We just got back from our second camping trip of the summer, and I am here to tell you I have a new relationship with camping, one of hate. I really surprised myself when I heard the voice in my head say “I hate camping.” The word ‘hate’ is not one I use normally in speech, nor do I normally associate with camping, or traveling. So I really focused on it during our trip-not in ‘dwelling on the negative’ but in ‘what is causing these feelings?’ sort of way. Here’s what I came up with.
Packing not for the Faint of Heart
The whole idea of camping is to be outside, opt outside, enjoy a slower and simpler pace of life for a few days, and give the children (and us) opportunities to run wild. But in order to do this, I have to pack. And to pack to camp with 3 kids, I have to thoroughly think through what the essentials of daily life are, and what is the minimum I can get away with. I’m trying my best to be a minimalist, and packing for camping rubs against that grain. I have friends who backpack camp with their kids, hiking in all their gear, and I admire and am in awe of them. I have plans to bike-camp or bikepack next summer, and so the thoughts of how to make that happen are rattling in my brain whilst packing for tent camping out of a van.
What this looks like
The kitchen is the most laborious process for me. This summer we did not pack a camp stove, so that meant cold, yet filling breakfasts and lunches, and then hot dogs or other easily cooked/heated dinners over the campfire at night.
- Forks, spoons
- Knives: paring and chefs knife (think-cutting a watermelon)
- Cutting board
- Plates (plastic or Corelle, and some paper)
- Cups that double as bowls for yogurt
- Water bottles
- French Press
- Travel mugs for hot beverages
- Electric Kettle (This makes mornings easy, but it means we need some sort of electricity in the campsite) (Ours is really old, this link is to one that is collapsible, which looks awesome for packing!)
- Bottle opener
- Paper towels
- Lighter or matches for fire
- Dish soap (which I totally forgot. We rinsed our dishes for 5 days with no soap; no one got sick)
Looking at the above list, it seems small, but it fills an entire bin, and I think, ‘how am I going to do this on a bike?’
So what Food did we eat with these Kitchen Wares?
- Boiled eggs (don’t forget salt and pepper, maybe some hummus…)
- Greek yogurt with granola
- Oatmeal (the instant kind, not my favorite, but the kids enjoyed it on a cool mountain morning)
- String cheese
- Peanut butter and honey
- Tortillas for above pb & honey (they don’t get squished like bread, and don’t soak through quite so much, or fall apart like bread will)
- Lunch meat (also for tortillas)
- Hot dogs
- Pre roasted chicken (halved and frozen before leaving. It meant it just had to be warmed on the grill)
- Easy to eat and carry fruits and veggies (carrots, apples, cucumbers, peaches [maybe not to carry])
- Veggies to grill (zucchini, eggplant)
- Various granola bars (Kind and Clif)
So, we ate well. We ate repetitively. There were snacks bought out, like on a day walking around a cute Vermont town, how could we resist pastries from scratch at a local coffee shop?
Parenting ‘Aha’ Moment
I hadn’t realized how much I had fallen into a habit of making something different for the kids, or at least for Silas, the 4 year old. He is very particular and picky, and….4. But my pat answer was: ‘Do you see a kitchen? We are camping, this is what there is.’ And you know what? It worked. Mostly. I fully intend to keep that as my kitchen mantra now we are back home.
Tents and Rolls and Pillows, Oh My
So, as a family of five, I have found our “old” tent to be lacking in a key component: space! So we borrowed a tent from our friends for this summer, and it is a rather awful tent, and an example of poorly designed. But, it has plenty of space inside.
Newton got his own tent for his birthday last year, and it fits him and Silas. But just he slept in it this trip, and that was really great: he felt independent, and it provided a calmer bedtime for the younger two. He goes to bed with an audiobook on low, and then I just have to wrangle the other two! Newton’s tent (pictured above) is great! It is incredibly easy to set up, and he stays dry in it. He has also done lots of backyard camping in it.
We are still experimenting with bed rolls and sleeping mats. We have these two types of sleeping mats currently. The larger blue ones are a bit more comfy, but they store larger than the purple ones, and I like the way they fill with air. The blue ones also snap together, which is nice for two people sleeping together. The purple ones do have a built in pillow, which both the boys liked (good way to not carry pillows!).
Staying warm/cool is always tricky. When we camped 2 years ago, we were hot at night every night. This summer, cool at night, and cooler in the morning! Which I was a bit unprepared for. We have a variety of Coleman sleeping bags, bought at various times in history; nothing fancy. And definitely not compact for bikepacking in the future!
We bring pillows from home. Again, not compact, nor fancy, but tried and true.
Our packing cubes have been a lifesaver for trips this year, and they did not disappoint for camping. I roll all the clothes and stuff them in. Everyone had pants, a sweater, and rain coat, the rest was t-shirts, shorts, swimwear, and underwear. I packed laundry detergent, as camping is dirty, and I didn’t want to pack enough clothes for fresh clothes everyday. In the end, I didn’t even look for a laundry mat, we wore clothes multiple days and it was fine. We’re camping, after all.
This is fairly basic, just like any trip, refillable toiletry sized bottles for soap and shampoo (I use these), a travel razor for me, herbal salve for bug bites, and sun screen and bug spray.
So now the “essentials” have been packed, what’s next? The fun stuff.
