So, you decide to take your family camping. What now? Here are a few suggestions.
There are few experiences better than taking your kids on their first campout and watching them roast marshmallows and hotdogs over the campfire. If this is your first family camping trip, make sure you are prepared. You may have camped many times before by yourself or with friends, but this is different. You should be prepared for your kids, husband, or wife not being as used to the outdoors as you. Your family may not be accustomed to using outside toilets, not showering before bed, getting rained on, not having as much privacy while changing clothes, etc. But, with the correct preparation, your camp experience can be an enjoyable and memorable one.
Do a trial run in your backyard. Test your equipment to see if any parts are missing or damaged. Some tents can be a little difficult to set up. It’s best to have it fresh on your mind, especially if you are setting it up after dark. This will also give the kids a taste of what it will be like and let you know if you have all your bases covered. When planning your trip and activities, involve the kids too. Let them be in charge of coming up with some activities. Also, put each child in charge of different campsite chores each day.
Choosing Your Campsite
What kind of Campsite experience do you want? Will it be in the backcountry or a public campground? Also, how rustic do you want your experience to be?
Primitive – This type normally doesn’t have running water, electricity, or bathroom facilities. The location is normally somewhat remote. These usually have a tent pad, fire ring, and picnic table depending on where you go. For those that don’t have tent pads, be careful of the vegetation in the area. Use Leave no Trace Principles.
Semi-Primitive – This type will normally have everything that the primitive campsites do but may also have running water, an electric pole, easy access to bathroom facilities, and showers. You will still be camping, just with a few convenient comforts.
Family Cabins – Many parks and campgrounds have the cabin option. Some are just a roof over your head with a bunk and nothing else. Some have just about everything that a home would have but on a smaller scale.
Really, you can go as primitive or modern as you want. The options are out there. The first time my wife and I took our children camping years ago, we stayed at a campground in the North Carolina mountains. We had a primitive campsite but there was a nearby restroom and shower. We stayed in our tent for three nights until it got flooded one day during a heavy rain. It was an old tent and the sealant had worn off over the years. After that, we went up to the campground office and rented a cabin for the next two nights. The girls were glad to be sleeping on a mattress again so it worked out.
Plan Your Meals
Cooking over a campfire or on a camp stove can be one of the highlights of family camping. Be a little adventurous with your meal plans. Try foil meals or breaking out the pot and tripod. You may even want to try a Dutch Oven Meal or Desert. Making an itemized meal plan is helpful. In my experience, breakfast and lunch should be kept simple. Besides, you don’t want to waste your whole morning cooking an elaborate meal and then have to clean up the pots and pans before you even start your activities of the day. Foods like oatmeal, cereal and milk, granola, and other easy-to-prepare items work well for breakfast. You may want to cook some eggs and sausage a morning or two, but my recommendation is to make that an exception. For lunch, foods like chips, cookies, sandwiches, and fruit are normally easy to prepare and can go with you in a backpack if on the move. Have items packaged into individual containers or bags. Dinner is the meal that requires the most attention and it’s normally a family effort.
Options for Cooking
- Foil Meals
- Camp Stove
- Directly on the Campfire (Place pot or pan on two parallel logs about the same height with coals in between them)
- Campfire (Pot hanging on Tripod over flames)
- Dutch Oven
- Charcoal with Lighter Fluid
A “chuck box” is a great way to keep all your cookware, utensils, and equipment organized. A 25-35-gallon plastic container with a lid works great.
Some items to have in your kit.
- Small plastic cutting board
- Cutting Knife
- Camp Stove
- Fuel for Camp Stove (Camp Fuel, Gas Canister, etc.)
- Tea Kettle or Coffee pot (heating water for washing, hot chocolate, etc.)
- Aluminum Foil
- Measuring Cup
- Cooking Spray
- Paper towels
- Manual Can Opener
- Trash Bags
- Ziploc bags
- Campfire Heat-Resistant gloves (for picking up hot pots and pans)
- Table Cloth
- Dish Detergent (small)
- Scrub pad
- Folding Wash Basin or Large Bowl
- Dish Clothes
Depending on where you are camping, it’s a good idea to plan how and where you will answer the call of nature. If camping in a campground, the bathroom facility may be a good distance from your campsite. It’s a good idea to have a popup privacy shelter and portable toilet. If camping in the backcountry, chances are there will not be restroom facilities or a privy around. You will need to prepare ahead of time. Have a dedicated toiletry kit in a large (1 gal) ziploc bag.
Toiletry Kit Items
- Digging Trowel
- Toilet Paper (In a separate small ziploc bag that fits inside the big ziploc bag)
- Wet Wipes (In a separate small ziploc bag that fits inside the big ziploc bag) *Do Not Bury*
- Feminine Products *Do Not Bury*
- Small ziploc bag for disposing of wipes and feminine products
Where to do your Business
Find an area at least 200 feet (70 steps) away from any trails or water sources. Dig your “cathole” 6-8 inches deep and 5-6 inches wide. Look for areas with easy-to-dig soil that get plenty of sunlight. This will aid in decomposition. Do your business. Fill in the cathole. Cover the area with leaves or straw.
See also – Choosing a Campsite