So you’ve decided to take the family camping? Awesome! Camping is one the best family activities out there. It’s the chance to spend quality time, away from the office, away from the TV, in the great outdoors just hanging with the kiddos.
You’ve probably seen the billion “camping checklists” out there. They are useful. It’s great to go into something, especially if it’s new to you, feeling prepared. So I’m not going there. Instead I’m going to touch on the common mistakes people tend to make before heading out to the campground. You’ve got your “do list” so here is your don’t list:
1. Don’t buy cheap equipment.
This is especially true when it comes to tents, sleeping bags and mats. A cheap pot isn’t the end of the world but a subpar sleeping bag just might feel like it. If you plan to camp more than once a year put out the money and invest in good quality sleeping bags, a tent that is large enough to be comfortable and mats will give you a decent night’s sleep.
When shopping for sleeping bags consider the climate. Even in the middle of summer it can get darn cold at night. Look at the rating of the sleeping bags and buy accordingly. I also highly recommend a good self inflating mat if you are tenting. They are so much more compact than big air mattresses are far less likely to get holes in them. They are also super comfortable and don’t require a pump or ½ hour of deep breathing to blow up.
You probably don’t need a monster tent but don’t under buy either. Remember if it rains while you’re on your camping adventure you might be spending more time under the tent and you want to make sure it’s big enough that you don’t get cabin fever.
2. Don’t forget to call ahead and see if a spot is available – or reserve ahead if you can.
There is nothing worse than getting all packed up and getting to the campground and finding out there are no spots left at the campground or you have to make do with the overflow camp spots which are generally pretty barren and open to the elements. If the campground you are heading to allows you to book a spot ahead of time it’s not a bad idea. It might cost you a couple of extra bucks but it is generally worth is, especially if you plan on going out on a long weekend when everyone else has the same idea. If you can’t reserve ahead give the campground a call before you leave and see if it’s all full up.
3. Try not to arrive after dark.
If you are trailer camping this might not be the end of the world but if you are tenting it try to plan your arrival with enough light left in the day to get your equipment set up . This is especially helpful if you are not familiar with the campground you are staying at. It’s nice to have a little day light to scope out the place to know here the essentials (bathrooms and wood piles for example) are.
And if you didn’t (or couldn’t) follow the advice about reserving ahead it’s a good idea to show up before dark so you can actually pick out a campsite while you can still see it!
4. Research where you are staying.
What’s the beach like? Is it close by? Are there full washrooms and showers or just outhouses? Is there a playground or other activities for the little ones? Is there fishing close by? Do a little research before you head out and make sure the campground you are visiting has everything you need.
5. Don’t rely on a campfire.
Ok there is nothing better than cooking over a fire. Hotdogs, smores – it’s part of the experience. But remember that you can’t control everything and cooking certain food (like steak for example) need a pretty hot fire, which can take considerable time. So either bring along a little camp stove or even a charcoal grill or make sure you have plenty of food on hand that doesn’t need to be cooked.
6. Prepare for the weather.
Check the forecast (long range) before you go so you have an idea of what to expect. But then expect the unexpected. Most importantly – prepare for rain. Bring a tarp, rain coats and boots and even if the forecast calls from clear skies put the fly on your tent!
7. Don’t over pack.
Remember those checklists? Use them! And then stop packing. Remember you have to unpack and then repack and then unpack all that stuff. Remember, it’s camping. You want the essentials, you want to be reasonably comfortable, but it’s not home!
8. Prepare your pet (if you’re taking one) for camping.
Another great thing about camping is that (usually) it’s also a great experience for your canine family members. But not always. Not all dogs take to camping if they aren’t use to spending a lot of time outdoors. They might be uncomfortable or, something I see a lot, they bark at every person and creature that goes by. This isn’t fun for you, for the pet, or for the other campers. Here is an article with some great tips on how to get your dog ready for camping.
9. Know how to park your trailer.
I’ve seen many a family camping trip get off to a horrible start because nobody in the family knew how to maneuver the trailer into the camping site. I’ll admit right here and now that it wouldn’t be my job, I can just manage (sometimes) to parallel park my car. So, if you’re a trailer camper make sure you are reasonably comfortable in your trailer parking abilities, and make sure you get a spot big enough to make it a little easier. But if you do run into trouble remember we bystanders we feel almost as bad for you as you do.
10. Don’t forget why you’re there.
Nothing will go perfect when you are camping. Hopefully things go well but there will always be at least one thing (hopefully minor) that doesn’t go as planned. Try and roll with the punches. And yes you may be there to enjoy nature and get the kids away from the screen but, depending on your own goals and rules of course, keep in mind that they are kids and maybe a half hour on the tablet before bed isn’t the end of the world. Many kids (like my own) need at least a bit of their usual routine to feel comfortable. Be flexible, and have fun!