Didn't camp much as a kid? No worries. Don’t be put off by the massively geeky websites advocating for wacky solutions to small inconveniences.
Campers and hill-walkers can be a little intense. But the odd outdoors adventure is a treat your child should experience without massive expense or effort on your part. The same skills go into camping as into eating outdoors and organising garden games. All pursuits work best with a healthy mix of detailed planning and some go with the flow flex. There really are only two essentials to being comfortable when you move your regular activities outdoors:
You need to stay warm and dry.
The food should be pleasurable.
Don’t worry so much about planning the actual activities. The fact that you’ve moved your family outdoors for a whole day or weekend offers lots of novelty. You should trust in tree-climbing, river-fording and games of hide and seek in the long grass to keep the kids entertained. You only need to ensure that cold and hunger don’t set in.
See our dress for success guide on lightweight back-up clothing - this is key all year if you’re out of the house for a few hours, trying slightly unpredictable activities. If you’re sleeping outdoors, and you’ll borrow or buy a tent, we advise that you prioritise a tent with a sewn-up floor cover. You can spend how much money you want. All you achieve with more expensive gear is generally quicker set-up times and better facilities for longer trips. If it’s a short excursion and you have confidence in the weather forecasts there’s no point in going overboard with awnings, groundsheets or gale-proof design. Much more important for warmth and comfort are the sleeping bags and the sleeping mats.
The guiding principles are the same for a picnic in the back of the car and a weekend camping in the wilderness. You need a quality cooler bag and several quality thermos flasks and then you’re set. Fill water bottles 3/4 up and freeze them - they will keep your cooler bag nicely chilled and defrost to offer lovely, cold water as the day or weekend progresses. A good thermos flask offers you hot soup, coffee or hot dogs (in a wide-mouth flask) 24 hours from being filled. A warm beverage is a great back-up after a cold incident like a kid falling into a river or a surprise rain shower.
If you’re on a campsite with electricity remember a mains hook-up cable. Don’t be caught out with a rice cooker full of dry grains and no plug-in point. Otherwise - if you’ve set off in a car - we recommend massive quantities of food. Life is different in the open air - kids are more active and often hungrier. Staving off delays or disappointment is easily done with boxes and boxes of tupperware with lots of kinds of high-carb food. Selections of pasta and bean or rice salads are great, and filled tortillas stay fresh-tasting for longer than bread. There are fantastic cakes for camping, beetroot, carrot and zucchini-based, which offer nutrition, sugar and comfort all in one. Indulge with flapjacks and condensed milk-based energy bars which do the job at any time of day. Avoid fruit that bruises and focus on snacks that will look appetising without proper refrigeration, like carrots, olives and nuts. And if you’re going all out with a campfire, then check out the alternatives to marshmallows. Our favourite messy meal only requires flour, baking powder and some water and maybe oil - make a quick batter to wind around freshly whittled sticks and your kids will love you.
If you worry that the delights of the riverbank or forest will run out and that your kids will need entertaining, you might be happier with a plan B lined up. You just won’t get more bang for your buck than with a ball or a frisbee. It might not sound very special or exciting, but remember that the most important factor to your kids is probably whether you join in or not. Very few things please kids like the adults joining in - genuine attention and caring in its purest form.
Don’t feel you need to think up very clever activities to compensate for a lack of TV or wifi. You just need to get muddy yourself.
If it’s an overnight excursion it’s easy to forget how dark a campsite or wild location can be! Remember you’ll need head torches to get stuff done late or early. Kids love packing their own torch alongside their sleeping bags. You’ll need a different winding down routine in a tent than at home and a board game might cause frustrations. The ground is never level and the dice will disappear in the piles of kit you’ve brought inside for the night. Reading or cards are reliable - or a game app you’ve downloaded beforehand on a device you’ve charged up fully.
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