Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Camping With Kids

Before we had kids, the vast majority of the camping Josh and I did was of the backpacking variety, where we were hiking several miles into the woods before setting up camp in a remote location with no water, bathrooms, or other campers nearby. Accordingly, most of the camping gear we had bought was lightweight and best suited for "roughing it". We've done limited camping with kids and since they're too young to hike much on their own, it's all been of the car-camping variety, where you reserve a spot in a campground and your car (and the neighbors) are about 20 feet away from where you pitch your tent. Each time we make a trip, we realize there is something else we should do differently. So I thought I'd take the time to make a quick post about some of the things we've picked up.

For a while, we kept using our GoLite Tent that we'd bought right after we got married. We liked the tent, it worked well and it was incredibly quick to set up in addition to being more than light enough for backpacking. The problem was that past the infancy stage, it wasn't compatible with kids because the support pole is on the inside of the tent and I lived in perpetual anticipation of that pole getting shifted enough to let the tent collapse on us (the kids constantly grabbed it and pulled on it). So we sold the GoLite to a younger single guy. We kept our REI HalfDome 2 Tent in the hopes that one day we will get away for a kid-free trip again or the kids will get old enough and responsible enough to be in their own tent. But for our general use right now, we bought a Kelty Grand Mesa 4-Person Tent. It's perfect for car camping--we all fit in it (even after baby #3 comes, it will be fine for quite a while), it's easy to set up (Sierra can even do it), and it's just light enough that it's not totally unreasonable to use it for a backpacking trip (especially once Sierra's old enough to carry some of her own supplies).

Sleeping Pads
Josh and I had always used Ridge Rests that were cut down to 3/4 size (again, because they were light) and initially, we kept using them and put the girls on top of extra blankets we had brought. Let's face it though, we're getting older and it'd be nice to have more comfort, especially when we're in an highly used campground (and the dirt is compacted to about the hardness of concrete). For our last trip, since I'm pregnant and weight didn't matter, we picked up an air mattress (full-size) for us and put the girls on our Ridge Rests. While we may need to get a higher quality air mattress, we'll probably be sticking with this, or at least buying another high quality Therm-a-Rest (we already have one).

Sleeping Bags
Again, Josh and I have high quality, light weight, low-temperature rated sleeping bags. Up to now, we've used our bags and just brought blankets for the kids. On this last trip, we were sleeping at pretty high altitude and knew it would be pretty cold at night, so we put two quilts under the girls (on top of the two ridge rests), opened up Josh's sleeping bag to be a blanket on top of them and told them to snuggle together. Then Josh and I were on the air mattress with a regular blanket over us. We got cold, and we want our bags back, so we'll be going ahead and getting real sleeping bags for the girls--most likely something warm and light since they will probably still be using them when they are old enough to do some backpacking.

Again, with backpacking, we often used a soda-can alcohol stove, a grease pot and a light pot lifter. Our food was usually dehydrated things like homemade fruit leather, soup mixes, oatmeal or cream of wheat, Moose Goo and tortillas. With young kids, we want them to see camping as fun so they continue to want to do it and we also want to hear less complaining. So we pack up treats like hot dogs, s'mores fixin's and powdered donuts. I'd go as far as cooking pancakes or biscuits in camp, but I'm not going to do anything clean up intensive like sausage, bacon or eggs. For storage, the dry goods get packed in a large rubbermaid container with other supplies. Cold stuff goes in one of those cheap insulated freezer bags from the grocery store with ice packs and then the bag is in a cooler along with cokes, water and a few bags of ice. It's easy to make PB&J sandwiches in camp and have those for lunch on the road or on a hike. Chips and granola bars can be easily accessible in the car for when someone needs a snack. We'll still use a soda can stove sometimes, but more often it's cooking over open fire or a regular stove(especially in the morning...when it's below 40 outside, you've just got to boil water for hot tea quickly. Or, maybe convince your husband to do so while you stay warm in the tent).

Cleaning Up
Part of camping is getting dirty and I'm not particularly worried about dirt. Kids however, manage to get just beyond dirty somehow. I like to have a pack of wet wipes in the car (the ones in the plastic container that fit in my cupholder are great) all the time anyway. With camping, it's REALLY nice to have those or a pack of baby wipes. If it was just me, I'd just pack a washcloth for myself, but something more disposable is nice with the little ones since the cloth is SO dirty when we're done. I only clean them up before bed, I'm one of those "build their immune system" people that's not worried about dirt on their hands while they're eating a hot dog. We pack toothbrushes, clean socks and clean underwear, and a clean shirt to sleep in, but if we're only going 2 or 3 days, they're probably going to wear the same clothes each day--the clothes and toiletries for all 4 of us fit in one smallish duffel bag (and it's not stuffed). One thing I have not done yet that I want to do is get a small mat or carpet scrap to put inside the vestibule of the tent. I really hate when dirt and sand get in the tent and kids are terrible about that. I have a strict no shoes in the tent policy, but inevitably they accidentally put a foot down on the ground after they take their shoes off or whatever. The tent is off-limits until bedtime though...if the weather's good, there's no reason to be hanging out in the tent.

When you do set off from camp, hiking with kids is totally different from hiking without them. With kids in the picture, 15 and 20 mile days are most decidedly OUT of the picture. For one thing, you just have to expect that kids are going to stop and smell the roses...and look at each bug, leaf, twig and rock in their pathway. It's okay, it's a different stage of life--appreciate the different view of nature your child is offering you and slow down. We can accomplish about 3 miles at a time and then Sierra (who always walks now) is pooped out and I've answered about 20 million questions about the things around us. Sedona doesn't last long walking just yet and doesn't reliably listen well enough to stay safe in some situations. We have an REI Piggyback child carrier that we bought when Sierra was little that we can use for her. We do not have the extra pack that is shown under the carrier in the link and the backpack in the back zips off completely (Sierra actually likes to carry that sometimes), so it's easy to have one person carrying a few water bottles and snacks and the other to carry Sedona. The straps are fully adjustable for both the parent and the baby, so the pack can fit a small baby as well as a toddler. There's also a built in hydration sleeve. On a typical day, I love using a moby wrap or mei tai type carrier, but those do not distribute the weight nearly well enough for a longer hike on uneven ground. While we haven't tried it for hiking, we also have a Chariot Cougar 2 Stroller and we've thought about getting the hiking kit for that and taking it out on familiar trails that we know will accommodate the width without too much trouble (as a bonus, it has a storage compartment in the back that could hold the tent and some water to cut down on the weight we have to truly carry).

I think that's the basic run-down. I try to strike the balance between convenience at camp and at home. I'm not going to load up a big two burner stove and a cabin-sized tent and a whole kitchen worth of food and 4 or 5 big folding chairs and a pop-up canopy and all that. We don't typically camp for the purpose of camping...we do activities all day long, sleep in camp, then pack up in the morning and move on to more activities, so I don't want a ton of stuff to set up and take down. Not that I'm a total purist--I would love to have a decent RV one day (more for the purposes of long distance road tripping than purely camping), but when we're setting up camp, I still aim for minimal and light-weight gear while preserving enough convenience to keep it fun.


Crafty Maine Mom said...

One thing I learned early with my kids was GORP. I don't think I have ever really made Good Old Raisins and Peanuts but I let them each choose one healthyish thing to put in the mix and then I add a couple more. There favorite is cheerios, dried cherries, sunflower seeds, annies bunnies, and yogurt covered raisins.

The Hills said...

Oh yeah! I forgot about that. We used to make our own when it was just us, but actually haven't with the kids--that'd be a good packing project they could help with before we leave too! Thanks for the reminder!

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