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When camping in more remote areas with young kids, how can you make sure they don't take a stroll and get lost in the middle of the night?

We won't be near lights, established "bathrooms", etc. The adults will be asleep as well, and I'm hoping for a solution that does not involve sleeping in shifts.

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Let 'em run! Keep an eye on them from a distance, but natural fear will probably keep them around, and can help if they need it. Encourage them to push their own boundaries. –  xpda Mar 2 '12 at 16:34
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Go to the far north in summer, where it doesn't get dark at night ;-) –  gerrit Jul 18 '13 at 11:39

4 Answers 4

up vote 17 down vote accepted

The other two answers mention 'summer camp' type environments. My answer is more focused at family camping, but has some relevance to both:

  • With younger children it can be very simple, although possibly not the most comfortable: You sleep across the doorway. For any child to get out at night they need to climb over you. If you think they could sneak around you (if you have a tent with a wide door, for example), you could look at putting a string through the zipper with a loose bow, but I'd tend to advise against this as in an emergency it could cause confusion.

  • With older children (I'm thinking 7 to 10 year olds) you can run a brightly coloured cord from the tent to the latrine area, and depending on the environment, you could leave a couple of night lanterns at the tents (this has its drawbacks in attracting insects)

  • Above that age, as long as they are sensible, just make sure they have some obvious signposting - natural features etc - which they can use to navigate back. As long as you aren't in dangerous country (bears, cliffs, etc.) older kids want to go exploring at night.

In any case, make sure they have good torches (flashlights) and a whistle before going out alone.

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That bright cord from tent to latrine area is a great idea. –  Russell Steen Mar 1 '12 at 14:54
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Another helpful idea for children that are old enough is to have a buddy system. When they go to the bathroom at night, they wake their buddy and have them turn on a headlamp in the tent. The low light turns the tent into a beacon to return to (but isn't so bright as to be obnoxious), and if the light stays on for a long time, the buddy knows something is wrong and can get help. –  Greg.Ley Mar 21 '12 at 6:19

My experience with children summer camps says the children are so afraid of the dark that they won’t go into the night unless their bed is on fire, and even then very reluctantly. When they need to pee they’ll go the least possible distance from their tents and if they have to visit the latrines, they will wake up their mates or rather wait until morning (which doesn’t always work, but that’s a different story).

I think the only real possibility is some kind of sleepwalking. That would be quite hard to guard against, as no amount of schooling will make a difference. If you really do want to cover this scenario, I think you would have to resort to keeping guards or employing some technical solution like this (randomly googled).

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Pleased to see no-one's mentioned locking the door in some way - just to reinforce for anyone that may come across this question, that's definitely what not to do, since in an emergency you want to be able to get out as quickly as you can.

My first instinct is to ask if it's even a risk that's worth accounting for? Unless you're talking about particularly adventurous or mischievous children many will be too scared to venture out into a dark, unknown, unlit area without knowing their way back.

If you decide it is then there's a number of things you can attempt to do, though realistically the only thing that's going to be dead set in stopping them is sleeping in shifts. First, make sure the adults sleep closest to the door and the children closest to the back - this way they'll struggle to get out unnoticed if they have to climb across 2 or more fully grown adults without waking them. You could also use a GPS / radio signal tracker, but this relies the child keeping it on them which they presumably won't do if they think they're not allowed out.

Another point in relation to this though is to lay down the ground rules, and lay down the consequences. If they know the possibility of them getting caught is there, and this possibility would result in wrecking the trip somehow for them all, they'll generally be a lot more cautious about attempting to sneak out!

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+1 for questioning the risk. Sleeping in shifts seems to be a huge overkill for me... –  Paul Paulsen May 13 at 9:12

If it's a large number of kids or if they aren't your own kids then yes, parents should work in shifts. You're responsible for them and you can't be certain of their behaviour. Otherwise, kids should follow the same discipline as at home, which is that you don't leave your room/tent after you go to bed, and that if you do have to get out to go pee or whatever that you stay within eyesight, or ask an adult to come with you. If you're really worried, give them all whistles and have them wear them around their necks.

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To avoid strangulation I think it should be made clear that, if you are asking children to wear whistles round their neck, they must not do this when they are sleeping and any cord must have a friable link. –  Graham Mar 1 '12 at 13:10

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