My husband and I have been camping with each other since we met about 12 years ago. I've camped with my family and he with boy scouts. Together, we learned how to camp with each other. We mostly did car camping and just when we were ready to take a leap into back country/ backpack camping, we decided to start a family. We traded one kind of adventure for another, and I do believe we took the greater and more rewarding route!
I suppose we had a routine and a level of comfort camping before having children, so it wasn't that difficult to think of taking them with us. Our first trip with the oldest daughter was when she was about 7 months, and the second one had her first trip at 5 months. They both LOVED it. Living in southern California, we're privy to lots of beautiful places and most of the year to camp in, however, we also experience cold nights that are trying with young children in tents. It is also an ordeal when you are still nursing at night. Oh the stories I could tell you on this one, but let's not. I do believe the most comical and arduous adventure to be the campout with family in Texas while I was 6 months pregnant. You see, we still only use tents, sleeping bags and those pocket warmers. Not until a few months ago did we invest in inflatable pads to go under our sleeping bags.
We have enjoyed camping all over the country and even in different parts of the world either in tents, cabins, or our only RV trip for our honeymoon. This has been a source of excitement, adventure, and a lot less expensive when planing our travel budget. Taking the kids on these kinds of adventures has added a level of stress, but the overall outcome is far greater. Now as they are getting older, they remember some trips and want to go back an recreate them again and again. Last year we camped out for a night in Maui and waking up right by the water was one of my daughters favorite memories of the trip.
Both girls love the tent. To them it is a small home that is their size. They love pretend playing in there as we set up and unpack. Often, we hope to get out for a hike soon after setting up, but the kids would rather play in the tent. Our most recent camping trip was a few hours north along the coast. We stayed a night at a beach site and then went inland to stay in a yurt. Both kids, enjoyed the yurt, but insisted that we pitch up the tent next to, so they could play and spend their time in there instead.
So, how do we do it? Lots and lots of planning and prepping. Yes, it is fortunate that I'm at home to prep a few thing in advance, but as they are getting older, nothing gets done until the night before anyway, so really it's all the same. There are a few basics which I think are key to how we get out, eat well, and have a good time outdoors. We have enjoyed camping just the two of us, as a family, as an extended family, and as groups ranging from 15 to groups as large as 25. It's all in the organization, the people you go with, and mostly the attitude you have throughout.
How to Plan Ahead:
- Plan out your meals (I'm trying not to be so elaborate anymore)
- Prep and freeze most meals in ziplocks or tupperwarre
- Have a set of dishes, cups, utensils and other items ready to go just for camping
- Have the children pick out their clothes and help pack their bags
- Pack games, activities, books, maps, binoculars, and anything else they might need (have them help)
- Buy what you need 3-4 days in advance to prep, cook, freeze, and pack up. You will need more than you think.
- Pack snacks and dry good early and keep apart
- Frozen food doubles up as ice for your cooler, portion out your veggies per meal, or in portions just for the trip (ex: peas, corn, chicken, etc).
- Double bag all meats- you'd be surprised how water gets into everything.
Things you need to have:
- Basic kitchen items (cutting board, knife, utensils, bowl, can opener, etc)
- Sices, salt/pepper, olive oil, or spray (I've stopped using this)
- Foil, ziplock bags (various sizes), paper towels, napkins, dish towels, matches, and lighter
- Small bottle dish soap, brush, bucket or container to wash things in.
- Nut butter for (just in case), soup, mac and cheese, or rice boxes for last min meals, pancake mix, beans, etc.
- Pot and a fry pan (I love my cast iron).
- 2 burner stove or backpacker burner. (we started out with a backpacker and then bought a 2 burner when I did my cross country trip with a friend, the time it saves is worth it, especially with kids)
- Gallon water jugs
Extras: marshmallows and things to make smores. Griddle. Charcoal or grill.
*Firewood should always be bought on site!
Sleeping and Clothes:
- Sleeping bags for each, or a few you can open and cover with blankets.
- Pillows for those who need them, or roll up your clothes into a pillowcase.
- Pads, or yoga mats to go under, or an inflatable mattress (to get fancy:)
- Enough clothes for 2-3 days (if you go longer, take small packs of laundry detergent and stop to wash)
- We tend to have our "camping clothes" so it's usually the same ones we pack. Layers, socks, hats, gloves, thermals, long pants, and short are all good options.
- Winter hat. I've found that no matter where we camped, a winter hat was essential when we camped.
- Hiking shoes, and and easy slip on shoe for around the campsite
- Bikes, balls, games, things to do around the campsite
- Wet wipes, or wash cloths
- Bar or liquid soap for washing hands at site or in the bathroom
- Toiletries (I'm amazed how many people bring make up and hair dryers, wow!)
- Quarters for showers- if available. If we go for the weekend, we just come home and shower on Sunday, a little extra dirty is all part of the fun.
- Extra bags for dirty and wet clothes!
Food Menu Ideas:
- Hobo packs (anything all cooked in foil packs in the coals, or on the stove)
- Chicken tacos/ fajitas
- Pancakes or french toast
- Bacon and eggs
- Salmon filet (prep and freeze ahead) cook or campfire on foil or on griddle on stove
- Muffins or breakfast toast cups (make ahead)
- Oatmeal (usually on the last day for us, so packing up is fast and less clean up) or cereal which I don't buy.
- Stuff to make sandwiches when hiking or at the site
- Arroz con pollo
- Chilli (make there or we make ahead in crock pot, freeze and then reheat at site)
- Kababs (kids love to help with this)
- Salads (wash, prep, cut and bag before, or bag salads)
Since joining our Family Adventure group, we have gone camping with some larger groups. This has been nice since everyone is independent for their own things, but we come together for large hikes and a potluck meal. The kids have had a blast running around with other children and wandering off.
We still love our small family trips, and those with just another one or two families. These intimate gatherings bring us all closer in how we parent, manage our stress, live with minimal items, and think in critical times. Being outside is not as primitive as it should be these days with all the gear and amenities. However, the basic need it fulfills in each of us is a primitive need to connect to all that is in nature. Children and adults need this time outside. Often, we believe we need the comforts of our bed, but 1 or two nights without is not going to harm or hurt us. Unbeknownst to us, we have had friends who were first time campers who pulled through and joined us at various times. Some may never return, but I do believe they all remember those trips one way or another!
Even if you think you will never make it camping, I highly encourage all of you to join in this year's Great American Backyard Campout. It's a nationwide movement that is slowly growing and helping families get outside, even if it's in your own backyards. There are many things we do for the sake of our children, I hope that getting outside for a hike and at least 1 campout while they are young will be one that you put on your calendar for this year.
I'm no pro and don't claim to be, but just like many families that get out often, it's on our list to go camping at least every other month. In an ideal life, we'd go every month, but life just doesn't allow for this. We have added this to our New Year's Resolutions for the second year, and so far, so good for both years. Sometimes, it's a tent, and in the cooler months, it maybe a cabin, or even a lodge as was the case for Zion, but no matter what, the destination and the time outside is the goal.
Here are a few picture collages from all our trips over the years starting from before kids to after.
Along the 1 all the way to Olympic National Park- when we were getting started.
Joshua Tree to Death Valley- pre kids.
Road trip to Grand Canyon, Brice, and Yellowstone- pre kids.
Around the country before the kids.
Norway, Yosemite and some in between.
Texas, Portland and some here and there.
Return to Death Valley
The last two years nearby and at Zion.
For an amazing outdoor blog with kids check out this site: The Big Outdoors.
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