Full disclosure: I’m more Troop Beverly Hills than Eagle Scout, so move along if you’re looking for a badass survivalist family backpacking primer. If, however, you’re considering a sweet, old-fashioned, entry-level family adventure in the woods, keep reading because this camping primer just might convince you to take the plunge.
Plan to car camp (translation: driving to your campsite vs. hiking in) if this is your first time. If you’re looking for peaceful seclusion, avoid large, popular campgrounds and ones that allow RVs. If a hot shower is your EVERYTHING, make sure your site has bathing facilities and pack a roll of quarters. (You’ll see.) And if sleeping in a tent surrounded by your entire family sounds claustrophobic with a side of HELL TO THE NO, consider “glamping” in a rustic cabin or yurt.
Know your kids, too.
Parents of kids who yell “Uppy!” after walking twenty yards should stick to short hikes, framed hiking backpacks, or just, uh, not hiking. Parents of serial joiners should look for campgrounds with junior ranger programs, arts & crafts classes, and guided family-friendly hikes. My five year-old completed so many activities that she was sworn in as an official junior ranger (pin included!) on the final day of our trip.
Book WAY ahead or cruise for cancellations.
Because apparently the most desirable campgrounds all book up six to twelve months in advance. If, like us, you had no idea campers were so agro, zero in on the few spots you’re interested in and Joe Biden the heck out of their websites. Cancellations happen; all you have to do is BE THERE.
Start packing the week before. (For reals.)
The stakes of family vacation packing are a whole lot higher when you can’t just run to the store to buy a forgotten lovey or Instacart a favorite snack. And even if you’re car camping, space is limited so strategic packing is EVERYTHING. Ditch your duffels for an assortment of clear plastic bins, so you can access items quickly without digging. You can’t pack enough: ice, sunscreen, Ziplocks, paper towels, trash bags, baby wipes, and (the only thing we ran out of) booze. Don’t bother packing: non-washable toys, makeup (sorry), beach towels, or anything you can’t bear smelling like campfire smoke for several washes.
And don’t forget…
- Two first aid kits: a small one for your day pack and a real-deal, fully-outfitted one for the campsite.
- Insect repellant. Ewww. (I like the DEET-free spray from All Terrain Kids.)
- Extra batteries for lanterns and headlamps, and some way to charge your electronic devices. (Because we all say we’re going to unplug fully, but having a functioning phone is just safety and having a functioning iPad for a nap-dodging toddler is just survival.)
- Rope. (For a clothesline, setting up a rain tarp, or tying errant children to a tree, it’s just a good thing to have.)
Check back tomorrow for Part II of our Camping Primer: Setting Up A Family-Friendly Camp. (My husband totally knocked this out of the park so it’ll be a must-read, you guys.)