“In its complexity and sensuality,
nature invites exploration, direct contact, and experience.
But it also inspires a sense of awe, a glimpse of what is still “un-Googleable”
. . . life’s mystery and magnitude.” – Kim John Payne
“Keep close to Nature’s heart…
and break clear away, once in awhile,
and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods.
Wash your spirit clean. ” – John Muir
A few months ago Andrew and spent our evening on the patio reading, each of us curled up in our own little corner, twinkle lights swaying overhead. The cicadas were out humming their summer song and we delighted in chilled red wine, both of us soaking in the sounds and feels of the season. While we sipped, Andrew shuffled through articles about RVs on the computer and I thumbed through The Art of Stillness, a beautiful book I’ve written about here. I remember him looking over the top of the screen to ask me if I’d thought it would be fun to go camping with the kids this summer? Half ignoring him, as I was pretty engrossed in my new book, I gave the ol’ head nod and a rather placid “sure babe” response, not really adding anything of value to the conversation beyond what was received as my wifely approval.
Two months later we found ourselves sandwiched between big, beautiful Rocky Mountain boulders stacking up to the clouds and a glistening river, babbling away like you’d imagine mountain rivers to babble. We met up with Andrew’s brother and our sweet niece, and together for one week, we camped together and grew closer. It as such a memorable trip and our kids are still talking about the magic of camping.
How did we end up here? How did it all work out with little ones in tow? What did we learn by camping with three little ones for a week? Here is my simple guide for camping with kids.
- To Settle In & Set Up –
- The first step in camping, kids or not, is carefully choosing and setting up your site. Andrew and I wanted to be somewhere that was rather moderate in temperature without the thickness of Midwest humidity, yet a place that would give us sunny days with a lot to explore. A bit of camping research led us to the Rocky Mountains just outside of Denver, Colorado, a place we’d both been in the past, known for its amazing weather and dreamy scenery. For this trip, namely it being our first with all three, we decided to fly in in lieu of driving and rent a small RV once landed. Andrew found it on a site called Outdoorsy and the process was very simple. The owner of the RV met us at the airport, and off we went to pick up groceries before settling into our campsite for the week. The reasons we ultimately decided on using an RV rather than just camp in a tent with the kids was for storage, a warm place to sleep if need be, a fridge for food, and shelter if the weather was poor. We ended up using it very little throughout the day, but I did enjoy sleeping in it with little Alfie when the temperature dropped. The fridge was also really nice to have on hand for our perishable goods such as milk for the babes.
- The campsite we chose was near a river, which was a large part of the kid’s daily entertainment, as well as our place to bathe and freshen up. The campground itself, called Kelly Flats, was quite primitive, in that there was no WIFI, showers, general store, or RV hook ups. We loved the simplicity of this and will most likely seek out sites in the future that were fuss-free such as this one. The site did provide firewood for purchase and a grill pit, which was essential for making meals and keeping warm.
- Onto our canvas tent. We purchased ours a few months back and could not be more happy with the quality. Andrew and I wanted one large enough for all five of us to sleep in while also being made of material suitable for a range of climates. This one has windows on all sides which we paid an upgrade for, giving us a view and helping the interior stay cool in the hot mountain suns. This made our tent the perfect place for afternoon napping.
- To Cover & Clothe –
- Because we flew to our destination rather than driving cross country, we picked up several cheap sleeping bags and folding chairs on the way to our site, and dropped them off at a goodwill on our way back into town. We packed layered muslin sleep sacks for the boys and two thick, wool blankets for additional warmth. Wool traps in heat and these blankets kept us snuggly warm in the middle of the chilly mountain nights, both gathered round the campfire and in our tent. Because we packed lightly with regard to clothing, there was ample room in our suitcases for other linens as well. I also packed one of our lightweight linen blankets, two quick-dry towels for bathing and swimming, and several old wash rags for doing dishes.
- Let’s move on to clothing. For one week’s worth for a family of five, we packed the following for each person: one warm knit sweater, one pair of wool socks, two pairs of long pants, two pairs of shorts (or overalls for the boys), four t-shirts or tanks, two pairs of ankle socks, one pair of waterproof hiking sandals, one swimsuit, a hat, one pair of warm pjs or long johns, and four pairs of undies. We found that this limited amount of clothing was the perfect amount for six days.
- A few things to keep in mind when selecting clothing: pack light, remember layers, and try to choose fabric that is both lightweight and quick-drying. Most evenings we’d give our dusty clothes a good hand washing in the nearby stream and hang them dry on a make-shift clothesline I made using jute and tree branches. This worked really well and helped ensure we didn’t bring home mud-caked overalls and the like.
