Smart Family Camping:
A Guide to Successful and
with Your Family
Smart Family Camping Page 1 of 10
Family Camping: Tent Camping
Camping is an incredibly rewarding experience. We have camped for the
sake of getting away for the weekend, tailgating, because we were in transit
somewhere and had to, camped while horse camping, etc. One time, we
actually had to camp for several nights because a wildfire came through,
burned through our property and we had nowhere else to go so we built a
fire to cook our dinner and broke out the tent that we saved from the fire.
We thought our house was gone and virtually everything we owned with it
but we were okay. Two things I grabbed from the house before the fire hit us
was all our documents and legal papers and clothes. All our camping stuff
was already in the camper and ready to go.
This sounds like a "poor me" story but
as it turns out, we went back to our
house the next day. We had no power
or water and couldn't just move back
in but our house was in reasonably
good shape. It took 32 days for the
power company to get the electric
lines back up, but the house survived
The point here is that our camping
gear was ready to go and we used it. The experience of the fire made me
look at our camping gear in a whole new light -- it made me look at our
camping gear as a survival kit. I hope you never have to do that. In case
you do, foods that have a virtually unlimited shelf life need to be included in
your chuck kit. These include dried beans (pintos, limas, navy, kidneys) and
other dried provisions (parsley, onion, apples, bananas, apricots, etc).
I don't want to sound like a survivalist, but you can use your camping setup
like a survival kit when you include 2 - 5 gallons of water per person, dried
foods that have an unlimited shelf life (beans, etc.), canned goods and a
really well supplied first aid kit. In a national emergency, you are ready to
rock and roll. You and your family can be in really good shape from a
national emergency standpoint simply by gearing up for a remote camping
Camping is just a really good way to enjoy a weekend with the family.
Women especially need to plan ahead because we get stuck with providing
clean clothes, innovative menus and all the niceties of being home. For
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awhile, camping for me was a nightmare. I had to wash clothes in the most
primitive conditions imaginable, produce food over a campfire (no gas grill
here, sweetie!) and make like I'm having good time.
So listen girls -- It's the man's job to
cook the meat. Make that situation
plain. Whether it's steaks, brats or
burgers, make the guys cook. They
will pay more attention because they
have to eat what they charred. Or
didn't char as the case may be. In
truth, brats, burgers and steaks are
much enhanced by cooking over the
campfire in my estimation. If you and
yours want or have to to keep to a gas
fire, then that's fine. My preference is to cook over a really hot campfire.
Personal preference here but brats marinated in beer for 2 to 3 days and
cooked on a campfire grill are unbelievably good.
So, in summary, for you and your family, you have to really reach to fail at
having a positive camping experience. The kids will love it. The man will feel
much more manly. It's just a win-win situation.
And here's the super bonus -- the benefits of camping do not have to
happen on the shoulders of Kilimanjaro or the peaks of Mount Everest -- it
can happen in your own back yard. Yes. It is that much fun. Hard to believe,
I know, but true.
We have had some camping nightmares, too. The cause was primarily bad
planning combined with back luck.
One such nightmare was a trip to Ute Lake outside of Santa Rosa, New
Mexico. We had just bought a brand new tent and were ready to do some
serious fishing. We got the tent up with some difficulty and got everything
else unloaded from the truck. That was no more than done and it started to
rain. And it rained. And rained. The tent flooded because we hadn't put it up
correctly. The ground that was hard before the rain started turned to mud
and the tent stakes gave way. The tent started to slide down the slight
incline it had been pitched on. Everything was wet -- food, clothes, blankets.
It was a mess. We pulled the tent down and threw everything into the back
of the truck. Fortunately, we were only about a hour away from home.
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When we got home, it was dark so unloading was left to the next day. What
Virtually all the problems could have been avoided if we had simply done a
practice pitch with the tent. We could have seen how the ground cover
attached and that there was a way to attach the ground cover to keep water
from coming into the tent. We could also have listened to the weather
So here's the moral of this story: Be prepared. Practice with your tent. It
may happen that you have to pitch your tent in the dark because you were
delayed getting to your camp site.
Let's Go Camping
So let's go tent camping. What do we
need to do first? If you don't already
have a tent, you will need to purchase
There are many, many styles of tents
to choose from. Keep in mind, that for
the most part, the only thing you will
be doing in the tent is sleeping.
Remember too, though, that in the
case of inclement weather, you and
your family may have to spend some
extended time in the tent as well as some food preparation.
So first points to remember:
1. Get a tent that is big enough to house your entire family at one time. A
tent that is too small in bad weather makes for some ragged attitudes,
particularly with small children.
2. Always pack enough food that can be served cold and still provide a
decent meal such as sandwiches or cold chicken.
3. Always pack some form of quiet entertainment such as playing cards,
checkers or even video games. Choose games the whole family can play.
Let's get back to tent selection. For children the height of the tent is of no
concern. This is not true with adults. For two adults backpacking and hiking,
the choice will be for a small tent that is very light weight. Camping in a
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campground with four kids is another matter entirely. Be sure that the
height of the tent you choose is something you can live with. Remember that
you will have to crouch down to get into and out of the tent each time you
enter or leave. Moving around inside the tent very much in a crouching
position is very tiring.
The tent must also be large enough for all members of the family to sleep
without being crowded. An advertised eight-man tent is really only big
enough for six people (or eight people that are very fond of each other).
Things you will probably need:
ground cushion for sleeping
sleeping bag (with or without cot)
gas grill and tank
eating and cooking utensils (dishes, flatware, pots and pans)
lighting for tent and cooking
stacking plastic containers for clothes
first aid kit
water and water containers
activities gear (bat and balls,
volleyball gear, fishing gear, hiking
plastic bags in multiple sizes for
trash, food storage, miscellaneous
batteries of appropriate sizes
food of your choice
plastic or folding dishpan
Portable camp toilet
solar battery charger
coffee and coffee pot
... and pretty much everything else
except for your emergency kit.
