Camping with kids... Survival tips!
Yay Christmas is coming and this means camping. I’ve camped all my life, from 6 months old apparently. We’ve kept up a strong family history of camping, often going away for 2-3 weeks with extended family. We like to camp in remote locations, with little in the way of facilities…the best locations are usually DOC camps or those in the middle of nowhere.
We’ve had some amazing holidays and some rather hairy camping experiences. The year before last was a metre high flash flood through the camp, and last year was the highest rainfall ever recorded in the Rotorua district. Great! This year we’re crossing our fingers and toes, and splashing out on a new family set of gumboots just in case!
So I thought it was timely to share a few pearls of wisdom for those of you embarking on your first camping trip, or your first camping trip with kids…cause it's just a little bit different from camping without kids!!
Here’s my tips in no particular order….
1. Buy a trailer. Seriously, buy it now. Don’t even try to pack all your camping gear in your boot unless you drive a military sized truck. You will then be able to take a really big tent (see tip 2) and all the things that will save your sanity, like a table, chairs and your kids bikes.
2. Buy the biggest tent you can afford and make sure it is waterproof. Seriously, some tents aren’t. And make sure it can stand up to a decent wind, just because its summer doesn’t mean the weather will be good!!! And ideally have separate rooms in your tent, so you can have your own space, keep your things clean and dry, and also kids sleep better (and parents) when you are in your own room. Even if the walls are canvas!
3. Nightlights….it gets very dark in the middle of nowhere and kids who are used to a nightlight will squeal very loudly in the middle of the night when they wake up and its VERY dark. Battery operated ones or you can be eco and try solar powered ones. Also get some solar powered outside ones to show where your tent ropes are..or you will definitely trip over them when you get up to the loo.
4. If you are pregnant, pack an extra container to pee in during the night. Actually even if you are not pregnant, getting up in the rain and dark to walk to a long-drop is not fun. One of the low points of camping….be prepared!
5. Are we there yet? If you are travelling more than about 5 hours, consider breaking the journey and stay in a cabin or motel for a night on the way. Driving long distances takes a long time with kids, and don’t forget to allow time to set up your tent (especially if its new) before it gets dark!
6. Take LOTS of things to do….board games, card games, an art box with paper, pens and stickers, buckets and spades, bikes, balls, cricket bat, rope for making swings. Take stuff for fine weather but be prepared for rain…sorry!
7. Take lots of warm clothing. Nights can be freezing in the summer, so ensure everyone has the following on their packing list..wool hat, wool socks, gumboots, decent raincoat, several sets of merinos or thermals (great for bed), sunhat…and all your usual stuff.
8. Take lots of bedding. Basically work out what you think you need, then add more for bedwetting, leaky tents, and then add more blankets cause it will be colder at night than you expect. Don’t forget an under-blanket for everyone too, because camp beds and airbeds are freezing to sleep on.
9. Remember to pack warm things for YOU! It’s very easy to forget extra bedding for you, and enough warm clothes for you….and did I mention gumboots?
10. Food. Make it simple! Cook things like spag bol at home and freeze in an ice cream container. They stay frozen for days and you just heat it up! Kids can survive many days on baked beans and tinned spaghetti. It depends how remote you are going as to how much you need to take..but remember lots of snacks as the fresh air makes kids (and grownups) hungry. Take a portable BBQ if you have one…you can’t beat sausages, bread and sauce…quick and delicious. You can have veggies when you get home.
11. Frozen milk! Freeze some big bottles of milk, a mixture of 1, 2 & 3 L bottles is good. If you are going remote you won’t be able to buy milk….but a 3L of milk takes many days to defrost so it keeps your chilly bin cold. And on that note, avoid opening your chilly bin. Every time you open it, it warms up a bit. We take a couple – one for things you are using regularly like margarine or cheese, and the other one which we only open very occasionally…like to sneak out the cold sav at 5pm. Yes wine o'clock definitely still applies when you are camping, sometimes even a bit earlier than at home.
12. Don’t camp by a river. Ever. No matter how good the weather forecast or how far away from the river you think you are. Rivers can rise in a very scary quick time, as we found out when a metre of water went through our tent in a flash flood. Lucky we had had the sense to remove ourselves half an hour before.
13. Other useful things to pack that you might not have thought of…insect repellent, sunscreen, brush & pan to sweep all the crap out of your tent, lots of rope, clothes pegs, matches, spare gas for your cooker, solar shower, waterproof picnic rug (especially if you have little kids), waterproof overpants if you have crawlers (the dew can make grass very wet!!), a gazeboo or tarpoline/ropes and poles to make one (you need to have some shade), your highchair, tables (1 to eat at, 1 to cook on), lots of buckets for collecting water, something to wash your dishes and your kids in, dish washing liquid, pot scrubber & dishbrush, papertowels, loo paper, really good first aid kit, antihistomine, PAMOL, small transister radio for white noise, Torches, nightlight, batteries galore….and gumboots!
