Camping with Kids – Why It’s Worth It

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This weekend, as Debbie’s family is out enjoying Stroller Hikes’ big annual camping trip, I’m reflecting on my family’s recent camping adventure.  For the past decade a group of family and close friends have trekked up North each summer into giant redwood territory near Eureka to camp for a few days along the Eel River.  When it all started, it was a bunch of young adults, for the most part untethered and able to keep it simple.  As the years have passed, many of us have gotten hitched and had kids, which has expanded the group size as well as the packing list!  

This year, it took both my husband and I spending two full days and evenings packing, shopping, and prepping, and it was only that fast because we’ve done this trip before and were working off a pretty well developed packing list. Then there was one day of loading the truck, driving seven hours, and unloading it to make camp and another day reversing that on the way out but with additional time driving because it was horrible-Sunday-everyone-else-is-returning-from-having-fun-too traffic.  Plus, at least a full day’s worth of unloading the truck at home, unpacking, doing laundry, cleaning pots and pans, and putting everything away. That full “day” was actually spread out across the better part of a week because we were back to work and couldn’t devote much time to it each day. 

So, let’s see… that adds up to five or more days of pre- and post- doings so that we could spend three nights and essentially two full days camping as a family.

And I’m not even counting the mental thinking and planning and listing that went on in the weeks before we started physically packing or the flurry of last-minute email coordination between us and our fellow campers. 

And let’s not forget that once we started our brief camping trip we spent a good chunk of each day setting up and tearing down and packing and unpacking something or other for each meal or hike or trip to the river we did.  All of which involved more back/shoulder/wrist-straining schlepping than normal because we brought an immobile 3 month old baby and her necessary accoutrements with us.

All told you’ve gotta admit there was a pretty high work to play ratio here!  And you know what?  It was all worth it!  Here’s what makes it worth it:

•Lying on the ground with your 5-year old and looking up to see the tops of giant redwood trees swaying in the wind.

•Waking up to the sound of kids squealing because they found banana slugs crawling all over the coolers.  (Photo at top.)

•Catching tadpoles with our bare hands. IMGP0059

•Hours and hours and hours without a single “I’m bored” as kids busy themselves playing endless imaginary games with sticks, rocks, and leaves. 

•Adults and kids together playing “night soccer” with headlamps.

•Learning how to build a fire and then staying up way past your bedtime listening to the guitar and singing together around the campfire. 

•Crunching through pine needles on your bike. 

•Feeling the current of the river tugging on your legs as you cross it holding Daddy’s hand. 

•The whole family snuggled up in the tent together, keeping each other warm.

•Water gun fights with your grandparents in the heat of the afternoon.

•20 people whooping in the woods as they play a crazy game of catch with baggies full of milk, sugar, fruit, ice, and rock salt and then laughing with delight as they enjoy eating the ice cream they just made. 

•Making new friends and re-connecting with old ones. IMGP0087

•Sharing responsibilities and taking care of each other, lending and borrowing, helping out, taking turns, sharing a treat. 

•Standing with your family in the forest as you leave the empty campground for one last moment before heading home.  Hearing only the rustling of leaves as the breeze blows through them.  Hugs and kisses and sighs of contentment. 

If you’ve ever felt daunted by the idea of packing up little ones and taking them camping, rightly so.  If you’ve let that feeling keep you from doing it, I encourage you to reconsider.  Start small if that helps. You don’t have to stay more than one night and you don’t have to drive seven hours like we did.  With a little planning you can keep meals simple and minimize what you have to pack.  A great way to foray into camping with kids is to take advantage of joining an existing group who has done most of the organizing for you.  Kudos to Debbie and Stroller Hikes for doing just that and getting a bunch of families out there communing with nature and each other this weekend! 

-Chelsea, Ryder (5), & Raven (3 mo.)

This is a reprint from July 21st, 2011.  Kudos to Chelsea for braving the wild as many of us do this weekend!

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