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Your first aid or emergency kit should be supplied that in an emergency,
the kit can be grabbed and you go. A small backpack is perfect. TInclude in
your first aid kit:
cord or rope to be used as a tourniquet
band aids - from small to large
gauze on a roll
ace-type bandages 3'' and 6"
snake anti venom
alcohol or sealed alcohol swabs
emergency Mylar thermal blankets
tarp (at least 5' x 7'. 8' x 10 is better)
water treatment tablets
50 ft of stout rope. Cotton is best
rain poncho for each camper
at least one mess kit
3 - 5 day emergency food bars (enough for each camper)
Where to Buy Camping Gear
You can spend a little or you can spend a lot on camping gear. I recommend
that you start with the basics and see what you can't live without. Then add
to your gear. Part of the fun of camping is the "roughing it" part. However,
camping in luxury has its benefits as well.
Good sources of camping gear are sports and outdoor retailers such as REI,
Big 5 and the like. Watch for bargains at WalMart, KMart and Target. Amazon
has some very good prices especially on larger items like tents, stoves and
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Keep an eye on GoodWill, the Salvation Army and other thrift stores. These
are excellent places to get used cookware, grills, flatware and blankets. You
may find the occasional percolator coffee pot and other camping goodies.
Military surplus stores have some good finds as well, but watch the prices.
Another excellent source is yard and garage sales. It takes some shopping
but the benefits are great.
Big plastic boxes are great for storing your camping gear, clothes and dry
foods. When not in use, you can usually find boxes that nest to minimize
space usage. And they are easily cleaned and not easily affected by water or
spilled foods. They can also be disinfected without damaging them. Another
advantage is that once stocked, you can just grab your storage boxes, load
them into the car and you're ready to go with the exception of your food.
Practice Makes Perfect
Anytime you get new gear, check it out at home
first. Put up the new tent and see how
everything goes together. In fact, let the kids
sleep in the yard for a night. It's fun. If you just
bought a new stove, fire it up and cook dinner on
it to see how it all works. Roll out your sleeping
pad and sleeping bag to see how it feels. Do you
think it will be OK for a whole night? Or maybe
you'll find out that you need a different kind of
pad. These things are good to know before you
find that you're 100 miles from the nearest
The time to learn how to use a fire stick or a compass is before you find
yourself in an emergency where you absolutely need to know how the thing
works. Using a flare is pretty simple and it's not easy to test one prior to
having to use it. However, be sure to read the instructions so that you have
an idea of what you need to do and when you need to do it.
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Before You Leave and After You Get Back Home
Go through all your gear to make sure it's clean and usable. Make sure all
the necessary clothes are packed including extra underwear and socks.
Inventory your emergency kit and replace anything you need to.
Clean up your stove or gas grill so it's ready for the next outing. Your mess
kits, plates, flatware and cookware should all be clean if you've washed
everything while camping. If not, run it through the dishwasher. Restock
anything that has been used up such as toilet paper, paper towels, etc.
The time to check your tent for rips or holes is while you are putting the tent
up or taking it back down. Tents are usually easy to mend. Tent patching
material is available at most outlets that sell tents so wherever you bought
you tent, you will find the patching material.
Where to Camp
Camp grounds vary greatly in their
facilities from quite elaborate to nothing
except a fire ring and a place to park
you vehicle. The fees vary accordingly.
Most state parks have a campground
with toilet and shower facilities. Many
KOA campgrounds have pools. Decide
where you want to go before you get
there. If you can, call the campground
and get a list of the amenities available
at that particular site.
A good place to start your search for a good campsite is online. Simply
search for "campgrounds" and the location where you want to camp. You will
get a pretty good list of available campgrounds in that area.
I have camped quite a lot in California, especially southern California. When
I wanted to reserve camp spaces at state parks on the beaches between San
Diego and Monterrey, I was told there was a two-year waiting list. However,
when I got to the campgrounds at El Capitan, Pismo Beach and others, I
found the campgrounds were almost vacant. We had no trouble getting
camping space at any of the state parks. I am not recommending that you
take off thinking there will be plenty of space without reservations, but you
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might consider checking your state parks first before pulling into a WalMart
parking lot. Now that we live in New Mexico, there is no waiting list at any of
the campgrounds, state or otherwise. What I'm saying is check out the
If you are camping at a primitive site, you will definitely need to pack more
gear than you would if you are staying at a KOA. Think about where you will
be and what you need to not get stuck there should something happen. For
example, we used to go to Baja California to camp and we had to take two
spare tires because there is nowhere to get a tire fixed within walking
distance should a tire go flat. Some of the towns in Baja are a hundred miles
apart. And when you get away from the coast, distances are even greater. If
you are driving into remote areas, take a five gallon can of gasoline or diesel
and leave home with a full tank of fuel. Be sure you always have plenty of
water with you.
Camping, for those who enjoy it, in really fun. Kids seem to love it without
exception. If you ever went camping with your family, I will bet that you
have some really fond memories of it. Your kids will, too.
Go camping. Relax. Enjoy the outdoors. Don't take so much stuff that you
spend the entire time unpacking and packing back up. If you don't enjoy
cooking, bring already prepared food -- sandwich makings, Church's fried
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chicken. Get some potato salad at the deli. This a time to enjoy, not work
yourself into a frenzy. Pack a good book. Bring your fishing gear. Don't forget
your good hiking boots. Get out there in the woods or the desert and let the
world go away for a while.
Get even more camping information at http://www.smartfamilycamping.com
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