By Guest Blogger Tim Young, Co-Host of Triad Dads with a Drink
As the summer heat breaks, giving way to cooler days and nights, it’s a perfect time to get into the woods. Our homes have served us well during these strange times, but let’s face it—we’ve seen a lot of these walls, and a change of scenery is welcome.
Are you new to camping? Or have you had a rough go of it in previous attempts? Well here’s one barely qualified dad’s take on how to get out and enjoy the wide array of outstanding camping options within easy driving distance of the Triad.
Pack for comfort
If you’ve spent any time backpacking, your go-to camping instinct is to pack as light as possible.
For our family—with 5- and 6-year-old girls—that’s not what we’re aiming for. When we camp, the rear springs of our minivan are sagging.
But it’s not just about cramming as much junk in your car as possible. It’s about identifying the gear that will make you and your family the most comfortable and packing that.
For us, that means figuring out how to bring a high-quality, comfortable, portable facsimile of three rooms:
Eating is the best part of camping, right?
S’mores and other fireside treats are the stars here, but only the most rugged adventurers are going to be cooking every meal over a fire.
I recommend spending some time really thinking through how you like to cook and eat at home and figuring out how to replicate some of that in the wild.
For us, that means bringing a few key tools:
– A real cooking knife, along with a plastic cutting board. Dull knives are dangerous, and your Swiss Army Knife is no match for meal prep. If you’re cooking in a way that involves chopping and slicing real ingredients, bring a proper knife. Store it safely in a homemade sheath of some sort (it’s amazing what you can do with cardboard and duct tape) and maybe wrap it in a dish towel and stuff it in an oven mitt for transport. You’ll want to have those things anyway.
– A folding table. We use a Lifetime table we got from Costco that can be set at counter height, which is an amazing back saver. This frees up the site’s picnic table for eating meals, playing games, etc., and separates your “kitchen” from your “dining room.”
– A French press and good coffee. Because Starbucks Via works just fine for a backpacking trip, but if you’re car camping and sleeping next to snoring children, break out the good stuff.
Also, remember that you’re at Site 22 at Hanging Rock, not in the Top Chef kitchen. Don’t feel like you can’t take shortcuts. We went camping with Triad Dads co-host Adam and his family and they brought street taco kits from Costco for dinner. Delicious, super easy, and absolutely allowed.
If you don’t sleep well, nothing is fun.
This is the part we spent the most time refining and honing during our backyard quarantine camping.
My kids sleep great on standard collapsible cots. We use the same ones we use for sleepovers—they fold up like camp chairs and don’t take up much space.
I sleep fine pretty much anywhere. My back isn’t as happy sleeping on a thin inflatable pad as it used to be, but I do okay.
My wife is okay with me telling you all that she is a different story.
After MUCH trial and error, we ended up going all out and getting full-on Coleman cots and, for my wife, a 4-inch memory foam mattress. It is probably the bulkiest item in our camping set-up, taking up more room in the van than the cooler, the tent, or either of the kids. But she sleeps!
We also bring pillows from home, a sound machine, and, for her, a weighted blanket. Glorious excess!
But it doesn’t matter! Because she sleeps! And the kids sleep and I sleep and if we really wanted to be warriors, we’d go tromp through Fiji on “The World’s Toughest Race” instead of camping at Stone Mountain State Park for a couple of nights.
Find your comforts and lean in. You’re not trying to impress anyone.
Okay. So. I’m going to need you to just go with me on this one for a minute.
Let me preface by saying that ever since we determined, years ago, that our now-five-year-old was a certified bathroom tourist who, on road trips, will demand to stop for a potty break every 20 minutes if we let her, we haven’t taken a road trip without a potty in the car in years.
And since, in our present reality, public restrooms are less available, riskier, and more of a hassle, we don’t leave home without the potty. At all. It lives in the back of our minivan next to the jumper cables.
We may be insane.
But on a camping trip, toilet access is a big deal. The only part of the campground experience that isn’t usually self-contained is the bathhouse, and frankly, I don’t know anyone who relishes the thought of stumbling 100 yards at 2am with a kindergartner who needs to tinkle.
Fortunately, you can make a convenient, not-that-gross potty that even adults can use a part of your campsite.
Options abound. We started with a toilet seat that fits on the top of a standard five-gallon bucket (I know) and a container of kitty litter (I KNOW!), which was less unpleasant that it sounds. We then upgraded to a portable flush toilet that costs under $100 bucks and is odor-free and relatively easy to use and clean.
The porta-potty lives inside of the roomy vestibule of our tent (we got the North Face Wawona 6P partly because it has a huge vestibule. Plus it’s affordable, frequently on sale, and so far has proven to be very high quality), where we also keep a small washtub (the little plastic ones that you may already have from a hospital visit, or that you can buy at any WalMart or Target for two bucks) that we fill with warm water when we want to give grubby little ones a makeshift bath.
Is this a topic for dinnertime conversation? No. But does a reliable potty and washing-up station make for a self-contained, worry free camping experience for voyagers of all ages? YOU BET IT DOES!
Know your limits and have fun
Camping is supposed to be fun, and it really, REALLY can be. Figuring out YOUR family’s answers to the three big questions—“How am I going to eat?” “How am I going to sleep?” “How am I going to… you know… go to the bathroom?”—are the key to finding your comfort level and ultimately finding your fun.
Be creative, be honest, and make a plan and you can be out there making memories in no time.
Want to see more blogs like this and get notifications on local events and happenings? Subscribe to Triad Moms on Main’s free weekly newsletters here.