- To Eat & Drink –
- Like all campers, we ate really healthy. Ha! It’s not like we had Doritos for every meal, but fresh salad greens and pink beet smoothies weren’t a part of our camping culture. Thank heavens for it, because chili dogs, smoked beans and s’mores are what camping is all about! We cooked fireside for every meal and picked up food in town pre-camping that would be pretty easy to make for a large crowd, like sausages, one pot pastas, grilled bread with eggs, and cheesy quesadillas. Each day, we’d make one family-style skillet breakfast and supper for all to enjoy. I tried to vary our meals from night to night so it didn’t feel like we were eating the same thing all the time, and because we were all pretty used to the laid-back vibe, there were no complaints.
- I brought along our French press and pre-ground coffee beans, something we all cherished upon waking. What a treat to have yummy coffee every morning to start our day. And now that I think about it, I suppose we did have a pretty healthy selection of snacking items, most which were perishable and devoured within the week. In town we purchased fresh salsas, berries, veggie chips, hummus, oat bars and corn chips for mid-day grazing. We drank a lot of water purchased in gallon jugs with the occasional bottle of red wine for the adults to savor the evening under the canopy of stars. Next time I think we are going to bring along a water filter if we end up finding another site near a fresh stream. Most of our camp suppers ended like camp suppers should by roasting marshmallows for s’more. The kids gathered sticks to use as roasters on our daily hikes, something the they had so much fun making for everyone and eating.
- Here are a few other helpful kitchen tidbits I brought from home and found to be handy: a wooden spoon, sturdy garden shears, jute, matches, a sharp knife, beeswax candles, an enamel pot, a small mason jar of sea salt, a small mason jar of sugar, a table cloth, a cutting board, a small mason jar of ground pepper, a small bottle of olive oil, Old Bay seasoning, an oven mit, a can opener, a bottle opener, a pair of metal tongs, and a skillet.
- To Play & Wander –
- Perhaps the most magical part of camping is the adventuring and exploring that one gets to do each day around in nature. There was a tangle of trails all around our site that we ran down and hiked up throughout the day together. I took along an Ergo carrier for Alfie and he loved being able to join us while still resting on my chest when needing a nap. As we hiked, the kids took turns gathering bits of leaves and twigs and petals to make collections to take back to our campsite to press for keepsakes.
- Campers before us made a natural pool by lining large rocks around the shallow part of the stream so the kids had a nice place to play and splash. This provided hours upon hours of entrainment for everyone. You’d be surprised how much fun we had just playing with the rocks on the shoreline! We skipped them, found pretty white quartz, and made mini pools for the kid’s dolls. We told stories, made up stories, and brought along crayons and paper to make drawings. We kicked a soccer ball around after suppers and had fun talking about all the wildlife we got to see.
- Each night after the kids got washed up and in their warm jammies we’d lay out their sleeping bags and put on a movie for them to enjoy as the fire crackled in the background. Andrew packed our projector, laptop stocked with movies, and a white sheet to make this possible. It was a big hit to say the least.
- To Keep Clean & Safe –
- It kind of goes without saying, but I’ll say it, keeping clean is not really a priority while camping. Some camp sites have showers, which are wonderful and thus makes it easy to freshen up fast if need be. Our site didn’t have that option and we didn’t want to use up the RV’s water supply, so we bathed in the stream and wore a lot of homemade deodorant. I used dry shampoo and wore either a ball cap or headband daily, which helped my long hair situation. I also used facial cleansing wipes several times a day and used baby wipes for just about everything else. We brushed our teeth with a jug water and made sure to give our clothes a dip if they were muddy. It was a simple rhythm we followed and it worked well.
- With regard to soap, I brought along a mini bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap for washing pots and pans and baby bums, and a spray bottle of homemade thieves essential oil cleaner to keep things sanitized. If you do pack your own cleaning supplies, make sure to double zip lock them! Things tend to explode and leak while traveling and that kind of mess on top of regular ol’ camping grime isn’t very fun. I also brought along a cleaning brush from home that we used throughout the day. It got pretty gross so I tossed it when we left, so if you bring your own maybe bring an old one you don’t mind getting rid of. It’s also a good idea to bring or buy trash bags, a flashlight, a hammer, a lantern and extra batteries.
- Whether you’re camping with kids or not, a first aid kit is a must. We packed a large assortment of bandaids, gauze pads, essential oils, sunscreen, bug spray, germ spray, lip balm, pain relief medication, and antibacterial spray.
Well, that should do it, folks! Have you ever taken a camping trip with your little ones? If you have any tips (or funny stories!) to share I would love to read them. Camping with kids is quite the adventure!