Camping with kids can strike fear into the hearts of even the most pro campers, but it doesn't have to be that way. These types of holidays are a fantastic way to learn about the great outdoors while enjoying some all-important family time.
For some little ones, though, the thought of spending a few nights under canvas can feel somewhat daunting. That’s why we spoke to camping expert Simon McGrath, author of Camping with Kids, to find out how to turn your clan’s next camping adventure into a resounding success.
Camping with kids: the best tips
Simon’s a firm believer that camping holidays offer a fantastic opportunity to bond as a family, away from the distractions of modern life. "It can be as easy as simply having fun together or just chatting while you sit outside the tent in the evening, watching the stars come out,” he says.
“Camping makes us slow down and tune back into the natural world – the sound of birdsong, the wind blowing through the trees... They’re all things that we seldom see or appreciate when we’re being busy at back at home."
If your children are nervous about camping, Simon recommends starting with a night camping out in your back garden: “It enables parents to practise pitching the tent while the little ones can get used to the whole camping experience, including the night time noises of the local wildlife."
Read on for more of Simon’s top tips for camping with kids...
1. Invest in quality camping gear that lasts
A leaking airbed or a ripped tent can quickly turn a few magical days under canvas into a camping catastrophe, which is why Simon urges you to focus on comfort when you're packing for a trip or buying new gear. "Think about warmth, comfort and light.
“Invest in good sleeping bags, and remember that you need to insulate yourselves from a cold and potentially bumpy floor, which is where equipment such as good self-inflating mats (SIMs) come in.”
Don’t forget the torches, either. “They’re not only essential for night-time trips to the toilet block, they provide reassurance to children.”
2. Make sure your tent is up to the job
As much as we love the great outdoors, those early morning shafts of light can be positively painful if you're sleeping in a tent with paper thin walls... Especially for parents who indulged in one too many fireside sundowners the night before.
"More manufacturers are producing tents with sleeping compartments made with darker material to help block out the early morning light," says Simon. Choosing the right tent won't just extend your time in the land of nod, it will help your children sleep longer, meaning more snooze time for everyone.
"Take a compass to work out which direction is east. That’s where the sun will rise, so why not pitch the tent with the door facing that direction? That way, as the sun rises, your tent will warm through from the front. It’s also much nicer to poke your head out of the tent with the sun on your face first thing in the morning."
3. Set up your tent and camping area together
The reason why some of us fear camping with kids is mainly centred around getting the tent setup and the car unloaded while trying to keep the kids entertained. Solve both problems by getting your kids involved in setting up the tent. This will also help take their mind off their new and unfamiliar surroundings. “It’s one of those occasions when the whole family can pull together," says Simon.
“Finding the drinking water tap and filling up the water container is another great task for kids. Hammering tent pegs is always fun, although parents need to be careful when holding the peg, as I once found when my youngest missed the target!"
4. Create a home from home vibe
“If youngsters are feeling a little insecure, make their sleeping compartment a home from home,” continues Simon. “Bring along favourite teddies and toys, and place a head torch next to their bed if they wake up in the night wondering where they are.”
When camping with kids, many parents opt for installing a small pop-up tent inside the main tent, to give the little ones their own space to sit and play in.
"Some tent manufacturers make special sleeping compartments with colourful designs geared towards children," adds Simon, "and there are plenty of fun, inflatable chairs on the market that kids can use to kit out their room in the tent."
5. Try some new outdoors activities
While you're camping with kids, Simon suggests encouraging your little ones to think of the countryside as a playground. "Woods and forests are great for den-building. Get the kids to visualise and plan their structure. They need to think about the types of materials best suited for strength, and what natural resources keep the warmth in and the rain out.
“Or maybe teach them wildlife tracking skills. It’s exciting for children to be able to identify animals from their tracks, and joining a ranger-led walk can be an excellent introduction to discovering more about the creatures living near your site."
Consider signing up for an activity-based taster course, too. “I’ve combined family camping trips with activities including sailing, canoeing and mountain biking.”
6. Indulge in a spot of stargazing
“Campsites are usually far away from the neon glare of towns and cities, so it’s a great opportunity for some astronomy,” says Simon. “A roll mat or inflatable bed can be laid on the floor outside the tent and used to insulate yourself from the ground when you stare up at the night sky for a spot of stargazing.
“Camping gives children the chance to learn about the wonders of the galaxy. Perhaps try to identify the constellations, or spot a shooting star.”
Simon McGrath is the author of Camping with Kids. The book is available to buy from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle format.