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One of the things Calder and I are really looking forward to are camping adventures with the boys, but somehow we’ve had a hard time making time/plans for a trip this summer. Side note : since moving to Colorado, we’ve learned that you have to plan these trips in advance if you want to secure a site at a campground. Reservations are scooped up as soon as they come online! If you aren’t able to reserve a spot, there are some campgrounds that hold a few spots open for first-come-first-serve arrivals, but we’ve been too lazy to go through the effort of packing the car and taking the risk. We know we could just head out into the wilds, but again, we’ve been lazy.
As luck would have it, friends (hi Neha!) of ours were going on trip with a few other families, some sites opened up, and we were able to take one. Score! Alex is just a few months past his second birthday and Luc is four months old, so this was our first trip with both a toddler and an infant, and I thought it might be useful to share our tips/tricks for a super easy and enjoyable weekend camping trip. As you’ll see, we kept everything so simple for this trip. If you’re hesitant about camping with kids, I want to encourage you to do it and show you how it can be done without a lot of stress, tears, or baby gear. Of course, if gear is your thing, then pack on :-).
- Stay close to home. As soon as we saw that Golden Canyon State Park was less than an hour from Boulder, we were in! Since we were leaving Friday after work, we liked knowing that we would arrive at our site while the sun was still up. We were also more relaxed about the whole trip knowing that if something really went crazy or if we forgot something essential, it wouldn’t be a big deal to pack up and go home. Of course, we can’t wait for future adventures farther from home, but if you look around, there’s likely to be some beautiful, often overlooked, scenery in your backyard, as we discovered on this trip.
- Check the weather. I know this sounds silly and obvious, but when we’re having a string of beautiful and consistently good weather here, I can sometimes forget to check the weather when packing for a weekend trip. I’m so glad that wasn’t the case this time. A quick look at my weather app told me to be prepared for overnight temps in the 50s, which was a bit cooler than the 70F nights at home.
- Pack extra clothes. Again, perhaps this is obvious, but when camping with kids, I think keeping them comfortable is key. That means having the right clothes for the weather (as mentioned above), and having plenty of clean clothes, I was worried that I was overpacking, but we used every article of clothing I packed for Alex. An adventurous two year old is going to spend every waking hour outside playing in the dirt, climbing rocks, and jumping in every puddle and stream they find. Oh, and then they’re going to eat sticky marshmallows. Do you know how well dirt sticks to a sticky marshmallow face?
- Keep food simple (to a degree). We kept our meals so simple for this trip : hot dogs for dinner one night, ramen and boneless/skinless chicken thighs the next. Sandwich makings for lunch, and oatmeal for breakfast. It was all food that was easy to cook and we knew everyone would like. This worked relatively well and made packing so easy, BUT our friends packed so many more delicious snacks and meals, that while our food was easy and made packing less stressful, we realized we should up our game for the next trip!
- Go with other families! This was the first time we camped with other families, and we loved it! Maybe it depends upon who you go with, but with every family having their own site, we found that it was just the right balance of family-time and friend-time. It was great that the kids could run between sites and play with each other, and we didn’t have to worry that they would be bugging strangers when they ran to the next campsite. There was also an added security in knowing that other families were along, so they would likely have some piece of equipment or kid item if we forgot something.
- Let the toddlers run (to a degree). All Alex wants to do is explore and stretch his muscles. It was so nice to be able to let him run around in the woods by our campsite. My goal was to have him within site or hearing distance. Sometimes he was behind a big rock formation, but as long as I could hear him rustling around, I was happy. When he wanted to wander a bit farther, one of us would go along and explore with him I think he really appreciated the freedom, and all of that running around made him a tired and happy camper by the end of the day.
- Camping with infants is easy! So easy. I think some parents wait to go camping until their kids are older, but if you are exclusively breastfeeding your baby, then their needs are so basic. Just remember to pack enough clothes, diapers, and wipes, and that’s all you need since you’ll provide the food. When it comes to sleeping, Luc just sleeps right next to me, and I didn’t have a set bedtime for him, but I let him fall asleep in my arms while we were sitting by the campfire, then I carried him to bed when I was ready to sleep. It was such a nice experience.
- Where to sleep? On this particular trip, we had our van and a two person tent. We didn’t have an exact sleeping plan in mind when we packed, but once we were at the site, we decided that on the first night we would experiment with Alex and Calder in the tent and Luc and I in the van. It worked so well that that’s what we did the second night too. This way, we didn’t have to squeeze into the tent and we didn’t have to worry about either kiddo waking the other.
- Get your toddler some “gear”. We all know that half the fun of camping is the gear. On previous trips, Alex was too little to be aware of the gear, but I realized that getting him a few things of his own would add an extra element of excitement to this trip. I picked up a mini enamel mug and an LED hand crank flashlight (similar, but not the exact model we bought). I was able to test the flashlight with him at the store, so I knew he would be able to crank it and use the on/off switch. He loved his “camp mug” and flashlight! Drinks became more special, and the flashlight was pulled out in the evenings just as it was getting dark and he was starting to fade into the cranky/tired zone.
- Don’t forget your baby carriers. Other than baby and kid carriers, we did not pack any special gear for the kids. I used the Ergo to hike with Luc and carry him around the campsite. Calder used our bigger hiking pack to carry Alex during portions of our Saturday hike.
This post doesn’t include lists of every item we packed, because I’m sure that would vary so much from one family to the next, but I wanted to share the points that were key to keeping our weekend simple while still making sure that we covered the essentials. Along those lines, if you want to know more about the gear we pack for van camping, check out this post. We keep a couple of rubbermaids packed with our camping gear, allowing us to just add food and clothes (and diapers) and be ready to go.
This post may seem oversimplified, especially if you’re a parent that’s used to heading out the door with your van packed for a trip to the park, but we’ve found that keeping things simple has worked well for our family. So often I’ll pack that big bag for the park and then not use half of the gear. If I try to plan and pack for every contingency, the trip can become stressful before I even leave the house. That’s something we wanted to avoid for this little adventure, and it was so successful that I thought it was worth sharing our strategy.
I’m happy to report that we had such a great time and can’t wait for our next trip!… but our plan is to pick up a four-person tent for that one, so I’ll be sure to report back and let you know how it goes.