14. Throw your kids routine and usual bedtime out the window. There will be other kids playing and being loud, and your kids will not go to sleep when there is fun to be had. And it will be really light and you will be pushing the proverbial up hill…go with the flow, kick back and let the kids play until its dark. What about their regular bedtime??? What about it! You are camping and different rules aply. And you might even get a bit of a sleep in.
15. Travel cots…make sure your little one can sleep in it before you hit the camping ground. make sure you have watched the YouTube videos showing how you put it up, and more importantly, fold it up. Remember to pack it (I forgot one year and had to have it sent by courier!!) . And if your child is an escape artist, I recommend a twisty tie (those little wire things that used to close plastic bags) to keep the two zipper ends closed. Also handy if your child can sleep in the buggy..pack a blackout shade for your buggy, as often it is actually cooler under a tree than in the tent during the day.
16. Take something good to read and eat. You might find you actually get a holiday too. Take some really good chocolate, some wine and a good book.
Suggestions from parents on our Facebook page...
Have been taking our children since the oldest was only 2 months old. I found camping with a baby easier than with a toddler as you can feed them to sleep. My tips are: still out the kids to bed early if you want them to have enough sleep as they will wake up with the birds and sun (I feel like the sleep nazi making my kids go to bed while others are still running around enjoying the evening daylight but I’d rather have happy kids than tired kids). Don’t stress too much about other people hear big your crying children in the night, if it’s not their child most people will just ignore it and continue sleeping. Have fun, get messy and enjoy the time in the outdoors (clothes and bodies can be washed). Also camping with extended family or friends makes for a great holiday as there are more adults to be on children duty (especially to give you a break when they’re young and need constant entertainment). Oh and a big tarp/shelter is a must in case of endless rainy days
I take a white noise machine for my son to help block out the surrounding noises so he can sleep.
We have taken our kids camping every year since our youngest was 6 months old - she is now 8.5. We try go when the campgrounds aren't so busy. Either before Christmas. Or late feb before they started school. This year and next we went between Auckland anniversary and Waitangi as the kidsschool went back quite late. I think the biggest thing is just to be relaxed and know that regular nap times and bed times need to be flexible. We also take them for a walk along the beach after dinner before bed to wind them down and wear them out just that little bit more....
If you can do the zip from bottom to top when doing it up so you don’t have any escapees and it is easier to check on them as the zip is at it height and not down on the ground.
We used to go camping as kids all the time and my mum literally took a kitchen sink, during winter she had a tent that had a pot belly inside lol. We are taking our 2 year old and will be 7-week old camping after Xmas.....but mums going too so the setup will be just like home lol.
We had a practice the week before. we set the tent up in our backyard and pretended we were camping. We even cooked on the BBQ and ate outside the tent and did teeth outside. It was useful not only to prepare my son for the night noises but also to check we had warm enough bedding. And to check the baby's cot fitted. A head torch is invaluable! We also take a stovetop espresso maker which is critical after a rough night. my baby was only three months so I was still feeding frequently. Oh and early morning quiet games. Kids not in a blackout portacot are up when it's light and it's very light in a tent.
All our kids have/will be tent camping before even old enough to start solids! Tips: Plan in advance, write lists so you don't forget anything, don't stress, give yourself loads of time to get there and home again and enough time in between, camp with others so you have extra hands (we camp with my parents and they have a caravan which is great for shelter from the weather and somewhere a little cooler than the tent for naps). To get naps from babies in such hot weather we find lying them on my parents' bed in the caravan in just a nappy with a cool slightly damp cloth on their tummy works wonders :) Take Pamol, teethers, antihistamines (hayfever for our oldest) etc just in case. Colouring books, board games (things to keep them busy but quiet). Sunscreen, insect repellant. BIKES! Life jackets for playing in the water. Something easy like jandals/gumboots for toilet-trained kids to throw on in the night for dashes to the loo, rather than fumbling with shoes/sandals. Lots of blankets for the portacot for the night, or we more recently started using Ergopouch arm warmers so the arms are warm too.
Most of all: have fun! Make memories, and take a few photos to enjoy reminiscing over later :)
My eldest was a crap sleeper but every time we went camping she slept awesomely! Taken her camping since about 4months old. Buy a cheap fan for when they day sleep and go to bed at night and turn to face on them!
Definitely white noise machine, and porta cot blackout. Means they can nap anywhere e.g. under a tree in the breeze. Love camping with kids!
We took our two-year-old camping last year - one thing we found to be helpful was buying some battery operated fairy lights to put up inside the tent. With no ambient light, it was very dark for her without any light at all.
From everyone here at The Sleep Store, we wish you a wonderful camping adventure with your little ones and look forward to hearing your stories and seeing your photos. And our fingers and toes are crossed for good weather for you and us! Louise xx
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