We are fans of camping in the Baby Routes house. There was a time when my husband and I would head off onto Dartmoor with our tiny two-man tent, cooking gear and provisions balanced on our back for a spot of hiking and wild camping. These days, things have changed a bit. With a three year old and a one year old, camping has to take on a different dimension and we have been adjusting to the concept of family camping.
I won’t lie – camping with kids is not without its challenges. We took Roo camping properly for the first time at 22 months old (and I was 3 months pregnant). Armed with our unfamiliarly huge new family tent we wondered if we were being a bit crazy. The delighted, disbelieving expression on Roo’s face when she realised that she would be sleeping overnight in the tent was worth every doubt. Her little, unsteady but determined steps as she toddled back to our tent with our camping kettle full of water is one of my most enduring and happy memories of her first two years. Yes, we had quite a lot of learning to do to make things run smoothly with a toddler in our tent but she slept like a log and we all had a great time.
It’s not just me either, 98% of parents in a study conducted by Plymouth University and the Camping and Caravanning Club said their children were happier when camping and a majority felt their kids did better at school in subjects like Geography and Science as a result of having the chance to connect with nature.
Next weekend we are off on another ‘camping with young kids’ adventure. It is finally time for the family-orientated back-to-nature festival Escape to the Countryside in rural Sussex (come and join us – there are still tickets available including glamping & daytime only)! As we dust off our camping gear it has got me thinking of all those little things we have picked up so far that make camping with young kids and babies a smoother experience.
Here are a few of our tips and tricks so far:
Before you go
- Try before you buy: A good family tent is a serious investment. If you’re not quite sure if camping is for you then borrow a tent, get one second hand first or buy a really, really cheap one (one you don’t mind upgrading asap). Camping in the garden is a great way to start with very young children – you can always come back inside if it gets too scary/dark/cold. We would never have found out we had hedgehogs in our garden if we hadn’t camped out there! Alternatively, head off to a campsite within an easy drive of home.
- Know your stuff: If you’ve got to the point of buying a tent for your family camping adventures then do take the time to really research what all those stats, materials and techie details mean (you can find more on choosing a family tent in this post) and make sure you are getting the right tent to suit your level and camping plans. With tents it is worth paying for good quality. If your budget is tight then wait until the end of season camping sales. eBay is also good – too many people buy before they try and then ditch very expensive tents for practically nothing.
- Location, location: The great thing about campsites is they come in all shapes and sizes. From camping in safari parks and zoos to real back-to-basic sites and big sites with full family entertainment – there is something for everyone. Things we look for when camping with young kids are:
- how easily can we carry our tent and kits to our camping pitch;
- does the campsite allow music (one camping experience was ruined by people playing car stereos loud into the night in an otherwise basic and tranquil campsite);
- is there a separate family area;
- are their loos within easy nighttime distance;
- if there are water features, can you camp safely away from them with young children;
- are you allowed to build campfires;
- what facilities are nearby (or in our case, can you go for a good walk/cycle right from the campsite).
- Check the night forecast: I know plenty of people do it but personally I prefer to only camp with babies and tiny tots in the UK from late May to early September. Their tiny bodies are not great at self-regulating temperature and they chill down quickly. Even over the summer there can be some unseasonably chilly nights. Check the Met-Office for your local area to find night-time temperatures before venturing out with little children. At least if you still decide to go you will be well-prepared.
- Layer up: Layers are your friend when camping with young kids. Cosy kids mean more sleep for everyone else! We take a combination of full length cotton pajamas, sleeveless vests, themal tops and bottoms, warm socks, tracksuit bottoms, long sleeved t-shirts, thin baby hat and bedtime onsies and layer up the kids according to the night time temperature predictions. It sounds a lot but it’s well worth it not to be caught out by an uncharacteristically cool night and also mean nightime loo trips don’t need to involve an entire night-time clothes change!
- Bedding choices: With both Beth and Roo we just used their normal winter weight sleep sacks for our early camping trips. We then used whatever amount of layers suited the night time temperatures underneath. Now Roo is bigger we are about to buy her a sleeping bag. As with the tents, you get what you pay for so it’s worth making sure you have something durable and breathable – the type you get for sleep-overs usually get a bit damp outdoors. You also don’t need to buy a special kids’ sleeping bag – just tie up the end with something to shorten it (a great tip I picked up from Hazel at Yellow Fields Camping when she guest posted for me when we were just starting out). Duvets are not a great option, particularly feather ones. The damp night air spoils the insulating properties of the feathers, making for a chilly early morning wake up. If you’re looking for a temporary solution then try making a bedding roll from woolen blankets and sheets.
- Baby sleeping: There are probably plenty of other options out there but we would be lost without our Phil and Ted’s light-weight travel cot. We invested in it before Roo was born knowing we intended to both travel and camp and it has proved invaluable for both girls. The most useful features for camping are the zip down side panel making access to baby from ground level a breeze and the concealed inflatable mattress.
