From chatting to some of my friends who are also parents, I have discovered that the same cannot always be said for their grown-ups!
Personally I love being under canvas. I love the proximity to nature, the possibility to get completely off the beaten track, the way in which early nights, limited shelter space and limited technology concentrate and grow the bonds between those you’re sharing a tent with. Admittedly my camping is more comfort and convenience driven with very young children but who says any one way of camping is ‘right’?
What do you do if you love the idea of camping or want to take your kids out for a back-to-nature experience under canvas but you just don’t ‘do’ tents?
Here are some ideas to help ease some of the most common concerns I hear. Most of all, don’t equate all camping with that DofE disaster you had aged 17 or think it means bivouacing up a mountain. Take time to find your personal camping style, pitch that tent and enjoy…
Won’t camping be cold?
In the UK, unless camping at height of summer (whenever that is!), sleeping out under canvas is going to be cooler than in a house. It needn’t be unpleasant though. And take comfort from all the research that points to cool air promoting good sleep!
- Swap PJs for a technical thermal base layer. Take flight socks for cold feet. Bring a down jacket for cool alfresco evenings (it can double up as a pillow).
- Beware of over-dressing or using too heavy-weight a sleeping bag. If you sweat then the moisture on your clothes or bedding will counteract its thermal properties.
- Take a hot water bottle. If that makes you feel daft then fill a leak-proof thermos instead and wrap it in a spare tshirt.
- Keep you tent zipped closed after sun-down to keep cool, damp evening air at bay.
- Having good kit makes a big difference. If you’re not ready to commit fully yet then borrow from friends for that first outing.
- Consider investing in a tent carpet for your family tent to insulate and reduce chill from the ground. A woolly blanket under your camp bed makes a good back-up.
- There is no shame in being a fair weather camper. If you hate the cold then don’t go camping at Easter or in September when night time temperatures can drop surprisingly low. Aim for summer and choose a sheltered site. Sleeping outside is so much better than being in on a hot, summer night.
What about my creature comforts?
Camping may be back to basics but it doesn’t mean having to completely rough it if that’s not your style.
- Try glamping. Leave putting up the tent to someone else and enjoy everything from an indoor fire or heater to a full-blown mattress, working fridge and sink in your ‘tent’. Caravanning or campervanning make great half-way houses too.
- If you’re not sure you can go for long without your home comforts then don’t. Go for a weekend or a night rather than commit to two weeks. The kids won’t care and you can always do longer next time if you enjoy it. Weekends also mean being able to explore more places in one summer!
- Treat yourself to a proper airbed and pick a campsite and tent where you can use it. It will make your bed feel a little more, well, bed-like. Remember a car-adapter for your pump and if you will be sharing your mattress then I can recommend looking for one with dual air compartments to avoid banana beds. Ours has been amazing!
- If going without lights, a fridge or even a hairdryer alarms you, go for both a tent and campsite with electric hookup possibility.
- If pitching your tent stresses you out then go for an Airbeam technology. These tents quite literally inflate with a pump and the technology is pretty reliable these days.
- Choose a campsite that has luggage wagons or where the pitches are close to the car park. That way you really can take the kitchen sink with you if you so desire.
- Camp cooking not for you? Pick a campsite near a good pub. That way you can cater for at least two meals a day and leave the self catering to prepping the odd sandwich for a picnic lunch.
- Research your campsite. Some will offer huge, private plots or bbq kit. Others even come with your own allocated portaloo! The Good Campsite Guide is well-worth borrowing from the library.
What will we do for entertainment?
In our family, camping and running wild outdoors is enough entertainment for the children. For me, lazing about with a book, exploring by foot or bike, taking day trips to the beach, making the most of early nights and cooking round a camp-fire all hold infinite charm.
I accept that not everyone feels this way, though I think you’ll be surprised how quickly kids find things to do outdoors given some downtime. If not though…
- Don’t ‘go camping’. Use camping as a means to facilities another interest. Why not extend that day at the beach by an extra day or take your tent to a family-friendly festival? Camping can also be a cheap way of seeing a major tourist destination as I found out recently whilst researching places to stay in Sydney, Australia. Did you know you can camp in the middle of Sydney Harbour? How cool is that?!
