Thursday, May 17, 2007

Thirteen Rules for Family Camping

I love to camp, hike, fish, and just spend time outdoors. When I got married I wanted my wife to enjoy those things too. So I introduced her to them during our summer break in Alaska. When we started having kids I wanted to do all those things with them too. In the beginning I had varying degrees of success in my attempts to introduce them to camping.

I quickly realized that I was going to have to approach camping differently if my kids and wife were going to enjoy them as much as I do. Since then we have had a lot of fun experiences camping and playing in the outdoors. Here are some of the things I have learned that help my family enjoy camping.

1. Plan, Plan, Plan. You can’t go off half cocked or on a moment’s notice like you did when you were single. You can’t just hope it will all work out . . somehow. If you forget something you don’t want to have to rough it with kids or someone new to camping.

2. Don’t worry if they don’t follow the plan. Don’t get angry if everyone wants to turn around early on the hike you planned. You have to roll with the punches. You have to do what works and is fun and not necessarily what is planned. The plan was just to help you get started and make sure you have at least some fun things to do.

3. Start simple. You shouldn’t take your wife on your dream 50-mile wilderness hike of Denali or two-week whitewater trip down the Yukon for her first camping trip. You have to remember you started out roasting marshmallows at a state campground and that is when you fell in love with camping.

4. Keep it close. Kids don’t do well on long drives. And if you get there and they are already grumpy you may have a difficult time convincing them camping is fun. Until your kids are old enough for longer rides just go to the nearest campgrounds.

5. Suspend the rules (within reason or close to it). Well most of the rules. Let the kids stay up late. Let them scream and shout their heads off. Throw table manners out the window for that one or two days.

6. Get dirty. This applies to the kids and you. Let them roll around in the mud and leaves and all those things kids love to do. Just remember you can hose them down in the front yard when you get home. You may also want to lay an old sheet over the seats in the car. It helps with the clean up.

7. Let them eat treats. For us this goes along with #5. Make lots of s'mores, trail mix, candy bars, banana boats, or whatever. Don’t worry about eating the vegetables or all the normal food rules. Just let them enjoy the gooey marshmallows. Remember no one ever gains weight camping.

8. Keep them dry and warm. I can have a good time even when I am wet and cold, but kids just can’t and a lot of first time campers can’t either. So pack extra socks, jackets, and sleeping bags. Assume the worst possible weather then pack more.

9. Keep them full. Kids need lots of food to fuel all the extra running around. What kid can’t be happy with a stomach full of pancakes, hotdogs, or s'mores? Hungry kids are whiny kids and no one has fun when there is whining.

10. Lower your expectations. Things don’t have to be perfect to enjoy yourselves. Kids can find fun in anything. You might be bored out of your mind throwing rocks in a lake or picking up pine cones, but the kids will love it.

11. Do all the work. Do all the cooking, cleaning of dishes, packing the car, setting up the tent, etc. If you want your wife to enjoy camping make it a day off for her. If you do, I guarantee your wife will want to go again. If your wife has to do all the work just to get the family out the door she will cringe every time you suggest a camping trip.

12. Pamper your wife. This follows the previous one. Make an effort to ensure she has fun and can relax. Get her a camp chair and set it up by the fire. Bring her a pillow and nice mattress even if that is not ‘real’ camping. She will only love the experience more.

13. Remember what it is all about. It’s not about completing the hike. It is not about anything, but having fun with your family in the outdoors. It’s about creating special memories that they will remember always. All the other rules are just a means to this end.


jenny® said...

this is a good list...i could make use of it bcoz we are planning to camp this summer! thanks for sharing...

Angie M. said...

Great post! A definite well defined list and one that would definitely make for more enjoyable family camping.

Gail said...

I grew up camping with my family and really identified with your post. Your family is really lucky to have such an involved father and lover of the outdoors. I'm pulling out my tent and sleeping bag as I type this comment!