We were camping on Lake Champlain, which is considered the “6th Great Lake.” It is long and skinny, and separates New York state from Vermont. Our particular state campground did not have a swimming area, but it did have a boat launch, so we brought our sit on top kayaks to kayak around the lake, and take turns jumping off to swim. Tethers are super important to tie the kids’ paddles to their kayaks, they inevitably drop them; also, they work well for trailing kayaks so the kids (and adults) can swim without the respective kayaks drifting off.
Life jackets are super important for any sort of boating, and that includes canoes and kayaks! Be safe; use good judgment. Don’t be stupid!
Bikes. Again with the bikes. We didn’t do any longer distances this trip; we weren’t near any rail trails, and the shoulders of most the mountain roads near where we were staying were either narrow or non-existent (and traffic was fast!). But the campground itself was a great place for the kids to bike around. It was fairly empty, and had various road “loops” so it was perfect for letting the boys have some freedom on their bikes.
So, this is what I packed for camping, and it was exhausting mentally getting it all together. Now, we keep a “camping bin” in the basement at home, which has most of the kitchen stuff packed together, and that does help.
Tent camping with 3 small kids is not for the faint of heart. There is a lot of upkeep, there is minimal “relaxing.” Sitting around the campfire in the evening is only fun if the 1 year old will sit in a lap, or is already asleep; otherwise she is toddling around trying to hurt or burn herself. By the time the kids were in bed, we were too tired to stay up and enjoy the quiet evenings, which was a bummer. But sleep trumps the romanticized idea of camping.
By the third day of all the camping activities, we were all tired and grumpy, so we went for a long drive through the countryside in Vermont. It gave the kids a chance to nap in the car (2 out of 3!), and us some “quiet time” too. We walked around Middlebury for a couple hours, poked around a used book store, then headed back.
Did I mention part of this camping trip involved a race? Oh yeah, it totally did. And admittedly, that did not help my mental calmness, even though the race was for fun-no delusions of winning here! We are both triathletes, and endurance sports are very much a happy place for me. Since having Ivy last year, I’ve had a hard time getting back in the swing of training. I love swimming, and I can really focus my thoughts when I swim, especially for some other writing projects I’m working on. So I decided to sign up for the Lake George Open Water Swim, 2.5k. The race was well organized, the volunteers were great. Lake George is a beautiful lake, and I love swimming in it ( I raced the Lake George Tri 2 summers ago). I was, admittedly, undertrained for the race, but I had a great time.
We have camped for races before, and while it is a cheap way to travel to a race, it has some difficulties involved. Race morning breakfasts are very important to athletes, and being at a campsite can definitely limit options. Having breakfast pre-made as much as possible (boiled eggs, overnight oats, etc) can help alleviate that stress. Getting good sleep while sleeping on the ground is another factor…I’m still figuring that out! Camping really reduces one’s comfort level, so as long as you are okay with that, and acknowledge it ahead of time, it can be a fun way to race, otherwise; get a hotel and sleep in a bed!
The Love Part of my Love Hate Relationship with Camping
This “love” part looks like it is a little bit of an afterthought. The prep of getting us out the door to camp, with all 3 kids trying to help, really put a damper on ‘looking forward’ to the trips this summer. But I do really love camping. I love what camping means: simple, wild, adventuring with the people I love the most. It was so much fun to let the boys run wild-on bikes or foot, around the campground. They spent hours collecting pine cones, sticks, bark, and using the materials to build a fort (for tiny people!), shape weapons (Newton learned how to whittle), and using the surrounding forest to to use their imaginations. It was delightful to watch and experience. There is a freedom and simplicity that everyone seems to innately understand when we are camping. Folks, big and small, aren’t complaining about wi-fi, or lack thereof, asking to watch a movie or play an electronic game.
As with any part of travel, my ‘mom’ responsibilities are less, which gives or forces me time to actually enjoy being in the moment with my kids, rather than ticking things off my never-ending to-do list. While Ivy napped in the afternoon, the boys played, and I read my book, sometimes out loud to J if he was not off doing something; even Newton paused to listen in to me read about invasive species in the Great Lakes, which prompted some really good conversations on biology, ecology, and how the modern world works with industry, commerce, and government regulation (Can you say ‘homeschool for the win’?!?).
Our mornings were spent riding bikes back and forth to the bathroom, eating our simple breakfast, and planning out the day together. At home, mornings can be hectic, everyone’s agendas – including work’s, the house’s – make for a bit of strife in prioritizing what comes first, second, etc. Traveling, especially camping, simplifies that in that there is just less to do!
We explore differently when we camp. We are looking for more outdoor activities for the most part: hiking, biking, kayaking. This most recent trip we biked around the ruins and the Crown Point Fort, we walked over the Champlain Bridge, and kayaked under it to go get breakfast in Vermont, and we explored Fort Ticonderoga.
Organization and Flexibility
Overall, I can see that the ‘hate’ portion is all related to feeling like I have to pack a large portion of the house in order to go camping, and that feeling is a bit overwhelming to me. But once we get to our destination and get everything set up, the love comes out in living simply and wild. I feel like in having 3 kids, most of what I do is manage chaos, and organization (not my strong suit) would definitely help in me in all things, but especially in reducing the stress involved in camping with 3 kids. Having a flexible mindset, and encouraging my kids to have the same, goes a long way toward hating camping less. There is so much STUFF when it comes to camping, and without spending a ton of money on new gear and tech to make our camping gear super lightweight and compact, I’m not sure how to fix it. Fixing my mindset on the stuff is really the answer, and remembering that the gear is a means to an end, which is outdoor adventures with my kiddos!
For your Pinterest Pleasure