If youíve never camped before, contemplating a few nights away under canvas can be a daunting prospect Ė what will you need? What if you forget something? What if the tent falls down in the middle of the night? What if you canít sleep or get wet or cold? What if you Ė or the kids get bored? What if you get attacked by marauding bearsÖ?
Perhaps youíve always harboured a secret desire to spend a few nights sleeping under the stars, or perhaps itís just the kids who are begging you to go. Even if youíre a reluctant camper (or your partner is) there is plenty you can do to help make the experience one that youíll want to repeat again and again, and one that the kids will love too (and Iíve yet to meet a child who didnít love camping). Youíll make some amazing family memories: Iíll never forget my daughterís face when we saw a wombat with a backwards-facing baby in her pouch next to our tent one night! If youíre worried about being bored Ė getting away from the hectic pace of everyday life with very little to do but read, swim or chill out is the whole point.
Step One Ė Where to go?
Choose somewhere not too far away from home, and ideally not too far away from civilisation for your first trip Ė chances are you might forget something, and itís handy to be able to duck out to nearby shops and get an essential item. Many people pitch their tent in the back garden for a first night under the stars! Once youíve camped a few times, start to research sites a few hoursí drive away and ask everyone you know who camps about their favourite spots.
Step Two Ė Gear Up
There is some essential gear that youíll need to invest in (or borrow). Make sure youíve got a tent that will sleep the whole crew comfortably and that itís in good condition (check it before you go). Youíll also likely need a camp stove (or check if there is a camp kitchen where youíll be camping). Airbeds and a foot pump will go a long way to ensuring a good nightís sleep Ė I never camp without them now! Also essential are some inexpensive folding camping chairs and a folding table and a good strong lantern. See our camping checklist for other gear suggestions. Come prepared for almost any weather Ė a big tarp and tall poles will mean that youíve got some undercover space to set up your stove, a table, chairs etc. and they and you wonít get wet if it rains. Iíve yet to have a completely rain-free camping trip, and having a large, inexpensive tarp has meant that we havenít had to all shelter in the tent when itís wet. Bring bug spray, raincoats, sunscreen and an extra layer of clothing for everyone in case itís cold. Weíve camped in winter and brought hot water bottles!
Pack a first aid kit that includes antiseptic wipes or cream, sticking plaster and antihistamines. Donít forget a torch Ė weíve found head torches to be great for the kids. Make a list. Many people have a master packing list, to ensure that nothing is forgotten. It also helps to meal plan, to ensure you have everything you need for each meal and also include plenty of snacks; being out in the fresh air sharpens appetites and everyone seems to eat more! If you can, camp with friends who camp a lot and who have kids of a similar age. Youíll pick up plenty of handy tips from your more experienced friends, be able to share the camp chores and cooking and the kids will all have lots of fun together.
Step Three Ė Arriving
Get there while itís still light if you can. Thereís nothing worse than trying to set up your tent by torchlight and the kids can get nervous arriving somewhere strange in the dark. Set up your tent on as level ground as possible, and not on a natural waterway. Check also for antsí nests and overhanging branches!
Bring a meal that requires very little preparation for the first night, as set-up of your stuff always seems to take longer thank you think. I often make and then freeze either a bolognaise sauce, a mild curry or casserole to have with rice or pasta.
Step Four - Onsite fun
Plan a few fun activities for the kids. These are especially helpful in wet weather. Weíve dyed Easter eggs, had scavenger hunts, drawing competitions, and of course, toasted marshmallows. If youíve space and the campsite permits, then bringing the kidsí bikes along too can be a good move. Also, give them jobs around the campsite Ė collecting firewood, helping with the washing up, etc. Our kids have always wanted to join in with whateverís going on around the site (well, perhaps not the washing upÖ).
Step Five - Leave no trace
When itís time to leave, check all of your rubbish has been disposed of and that fires are out. If you have to pack away in the rain (and Iíve done this more than a couple of times!) be sure to air out the tent and dry poles when you get home, so they donít get mildew and rust.
Camping Gear Checklist
- Tent, pegs, poles and ropes
- Tarp, poles, pegs and ropes
- Airbeds or camping beds, foot pump
- Sleeping bags or doonas, sheets, pillows
- Dust pan and brush
- Table and chairs
- Torch and batteries Ė plus big torch/lantern
- First aid kit
- Water containers
- Gas stove and gas bottle (test that it works and the bottle if full before you leave)
- BBQ plate/grill to put over open fire
- Saucepans with lids, frying pan, camp oven, billy
- Leather/heavy duty work gloves (for taking pots off stove)
- Shovel (for moving embers, etc)
- Eskies or portable fridge
- Foil and cling wrap
- Plastic containers and ziplock bags for food to keep things separate
- Paper towels, tea towels, garbage bags
- Plastic washing up tub, eco-friendly detergent and brush/scourer
- Long tongs
- Bottle and can opener
- Egg flip, serving spoons
- Non-breakable mugs, cups, cutlery and plates
- Big serving bowl
- Sharp knives, cutting boards
- Firelighters and matches if open fires are allowed
- Plenty of food and snacks!
- Insect repellent
- Loo paper
- Towels for swimming and washing
- Soccer ball, games, pack of cards, drawing materials.