"I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference." - The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
The crackle of a campfire, a log collapsing into the coals. Smoke burning your eyes, and fits of laughter bursting forth at the fiery marshmallow bomb dropping off your stick. Late nights, chilly toes, and frosty mornings. Cowboy coffee and catholes. Are these familiar memories? Or are these terms foreign to you? Do they stir something in your soul? Or do these words leave you wondering? My husband and I both had a passion for the outdoors prior to our meeting, and camping was a part of both of our childhoods; though his more so than mine. Together, our relationship grew and deepend over long hikes, mountain passes, and creek crossings. Both before and after we were married, camping was (and still is) one of our favorite hobbies. So, it was never a question of if we would take our children camping, but when.
Granted, camping with children can seem an incredibly daunting task. It requires additional planning, money, precious tent space, and a whole host of other unknowns. However, the benefits reaped from getting out in spite of those fears will last far into adulthood. The shared adventure of camping will knit your family closer together. A night spent awake with your kids, keenly aware of every sound in the forest, will leave you exhausted, yes, but it will also leave you a sharpened intuition. Things happen in the woods and working together as a family to solve those problems will undoubtedly strengthen your relationships and give you fodder for upcoming holiday gatherings joke telling.
For our family: the camping set up we have now has been a continually evolving experiment. Many of the items in our camping totes my husband and I have been using for more than 15 years – and they are still holding up well. For the purpose of this post I’ll be focusing on the GEAR. Because, lets be honest, there is an overwhelming amount of stuff available and walking into an outdoors store unprepared will leave you feeling defeated and quite possibly financially strained. I have put together an Amazon list of all of the gear that is currently in our camping totes. This list contains a mix of the items we use for backpacking and those that we use for car camping. While these are two entirely different styles of camping with entirely different gear needs I’ve lumped it all into one list with a short note on each item to explain how we use it. Please note that I am an Amazon Affiliate and this list has been curated using that account. However, this list is really just a guideline and many of the items we have were found on clearance sales elsewhere. Click the link below to head to the list!
There are a few things that I would urge you to bear in mind when building your camping set up:
- Children will grow – while the child size sleeping bags and sleeping pads are incredibly cute, don’t fall for it. They will grow quicker than you realize and if you’re spending all that money on gear, buy something that will last them AT LEAST five years. Our children have backpacking style sleeping bags (which can compress) that are kids size, but will fit them up to around ten years old. Their sleeping pads are adult size; because Thermarest brand pads are expensive but to us they are the best. For their hiking packs, we opted for the Camelbak Scout packs (see Amazon List). These will need to be replaced as the grow, but for backpacks, comfort while hiking is key so we opted for ones that fit them.
- Think long term – the price tag up front can be high. However, make smart choices and buy quality gear. My sleeping bag is an old Sierra Designs, over 15 years old, and it’s still working just fine. Think of your gear as an investment. It will motivate you to use it once you purchase it as well. Take time to feel out what you need and avoid buying the frivolous things.
- Search your garage – yes, your garage. Take my basic list of what you need, and spend some time searching your house for things you already have that will work. If you have something that fits the bill, run with it. Take all that gear for a test run to see what works and what doesn’t. It’ll make for fun stories later. If you’re car camping, you have a lot more room to haul gear and you can be near your car, which means easy access if you forget something. (or a space to toss things you realize you don’t need)
To give you a guideline for things to consider – keep these things in mind:
- Shelter – We decided to purchase one additional backpacking tent to compliment the backpacking tent we already had. Which, by the way, is over 15 years old. We’ve replaced the cord in the poles and it’s still going strong. We have two, two man backpacking tents. That way, we can each carry one while hiking. The set up works the same for car camping and streamlines our equipment. It also takes up less storage space in our garage or attic.
- Sleeping – The same theory holds up for our sleeping arrangements. Backpacking style sleeping bags and sleeping pads so that they work for whatever style of camping we are doing. When we are car camping we take along extra (and more comfortable) pillows and blankets (if it’s cold).
- Cooking – We have two kitchen systems: one for backpacking and one for car camping. There is a bit of overlap with utensils, cups, and bowls. But we have two different stoves and two pots and pans sets. Again, take the time to consider what is the best fit for your family. When we are car camping – our entire kitchen system is in one tote – so I can grab that and our stove and we are ready to roll. Consider what you want to be able to cook – that will determine what gear you need.
- Water purification – There are a lot of options here and we employ several systems. We have a UV light pen for backpacking, as well as a manual pump. For car camping we have been using a five gallon jug with a hand pump just for ease of access to fresh water. It goes without saying – but, you shouldn’t drink water straight from your source. Purify or filter before drinking. In a pinch while backpacking, we have boiled our water for consumption as well.
- Carrying it all – if you’re car camping I would recommend a tote system. Keeping kitchen items in one tote, dry goods in another, etc. If you’re going backpacking – a proper fitting backpack is of critical importance. The best practice is to go into an outdoors store and try a few on, with some weights inside, so you can feel how it will fit (or chafe, or rub, or bounce).
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re getting set up for camping. Use this list as a backbone for gathering your gear. If you are only car camping, then you won’t need two stove systems or even two water purification systems. The most important thing is to take these suggestions and morph and mold them into what will work for you and your family. Because, in the end, they’re really more like guidelines than rules.
Start small my friends. Baby steps, even if you have a baby. Going camping quite possibly could change your life, or perhaps even save your family life. It’ll be hard and uncomfortable at first. But once you find your rhythm and gear that suits you, you’ll be off on adventures with smiles on your faces. Begin with what you have and slowly expand from there. I am so excited to share our camping stories with you. Stay tuned for more updates in story form. Thank you for reading my friends. I cannot wait to hear about your adventures! Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions (email, Instagram, or Facebook). Happy camping and coffee cheers!