Labor Day is fast approaching. You know what that means right? Summer is officially over! Sorry to be a downer here but it’s true. School is starting and Labor Day weekend is your last chance to get out for a mini-vacation before the craziness of the school year hits and the weather turns brisk.
This means all you campers out there, or wanna-be campers, or feel-like-you-probably-should-since-you-have-kids campers, need to gather up your gear and hit the woods for at least one last hurrah before summer completely passes you by.
If you have kids in tow, here are some tips I’ve learned over the last 6 years as a parent who refuses to be slowed down by toddlers . . .
1. Check the weather report!
I know this sounds like a no-brainer but it is sooooo important to know what you are in for weather-wise so you can pack accordingly and avoid making promises, like swimming, if it’s going to be too cold to deliver. Make sure you set up realistic expectations so your children aren’t disappointed from the get go. And remember, rain can be a lot of fun!
2. Footie Pajamas
Footies are a must, whether it’s warm or cold. Kids tend to roll around and kick off their sleeping bags. Warm footie pj’s will save you a lot of middle of the night wake-up-and-whine sessions.
The right shoes are so important! You want to make sure you have easy slip-ons, like rain boots, that your kids can slide on in the middle of the night over their footie pj’s to go potty. The last thing you want to do in the dark is worry about shoving a foot into cramped tennies. Also, waking up in the morning and being able to throw a sweatshirt on over pj’s and slip a foot into easy to wear shoes makes all the difference when everyone’s a little groggy.
You don’t need a lot of toys if you have the right toys! I try to bring playthings that will help my children engage with nature: bug boxes, butterfly nets, shovels and buckets, fishing poles, big plastic bats for hitting rocks into a lake, life jackets for swimming, etc. Make sure that you bring things that can get dirty, lost, or broken because chances are they will! The dollar store is a great place to pick up cheap outdoor toys.
I like to bring some sort of official gear for each kid that makes them feel like an outdoorsman. My son, Bjorn (2) loves his Little Life Runabout Toddler Daysack. My girls, ages 6 and 4, both have designated camping hats. This special gear seems to put them in an outdoor frame of mind and makes them feel like they are official campers and not just along for the ride.
6. Kid Friendly Tent
I can’t overstate how important it is to have the right set up, and a tent is an important part of this. I was lucky enough to be able to use the Mountain Hardwear Corners 6 tent over the summer – the Taj Mahal of family tents. Why? First, it has a COVERED AREA in front of the entrance to stow wet gear, keep things dry that you don’t want to bring into the tent, provide a changing room without having to get inside the tent, act as a weather buffer, etc. Also, the STEEP SIDES allow you stand and move around freely (nice when you are carrying a baby/toddler around) and use floor space all the way into the corners. POCKETS up the walls allow you to keep diapers and wipes, flash lights, cameras, batteries, books, etc. organized and easily accessible.
Even without an ideal tent, you can upgrade your set-up by making sure you have large mats outside the main entrance to serve as a dirt deterant and a tarp to hang in the trees above your tent entrance if you suspect the weather might be less than ideal (rain/sun shield).
7. Limit the Possibilities
I make a point not to pack too many roasting sticks. I don’t need three little kids setting marshmallows on fire at the same time!
8. Make a Bed
Don’t just throw a sleeping bag on the floor of the tent. Squirmy kids will most definitely end up crammed into a cold corner. I have little cots for my children so they have a well defined sleeping area. You can make a toddler bed by circling up bags and laying a blanket in the middle. Pack-and-play portable cribs are wonderful. Baby carseats can work well keeping babies warm, rock-able, and in familiar surroundings. Get creative and make sure you have a plan.
Chances are your kids make more noise at night than you realize, along with the birds, and fellow campers. Earplugs can make a huge difference in how well you sleep.
10. Keep it familiar
Camping is not the time to find out brats are a little too rich for your kid’s stomach. Diarrhea is a camping killer! Pack familiar foods or test special foods out on your kid before you hit the road.
11. Baby wipes and hand sanitizer
Wipes and sanitizer are nice for spills, cleaning tables or stoves, wiping hands and faces, cleaning tree pitch and marshmallow off little cheeks, de-stinkifying armpits, cleaning cuts, etc. You’ll find a myriad of uses for each.
You probably won’t sleep as well or stay as clean as you hope. You will live. And if you bring enough coffee and baby wipes, you’ll have fun!
When you get up in the middle of the night for an emergency potty break, look up and enjoy the stars. It’s when you do things out of the ordinary and keep a positive attitude that you form the best memories.
I know there are other tips and tricks out there for smooth family camping. Don’t be selfish! Share your secrets . . . leave a comment!