Bring up the subject of camping with other mums, and you’re likely to come across very divided opinions – it’s either fantastic family fun, or hell on earth (or, if you’re unlucky, mud). Seasoned camper and mum of three Lucy Mason shares her tips for making it more bearable.
I do love a bit of camping. This year is our third with kids, and I’m really getting into it. As one of four children, most of my family holidays were spent camping, and the sound of zips, kettles whistling and dragging heavy water containers around a field make up some of my fondest childhood memories.
For three years now I’ve been slowly accumulating camping ‘stuff’. We don’t have space in our house or car to really go for it and buy everything I’d like, for example a vegetable shelf (which would be useful).
So instead one of my new favourite hobbies is walking around a campsite and spying on other people’s kit to find out what they have. The best thing I’ve seen so far is a long string of solar-powered fairy lights around a small marquee, but obviously the practical stuff is important too.
My family camping tips
With this in mind, and given my three-year experience of camping with young kids, I thought I’d share some of my hard-earned practical lessons…
Always remember a fly swat. I learned very early on that horseflies seem to like the inside of newly erected tents, and are a bugger to get out any other way.
If possible, don’t buy one of those basic cookers where you literally screw a ring into a gas canister. They are crazily dangerous, especially around over-excited kids.
At no other time would you balance a kettle of boiling water/pan of sizzling bacon on top of such a wobbly device that shoots out flames into dry grass, or your tent, when it inevitably falls over. You can buy similar lightweight cookers that are much safer, like the Camping Gaz Bistro 300.
Take the bed situation very seriously. I have air mattresses for everyone, and (learnt from experience) a decent pump that doesn’t require batteries but plugs into the car lighter socket. If you don’t get at least a half-decent night’s sleep then you are far less likely to enjoy the camping with kids experience.
So I’m talking air mattresses, pillows and warm sleeping bags/duvets and re-pumping the air mattresses every night if possible. If you don’t have air mattresses and pump already, then the end-of-season sales in shops like Blacks are a good time to buy them. Our Eurohike mattresses haven’t had a puncture yet (touch wood) and were reduced from £50 to £10 – bargain!
The first night
Despite what I said in 3 about getting a decent night’s sleep, I’d suggest writing the first night off. The kids will be insane with excitement about sleeping in a tent, and you will probably be enjoying the campfire experience with all of the beers/wine you need to drink while they’re still cold.
This will result in everyone waking up in the night either because they can’t sleep, or because you need the loo.
Hangovers feel much worse when waking up in a hot, sweaty tent with no water nearby.
Get used to the taste of UHT milk in tea/coffee.
You’ll be surprised at how amazing almost anything can taste when you’ve been outdoors all day. Even plain noodles and baked beans will seem like a feast.
If you have space in your car, take enough camping chairs for the adults.
Beware of letting the kids play in the car. It’s no fun realising they’ve left the lights on and the car battery has died just when you’re packed up and ready to go home.
Try to enjoy the experience. Even when times get tough, remember that you are creating cherished memories for your kids, and ensuring that the tradition of camping and buying camping stuff continues for another generation.