It’s that time again, and if you plan to enjoy the outdoors “family style” this year, here’s what you should know to keep everyone happy and comfortable.
by the OutsideDaily staff
“Memories to last a lifetime” is certainly an overused phrase, but when it comes to family camping trips, it’s true. Children don’t remember much about their day-in-the-life while growing up, but years later they will absolutely remember their family camping adventures. And if those trips are fondly remembered, there’s a good chance they’ll create similar memories for their own children years from now. Time away from the daily grind and distractions also brings families closer together, and that’s something we can all appreciate.
The key to making those memories great and keeping those traditions alive in future generations is comfort. Here are the ten best ways to minimize the hassle and maximize the fun and enjoyment of family camping this year and for years to come…
#1 – The Heart of it All
The tent is your home away from home, and success or failure of a camping trip often depends on the tent meeting the needs of your environment and your family.
First, be sure the tent you choose is large enough for everyone to sleep comfortably. Manufacturers often rate their tents by the number of adults that can fit in them. Unless you and your family stand about four-foot-nothing and are skinny as rails, take these ratings with a large grain of salt. By the time Mom, Dad, and the two kids stuff themselves into the average “four-person” tent along with sleeping bags, mattresses, pillows, and the inevitable personal belongings, everyone will be wishing for a larger domicile. Our recommendation, if you plan on a single tent for the entire family, is to buy a tent that is rated for at least two more people than you intend to sleep in it. A family of four, for example, should seriously consider a six-person tent. That will give everyone some semblance of personal space and keep the “stop touching me!” business to a minimum.
One tent design we’ve really come to appreciate when family camping is a two-room model. A two-room tent, such as the Camp Creek Two-Room from ALPS Mountaineering, gives much-needed privacy for parents and children, and offers Mom and Dad a welcome mental separation after a long day with the kids. Additional comfort and convenience features of the Camp Creek Two-Room include a large ceiling height so you can stand up to dress, and each room has its own exterior door so there’s no tripping over everyone during a midnight nature call.
#2 – Campsite Comfort
Most established camp sites across the country feature the obligatory picnic table. Useful they can be, but comfortable they are not. It’s a good idea for every member of your party to have a chair to call their own, and one that fits. There is a wide array of camping chairs available to meet most tastes and body sizes, including recliners, rockers, and chairs that incorporate cup holders, platforms to hold bowls or dinner plates, and some even have integrated coolers.
Whatever your flavor, it’s a good idea to try before you buy. Most of us spend a lot of time in our chairs, enjoying the camp fire late into the night, so buying furniture is not an “anything will do” proposition. Look for models with robust and lightweight aluminum frames for stability and durability, and heavy duty seat and seat back material that will hold up and clean up. Mesh panels are always great because they are cooler to sit on in warm weather, and they dry quickly if they become wet from dew, rain, or the inevitable spill.
#3 – Maximize Your Living Space
Many campers think of cots as luxury items, and in terms of comfort they do offer an exquisite night’s sleep. Yet beyond the quality snooze you get from sleeping on a cot, they do offer significant advantage for tent campers. By raising your bed off the tent floor, a cot provides a massive amount of out-of-the-way room to stow duffel bags, day packs, shoes, and all types of gear that tend to clutter up a tent. A cot also clears up valuable floor space so that it’s easier to move around without stepping on or over your tent mates.
#4 – Cold is King
Next to the tent, the cooler is the next “huddle around” item on the family camping gear list. One of the big problems with coolers, though, occurs when the ice melts and packages of hot dogs, cheese, and other edibles start to float around with cans of soda and leaky milk jugs. Yuk.
Money is a premium for all of us, but a cooler is one of those items where a solid investment can pay dividends in the long run. A high insulation, superior sealing cooler allows you to use pre-frozen, non-leaking ice packs to augment or replace traditional bagged ice yet keep your contents cold for a weekend. One of our favorites is the LiT Cooler. It uses “ice legs” that fit in the four corners to maximize interior space, and the heavy insulation and large gasket seal keeps food and beverages cold longer than other coolers we’ve tested. Another thing we like that is great for family camping is that these coolers come with a lighted ring that turns on when you open the lid, just like your refrigerator does at home. This makes it easy for the kids to find what they’re looking for after the sun goes down.
