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Moms Talk: Camping With Kids

What you need to know before you go to the woods.

Summertime! July 4th is past us, and the forecast is beautiful. So let’s all go sleep outside!

Not so fast. Are you ready to camp with your kids? Perhaps you were a hardcore survivalist before you had your smalls and are all set up with everything you need for a weekend on a mountain. But your pup tent for one just won’t do for a family trip. You’ll need to gear up, know where you’re going, and be prepared for a very different time.

The first challenge is the gear. Those of us who were not members from their teens need to know that sleeping on the ground is, in fact, as uncomfortable as it sounds. There are options. From or cabins at parks (though my daughter says firmly that that is not “real” camping) to an airbed or sleeping bag pads in your own tent, you can make the outside more like the inside, but never exactly. Parents, for the most part, must just accept that their sleep will not be as good as it is at home.

This will most likely not be true for your kids. My daughter has never slept as well as she does outside. The combination of the fresh air and all the running around makes her sack like nothing else. 

She still snores and thrashes, though. Oh well. She’ll keep the bears and mountain lions away.

You need a tent, sleeping bags, and something to hold the food. You’ll need a light for nighttime, and you’ll want a pillow of some kind. All other things are optional, no matter how my husband’s head just exploded when I typed that. Incredibly nice to have is still optional, honey.

The next thing to think about is that food. Whether from a long hike or a car camping trip with friends to run and play with, your kids will most likely be starving. You can go the route of everything dehydrated or as light as possible and play on their sense of novelty. You hardly every eat from tetrapaks at home, right? If you’re car camping, don’t overestimate how cold your cooler can keep things, or how many bags of food you need for three days. Your car can only hold so much.

Whatever route you go, know that s’mores are mandatory. There’s not a kid in the world who can be cheated of s’mores and think it was a real camping trip. Prepare accordingly.

Third, spending the day in the outdoors requires the presence of some things and the absence of some things. In the former camp, bug spray, sunscreen, and water, all three in much greater amounts than you think. In the latter, electronics. 

No matter how much I rely on the television as babysitter (or, more accurately, as snooze button) at home, the real world is no place for TV, Gameboys, or iAnything. This is the time to scramble about and hike and get dirty and get Vitamin D and all the other things we don’t do as much around here the other 10 months of the year. The game of the real world can be challenging to the parents, but it’s worth it to ban the battery operated.

The final issue is that around here, the good campsites that can be reserved probably already are. I have friends who camp seriously who reserve their sites for July in January, if not in the previous July. 

For us slackers, there are the campsites that are walk in only. Also, some sites will keep a waiting list of cancellations. And there’s always your own backyard.

The Great American Backyard Campout is an event sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation that encourages people to get out and try camping, even if it’s just out your back slider.  It took place on June 23 this year, but as that’s not often a good day yet here in the Northwest, our version is going on this Saturday. There is an official event at , but it’s full—waitlist only at this point. 

Still, it’s a great day to drag your stuff out back and give it all a test run (especially lovely if you have younger kids who haven’t been camping yet). You’ll be only feet from your house if you need to run back in for things. Please do remember to put what you’ve need to go inside for on a list, so that you can remember to pack them for your away trips later.

The weather couldn’t be better. The sun is calling you out of your house. Take your kids and spend a night under the stars. You’ll make enough memories to tell stories about around a different fire, with cocoa instead of s’mores, all through the winter.

Cathy Watkins July 06, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Nice article, with good reminders. I love sleeping outside, even if it is in the backyard. And food always tastes great when prepared around a campfire, no matter what it is. I agree, s'mores are essential!

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