by Heather Mundt – Some first time campers just instinctively know the best tips and tricks for family car camping. Some beginner campers make camping organization look like they’ve been doing it all their lives. And then there are the money-saving camping hacks that flow effortlessly from those who haven’t ever even set foot in a campground. I was not any of those people.
If I have to think of two qualities about myself that make me a good fit for the Outdoor Families Magazine team, I’d have to say active and outdoorsy. I mean, I’m a native Coloradan, so I’d be foolish not to love hiking, skiing, and all-around enjoying the Rocky Mountains that have served as a stunning backdrop for my entire life.
But I’m about to let you in on a shocking secret: Despite my love for the great outdoors, I do not love camping.
There. I said it. And I’m not even ashamed.
Look, it’s not even that I don’t love the idea of it, that whole convening-with-nature thing. And I have actually camped many times, often as a child and occasionally with friends before my husband, Michael, and I had kids.
But one of my many limitations is that I’m not a good planner. And there’s a lot of planning and camping gear organization and commitment involved with the camping process, investing in camping gear and equipment, preparing family camping meals and packing for every possible natural disaster, that it sort of makes my head spin, especially if you add kids to the mix.
For us, it’s simply been easier to book an inexpensive hotel and hike all day to exhaustion, rewarding ourselves afterward with a nice shower, tasty meal, and soft bed. Is that so wrong?
My two boys, ages 7 and 9, would offer a resounding, “Yes!”
I’m not exaggerating when I say that, according to my sons, not having taken them camping their whole lives is akin to abuse and neglect. (For the record, my writing job has allowed them to experience plenty of crazy-fun activities and five-star hotels. Just sayin.)
So after years of begging, we finally camped for a night. Seriously, you’d have thought they’d just gone to Disneyland.
“Mom, thank you so much for taking us camping,” they each said no fewer than, say, a hundred times since. “When can we go again?”
Just as soon as I wash this giant pile of campfire-infused laundry and scrub the grime from beneath every one of your toenails, my dears. Until then, here’s what I learned on my reluctant reintroduction to camping.
1. You can try before you buy.
On our few camping outings as a couple, my husband and I were able to borrow the essentials from our seasoned camping friends. But now that we’re parents of two Tasmanian-devil children, I wouldn’t even want to risk ruining my friends’ equipment.
So why not rent gear? Or better yet, rent gear that’s shipped to your home or destination? Yes, please!
I had already known about Get Outfitted, a Colorado company based in Colorado Springs that rents ski clothing and accessories, and then mails it to your home or resort. So when they launched a camping version in June, I couldn’t sign up fast enough.
I ordered online the Family 4 Camper, with enough Kelty gear for two kids and two adults, including a durable four-person family tent, four sleeping pads and two of each adult and child sleeping bags, which arrived neatly at my front door. Bonus: The box also included two goodie bags (stuff sacks) containing face wipes, lip balm and more. The kids swiped them before I could blink.
My only challenge so far? Getting the gear that arrived in a neat bundle shoved back into the box before returning it to the company via pre-paid shipping label.
2. You don’t have to buy everything right away.
No joke, I had to refer to a Camping 101 list featured in the May issue of Outdoor Families Magazine just to get started. I tracked down the few cooking utensils and pans we’d acquired during our previous trips, now covered in dust from years of disuse, and began packing some suggested items into my storage container.
I also bought a few items at the store, melamine-ware dishes and cups, tongs and a knife with sheath, because I know we can use those at home too. But I wasn’t willing to commit to larger items, such as a coffee percolator or a picnic-table cover, simply because I don’t know that we’ll need those right away.
My point is that you don’t have to go buy everything on a packing list for your first camping outing. If you think you’ll continue to camp, go ahead and buy the stove and lanterns. And if not, well, I have some really cute dishes and cups for our next picnic.
3. Pick a familiar location.
We already felt enough out of our element that we opted for a camping destination that’s familiar to us: Estes Park, Colo. The gateway to Northern Colorado’s crown jewel, Rocky Mountain National Park, the town is less than an hour from our home and a regular daytrip destination for our family.
So it was a no-brainer to camp somewhere familiar to us. We already know the places we like to eat or shop, as well as our favorite areas for hiking and activity. Heading to Estes Park, then, helped us eliminate some unknowns we already knew we’d encounter while camping.
4. It’s OK to ease into camping.
Many seasoned outdoors enthusiasts, who wouldn’t even bat an eye at the idea of a week long backcountry camping with kids trip, may scoff at the idea of car camping at a site filled with amenities. But scoff if you will: I wanted to shower, brush my teeth at a sink and buy kindling if necessary. (It was, as were the four plastic wine glasses and gourmet chocolates I also had to buy in the gift shop.)
Again, eliminating those dreaded unknowns at a campground I knew would offer plenty of back-up meant we could enjoy our outing. Plus we discovered what’s cool about family camping like the full campfire-and-s’mores experience and slept on the ground in a tent. That counts as camping in my book.
5. It’s also OK if you don’t like to camp.
I have to be truthful: I still don’t love camping but I don’t hate it either. And I’m quite sure we won’t be backpacking in the near future.
We’ve gotten a taste of camping as a family, though, and for now it’s all right with me. I know the kids will be pleading to go every weekend until school starts, so we’ll probably camp some more. But let’s just say I won’t be investing in that expensive camp stove anytime soon.
Disclosure statement: Get Outfitted provided free rental and delivery of their Kelty gear for this story.
A third-generation Coloradan, contributing editor Heather Mundt took for granted the privilege of growing up near some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. That is, until meeting adventurous husband and fellow native, Michael, who also sparked her love for travel. But after a decade of exploring together, snowshoeing, skiing and hiking throughout the Rocky Mountains, rafting the Zambezi in Zimbabwe, and driving a sled dog team in Alaska, nothing could have prepared them for their greatest adventure to date: parenting. Now with two boys, the freelance writer and editor writes about traveling with kids on her site, Momfari.com, inspiring parents to get out and discover the world with their children.