#5 – Be Bug-Free
One thing that can turn a family outing into a miserable experience is bugs—particularly the face-buzzing, blood-sucking variety. There are several ways to stop this disaster before it starts, including topical insect repellents (messy and smelly) and citronella candles and torches (bulky and not always effective).
For around the camp, we’ve found the Thermacell family of repellents to be the most effective in keeping away biting insects. These products use a butane-fueled heating element to heat a mat infused with a safe but highly effective synthetic compound that bugs can’t stand. Each device saturates a 15×15-foot dome area that keeps insects out. Place a couple appliances (hand-held units, lanterns, or torches) on either end of your campsite and the kids won’t wake up itchy and polka dotted.
#6 – Organization Basics
Camp sites can quickly devolve into a mess if care isn’t taken to stay organized. One of the biggest mess epicenters is the picnic table. It’s the place to cook, eat, and store pretty much everything that needs to be off the ground. Not good.
A dedicated food preparation table is the best way to stay organized and maintain a safe cooking environment, but hauling a traditional folding table to camp is not always easy or doable.
One of the best solutions we’ve come across for this is the ALPS Mountaineering Guide Table. This is a 22×61-inch prep table that stows in a compact 8x9x31-inch carry bag, so it easily fits in your vehicle. The Guide Table provides ample room for a stove or two, lantern to see by, and your various cooking supplies. This frees up the picnic table and makes after-meal cleanups a cinch.
#7 – The Soft Sleep
If your tent isn’t large enough to accommodate a cot, a good sleeping pad is a must. There are many types out there, from thin closed-cell foam to inflatables. For the optimal balance between comfort and size for the individual camper, it’s hard to go wrong with a self-inflating pad. These roll up nice and tidy, and self-inflate when you open the valve. Close the valve and you have the best features of a foam and inflatable mattress all in one.
#8 – Bagging it in Luxury
A sleeping bag can make or break a camping trip. This is one item that you really need to choose carefully—particularly when it comes to the temperature rating. Depending on where you camp, it can be exceptionally cold or insufferably warm and stuffy at night, so you want a bag that best matches the temperatures you expect. A 20º rated bag, for example is optimal if overnight temperatures in the 50s or lower, but will be quite uncomfortable if it’s warmer than that. For family camping during the summer, there are many economically priced bags on the market. Since bag size isn’t as critical for general camping as it is if you are backpacking, a lightweight or camping-style sleeping bag will do just fine for most family outings.
#9 – Cuisine Creations
Burgers, hot dogs, and s’mores round out family camping’s top three fixings, but even these favorites get old after the second or third go-around. Unfortunately, the clean-up aftermath of more well-rounded and custom-prepared meals—tasty as they may be—can decrease the fun factor.
So how do you enjoy variety in your campsite cooking without the drudgery of preparation and cleanup?
KEEP IT SIMPLE.
Prepare as many elements of your meals as you can at home so once at camp all you need to do is heat and serve. This cuts down on time that could be better spent on activities or relaxing.
#10 – To Each His Own (well, almost)
Space and a measure of privacy when camping is important for adults and children alike. Pre-teens and teenagers, especially, crave their independence, and having a tent of their own goes a long way toward keeping them (and their parents) happy on a family outing. If camp site space and the family budget can manage it, consider a separate tent for the older kids. Lightweight or backpacking tents are usually small enough to fit alongside a large camping tent on most campground tent pads, and they are ideal for young ones who are old enough to “sleep on their own.”
A family camping trip offers priceless opportunities for forging bonds and making lasting memories. To make those family adventures the best they can be, the key is to minimize hassle and maximize comfort. By following these tips, we’re confident that you and your entire family will look forward to the “great outdoor outing” for years to come.
article copyright © 2017 by OutsideDaily.com; promoted by ALPS Mountaineering