Camping 101: A Guide for the "more than bare minimum" Families

Friday, July 17, 2020

My family of five experienced two separate camping trips, all within less than a week of each other.
The first camping trip we took was at a campground with several amenities. Hot showers, lake access, security -- fee enforced at the entrance, and more. The second camping trip we took required a wilderness permit, a four-hour drive, and an unforeseen 1.5-mile trek to the area in which we were allowed to camp. Here is a basic guide for glamping and remote camping, in our experience. 

1. Research your campground area heavily. If something is confusing and/or you have questions, call the facility, and get clarity. Some campsites don't offer utility hookups (zero outlets), some require bear canisters, some facilities offer showers for "X" amount of coins, etc. It is important to know these types of things so you know what you need to bring -- or leave behind depending on where you are staying. Make sure you have an understanding of the activities offered, and of course, make sure that the campsite you choose is feasible for your family needs. Also, always make sure to check the forecast. We put our rain cover over our tent at our first campsite the first night because we knew rain was coming. On our third day there, the rain came pouring down for a couple of hours, but we were dry!

2. Buy in the offseason. We've had our family camping trip plans for several months which afforded me the opportunity to purchase our 10 person tent, sleeping bags, lanterns, and various outdoor gear for almost a 40% decrease in the normal market price. Our tent cost about $137 dollars... if you were to research that same tent today, it is selling for over $250 dollars. If you are starting from scratch, like us, this will be such a huge saving opportunity.

3. Make A Checklist. Stay Organized. The first campsite we camped at was only 35 minutes away from home. The second campsite was four hours. Make a list so you don't forget anything you need that you might not be able to get out in the wilderness. I'm an over-packer by nature (and a "what if" planner as well), so luckily this wasn't an issue for me. But when you are trying to pack light, it can be easy to forget essentials. Making a list will reduce the stress you might have surrounding the event, you can involve your little ones to help, and you won't forget anything if it is checked off the list.

4. Plastic is okay if you are okay with it. I opted not to wash dishes in the outdoors. I really needed to choose my battles here. I wanted to enjoy myself as much as possible, but also not compromise a ton of what we do at home for the sake of camping. This meant that all I had to do was gather paper plates, utensils, and bottles of water for our family. I even bought a cool bottle straw for Liam so he could use the bottles with ease, too.

5. Don't pack junk, solely. Camping was a huge excuse to pig out and eat all the junk we wanted. I wanted to make sure the kids still maintained somewhat of a healthier diet, so I made sure to pack all the non-refrigerated (mostly) items I could that would still be ideal. This resulted in lots of fruit - blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, coconut dipped bars (granola), watermelon, tangerines, string cheese (kept extremely cold in the cooler), sausage, some bacon, eggs, etc. It is absolutely possible to eat healthily while camping.

6. Glamp it up when you're at a campsite that allows for it. Alder lake allowed me to pack like my family was staying in a hotel for a few days. I packed up on clothes, air mattresses, food, shower essentials, camping hacks (like shower caps for our shoes to stay more sterile), pillows, blankets, and my favorite bath soaps for our shower time. It was an amazing experience and I'm so glad we camped here first. Camping should be enjoyable for all -- so do the things that you know will make your time more pleasant. For me, it was a hot shower to wash off camp each night. So glorious and also not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

7. Less is more while remote camping. We camped at Rialto beach this week and came equipped with sleeping cots, sleeping pads, and more. The 1.5-mile trek pretty much forced us to only carry the basics, or spend our entire time walking to and from the car to the campsite. It was brutal, folks. If you know you are going to be pretty far from your car and bathroom -- bare minimum is the way to go. We ended up taking our bag with clothes in it for everyone, sleeping bags, firewood, the tent, bear canister, a camera bag, and the cooler bag. And even all of that was TOO much. Also, if you do plan on camping remotely, let this be the 1-2 night stays. Camping minimally is okay for a couple of days. I could not imagine doing this type of camping for a week with small children.

8. Safety still matters. Our first campsite had park employees throughout, cell service, and family all around. I wasn't terribly worried about our safety but I came equipped with a loaded first aid kit, we kept food away from our tent at all times, and we were mindful of our surroundings. The second campsite was absolutely off the grid. We had zero cell service, the closest park ranger was several miles away, and we were in a bear ridden forest where bear canisters were required, not just recommended. When registering for a wilderness permit (second camping trip) we had to include information like emergency contacts for this reason. Make sure you know what safety protocols will be available to you and your family.

9. Don't forget the bug spray! I made sure to pack a TON of bug spray (both for the kids and us) and I don't regret it one bit. I also packed hornet spray, home defense, and sunblock like you wouldn't believe. We left the first campsite with ZERO bug bites after my thorough spraying. Justin left the beach with several mosquito bites and bumps (I didn't bring any bug spray to the beach). Check-in with your campsite to see what is allowed if this is something you feel like you need to do. It's easy for the little ones to get bitten up out there so don't forget those citronella candles, tiki torches, or other methods to deter the bugs.

10. Expect your kid to get dirty, stay up late, get scratched up, and be okay with it. Camping is full of dirt and the outdoors. It's full of family time not tied to a clock and or agenda. It's smores on the fire, camp games, falling in prickly bushes, and going to bed at 11pm because it's just dark enough to realize how late it is. Zero-order was had during our first camp trip (we were accompanied by our extended family) and it was the most fun the kids have had! Keep an open mind, let the kids be kids, and let them have fun. You'll have fun, too.

I hope this list I've compiled helps families that are new to camping have a little direction. Camping was so enjoyable for our family and I know its an activity that we will continue to engage in just as often as we can.

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