02 June 2013

Camping with Kids

As a kid, I didn't really camp. Even as a young adult, I could probably count the number of times that I slept outside in a sleeping bag on one hand - and that was usually in our backyard. I never really thought of myself as the camping sort. And then I moved to Montana after college. Into the mountains. And I discovered that camping, particularly in the mountains, is just about the best thing to do on a summer evening.

Pre-kids, Nate and I took at least one backpacking trip together every year. We spent our honeymoon in the Canadian Rockies, exploring Banff and Jasper National Parks. It wasn't the most romantic of honeymoons, but it sure was memorable - not to mention affordable!

When we moved to Colorado, I knew we would be a camping kind of family. Nate grew up camping every summer with his family. Epic trips all over the western U.S. and into Canada and Alaska. His family has amazing stories about hiking down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, only to discover that the tent stakes were at the top of the canyon. They slept outside and were visited in the night by a rattle snake. So they slept on picnic benches.

We started camping as a family when Benny was just under 2 years old. He was a natural outdoorsy kid. There's nothing like wide open spaces, camp fires, rocks and streams (and most specifically rocks and streams) to entertain a toddler for hours.

We took a couple of years off of camping when I was pregnant with Lila and when she was a newborn. But we started back up last year when she was about a year and a half.

Here's what we do to make the trips memorable (but not the unprepared and miserable kind of memorable):
  • Use a large tent. We bought a family-sized tent when we started family camping and it has been a great investment.
  • Bring plenty of layers. We typically start out in shorts and T-shirts, but once the sun goes down, everyone changes into pants, sweatshirts, hats, gloves, jackets/coats. 
  • Plan for cold sleeping weather. Early and late in the season, we pack footie pajamas for the kids and pack extra blankets for sleeping. It's easier to remove stuff than it is to shiver through the night.
  • Expect the unexpected. Last year, we went camping on the first day of a fire ban. We had planned on cooking over an open fire in the campground. Although we had checked the forest service website before we left (no fire ban then), we didn't plan any alternatives. Luckily, there was a town relatively close by so we ate out. 
  • Don't forget water. Lots and lots of water. It's easy to get thirsty at higher elevations. The kids typically suck down much more than they do at home.
  • Wet wipes are your friend. Since Lila is finished with diapers, I don't regularly think about wet wipes. Always have them on hand while camping. They are great for wiping off dirty hands and faces (s'mores are messy!). And, if someone has "issues," they're great for road-side stops. I won't go into further details, but I will say that I wish we had packed wipes for our trip last weekend!
  • Teach your kids to pee outside. It sounds uncivilized, but there aren't always bathrooms around and kids can't always hold it. We taught Lila how to squat this spring (she calls is "squawking") and that skill came in very handy in the mountains.


emily -- a denver home companion said...

thanks for the tips! jp and i were wondering, just the other day, if we should attempt to take mo camping this summer. after reading this, me thinks it'd at least be worth a shot.

Introduction to Media & Culture said...

You could definitely attempt it! The first few times we went camping with both kids, we stayed relatively close to home. That way we could escape in the middle of the night if they couldn't sleep. It never came to that, but it was reassuring! Good luck!

marci said...

Great tips! We are going the weekend of the fourth and I'm so excited. Did you ever camp at all with a baby? We aren't exactly sure what sort of bed for our four month old. Thanks for the guide!

Introduction to Media & Culture said...

We never camped when our kids were under a year. But, we do know people who have gone and set up their pac and plays. There are also great "tents" you can get for your little ones to keep them from moving around while sleeping. Good luck!