- Book a campsite with plenty of facilities. If lots of instant fun suits your family then try a holiday park with onsite swimming pools, tennis courts, playgrounds and catering options. For those who love wildlife why not book a pitch near, or even at, a zoo or wildlife park (Durrell Wildlife Park on Jersey springs to mind and Adam’s Farm in the Cotswolds looked good this summer)?
- Look for organised camps. The National Trust run camp-outs over the summer months and some conservation trusts hold wildlife camp-outs, to mention just a couple of options. You provide the tent and camping kit, they provide a full entertainment schedule.
- Go with friends! This way both you and the kids will have company and there will be enough adults to pitch in on watching the kids to allow for some grown-ups only time. Win-win!
What if the weather is awful?
Give it a chance and the sound of rain on canvas can be surprisingly soothing. Rain that persists until morning can put a bit of a dampener on camping if you let it. Prepare properly though and you’ll still have heaps of fun.
- Invest in or borrow a good quality tent.
- Make sure you choose a dry spot to pitch your tent, uphill from any water sources.
- Put it up your tent properly and tighten the guy ropes during wet or windy weather.
- Don’t leave camping kit leaning against the insides of the tent or they could wick the water through.
- Consider investing in a porch for family tents. That way you can leave all your dirty, wet kit there and keep your tent warm, clean and dry. Some porches can provide undercover cooking too.
- Kit yourself out. Take good waterproofs, plenty of changes of clothes and all-in-one suits for the kids. Make sure you have a gas stove so you can easily make a quick cuppa or hot choc to warm everyone up in miserable weather.
- Use rainy days for trips to visitor attractions, leisure centers or other sites of interest where the weather doesn’t matter.
- Take lots of books and a couple of good board or card games. Catch up on postcards, diaries or get the kids to make up some shadow puppet plays or do some scrapbooking. Sometimes it’s just fun to just go with the weather and cosy up.
- Make the most of a break in the weather. It’s rare for it to rain for an entire day without pause so just be ready to make a dash for it and enjoy some leg-stretching time when the rain eases up.
But my kids are too young!
Doing anything with little children can be challenging. Camping is no different. If I can get them round the supermarket and to their various clubs and classes though I’m not going to let that be the reason to stop me camping! As with anything child related, preparation and a relaxed attitude is key.
- Don’t take tiny kids camping for the first time in the cooler, darker months. Make it easy by saving it for a warm summer weekend.
- Try it out with a garden camp-over or in a campsite close to home. That way you can cut-and-run if you need to and can use it to perfect your camping techniques and kit list for a more adventurous future trip.
- Make first camping trips short and sweet. That way you won’t need to worry about taking loads of different clothes, laundry stuff or attempting to second guess every turn of the weather or your kids’ needs.
- Take a portable potty with you for preschoolers in undies and don’t be afraid to switch back to pull-ups / night nappies if you need to.
- Bring lots of layers, including a fleece onesie, for little ones, including hats and socks for feet and hands for babies.
- Use a big family tent to give yourself space for all your extra gear.
- Stick to normal bedtime routines to help reassure little ones about sleeping out for the first time. I have often found that adults and siblings being in much closer proximity than normal more than counteracts any anxieties from unfamiliar night-time noises.
If these suggestions still don’t fix your camping fears then do check out the Halfords Camping Guide with fabulous advice, inspiration and some great ideas for campsites and itineraries from some of my favourite fellow outdoor, travel and family bloggers.
Still not convinced? Then kit out the kids and sign them up to the nearest Brownies or Cubs offering camping trips. Nothing quite beats the independence and sense of freedom of camping as a child. For me, camping with Guides compounded a life-long love of the outdoors and travel and those huge international Scout camps were a huge highlight of my teenage years and the start of some great friendships.
Readers should be aware that this post is sponsored by Halfords. All writing, opinions and excessive amounts of cool camping gadgets remain, as ever, entirely mine (alas for my poor, overstuffed attic).