Camping with Kids

By | April 29, 2011

The weather outside is getting better every weekend, and every May my wife and I start monitoring nighttime temperatures to see when it’s warm enough to take the kids camping.

We love to camp, though we don’t seem to get enough time to do it as we like. We first took our daughter camping when she was about 18 months old. Now that our youngest is rounding 18 months, it’s time to get out there again.

Admittedly, there are some challenges camping with kids. First off, there’s the issue of bedtime. In the summer, the sun sets here between 9:30 and 10 at night. The kids usually have an 8 o’clock bedtime. This means we’re either putting them down while other campers are still out playing Frisbee, or we’re keeping them up late enough to guarantee crying, whining, and general crankiness. Also, they’re too young to toss in the tent for the night while we stay up. So if we send them to bed at 9, we’re going to bed at 9.

Second, sleeping arrangements are a bear. Our youngest has a routine that works like magic at home. Anywhere other than home, however, this kid will simply not stay down. He will keep popping up, walking and crawling over everyone, giggling like a fool for hours. And when he’s up, he wants a bottle. I don’t like sleeping with a cooler in the tent, so that means a trip to the car and all that.

These are just the logistics of bedtime. There’s also the job of changing diapers, and how do you dispose of all those stinky diapers? I am certainly not storing them in the car!

There’s not a lot I can do about the bedtime routine. We muddle through, but a couple things have helped us on other aspects of camping trips.

One involves reducing the prep time. We picked up a couple bins that we keep stored with the stuff with need for food (stove, Dutch oven, pots and pans, utensils, dish soap… all the kitchen stuff), shelter (tent, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, sheets and blankets, camp pillows, etc.), and miscellaneous (first aid kit, rope, flashlights, Leatherman tool… that kind of thing). These bins are always packed (no perishables in there). When the hankering to camp overtakes us, we don’t waste the entire afternoon packing up everything. We throw clothes in a bag, the bins in the car, and stop at a grocery store on the way—we’re good to go. The key is making sure you have enough to keep everyone comfortable. Wet and cold or hot and sweaty make it harder for everyone to get along.

Another thing has made camping even more enjoyable:  We work hard to set expectations with the kids. We talk the trip up in advance, detailing whatever plans we have—whether it be s’mores by the campfire or hiking in the woods. And we ask them to give us their ideas too. This helps in two ways. It helps kids build up some excitement for the weekend. And it keeps Mom and Dad from bailing on the plan for something easier when we’re actually camping, ’cause you got to know that first thing in the morning,  cereal always seems more attractive than pancakes and bacon (and the inevitable clean up from that mess).

And for folks new to camping, take note: I always have a back-up plan. One of my favorite trips as a kid was staying at a motel, watching BJ and the Bear on TV, after three days of tenting it in the rain. The camping wasn’t bad, but Dad knew when enough was enough.

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