The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Family Camping

Campfire at a Campsite by Family

You really enjoy camping, being outdoors and living more simply, getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city. You enjoy camping so much that you’ve decided to share the experience with your family. Camping with the family is a whole different ball game compared to camping alone. There is a lot more planning, and a lot more equipment involved to ensure everything runs smoothly but once you’ve got it down pat then it is an extremely rewarding experience.

WHY SHOULD I GO CAMPING WITH MY FAMILY?

The questions is, why shouldn’t you go camping with your family! Aside from the initial investment in the equipment, it is an extremely cost effective way to have some fantastic holidays both locally and further afield. Camping is a great way for all of you to unplug so you can spend quality time as a family, playing board games, walking, and just enjoying nature and each other’s company. There is also a range of different styles of camping to suit every traveller, from the old fashioned tent in a field with no plumbing in site, all the way up to glamping.

Camping is an adventure, it introduces new sights, smells, and sounds to your young kids and the chance to explore their world. They get uninterrupted time with their parents and siblings, and take turns telling stories and exploring small streams. For older kids and teenagers it gives them a little more independence than a traditional holiday. They can have their own tent or section of a tent, take long walks together, and learn life skills like confidence, and self-reliance that will help them throughout their whole life. And on a campsite, they have opportunities to make friends with kids their age from all over the world.

PICKING YOUR CAMPSITE

Campsite

When selecting your campsite, the world is your oyster! You could choose an international destination, a beach break, camp by a lake, or in the woods. Check the rules of the country you are camping in, some will let you pitch a tent basically anywhere, while others will require you to stay in a campsite.

Depending on where you are the quality of the campsites will vary widely. Some campsites are more like holiday parks with activities, evening entertainment, swimming pools, and games rooms; while others are just a place to put your tent with no running water. Before booking your campsite, do a little research on the facilities because there would be nothing worse than arriving and finding out the campsite doesn’t work for you.

Starting points to research would be:

  • Does it have proper toilets or drop toilets?
  • Does it have showers?
  • Is running water available?
  • Do they allow campfires and barbecues?
  • Are children allowed or is it an adult only campsite?
  • Are there any strict rules that might mar your holiday?
  • Is there electricity if you require it?
  • Is the location suitable for your needs in terms of having a nearby shop or town?

WHAT TO BRING

Again, this will depend largely on how much creature comforts you enjoy, but there are some basics that will make sure everything runs smoothly. As a family camping, bringing things to do is vital. Ensure you pack anything your kids would enjoy doing in pairs or as a whole family like books, board games, marshmallows for roasting, sports equipment, crafts, or bird watching books and binoculars.

Aside from that here is a list of family camping essentials:

  • Tent (though there are campsites with pre-pitched tents)
  • Camping mat for each person
  • Tarp to put under the tent to keep the bottom dry
  • Gas stove
  • Drinking water. Select a container that is big enough to last most of the day, but also one that can be comfortably carried when full. For families with younger kids, a container with a tap will be useful so kids can help themselves when they are thirsty.
  • Containers or sink for washing up
  • Pots, pans, cups, plates, and cutlery for eating. Plan out what you are going to eat whilst away and pack accordingly
  • Food if there are no shops nearby. Even so, bring some specialty items or family favourites.
  • First aid kit
  • Torches and batteries
  • Lamps or lanterns for the inside of the tent
  • Sleeping bags
  • Washing up liquid and sponges
  • Hand towel
  • Dish towels
  • Wet wipes and hand sanitiser
  • Tin opener, cork screw, and bottle opener
  • Foil
  • Toiletries
  • Matches
  • Toilet roll
  • Knife
  • Scissors
  • Clothes line and pegs
  • Warm clothes, and wet weather appropriate clothes, even if it is the middle of summer
  • Flip flops
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Swimmers
  • Plastic bags for rubbish, dirty clothes, keeping things dry, and a number of other uses.
  • Medication
  • Insect repellent
  • A cooler
  • Extra blankets just in case of particularly cold nights

WHAT KIND OF TENT SHOULD I HAVE?

Family Tent at Campsite

Tent selection is perhaps the most important aspect of a camping holiday. While tent hire is available at specialist places, if you plan on going camping a couple of times a year, it is worth investing in a good quality tent that suits your family’s needs. The rule of thumb is always buy a tent that will fit more people than you intend to take camping. For example, for a couple camping buy a three person tent unless you plan on being glued together all night. For a family of four, a six person tent would ensure plenty of space. Tents range significantly from the standard small dome tents that work perfectly well for a weekend, to practically tent palaces with separate bedrooms.

If your family has older kids, it could be worth thinking of how many bedrooms you need rather than how many people the tent should fit. The advantages of multiple bedroom tents is that each of the bedrooms will have their own storage space and there will be a central area where you can relax as a family when the weather is rotten. Whereas if you have multiple small tents for your family then you are restricted to socialising outside. In some tents the bedrooms are all side by side, but other tents have the rooms coming off either side of the living space, creating the perfect amount of privacy for teenagers.

Some manufacturers offer tent extensions as well so a fully enclosed extra living space or bedroom can be added onto a smaller tent as your family’s needs change. This means that you can still have a small tent for personal camping trips, and then add the extensions to go camping with your family. One thing to note though is a manufacturer could change their design down the line so it is best to buy the extension at the same time as you buy the tent to avoid being caught out down the line.

The second most important thing to look out for is the size of the central living area of the tent. If it is raining, is there enough room to play some games, sit down for a meal, and generally not drive each other crazy in close proximity? Is there enough storage in the central living area for the food, and items you’ve brought along?

Other small details that can make a world of a difference to your camping experience are:

  • Is the entrance to your tent wet weather proof?
  • Is there hooks for lanterns in the living space and bedrooms?
  • Is it easy to pitch? Especially with younger kids, the tent needs to go up as quickly and with little fuss as possible.
  • Is the entrance ‘non-trip’?
  • Is there enough windows to let natural light in during the day?
  • Is there enough storage space in the tent?
  • Can it fit comfortably in the car to transport?

Overall, there are so many different types of tents out there so it is best just to create a list of what your family’s needs are and do a little bit of research to find the best tent for you. Some camping suppliers offer rental, so it could be worth testing out a tent first by renting it or borrowing a friend’s to see if it works for you.

WHAT TO EAT

Food at Camping

Planning out your meals for the week is essential. Work out how many times you want to eat out or at onsite restaurants, and what meals you want to eat while you are there. When you are actually there you can mix and match the meals dependent on your mood, but it gives you a better idea of how much you are likely to spend, and what you need to pack. Otherwise you will spend a lot of the trip going back and forth between the supermarket or taking trips into town to eat out because it was too overwhelming to decide what to eat and then go shopping and then cook it.

In terms of meals that will depend largely on what your family likes to eat, but in general try to stick to fairly easy meals that won’t need too many pots and pans. For breakfast the usual things like cereal, toast, eggs, fry up are quite easy to make with only a camp stove or even a campfires. For lunches and dinners it is quite easy to make things like curries, sandwiches, pasta, chilli, burritos, kebabs, barbecues, and much more. The best things to cook on a camping trip are quick to make and use few cooking utensils.

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