With overnight temperatures threatening a frost, I think it's safe to call our camping season finished for 2014. We worked to fit in a good number of camping trips this summer, and I can't say enough about how great these excursions have been for our family. I don't know another way that our troupe of four could have traveled, explored the outdoors, filled our bellies with good food fireside, and just relaxed together on an incredibly tight budget. James and I have both always loved sleeping under the stars, and it brings me such joy to hear our son now get excited whenever we start to assemble our gear. He's caught the bug, and we're crossing our fingers that baby Roo follows suit.
I hope that we will continue to push ourselves to be more adventurous in the coming years, but for now, we stick with the ease and convenience of car camping (meaning we can drive pretty close to our campsite rather than hiking in). We aren't experts, but after a bunch of camping with babies/ toddlers/ kids, I wanted to share some tips on what has worked well for us so far. I'd love to hear what has worked for you too, we're always eager to improve!
- Invest In Good Equipment: You are going to end up saving money by choosing to camp in the long run, so when it comes to buying key items (like a tent!) do not scrimp. Those ginormous tents that are under a hundred dollars are seductive, but they won't last for years, probably won't keep you all dry in a rain storm, and are a huge pain to set up and take down. You can't put a price on staying dry and warm, so we splurged on the tent, sleeping bags, rain gear, thermals, etc. for our whole family. A few of our favorites are listed here.
- Let Go: You're outside, so it just makes sense to let a whole lot slide. Sticks and leaves are going to get eaten, bumps and bruises might happen, and there will be mud. Mud on everything. Even that pricey gear that you just splurged on... but that is the whole point- right?
- Plan and Prep: Yes it is important to 'let go' and improvise, but at least for us, being prepared makes for a much less stressful trip. It's just so easy to forget something critical. Have a master list of what you want to bring, and leave your gear organized and packed between trips. We have a crate full of lanterns and safety items, a crate full of cooking supplies, etc. all ready to load in the car without much thought. This means you won't be roaming around, hitting up the camping neighbors for matches or a can opener at 6AM.
- High Chair: All I can say is, if you have a baby or toddler, bring a high chair! This might seem like an unnecessary extravagance, but having a spot where you can keep a wild crawler or toddler safe and secure while you set up camp, prepare meals, etc... it is the key to success. This year we brought this inexpensive Ikea chair and is was a-mazing. Previously we used this model, also good but you pretty much have to keep it anchored to the picnic table, so no fireside meals for baby.
- Fire Safety: The biggest hazard on the campsite for a toddler is probably the firepit. We found that drawing a few rings or 'warning lines' in the dirt around the fire helped communicate the idea of the boundary. Little Smith really understood that he couldn't cross those lines at about 18 months, you can see it in practice here.
- Projects and Snacks: When a chaotic moment arises, it's helpful to have a few projects planned for the kids. We like to bring a box for collecting leaves and bugs for Little Smith, along with some guide books that include pictures of animals. Chores are also a great project for children; filling water bottles, drying and packing away dishes, and collecting kindling are some of our favorite three-year-old jobs. For the baby or toddler, snacks seem to be key, so have them at the ready. Nothing will buy you time to get a few things done like a bowl of berries or a box of raisins.
- Strategize: Who is going to set up the tent? Who will organize all the sleeping pads and bags and pillows, who is going to cook dinner and who will tend the fire and occupy the kids? All these questions can obviously be handled on the fly, but we found that we settled into a rhythm after a few trips this season. Once we established our own 'jobs' on the campsite, everything went waaay more smoothly and we had more time for relaxation and fun (and just maybe a little less bickering... ahem).
- Sleeping Comforts: This is where we run the risk of sounding like we are 'glamping'... it's a little indulgent, but a battery operated sound machine has done wonders for our shared tent slumber. It just creates enough noise for us adults to chill by the fire and zip and unzip the tent without waking the kids... plus you feel like you are sleeping next to a babbling brook (really weird when you actually are sleeping next to a quieter real-life babbling brook... sorry to our neighboring campers!). I also like to bring lavender oil along with favorite stuffed animals to encourage as much sleep as we can get.
- Camp Near the Fun: Getting in the car is such a hassle, it makes a huge difference to have activities that are walkable from your campsite; a beach, a hike, a waterfall... the more you can fill your day without buckling up, the better.
There is no doubt that camping with children is a lot of work. I do remember one moment this summer when James just looked at me through heavy eyes and said, 'It's a lot'... and I couldn't disagree. But it can also be incredibly relaxing, letting the kids wear themselves out exploring nature, then tucking them into bed, and enjoying a beer by the fire... these are my favorite memories from our summer. I can't wait to make more in 2015!