper,' recalls one of his 12-year old daughter's favourite camping adventures.

"She says, 'remember the time when you protected us from that bear?'"

The bear that wandered into the Callan's camp turned out to be a roaming beaver. Nevertheless, the encounter turned into a great story that she was able to bring back from the family's camping trip in northern Ontario.

Callan says he has been camping with his children since his daughter was six weeks old, and continues to trek into the wilderness on extended trips at least two weeks every year. The trips provide not only the opportunity to bond with family, but give the kids a chance develop confidence, imagination, and self-reliance.

It's almost summer and many Canadians will be packing up their camping gear and heading into the great outdoors. We spoke with camping expert Kevin Callan about the best and worst things to do when taking children camping. 6:01

"Kids are already connected to the wilderness," says Callan, "we disconnect them."

For parents wary of bringing their kids camping for an extended period, Callan offers some helpful tips.

Get started early

Callan encourages parents to expose them to camping early enough that the trips become 'normal.'

"I can remember carrying a playpen with a bug screen over it," Callan says of one of his earliest trips.

Although he introduced his kids early, two years old is fine for a "good, solid camping trip," he says.

"Once they get to 13 or 14, they're too cool to go with you," Callan says, "but when they get older, they'll come back to it."

Get good gear

Callan also says not to skimp or give kids hand-me-down equipment.

"Get good gear, and good food [for the kids,]" Callan says, "and surround them with familiar things."

Be part camp counsellor

Another thing parents can be aware of is how their own camping fears may unnecessarily worry the kids.

"There's really not much to worry about out there," he says, "there's more of a chance you'll get into a car accident on the way to the camp."

I think we're all born from the wilderness and just need to be reminded.- Kevin Callan, 'The Happy Camper'

The key to keeping kids from wandering off and getting lost is to ensure they are engaged.

"Make sure you're part parent, and part camp counsellor," he says, "and make sure they're part of the trip, not just tagging along."

Although not always the most comfortable way to spend time with family, Callan says that we all have an intuitive appreciation for moments away from a hectic life.  

"I think we're all born from the wilderness," says Callan, "and just need to be reminded."

"Why do we hear a loon and get all goosebumpy?" he says, "or why do we go out fishing and get eaten alive by blackflies, and not get any fish?"

"Because it's magical."

edited/packaged by Casey Stranges.


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