Lake Catherine State Park Q&A, Camp Vol 9
Regretfully, I've skipped a few camp journals, but such is life. Perhaps I'll go back and fill in at some point, but lately, the fight with my 9 year old computer is getting a little too frequent. I feel like whenever I open it, I sit waiting for 5 minutes every 30 seconds.
But! I'm here because on a whim I asked on Instagram if anyone had any specific questions regarding how we camp with our kids. We only began camping a little over 1 year ago, so I still consider myself a student, but we are finally starting to feel like there a few things that we've figured out, and camping gets smoother and the prep gets less stressful. These questions and answers are not comprehensive, but I hope they will be a helpful resource to a few of you who are eager but nervous to camp with small children. If you have another question to add, ask in the comments and I'll make a valiant attempt at a prompt response.
Q. Food tips, please?
A. Prep vegetables ahead of time. I dislike making meals even at home, so having my vegetables chopped and ready for cooking is a cheap thrill. I love not having to do much work with food while we’re camping. Having a bowl of chopped strawberries and blueberries is also great, because it makes a wonderful snack or topping for pancakes or oatmeal.
Foil packet meals with our pre-chopped veggies and ground meat are a staple. Bring a jar of spices, salt and pepper for extra flavor.
Baking some muffins or banana bread ahead of time really keeps the morale up.
Kale and cranberry salad or slaw are two salads that keep particularly fresh longer than a regular green salad. I like this seedy slaw recipe.
Keep food in sealed containers, so that things don’t become waterlogged when the ice in your cooler eventually melts.
Pancakes are really easy to make while camping. If you're doing a shorter weekend/long weekend trip, you can even make the batter ahead of time and stick it in your cooler.
Breakfast burritos. Always a winner.
Recipe! I plan to make Cauliflower coconut chickpea curry on our next trip. It requires bell peppers and cauliflower chopped, 1 can of coconut milk, green curry paste, and 1 can of chickpeas. Serve over rice (which you could cook and freeze ahead of time, warming it up on your camping trip). I don't include any particulars because I just wing it. Google for similar, actual recipes.
Q. What are your packing tips?
A. For clothing, we like using packing cubes and put it all in a plastic tub, which sits inside of our tent. Packing cubes are the perfect size for a few days away, and since most brands make them with a little mesh, it’s easy to see which cube belongs to which person. It keeps all the miscellaneous bed things like small sleeping bags, sheets for hot weather, and our Klymit sleeping mat more organized.
Q. How do you keep things clean and organized?
A. Cleanliness. We take a shower-optional approach while camping. If we think the boys really need to get cleaned up because we’re worried about exposure to chiggers, ticks, or some such thing like that, of course we’ll take them to the shower, but otherwise, we stay dirty. Camping requires a lot more time to do things like cooking and clean up, so we don’t like to spend unnecessary time showering (especially when it’s multiplied times the number of kids you have). Personally, I’d rather have 45 minutes of chill (so hard to come by when you have kids along for the adventure), rather than spend it in the bathroom getting clean. Cody typically does trail runs, so he always showers. We've also discovered that gum boots for kids are great for travel in general, mostly for the ease and speed with which you can get them on a perhaps tired or cranky kid. They can almost always put them on themselves, too. We often don't bother for summer trips, but always have them along on winter and fall road and camping trips alike.
Gear cleanliness and organization. Really, it's simple. Wash it all, and put everything back in it's place. t mother-in-law brought 2 wash basins along on this trip. One for soapy water and one for rinse water. It was an awesome system, and the kids enjoyed helping. When you go to bed at night, your camp site should basically be a tent and nothing else. Everything goes back in the car, bear country or not. Raccoons and armadillos can wreak havoc (and keep you up all night), so take your trash bag to the dumpster and get rid of all traces of food. It makes for a lovely fresh start each morning, keeps your gear in tip top shape, and I would imagine, make things much easier in the event of severe weather that might require a quick pack up in the middle of the night.
When it comes to gear storage, we prefer small, clear bins. This keeps things easy to tote and easy to find.
Q. What do you look for in a campground?
A. We typically visit State Parks, and they have had everything we need. Our favorite sites are ones that have nice bathrooms (or at least camp sites near to a bathroom), water in the summertime, trails for hiking, and a playground. Basically all campgrounds have these, but good campsites can be a little trickier to find. We look for a spot with shade (hello, Texas!), proximity to a bathroom, and short trails for our reluctant hiker. If you have very young children, or a runner/wanderer, consider getting a site farther away from the water. Playgrounds are optional, but nice. We used the one at Lake Catherine State Park multiple times a day, but haven't used the playground at all on other trips.
Q. How do you help your kids pass the time?
A. We basically do nothing, because when given an open space void of distraction, kids will find something to do, or help with whatever the adults are doing to prep a meal or build a fire. We also like to do short hikes, go swimming, and explore. However, there are a few scenarios in which planned entertainment can be helpful.
Our staple is art supplies which sit next to our older two kids in the car to keep them occupied on the roadtrip, and then get transferred to the spots next to their sleeping bags. Before bed, we have a routine of drawing or reading, whichever the kids prefer. We typically also read aloud to them. They also bring either a small bag with some books/coloring books, and a few very small toys of their choosing. When packing, I emphasize that we don’t need a lot because we’ll be outside!
For toddlers, bring a noodle or water blaster for the water (actually for any age), and a simple bucket, shovel, or rake are the perfect things to encourage some open-ended play. Our extended family brought bubbles along on this trip and it was a huge hit. A few matchbox cars or animals are great as well. But don’t make it complicated. I err on the side of not bringing things. Less is sufficient, and too much stuff just gets annoying for you as a parent, and honestly just distracts from the real fun of leaves, sticks, and bugs. The idea is getting them into nature, so only bring a few things that might help engage them in their surroundings.
Flashlights, headlamps, a compass, fishing gear, and pocket knives are a big hit when age appropriate. Again, the goal is only to bring a few things that will help your kids engage in nature.
Q. What gear do you love?
A. Our clip on high chair which we found at a kids consignment store (we forgot it on this trip, and I nearly cried), our Klymit double sleeping pad, our REI Kingdom 6 tent (her name is #spanishmossstrecker and we seriously love her), a bottle of castile soap, and assorted enamelware and sporks in different colors because it keeps things orderly when everyone's dishes (vintage) and utensils are different. Plus, the kids love that they have their own special tableware. We aren't totally in love with our sporks just because sporks are clumsy in general, but they do the job and are multicolored. We've been really happy with the kid sized Teton sleeping bags, as well. It may seem silly to buy small sleeping bags when an adult-sized one would work just as well, but it's nice to save the space in our tent. This last one isn't really a camp gear essential, but we have a Baby Bjorn travel crib which we use at home and on the road (5 years now!), and we love it.
Top on our list of gear yet to buy (for the curious): camping pillows, a car top carrier, a camp stove (probably a double burner coleman or something similar), a lightweight kettle specifically for camping, small insulated mugs with lids, and a mat for right outside our tent "door."
Other than our essentials, we truly try to keep our packing light. Partly this is out of the necessity of fitting 3 children and all our stuff inside our Honda Odyssey. But also, it makes packing up and living at our campsite less complicated. I feel like I'm constantly fighting our stuff in our apartment, and I don't want to feel like that when I'm on vacation outside. So we try to be really careful about buying new gear.
I hope you enjoyed this more technical peek into our camping rhythm. It's a work in progress, but so fulfilling and sweet.