So this weekend we tried out camping with kids for the first time ever. In days gone by it was something The Man and I did quite regularly. We used to volunteer with a youth organisation, so as well as personal camping trips to Wales and the Peak District, we would accompany Duke of Edinburgh expeditions to do spot checks, waypoints and basically make sure they knew how to pitch tents, cook porridge and not get up to any mischief. The most fun was taking the new recruits out on Initial Expedition Training as it was far less hardcore and they would have such a good time.
I remember fondly the time they got back from an all day hike in screeching hot weather and someone decided to start a water fight. At first the teenagers looked at us like we’d stop them, but what harm is there in a water fight if everyone is up for it? None at all – so we joined in! Having missed out on these sort of experiences as a teenager, due to ill health, it was a real gift to be able to enjoy them in my twenties. There was an old timer in his 60s who liked to cook all the ‘staff’ breakfast in the morning and my God, he should have run a ‘greasy spoon’ because you have never eaten a fry up until you’ve eaten one where the bacon has been deep fried!
All told I have many happy memories of camping, but we were holding back on taking the kids until we had a slightly larger tent as trying to change or entertain small children in a tent where you haven’t even the height to stand up is a ball ache we could do without, especially as we often go camping at odd times of year – October being one of our most favourite months – when cold nights and rain are more likely.
Well, we bought a second-hand tent that is a significant improvement on our old 4-man tent. Whereas before we had a sleeping compartment big enough for two adults and their clothes bags, with a small lobby big enough for the remaining equipment and absolutely no standing room anywhere, we now have 2 sleeping compartments the same size as our old tent’s, plus a central area where you can stand up, which will be great for eating or playing card games when it’s raining, and just getting the kids changed and so forth PLUS a lobby for ‘outdoor’ equipment, or you can unzip the front flap and stand it up on tent poles to make an awning at the front! Sheer luxury compared to our old set up and for only forty quid!
So anyway, last night we decided to take our kit to the campsite just down the road so we could try it out whilst still being close enough to home that we could bail on very short notice. It was a good plan. We had to run home for forgotten items multiple times, plus we’ve got out of the way of things and The Man packed far too few layers of clothing for overnight and froze his derriere off. On the whole, though, it went really well. The kids had fun, they very much enjoyed the outdoors lifestyle (like eating in the fresh air) and breakfast with hot chocolate whilst the sun rose was a special treat indeed. The 4 year old also responded really well to being a bit more independent and performing tasks like fetching water. So, if you’re thinking of taking your kids camping, then here are a few of my thoughts on the matter, partly for your benefit, partly to remind myself if we do go away for a few days in half term as we are thinking of doing…
- Take way more clothes than you would normally need, or consider necessary – for you and the kids. Wet things may not dry in time (especially at this time of year) so multiple wooly jumpers and even a spare waterproof would be a good idea. Plus outdoor eating gets very messy, even a bib can’t really control a cascade of hot chocolate (just as an example, you know).
- Think *warm* – just because you and the tent are quite cosy at bedtime, don’t forget that 3am is a different matter. Layer them and yourself up with lots of clothes – two pairs of trousers is a good plan as thighs often get chilly. Vests, long sleeved t-shirts, wooly jumpers and even hats are useful – you may feel like a wally, but you’ll be snuggly all night. And don’t forget the thick socks.
Make sure all sleeping bags are appropriate for the conditions and that you have suitable ground mats. A hot water bottle at the foot of each sleeping bag is not the worse idea in the world and you’ll be very grateful for it when you have had to get out in the night to pee!
- More food than usual. Everybody gets hungry camping. Especially when it’s cold. Especially when you make them hike up a hill or swim in the arctic-temperature Uk seas. Take lots of quick, filling foods as well as camping favourites. Here’s a list of my essential camping goodies:
– Instant custard (just add hot water)
– Instant hot chocolate (just add hot water)
– Instant porridge (just add hot water – noticing a theme here?)
– cereal bars and biscuits
– Quick cook pasta (cooks in 3-5 minutes)
– Instant pasta sauces
– Tinned Sweetcorn (it’s a vegetable – hurrah!)
– Instant rice
– Bread rolls
– Bananas (great with the custard as a simple pudding)
– Tinned sponge puddings (Cadburys make a nice treacle one and an even better (in my opinion) chocolate one, but I’m sure other brands make them too)
– Tea bags/instant coffee and sugar (if you take it) in a jam jar. That first tea of the morning is bliss!
– UHT milk. Yeah, it’s not great and you can try and buy small cartons of fresh milk as you go, but it’s handy to have just in case.
- Indoor plumbing!
A lidded bucket with a open disposable nappy or two inside. Bingo – silent, un-messy potty for adults and older kids. For younger, potty trained children pop a nappy inside a potty. Saves anybody having to venture outside in the middle of the night which is a win on more than one count. No slops to worry about, just chuck the nappies in the bin come morning.
And here are our notes for next time of things that would make life easier:
- A camping picnic table – asking small children to try and eat off their laps was never going to be a successful gambit, so for a more civilised mealtime (and less laundry upon our return) we’re going to splash out on a picnic table – something like this one: http://www.argos.co.uk/static/Product/partNumber/9278242.htm
It would also be handy when we want to crack out the Uno cards again!
- Two more camping chairs. Asking the small folk to sit on the foam sit mats whilst Daddy and Mummy park their derrieres on the comfortable folding camping chairs was never going to fly and Mummy and Daddy are officially too old to sit on the floor for any length of time, so Father Christmas may well be bringing some fun mini-sized folding chairs with him this year.
- A suitable sleeping bag for The Boy. The Girl was zipped, with me, into two sleeping bags zipped together but The Boy kept escaping from his adult-sized bag, thus getting chilly and waking up. We were wondering if a pod-shaped one would suit his wriggly self the best – it looks like it would allow lots of room for flailing limbs, whilst remaining tightly sealed around his neck so it would stay on him. Any experience with this?
- A windbreak. Not so much for the wind-breaking capabilities, though in some conditions this may well be handy whilst cooking, but more as a visual reminder to the children of where they’re allowed/it’s safe for them to go. Especially useful when cooking perhaps?
- A decently bright LED lantern or two. Our ancient ones are far too dim nowadays and it would be handy to have more light, especially if there was a middle of the night nappy incident for example.
- Better floor mats. After two kids my hips are wider than they used to be and I’m getting too old to sleep on a hard floor. If someone could only invent a deflate-proof airbed I would snap it up, as it is I’m wondering if a memory foam mattress topper would make a good layer on top of the roll mats? Again – suggestions welcome.
- I doubt we’re going to get one, but The Man insists a Lamzac wind-sock sofa is essential to our camping experience. Maybe if we get a windfall I can treat him. No doubt the children will ruthlessly quality test it!
Have you taken your children camping? Perhaps you have some vital top tips I should be made aware of. Please do let me know in the comments, I appreciate any advice! Or even if you just think we’re loopy going camping in October with a 4 and a 1 year old…
Or if you’re a vendor of outdoor equipment and would like us to product test for you then, by all means, get in touch. God knows we’re going to use it!