"It’s just too hard."
"There’s so much prep work to be done."
"The kids make it too complicated."
"I don’t have the gear I need."
Bah. I’ve heard all of the above and more from parents who loved to camp before their kids were born but would never think of doing it afterwards. If you have a car and a tent, you can take your family camping. Of course, that being said, I’m also a big fan of gear so if you want to get serious about it and not spend a ton of money, you can check out consignment stores or look for online deals.
Fortunately, gear is not necessary. Just a sense of adventure and some planning. We took our son on his first camping trip when he was three months old. It was Father’s Day weekend and we had a blast. While we’ve definitely had some learning moments over the past two years of camping as a family, I’ve found the following tips to be helpful in retaining my sanity:
1. Organization is key.
I recommend the clear plastic tub system. We keep our gear divided up in the basement in these tubs. At the beginning of the camping season, we’ll put our cooking gear in one tub and our sleeping gear in another tub. Then, when it’s time to pack up, we already have two of our major gear components ready to go. The see-through plastic lets you see what’s inside the tubs and I find it also helps in packing the car and unpacking once at the campsite. Tubs are just one way of accomplishing this but finding some sort of organizational method that works for you is clutch.
2. The car is your friend.
When stuck in traffic, this is not the case. But when car camping, take full advantage of that car. It’s like a non-pooping, non-living packhorse. You don’t have to worry about weight or about carrying gear into a campsite via backpack. That being the case, pack that extra pillow if it means sleeping better. We bring our down comforter for the tent and we never skimp on food. Remember the lawn chairs!
3. Bring the familiar.
We’ve found that it helps our son to have a few of his favorite toys from home at the campsite. There’s no need to bring the entire set of Legos, but having some playthings that are tried and true favorites can alleviate a little of the scariness of the situation. When the novelty of the rocks and sticks wears off, there will be other things to play with as well. And now that he’s old enough, we’ve been bringing my son’s Strider bike on camping trips as well. (See tip 2 and tip 5.)
4. Let the kids help.
Whether it’s packing or unpacking gear, cooking dinner or setting up the tent, allowing your kids to help makes them a part of the experience. Smaller kids can be put to work collecting sticks for a fire or “cleaning up” the campsite by picking up pine cones. (My kid likes to help with after-dinner chores but I think that’s only because he loves getting wet.)
5. Campsite diversions are a must.
Whether it’s hiking, biking, singing or roasting marshmallows, be sure you have some activities planned. Use your imagination, bring the drawing supplies or chase after squirrels. Camping, by itself, is not the most exciting thing so if you have a high-energy kid, be ready with additional ideas for what to do. On one camping trip this past summer, all my son wanted to do while camping was to sit in the car & pretend like he was driving. Not what I had planned for the trip, but it occupied him for almost an hour. Pretty amazing for a toddler.
With camping, there will always be something unexpected or something new to discover. That’s the beauty of it. Even when everything goes epically wrong, the camping adventure takes on another life when the family gets to relive and retell the story of the weekend it rained so hard everyone had to sit in the tent all day. (Always make the best of it!)
Hopefully the above tips will help you pack it up and get in the car to see why camping is the best way to battle Nature Deficit Disorder.
Boulder-based mom and runner Tara enjoys walking the talk with her 2-year-old son and getting outdoors as often as possible as a family.
Photos by Tara