4 Essentials for Camping with Kids

4 Essentials for Camping with Kids

Our last camping trip was a pretty big ordeal. With a 4year old, 3 year old, a 6 months pregnant mama and an eager daddy, we had our work cut out for us. I’m not gonna lie, it had been awhile. Our last camping trip with a 3 year old and 1 year old wasn’t exactly a success nor was I eager to do it again. With a baby on the way, I wasn’t sure when a good opportunity would present itself, if it ever would again. I was tired of hearing my husband’s exasperated sighs over how few times we had taken our kids camping.

We have always been very active in the outdoors. Hiking, backpacking, and kayaking were staples in our pre-children lives. EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND and often weekdays after work, we were off on an adventure; full moon paddles on Folly Creek, beach runs at botany bay, backpacking in Wilson Creek. These days our adventures include wrangling toddlers into careseats and highchairs, chasing toddlers around the park and the most exhausting, getting toddlers into bed at night. Frankly, we’ve been too tired to go anywhere, much less plan and pack for camping.

Plus, don’t we all have to sleep in the same tent? Not sure we are up for that...

So, with baby #3 on the way, we decided now was as good a time as any. In February, with unseasonably cold temperatures here in Charleston, we decided to head to Florida in search of warmer weather.

We (i.e.my husband) have a tendency to overdo things. It makes me a little hesitant to commit to doing things with him sometimes. I think the idea of a nice campground, with bathrooms, showers, potable water and picnic tables sounds like enough of an adventure for us. As much as I tell myself that we are going to keep it simple and easy, I cave in when he suggests kayak camping. For those of you who aren’t aware of what that is, it’s like backpacking but everything is in a kayak, not on your back. I.E. the car is not close by, there is no running water, much less drinking water or bathrooms. Not only did we kayak camp, but we also brought a kids kayak, a paddle board, kids bikes and a full-size cooler.

We set out in the Cape Canaveral wilderness area. It is beautiful. Unlike anything I have seen with mangroves, clear shallow water and hammock islands lining the waterways. I imagine the fishing is amazing here. We are all excited to be on this adventure together. It starts to sprinkle on our way out. No big deal, water never hurt anyone . . . or so I tell my kids all the time. By the time we get to our spot, only about 1 mile away from the ranger station, it’s raining and so windy we can hardly hear each other. We rush to get our tent up and spend the rest of the evening inside or huddled under a tarp trying to prepare dinner. My kids are thrilled to be in the tent. It’s not exactly the same for the adults. None the less, it’s been a long day and we are all happy to be there. I pray for nice weather tomorrow.

When am I going to get to the essentials? . . . here goes

  1. A Family camping tent. If your kids are older, consider a two room tent or two tents. Don’t try to cram 4 people into a 2 person backpacking tent. What if it rains and you have to spend all day in the tent? Get one with plenty of head room, make sure its waterproof and consider getting one that is bigger than the number of people in your family. I like the Big Agnes Big House 6 for the 4 (now 5) of us and the accessory vestibule is not optional. My husband and I have spent hours under the vestibule in the pouring rain when the kids were sleeping.
  2. Clothing. Plan for every type of weather and every worst case scenario you can think of. Rain, snow, sleet, extreme heat. We went to Florida to escape the cold and ended up getting colder, rainier weather than we left behind in Charleston. The weather forecaster is almost never correct. That must be the best job in the world because seemingly, you never have to be right i.e. good at your job. Keep in mind that the humidity in the Southeast makes it hard for things to dry out once they get wet. Keep an extra set of clothes in a dry bag for emergencies. Hypothermia can set in in temperatures as high as 65 degrees.
  3. Enough food to feed a small army, or a couple of toddlers, same thing. Before our trip to Florida, I planned our meals extensively. I bought more than I thought we would need. I got home and took everything out of the store packaging and arranged it into labeled Ziplocs: Breakfast, snacks, lunch, dinner, etc. My husband got home and looked at all that food, looked at me and said, “We aren’t going to be able to fit all that food in the kayak.” I said, “We better get a bigger kayak or be able to tow a cooler because I do not want hungry children.” We were going for 3 nights and here is some of what I packed for breakfast and lunch:
    • 6 eggs
    • 12 servings of instant oatmeal
    • 8 servings of grits
    • 2 loaves of bread
    • 1 jar peanut butter
    • 1 jar honey
    • 12 granola bars
    • 8 apples
    • 8 oranges
    • 6 containers applesauce
    • 6 freeze dried meals (in case of emergency, and yes, we ate them too!)
    • 1 gallon Ziploc full of trail mix
    • 1 gallon Ziploc full of dried bananas
    • You can use your imagination for the rest

    And guess what? We came home with one apple and some peanut butter and honey. Being well fed and hydrated goes a long way toward preventing hypothermia, much less toward preventing unbearable whining. You parents of toddlers know what I am talking about.

  4. I hate to get cheesy on you here but this is the most important thing for camping with kids. Do NOT leave this behind. A good attitude and flexibility. My husband and I woke up on the first morning and it was still raining, and it was still so windy we could barely talk to one another. We couldn’t have a campfire, much less hang out around our camp because of the wind. I think I actually shed a few tears. We considered packing it up and heading to Disney world. We were only a couple hours away. We looked over at our kids. They were down by the water, throwing rocks in and climbing a tree at the shore. They had found good sticks to sword fight and dig with. They were warm and dry and well-fed. They were happy. It was the sourpuss adults who weren’t having a good time. When did we get so grumpy?

Hmm, the essentials are food, clothing, shelter and basically happiness . . . where have I heard that before?

Now, for a more extensive gear list:

  1. Appropriately sized, waterproof tent
  2. Sleeping bags with correct temperature rating
  3. Sleeping pads and pillows
  4. Camp chairs
  5. Stove and fuel
  6. Cooking pots
  7. Cups, bowls, forks, knifes, water bottles for everyone
  8. Trowel and toilet paper (if going backcountry)
  9. Water purification (if going backcountry)
  10. Headlamps (my kids LOVE these)
  11. Personal toiletry items
  12. Biodegradable soap
  13. Trash bags and spare Ziplocs
  14. Insect repellent and sunscreen
  15. Camera, book, journal
  16. First aid kit with any personal medications
  17. Matches stored in Ziploc
  18. Bandana and/or towels (quickdrying!)
  19. 50 feet of rope (this ALWAYS comes in handy for something, like a clothesline)

No cotton clothing! Come by the store or email for a comprehensive clothing list for 3 season camping and backpacking.

My next article will be on the challenges of camping while pregnant. Hint: peeing multiple times in the middle of the night when there are cacti all around and you have to walk a distance from the tent in the rain and wind! Yikes!

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