- Reset your body clock: Accept it. The kids are going to be up even earlier than normal. As soon as the sky even hints at sunrise the chances are they will start to stir. My advice is just go with the natural daylight cycles. Go to bed when it starts to get dark, get up when it’s light and camp under shade so you can take a siesta at lunchtime if needed. Besides, research shows that readjusting our body clocks to natural daylight cycles is good for us.
- Campfires: If you are hoping to get back to basics with a campfire or even a barbecue make sure to check that your campsite allows it first. You will also need to find out where to get wood from – most campsites allowing campfires will sell wood but not many allow you to go and find your own in the woods. Take a lighter or matches in a small tin, use previous campfire spots and clear up afterwards.
- Back-up stove: Whilst we have made a campfire when Roo was 22 months old, we always take a small portable gas camping stove with us too. It avoids having to ramp up a dwindling fire for bedtime hot choc or start it again just for a cheeky cooked breakfast.
- Exploding kettles: If you are using an old fashioned camping kettle, remember to take the end off it before heating up!
- Safety First: Whilst on the subject of safety, keep campfires and camping stoves well away from tents. Fire is bad but silent killer carbon monoxide is the cause of far too many camping accidents a year. Be particularly aware if you are outside cooking whilst baby is in the tent sleeping. Make sure to do up gas canisters for stoves safely.
- Brilliant bananas: Whether as a quick pudding wrapped in foil on the campfire with brown sugar, chocolate or a splash or rum, a pancake filling, a top up for breakfast or a lunchtime snack. bananas are the hero food if you are camping with kids. Take lots!
- Keep it simple: Our camping meals include a lot of eggs, pasta, pancakes and other one pan quick meals.Unless you have access to a fridge / very cold water you’ll only want minimal perishables like milk at a time. If you are going to be arriving late in the day then consider taking down a pre-prepared batch of something to heat up that night. If you’ve got a long or warm journey, freeze it before you set off so it stays cools and defrosts as you travel. The same goes if you want cold, fresh milk for the next morning.
- Cheat!: Sure, enjoy your campfires but don’t be afraid to take the odd night off. Even some of the most secluded campsites often have a good pub not too far away or perhaps a farm shop stocked with bits for a quick bbq. When we were in Scilly recently we found a campsite that not only sold amazing ice-cream but also offered to bake potatoes to order. Another one offered pre-ordered pizza or home-cooked meals. We are really looking forward to the local beef on the bbq at Escape to the Countryside next week!
- Headtorch: a torch is an essential bit of camping kit. Throw in small children and you’ll need your hands free. You can pick up cheap head-torches from places like decathlon. Keep them next to your bed at night for any middle of the night loo trips.
- First aid kit: Again – another staple. As well as the usual stuff and the kids’ plasters, rash cream, antiseptic, infant paracetamol, thermometer or whatever you normally take, remember to throw in some Piriton too in case of insect stings or other irritants. Early evening on a Sunday night miles from the nearest doctor is not when you need to start worrying about a possible health issue with your child! Consider getting a large sponge bag with two zips and a small padlock to top tiny people from accessing any medicines.
- Thermometer: If you’re worried about night time temperatures when camping with a baby, throw in some kind of room thermometer to stop you worrying at 3am. Used as we are to central heating, the night cool often feels a lot colder than it actually is.
- Groundsheet: These are handy for protecting the base of your tent from stoney ground or for stopping water getting in if you spring a hole in the floor of the tent. We always take one to use as a doormat outside the tent door for putting dirty shoes on. At night you can just roll the top over on itself to keep the middle dry for the next morning.
- String: From patching up guy ropes to making a makeshift washing line, string is always handy to have. Whilst on the topic of washing, kids get through clothes a lot faster when camping. Stick in some travel wash too and a couple of clothes pegs too!
- Loo roll: Most campsites that provide loos are pretty good at keeping paper stocked up but you never know when you might get caught short! Been glad we had our on with us on a few occasions.
- Portable potty: We took Roo camping when she was just starting potty training. Crazy, I know! We have a porta-potty and it was brilliant saving us on all those times she couldn’t quite get to an acceptable bush or the loos quick enough.
- Washing up bowl: Check if your campsite has washing up facilities. If not, make sure you at least have a big pan in that you can use to wash up in, or if you have room stick in a normal bowl (useful for washing clothes too, bathing a baby or campsite water play for the kids). We have a folding washing up bowl. Contrary to our first suspicions it is actually really useful.
- Folding crate: If you have space in the tent then these are great for keeping cooking stuff organised and for all sorts of other camping kit or kids’ stuff.
- Get crafty: keep the kids busy by making all sorts of camp crafts. From welly sticks to a shoe rack, draining board for pans or a flagpole so they can find your tent easily – armed with some string, sticks and basic knot skills, their imagination is the limit!
Escape to the Countryside is being held at YoghurtRooms campsite, Sussex, from 14th-16th August 2015. Some weekend camping, glamping and day tickets are still available. Full details of the festival, accommodation options and ticket prices are available on the YoghurtRooms website.
We are thrilled to be heading to Escape to the Countryside as guests of YoghurtRooms. All words, giddiness and general excitement however remain entirely our own!