July 2, 2013

Camping With Kids

I've been a fan of camping since I was a kid.  11 years old, sleeping in the back yard in a monstrously heavy tent, my "camp food" consisting of a bologna sandwich that Mom made, sleeping on the ground without a air mattress, a flashlight powered by a pair of C Cell batteries, and the safety of home a mere couple dozen yards away.  I loved it, and wanted more.

Moving to Colorado enhanced this love of the outdoors and as my finances grew I obtained new and better gear.  What was once a 20 pound canvas tent became a 3 pound nylon tent just big enough for me and my dog.  Sleeping on the bare ground gave way to a self-inflating air mattress that compressed down to smaller than a soda bottle.  A camp stove and a titanium pot and a spork created feasts of noodles and sauce, and the ever present flash of small batch bourbon helped keep the chills away.  I lived large as a bachelor in the greatest outdoor playground I'd ever known.  

But now I have daughters.  And they've never been camping before.

As with anything, proper introductions make a new activity more likely to be fun, and camping is no different.  If you're going to introduce your children to the outdoors, take some steps to make it enjoyable.

First, get your expectations in order.  This is supposed to be fun, a seedling planted with the hope that it will grow, and this is NOT the time to set a new speed record on the trail.  You're going to be "car camping", and it will be best if you approach it as such.  Find a place where they can hike some easy trails, swim in the lake, and so forth.  Take the dog and some beef jerky and just enjoy being lazy in the woods, and you'll be happier in the end.    

Next, pick a weekend when decent weather is expected.  Sure, nobody can guarantee sunny and 78 and no wind, but it's a fool's errand to head out when the weather man is calling for an 80% chance of rain and high temps in the 50s.  You'll have plenty of time later to teach cold-weather camping skills, so for now stick to weather where their regular "sleep-over-at-a-friend's-house" sleeping bag will keep them warm.

Find a place where you can drive your vehicle right up to your campsite.  At worst, you want less than 50 yards between your car and the tent.  All the standard campsite criteria apply, of course: Flat ground, no dead trees overhead, sheltered from the wind, and so forth.

Pack as much gear as you need.  I have a two-burner propane stove and a set of nesting pots and pans.  I also took an extra stove with fuel, and if I wanted I could have cooked a feast.  We took plenty of food, several packets of hot chocolate, a Frisbee, a small radio to listen to music, flashlights (well, headlamps, actually) for everyone, glow sticks, a deck of cards, stuffed animals, pillows from the bed at home, and so forth and so on.  Again, make this FUN.  No suffering allowed on the first trip.        

Eat like a king.  Or, in the case of my girls, like a Princess.  We packed their favorite foods that can be made on a camp stove (baking in camp can be tricky) like bacon and eggs for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and ham sandwiches with chips and apples for lunch (PB&J for Spawn the Younger, ham for Elder Spawn), cheese and salami and crackers for snacks, hot dogs and spaghetti with meat sauce for dinners, hot chocolate with marshmallows for a hot drink while sitting around the campfire, etc.  Again, no suffering allowed here.  If your kid likes a particular food item, take it.  Coolers and ice and careful packing and creativity can make almost any food item work while camping.  Don't forget little things like salt, pepper, hot sauce, grated Parmesan cheese for the pasta, etc.  As an aside, rumor has it that you can find single-use packets of salt, pepper, and other stuff at fast food joints.  Or so I've heard.

Let the kid stay up as late as they want, and sleep in as late as they want.  No bedtime or alarm clocks in the woods.  I let my daughters bring their iPods, but I did put limits on how long and when they could play with them: Thirty minutes at night, while in the tent, before bed.  That's it... no more.  

I found this approach worked great for my kids.  They're still talking about the camping trip, three days now removed from the tent, and asked me "When can we go camping again?"

That's when you know you did it right.  

1 comment:

Old NFO said...

That's a great primer on how to handle it... Thanks!