I am a reluctant camper. I do it because the good ol’ outdoors is my husband’s happy place… and I may have mistakenly told him I enjoyed camping when we were dating, because, well, that’s what a girl fresh in love does. Cut to fifteen years, two kids and dozens of camping trips later, I whole-heartedly believe camping is good for the kids, good for the soul and good quality family time. That doesn’t mean I like sleeping on the ground. Or bugs. Or pit toilets.
Over the years of communing with mother nature I’ve found some ways to make it more bearable and even enjoyable. This is not a hardcore learn-how-to-pitch-a-tent-and-whittle-a-stick tutorial. If you are hesitant camper like me, I hope this encourages you to set off on a rustic adventure with your family.
Essentials of course are a tent, sleeping bags, good lighting, and appropriate clothing. Disclaimer: This is not a full checklist of things to pack.
- Whatever you think the weather will be, plan for 20 degrees colder. You can always take layers off, but if you aren’t warm enough, you’re setting yourself up to be miserable.
- I used to over-pack. Hey, a fresh new outfit for activity! Not necessary. You and your kids can re-wear clothes because you’re just going to get them immediately dirty anyway. But do bring plenty of socks and underwear. A sock refresh will make you feel instantly revived, almost as good as a pedicure. Less time packing, less time doing laundry when you get home.
- Hats are an essential layer of protection. Baseball caps in case of sun and beanies for those cold evenings or bad hair mornings.
- This is not the time to bring the cute kicks. Instead, pack reliable walking shoes that you don’t mind getting a layer of dust on that may never quite wash off. Flip flops are great to keep outside your tent for those quick nature-calls runs.
I don’t do granola bars. Not in real life and not when I camp either. We used to camp with only oats and dried backpackers food to sustain us. It probably would have tasted better just to live off the land. Fortunately, we started camping with families who introduced me to the beautiful concept of delicious camp meals.
- If you are camping with multiple families, it’s ideal to meal plan / share. That way maybe you only need to bring food for one or two meals instead of shopping for and schlepping food for a weekend.
- It helps to prepare some of the food in advance. This ensures quality and saves you prep time at camp. Some hearty options that travel well and are easy to heat on a grill: breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, chili and cornbread, turkey tacos. You can also prep cold items: tuna salad, coleslaw, fruit salad, deli sandwiches. There are tons of creative and yummy options for camp food online.
- Snacks are a savior! Bring some of your favs and allow your kids treats they may not ordinarily get. Cheetos in general tastes good, but in the woods, they are divine.
- If you are a coffee drinker, bring coffee. If you are tea drinker, bring tea. Kombucha drinker, bring kombucha. This isn’t the time to deprive yourself when you already on the verge of being uncomfortable. You probably are not going to have your best night’s sleep, so caffeine may become even more critical to the expedition.
The really, truly very cool thing about camping is watching your kids explore the great outdoors. It’s amazing and encouraging to see them literally play with rocks and sticks.
- Because there naturally is so much to do while camping, don’t overextend yourself or your car by bringing all their favorite toys, games and stuffies. Being away from their usual hoard of toys is a much-needed break and they’ll appreciate them even more when they get home.
- I only recently discovered the wonder of walkie talkies. We were group camping and the kids were connected via six walkie talkies. Their imaginations went wild plus they felt totally cool with them clipped to their jeans. It’s also a great safety measure. Keep one walkie with the parents so you can check on any kids that go out of eyesight.
- My favorite thing to bring for the kids is a potion making kit. Throw together a bunch of old spices in jars, popsicle sticks, glitter, beads, food dye, whatever else you need to get rid of from your kitchen and a few plastic jars or containers. At a campsite, these potions will become anything from witch brews to bear traps. The mess won’t matter because they’re already filthy.
- Bubbles, bubble wands, cool bubble sticks create an instant party atmosphere. Bonus is that popping enough bubbles on their heads is almost as good as a shower.
- Equip kids with bags or containers to collect treasures. They will love hunting to find interesting leaves and bug skeletons. If you are motivated, you can even create a scavenger hunt.
- Try your best to keep the electronic devices away. Ideally you won’t have cell reception. Surprisingly I’ve found that my kids (who ask for screen time on the regular) will go days without asking for it when we are camping. Replace iPad with a rock that looks like one.
Talking to the ladies here. I’d like to think I’m not vain but I do have a general desire to not look or feel homeless while camping. I have seen some cute camp wear in my day I like to call tent-chic. Flannel shirt with leggings, anything sporty paired with a slim-cut puffer jacket. Just kidding. Best to wear your most practical mom jeans or at least something you don’t mind covering in campfire smoke stench.
- Face / make-up remover wipes are a must. Yes, they will remove campfire grit from your face, but they are also handy for a quick foot wipe-down before entering the tent or an armpit swab in a pinch.
- Dry shampoo can help keep your day-three hair looking like you just arrived to camp. Or at least gives you a bit more time before you resort to headbands, braids and hats.
- Tinted moisturizer with SPF is a great way to give you a little coverage and glow and also keep your skin protected. If you are like me and get dry when exposed to the elements, try an overnight hydration mask. While you sleep under the stars your skin will twinkle like one.
- Trim your brows, bangs and nails before you hit the open road. This keeps grooming needs to a minimum and gives you a few days before you start to unravel.
- A good smelling deodorant does wonders.
I’m not going to go into lengthy building and maintaining a campfire tips here. However, there are a few seemingly obvious things here but forgetting them can really sink your experience.
- Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. Guess what? Camping = being exclusively outdoors. Even if you are camping at a time of year or a place that isn’t particularly sunny, your used-to-being-mostly-indoor skin will weather fast. Prevent sunburns. Sunscreen will help with windburn too.
- Bug repellent is a must. I rely on the ones that deter both mosquitoes and ticks. If you are sensitive to chemically-stuff, there are some organic and natural options. In my opinion, they don’t work as well but something is better than nothing, just ask the bugs.
- Bring a basic first aid kit and a smattering of medicines including allergy meds, ibuprofen and Tylenol. All the little boo-boos that kids get at home mysteriously happen in the woods too. Especially remember to pack any prescriptions medicine.
- Glow sticks at nighttime are fun and help keep track of everyone.
HA! Well, there are a few things you can do to maximize comfort.
- At the very minimum bring a camping pad for your sleeping bag. There are other sleeping options like a cot or even a blow-up mattress. I haven’t made it to that level of comfort yet, but it’s nice to dream. Don’t forget pillows! Your bunched-up sweatshirt just isn’t the same.
- Bring something you enjoy doing for downtime by the campfire. Books, games, a journal, a flask. Whatever will allow you unwind in peace. My favorite thing to bring is friends. I find that when camping, “the more the merrier” is a great motto. A gaggle of kids have a blast together and it’s a great bonding time for parents too.
- Invest in a good camping chair so you don’t have to relax on a stump.
- Learn about your campsite in advance so you are prepared for its conditions (ie: bathroom situation.) Campsites really vary on their access to amenities, etc. Knowing where you are headed will prepare you for what you are up against.
Here’s to you all who brave the great outdoors. Cheers to us all who embrace (temporarily!) living off the grid. The real lesson here is that if I can do it, so can you. Happy camping.