Camping for beginners
Didn't camp much as a kid?
It's not a big step to offer your own kids some light adventure! Eating outdoors, organising garden games, a weekend of camping - it's the same mindset. 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. Have faith! Waking up somewhere new is brilliant for kids. You only need to ensure that cold and hunger don’t set in.
Lightweight back-up clothing is key all year if you’re out of the house for a few hours, trying 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. Noone is David Attenborough at 3am, so keep the bugs out. What 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.
Whether it's a tailgate picnic or weekend camping in the wilderness, your family's needs are simple. You're set with a quality cooler bag and several quality thermo flasks. 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 thermo 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 relying on a campsite with electricity remember a mains hook-up cable. 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.
I think the sheer difference of waking up somewhere new is 80% of the fun for your kids. But if you want back-up activities to exploration, here are travel-friendly tips.
You 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. Bats are also easy to pack.
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. 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.
Babies teach you how to put your own needs to the side. Family logistics only become bigger as they grow. If you managed to keep your sports up in the free hours you had while your baby or toddler was in childcare, that’s great. Few do! If you're getting into it now, there's great news. Gains show quickly when you...
Holiday happiness doesn’t depend on the amenities of the hotel, the size of the rental car or the amount of sunshine. It depends on your children’s ability to play together. If your sports nut older son is stuck with a somewhat clumsier younger brother for two weeks, it can get tense. How to minimise squabbling? Laidback summer sports include frisbee...
The gym classes, the new juicer, the cardio apps – it just got old. The thing now is to stand up. If you sit a lot, then more exercise time doesn’t make up for the damage which sitting is doing to your body. It’s not about creating more activity, it’s about cutting down inactivity. It is as easy as it...
One particularly numbing week I spent a whole Saturday watching slalom kayaking and the following Sunday dashing between two football tournaments – this on top of mid-week tennis chauffeuring. Many parents miss having that time to spend on their own fitness. But you can slot in some valuable drills when you spectate. Remember: Improving your posture gives you more bang for...