Family Camping 101 with Athlete Chelsea Magness

Family Camping 101 with Athlete Chelsea Magness

Often called “America’s Most Adventurous Mother”, our athlete and partner Chelsea Magness is both a mother to two young children and a world-class outdoor athlete -  typically taking top prizes in Adventure Racing and Endurance Mountain Biking competitions.  Chelsea and her adventurous family are an inspiration to others, encouraging them to get outside and be active. We recently sat down with Chelsea to get her advice and recommendations on one of her favorite activities, family camping trips with kids. 

Camping with Kids

Growing up in Alaska, I was always camping with my family every summer. My earliest and best memories are of me playing with sticks and rocks near a river, building a fort out of downed trees, and going to bed with dirty feet in my tent next to my brother and sister. Once I became a mother myself, I knew that I wanted to imprint this same feeling on to my own sons. Luckily my husband, who is also an avid outdoorsman, was on board. Soon he started taking it to the next level (as he usually does in our relationship!). After our first camping trip with our 3 week old, we realized how easy it was for us and started making it a regular thing.


Almost every weekend, we would head out somewhere new. Once Max turned 6 months, we started bike packing and going on river trips with him. Then when his brother Revel came along, rather than getting harder (like we thought it might), it all got much easier. Suddenly there was a little buddy for Max to play with! When Revel and Max were 9-mo and 3-yr we embarked on a 400-mile bike-packing trip through Oregon.  We stuck mostly to unpaved back roads and trails,  riding till we found a great camping spot. It was an amazing and "simple" life that keeps us going back to the wilderness many times a year. Of course, it’s not all roses. Planning these adventures takes time, choosing and packing the gear takes time, and then when you do finally get the wheels (or boats) rolling, there is bound to be a meltdown. In an effort to make it easier on the next family, I put together a few tips below that have really helped me with the whole process. 

“Don’t overthink it.“

As a mother, I tend to overanalyze everything.  When I start to pack I have to resist the little voice that is screaming “If I could just think about everything that could go wrong, I could pack the perfect thing that would help!” Rather than trying to pack perfectly, I now pack simply - focusing on multipurpose gear. Because, when we get out in nature, we all learn how to adapt. Adaptability is part of the fun and the beauty of being outside. It also is a great lesson to teach to kids who often have everything at their fingertips in our modern tech-heavy society. So pack with less fear, knowing that you will forget something and it will all be ok - and most likely better than expected. 

“Stay Hydrated.”

Whether you are car camping, bike packing, or backpacking, staying hydrated is a huge part of keeping kids and parents happy and healthy while outdoors. As long-time adventure racers, we always have water on us and are constantly drinking. We observed early on in our parent journey that our kids mimicked everything we did. If we drank, our kids drank and if we didn’t, they didn’t. When we car camp, we always have an Expedition 8 L full in the back of the car ready to fill our Recon and Stash bottles. When we are on our bikes, we enjoy the Seeker 2 L water storage container and the Stow bottles, these are durable, light, and carry a ton of water. Having multiple water storage vessels around reminds us and our kids to drink which leads to a happy camping family!  Plus, we've found that our kids love the soft bottles, and many of the Hydrapak ones are compatible with the BeFree filter cap.  So Max and Revel are always on the lookout for streams, lakes, and even puddles to filter and drink from.  

“You don’t have to go far.” 

One of our favorite camping places is 5 miles from our house and another is even closer - only a quarter mile from our house!  When we are itching to go camping but don’t have the time to make it a whole trip, we often go to our favorite spots close to home. And when we were prepping for our big bike trip through Oregon, we took a night to go and test everything by riding our bikes to some BLM land close by.. You don’t have to go far to go sleep under the stars, many times the best adventures are the ones in your own backyard. 

“Make a pre-packed duffle.”

Once you know what you and your family like and need (pads, sleeping bags, cookware set) put it in a bin or a duffle so that it is always ready to go! After our first couple of camping trips, I quickly figured out what staple gear our family loved. Instead of putting each piece away, I made a duffle that now lives in the top box of our car. This way, whenever we get an urge to go, all we have to do is pack food and clothes and we are off. 

“Let them be kids and… be a kid yourself.”

Recently my family and I were out on a little adventure. Out on a path near the woods, we overheard a dad tell his daughter to not throw sticks and rocks. I had to stop myself from going over there and telling him (in a nice way) that throwing rocks and sticks was a huge part of being in the woods as a kid. When our kids want to swing sticks around or throw rocks, we tell them to always make sure that they have enough space to do it. Letting ourselves play in nature is what makes us love it and want to protect it. As long as we are not hurting anyone or anything, we can play and it’s so good for us as humans to do so! Whatever gets our kids outside and creates a more balanced  "screen time" dynamic is something I love!

You can learn more about Chelsea and her adventures by following her blog “Endurance Mama”