In the past my friends have been neatly divided between those who love camping and those who would rather poke themselves in the eye with a pointy stick. However recently I’ve noticed more and more people deciding to give camping a go. I wouldn’t say we are expert campers but over the last ten years we have done a number of camping trips in the UK, and in a prior incarnation I was a holiday rep and worked on various campsites and have spent more time putting up and taking down tents than I’d care to remember.
We were never quite brave enough to take A camping as a baby (I couldn’t face thinking about sterilising bottles without electricity and know how well noise carries at night on a campsite- we’d grumble if we were stuck next to a screaming child all night) We took her on her first camping holiday at about 18 mths old, and she loved it. We’ve done a good few trips since, mostly about 4 nights long and all in the UK, and invariably we have a fab time even if we do seem to attract the worst of the weather.
For those of you thinking of taking the plunge here are a few tips that you might find useful.
Before you buy:
A good tent can be an expensive piece of kit, but get it right and it will be well worth the cost. There is plenty of advice online about choosing a tent, giving info on exciting topics like hydrostatic head (tells you how waterproof it will be) types of poles and so on, so just some basics here.
However many people they say a tent will sleep, assume you will fit a couple less if you want to be comfortable and have some space for all your belongings. When it was the two of us a 4 man was perfect, now we’re a trio we have a 5 man tent. Also think about how big the sleeping compartments are and how flexible they are. You might think you’ll use one room for you and put the kids in another but they might have other plans, and it’s helpful if you can adapt the apace accordingly. Our tent can be set up as two bedrooms or one large one so we have options.
What you might want for a trip of 3/4 nights or longer may be different from what you would want from a tent you will only use for a couple of nights. For a longer stay you may find constantly stooping to move around/get washed and dressed etc gets old fast. That’s the main reason we chose a tent with adequate headroom to stand throughout. It will reduce your choice of styles but makes time in the tent a bit more comfortable.
Lack of storage can be an issue, especially if you don’t come prepared, and while there are plenty of kitchen and wardrobe units you can buy it’s worth looking out built in storage to help you stash smaller items. Storage pockets can be a godsend for torches, books, little toys and other things you might want to lay your hands on in a hurry.
What to take:
This could be a huge list so here are some basics , I guarantee we have forgotten one or more of these every trip.
Bedding and pillows – a good sleeping bag that is made for the temperatures you are likely to encounter should be fine, and will save space compared with packing a duvet. Nothing is worse than waking in the middle of the night freezing cold and not being able to get back to sleep though. We have a couple of blankets that do double duty, for picnics and if needs must as additional bedding. I always pack bed socks and a fleece or jumper I am happy to wear in bed too. Mummy sleeping bags with hoods help retain body heat but some people hate them.
Beds – Every type of camp bed has one drawback or another. Airbeds can deflate (although good quality modern ones are a lot more reliable than older models) but are light, cheap and pack up small. Fold up camp beds in theory keep you warmer as there is less contact with the floor and they can be comfortable, but can also be bulky and heavy and if there is a bar or strut in the wrong place they can be seriously painful to sleep on – definitely try before you buy! Self inflating and foam mats are cheap and easy but as someone with a bit of weight to them I find them too thin and not much better than sleeping on the floor. If you have a travel cot and the space they can be useful as they can double up as a play pen to keep littlies safe while you’re cooking. We have never had one though. Abi has always slept on a couple of inflating mats between the two of us and she loves it.
Storage – if you are planning lots of trips or a longer stay it’s worth looking at a kitchen unit to stash cutlery, cookware, plates and bowls etc. It keeps the living space less cluttered, makes meal times easier and should provide somewhere stable to put a camp cooker on. In between trips we keep a range of utensils and cutlery, including the essential bottle and can openers, plus our camping pans and an old frying pan in a large plastic box. I hate plastic cutlery so simply took the odd cutlery from old sets at home out, but if you don’t have any at home you can probably pick some up in a charity shop to serve the purpose. Just before we go we throw in a bottle of washing up liquid and sponge, tea towels and similar.
The box keeps it all together, makes it easier to pack, and it’s simpler to check you have everything. Once you are there the box becomes multi-purpose – use it for washing up, as a bath for small children (especially if they aren’t keen on showers) and even as a little table or work surface for card games. One thing you can buy, that we always passed on but never missed was a camp high chair. Sitting her in the buggy worked just fine.
A cool box with a couple of sets of ice packs is useful. A lot of the sites we have visited have had facilities to re-freeze ice packs, so you can have some in the cooler while the others are freezing again. Pop your surname or other way of identifying them on in marker pen so you know which are yours when you go back to fetch them!
The last things you should be packing into the car, so they come out first when you arrive, are the tent itself and a game to amuse the kids while you are focusing on getting your home from home up. We learnt early on that it’s not a great idea to take toys with small pieces camping, as they inevitably get lost. Toys and games that can be used in different ways mean more entertainment with less additional luggage. Playing cards and a ball must be high up on the list. Don’t forget any bedtime favourites.
Always take an extra pair of shoes, and clothes that layer, so you can deal with whatever the weather throws at you. Having to put on damp shoes or clothes is miserable and largely avoidable. If it’s not likely to be too muddy flip flops or other slip ons are useful for toilet runs in the middle of the night, and can be invaluable if the shower facilities aren’t as clean as you might like. Wellies are virtually always handy to take when camping in the UK.
Torches, head torches and lanterns are essential. If the kids are asleep and you are stuck in or outside the tent you probably won’t want to be sat there in the dark. We use a combo of all of the above. A good gas lantern gives off plenty of light and some heat (although please remember to use gas with care inside tents – without sufficient ventilation it can be lethal) LEDs are safer but tend to be dimmer. Head torches are great for finding things without disturbing everyone and for toilet runs in the night. Also remember spare batteries, and maybe take a wind up torch as a back up!
While it’ll be blatantly obvious if you have forgotten the tent it’s surprisingly easy to head off without a mallet or other heavy implement to knock the tent pegs in!
Another important piece of kit is a water container. Who wants to trek to the water point or toilet block first and last thing to get water for a cuppa or a quick rinse? Fold up ones are ideal!
On the matter of toilet runs, depending on how old the kids are it may be worth taking a potty even if they are well beyond the potty training stage. On a chilly night not having to leave the tent for a loo trip can be a blessing.
Last but not least, if you can get the tent and groundsheet as clean and dry as possible when you pack up it’ll save you time when you get home (and frankly probably won’t be inclined to unpack it all and clean it) I always throw in a few old towels, to try and dry off the outer of the tent and the groundsheet or footprint, and to try and clean off as much mud as possible. A dustpan and brush are useful to get the inside clean. The cleaner you can keep it while you are using it the easier it is later. To this end if it’s likely to be muddy a couple of doormats or carpet offcuts just inside and outside the door for muddy shoes can really help.
My final tip would be that if you are a complete novice or have concerns about how well your kids will take to it try and find a site near home and just book a night or two. It’ll give you a chance to practice pitching the tent and see how it all goes without potentially ruining your real holiday!
I could probably add even more to this but looking at how much I’ve written think maybe I should leave it there and hope I’ve covered the most important bits! The main point to note is that generally kids love camping and seeing them getting out in the fresh air enjoying themselves is fantastic so embrace it and enjoy.