We went camping last weekend. It was our fifth annual camping trip to Assateague Island. Our family started camping when our youngest, who's now 11, was a baby. We've camped in a variety of places, both on our own and with friends. We now have it down to about three camping trips a year: every Memorial Day we go to Assateague Island; in September we go on a neighborhood camping trip to Cunningham Falls, and later, in October, we camp in Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park.
The boys love it, and that's why we do it. I camped as a kid, growing up in the Northwest, but it wasn't until I did it as an adult that I realized how much work it is! After ten years of camping with the kids we pretty much have it down to a science now, although I'm always looking for tips, shortcuts, and great ideas I can use on our next trip.
Here are my top ten tips:
1. Invest in good quality, basic equipment. We bought our tent for our first camping trip and have been using it ever since. It's fairly easy to set up, has three "rooms", and you can stand upright in the center. It's still in great condition. In contrast are our air mattresses. We seem to be continually buying new mattress which seem to immediately spring holes. Look for good brands, then google reviews for the product you are interested in.
2. Do as much food preparation ahead of time as possible. I make as much as I can at home ahead of time, then pack it all up in plastic containers (pasta salad, chili, tomato rotini). I pre-wash and hull strawberries for breakfast. This last trip I even made turkey and cheese sandwiches ahead of time at home. It’s so much easier to just pull a container out of the cooler and be ready to eat, instead of trying to cook at camp. I also open canned food and put the contents in a plastic container ahead of time. Anything you can do ahead of time at home makes meal time so much easier.
3. Let the kids get involved as much as possible. As soon as they're old enough, let them help pitch the tent, gather firewood, and help with the meals. Other things my boys love to do are chop the firewood (properly supervised with proper gear) and build the fire. They have learned how to set the firewood and how to get it going. In a campground fires must be lit in the fire pit only, but in the campground at Assateague, you are permitted to have fires on the beach. We often have our fire going all day long!
3. Plan some meals you can cook over the fire. Kids love this! Plus if you already have a fire going, why not make use of it for your dinner! We love to roast hot dogs on sticks, pop popcorn, and make foil packets of meat and potatoes to cook in the coals. And don't forget ingredients for s'mores!
4. Bring a flashlight for each person. Kids love to run around after dark or read in the tent and having their own flashlight makes it so much easier. Of course you will need one too! Also bring a battery operated light to hang from the ceiling of the tent to brighten your space.
5. If you're just camping for the weekend, forget about having the kids (or yourself) shower, and take very few pieces of clothing for them. I just let them wear the same outfit over each day–why make more dirty laundry! I do take one change in case they get wet/muddy.
6. I refuse to "do" sleeping bags anymore! Too small, claustrophobic, and uncomfortable. The kids still use them, but for my husband and myself I bring one sleeping bag which we open and place over the mattress underneath us, then an old comforter that goes over us. Nice and warm and cozy without being tight and uncomfortable. If you're camping in the spring or fall, it's probably a good idea to bring a few extra blankets for the kids in case it gets chilly.
7. Keep all of your camping gear together. We store our supplies in two plastic bins along with a check list. When we’re ready to go, I just have to pull out the bins and tent and sleeping bags, pack up the food and clothing, and we’re ready to go. No more hunting around for everything.
8. If you plan on camping during a popular time of year (Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, etc.) make your reservations well in advance. Most of the campgrounds we camp at accept reservations six months before the date you want. We write these dates on our calendar and call for reservations right away. This also helps you get the site you want as well.
9. Things will get wet at night. Even if it doesn't rain, dew will usually make anything you leave out overnight wet by morning. We fold up our chairs and lean them against the table, put our towels and tablecloth in the car or tent, and make sure all paper products are back in a plastic bin. Shoes left outside the tent will get wet too, so you may want to bring a small rug to put inside the tent to keep your shoes on.
10. Bring work gloves and duct tape. My husband always brings his heavy gloves along and swears by them. They keep your hands clean and splinter or blister free while cutting wood, moving the grate around on the fire pit, and any other dirty job around camp. Duct tape is always handy to have. We have used it to patch holes in the above-mentioned air mattresses and to seal holes in the tent netting. Other must-have items to bring: heavy-duty garbage bags, newspaper for the fire, bug spray, baby wipes, ziplock baggies (good for so many things), can opener, and card games.
What have I missed? Feel free to add your own tips in the comments!