Kids and Camping 2.0
Yikes! I looked at my last camping gear article and it looks like I have missed my editor's deadline. Fortunately, since I AM one of the editors, I know they are lax when it comes to deadlines.
So, when we last talking "camping gear" I had left off with the "don'ts" or, more accurately, why the camping gear I had (car camping gear that is) was not really suited for my more recent adventures in backcountry camping. My Coleman sleeping back and camp cookware have held up to 15 years of work and are very little worse for the wear and tear. That being said, they simply don't work for backpacking, let alone backpacking with kids. Any camping with kids is about creating a level of fun and safety (secondary to fun in their eyes). If the kids are burdened by too much gear, or if you spend all day setting up and tearing down camp, then the kids won't have a good time. This is Variation 1 on the old saying "if momma ain't happy, nobody's happy". A frustrated or bored kid will result in a frustrated and more frustrated dad and will end up only one way...no more camping.
So, here are 5 of my 10 Commandments for camping with kids:
1. THOU SHALT NOT OVER PACK THE KIDS: just because your kid carries a 30 lb school backpack does not mean they should do it on a camping trip. A general rule is 10-20% of their body weight. If you're covering rough country consider less. Again, too much weight and they get fatigued and frustrated. Also, more weight means more breaks means less hiking. This leads us to rule number 2...
2. THOU SHALT STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES. You are there for the experience, not to make time. This is NOT a commute, its a camping trip. Don't set an unrealistic goal which leaves you struggling to make it to your waypoint. Bring a field journal (or if you must an iphone). There are plenty of books on plant and animal identification. Have your kid stop and draw the plants/animals he/she sees. This give you a built in break and rather than sitting around, you're actually spending time with them. That is, after all, the goal.
3. THOU SHALT INCLUDE THE KID. Starting from the planning phase, include the kid. Let them review the maps and trails and help plan the route. Give them input into what you'll do and where you'll go while providing reasonable boundaries (boulder scrambling is fun, scaling vertical cliffs may be beyond your comfort level). Have them help pack the gear. If they want to carry a fishing pole into the desert, let them, it really isn't that big of a deal.
4. THOU SHALT NOT TREAT CAMPING LIKE PUNISHMENT. Kids are used to 24/7 input. From video games to tv to iphones they seem to rarely have to entertain themselves. If you deny them "cold turkey" they will tend to rebel. Let them bring some of the comforts of home. No, do not bring your ipad. Really. Bring food treats they love, their favorite stuffed animal, or their pokemon cards. PLAY with the kid. Again, if they don't like it, they will never love it and they will be denied the ability to grow to appreciate the joy of the outdoors.
5. THOU SHALT KID SIZE THE GEAR. Your kid doesn't need to lug around your dad's Alice Pack. He isn't going to war, he's going camping. Get him something that fits. Just like you, he wants gear to work. Flip flops are not for hiking and will result in you carrying him back to the car. A kid sized backpack will help prevent you from overloading him with gear. The appropriate gear can make the trip fun and comfortable.
I PROMISE I will get to my latest gear picks. Most of the 2011/2012 gear has a year of seasoning and I can tell you what has worked and what has not. I will also be covering my thoughts on NEW gear. Some of the camping tech has become simply amazing while really also maintaining the spirit of camping. Watch for that....