My first camping experience was when I was about 9 or 10 years old. A tiny weeny 2 person tent in a hidden field somewhere in deepest Sussex. We weren’t at an official campsite, I think we only had sleeping bags, no mats, I’m not sure what we ate, it wasn’t a proper meal, it would have been some kind of cobbled together picnic. Those details didn’t really matter much but the feeling I had, oh that feeling, I will never ever forget. My best friend was a good few years older than me so my parents were cool with it but all credit to them for giving me this freedom because we were alone. Well and truly alone. Just me and Sarah Williams, having an adventure. I remember the strange noises outside the tent. The noise of the “wild” I remember how wet the grass was in the morning and the smell of Summer.
I remember thinking and feeling like this was living. Being out there. Being wild. Being free.
After that I spent many summers camping out in the garden in friends fields, waking at sunrise making bread over a fire. With no parents just us, taking risks, doing whatever we wanted. Life as a kid back then was good.
As I got older it began to matter more that I had a sleeping mat, we had something better to cook on and that I was warm and dry! Don’t get me wrong I am looking forward to the day that my husband and I pack up our minimal gear, into one small bag and hike to a mountain top for the night but at the moment with two young kids in tow I have a few must haves on my list if camping’s gonna rock my world.
So here we go here’s my list :
Camping is a social thing. You don’t HAVE to go with friends but it makes a big difference. You help each other get your gear up, you share parenting the kids when they need it. You know while you’re arguing with your other half about which end the tent pole fits they’ll be making you a stiff drink for once calm is restored and they’re there for good long chats around the late night campfire.
If you set off adventuring as just a family then pick a small site and be prepared to chat to fellow campers. Be social. You’re all in the same field braving the weather together!
I mean this is a whole blog post in itself. I’m going to presume you have a tent, camper or c-van if you’re reading this otherwise I will be posting about our thoughts on these options later. But so you know we have a bell tent. It is SO easy to put up, the kids help and it’s done in 15 mins MAX. This is by far and away its best feature and it is so spacious and very very cool if the weather is hot. The sides flap up so you get a cool breeze which is amazing as all other tents are boiling in the heat. That said it is a total pain for any kind of cooking/outside shelter when it rains. Hence my next point…
I would say things changed drastically for us once we had a communal shelter area. Some tents have large porch areas which you can put your kitchen / chairs / sofas (the blow up ones!) in. But if you don’t have space for this a shelter is amazing. It means if you are with a group of friends you have a space to sit communally and stay dry if/when it rains! We have a Colemans Event Shelter My husband swore his head off when we got it. “It’s too big” “We can’t fit it in the car” “Why do we even need one?” The minute we were away camping with it he thought it was the best thing ever.
It doesn’t really matter too much what you sit on around the campfire (as long as you have a campfire!) but after years of using a pair of service station fold up chairs we have just bought the Vango Titan Chairs They are SO comfortable!! We tested them out recently and of the 20 people camping with us they all agreed they were the best!
These are the same but cheaper
*TOP TIP you know those wooly buggy liners …I take one and line the chair with it. Not only does it make it so comfy it makes it much warmer too! You are welcome ;)
Get an inflatable mattress and NOT an air bed! All that air that you fill the air bed up with that then sits on the ground, gets really cold at night. The actual air I mean! So do yourself a favour and get yourself a Thermarest or foam mat. After literally years of crap beds I did some extensive research and because we were going to be camping for weeks on end I knew we needed to have a really decent nights sleep. Therefore I was prepared to spent a lot so money on our comfort. So we got these.
They were super expensive but a real investment and they are bloody comfortable! I’d go so far as to say there are comfy as our bed at home! We can also use them for guest when they come and stay. The only down side is now the kids want to use them in the tent too so we need to get them ones as well. *shakes empty piggy bank.
Just a note if you DO use air beds, can’t buy anything else and DO feel the cold then the best thing to do is to put wool blankets under your sheet on the bed to keep the warmth under you (which is where the cold air comes from!)
My husband and I take our king size duvet. We use a 15L stuff sack to squish it into so it doesn’t take up a lot of space. A bit like this one. The kids have super warm sleeping bags, a bit like these. I’d like to say it’s so they don’t wriggle out of them but they do. I just think they are more fun for them while the are camping and genuinely do keep them warmer.
CAMPFIRES / COOKING
I had a rule that was, if we couldn’t have a campfire at a site then I wasn’t interested in going there. But then last year we camped at a site on the beach in Cornwall and that was their rule (didn’t realise when I booked it ) and the site was SO amazing we will go back there without hesitation BUT we were able to use our bbq/fire pit for cooking on and then once done it was a little bit like a fire afterwards too ;) So I’d say they are well worth getting.
There are loads of excellent fire bowls and bbq’s out there so have a look around. Ours is a Travel Kadai FireBowl It’s not the best but I’d say don’t get something cheap or flimsy it won’t stand the test of time. Ours comes with a handy travel bag :)
We also take a 2 ring gas burner for morning tea and boiling water for pasta etc… I won’t put a link to ours as there are better ones but I do think it’s better to have a two ring rather than one so you can make morning tea AND fry your eggs at the same time. If you haven’t got the campfire going in time. Also get one which has an actual butane gas bottle that you attach. They last way longer and are just much better in general.
We have never camped with electric hook up. It just never occur to us to do that. Some people take fridges, ovens, electric cookers etc. But for us our choices mean you can be more remote, in smaller fields, at smaller sites, more wild. It does mean if you go for weeks on end then you need a decent cool box. We have managed with the crappy material bags and bags of ice and freezer blocks for years but recently (and for our big trip) we have bought a Colemans Cool Box Xtreme.
It seems pretty good so far but the trick is you need to get it really cold first by putting freezer blocks in it for a while to cool it down and also the more packed up it is the cooler everything stays.
Camping is about relaxing outside. It can be REALLY hard if the weather is terrible. Trust me I am a sun worshipper, I hate the cold and I hate the rain and wind and we have camped in all of the above. It can be so miserable if you are cold and so miserable if you are wet so do make sure you are prepped with the right clothes so you can enjoy your time. Here is my go to list of clothes to take.
heavy duty waterproofs (trouser and jackets)
woolly hat (whatever the weather!!) it gets cold at night even round the campfire
neck warmers - we like ones like this with a bit of fleece as well as material too
puffy coat for under waterproofs
soft thick socks (and LOTS of spare pairs )
onesies (for the kids)
hot water bottles
*TOP TIP we have a basket like this just inside the tent (or caravan awning) filled with all out cosy warm clothes so the are easy to grab and everyone knows where they are at all times if they aren’t wearing them. * in theroy!
Remember to relax, let the kids explore, let them go off and find other kids to play with. This is their chance to have some wild time. Let them stay up late and join campsite “gangs”. If you’re worried about where they are get some walkie talkies, (these are good) teach them to use them (ALWAYS use call signs and not real names!) and then call them back using them when you miss them! Which I am guessing won't be much as you’ll be supping nice gin round the campfire! ENJOY x
So there’s my list. Hope it helps. I really hope you enjoying your camping trip. I think it is one of the most amazing things you can do with and for your children AND for yourself. Living outside makes it feel like you’ve been gone a lot longer so even if it’s for one night it’s a proper break.
If you fancy letting me know about your camping trip I would love to hear about your experiences!? Drop me a line…