Ten things to consider when camping with younger children

We finally managed our first camping trip as a family of five. We were meant to go to a festival when Delilah was six weeks old but Laurence got ill and that just proved one obstacle too many. Then our first trip this year got turned into a picnic since the forecast for the rest of the weekend was dire. So the older girls were desperate for a night under canvas. A couple of weeks ago, we made it to Bude. I’d booked a cute little eco campsite and we were keen to try out a different part of Cornwall.

Talitha was almost three when we first took her camping. It’s since become a mainstay of our family spring, summer and even autumn now. We’ve gone camping with a younger baby as well as while I was pregnant. Our kids are now 6 years old, 3 years old and 11 months old and having done a recent camp, I’ve collated a few things to consider when camping with younger children, should you decide to go for it this year.

A change is as good as a rest
Let’s face it, there are a lot of things about family camping that are not restful. I don’t know whether we’ll ever reach a point where getting ready to go for a weekend doesn’t feel like a total mission.

I also find sleeping with a baby in a tent a bit of a tricky one because I tend to get stuck in one position then need to shift her to the other side of me so I can get into another one. The logistics are trickier dealing with layers and sleeping bags. It’s totally doable but it probably explains the massive bags under my eyes in the YouTube video at the end of this post.

Still, we find as the kids get older that the change of place and pace offers us adults some decent chill time. Even their just running around the field on this last trip, darting in and out of the tent and pretending the sleeping bags were the ocean allowed us time to sit, chat and even read. Better yet if you get to sit somewhere with a view. And there are so many little things that are suddenly less work more play when camping like cooking over a fire or the kids washing the dishes in a tub on the ground.

So while we may not have come home having had a lot of sleep, and we may well have brought more work home in the form of laundry and unpacking, we were refreshed in other ways. I can only see this becoming more fun as we go along, especially as the kids become more and more free range.

Get and stay prepared

Make the idea of going less daunting by working with a camping list and keeping some of the stuff in a ready-to-grab box if you can.

The right kit can make all the difference
Just as there’s no such thing as bad weather only improper clothing, the kit makes a serious difference when camping too. It was a real game changer buying a tent that we could reasonably stand up in and compartmentalise our stuff around.

More recently, Millets sent us four sleeping bags, an overdue upgrade. The girls are lounging about in a couple of them in the photos above. We went for two VANGO Harmony single sleeping bags thinking that they would be spacious enough for Delilah to cosleep with me, which they just about are. We also asked for two VANGO Nitestar 250 sleeping bags because they’re more performance bags which we thought would grow with the girls as they take on their own outdoor pursuits in the future. Both bags are soft, breathable and a great temperature for spring and summer camping, certainly. The harmony feels a bit luxurious even. We’re looking forward to taking them on the boat for our first overnight stay this weekend.

Millets also sent us a fun camping care package as part of their #homefromhome campaign with everything from mobile phone charger to lantern to waterproofing spray to tent repair kit to cup holder. Some things we either hadn’t known they carried or hadn’t known were a thing! They may not have all been bare bones essentials but a few extras can take little stresses you weren’t aware were there out of the picture. It gave a glimpse of the broad scope of their camping range.

Throw out the routine
Every time we go camping we get into a debate about whether we should be encouraging bedtime or let the kids take the lead. Laurence is always for the latter and always proven right about it too. With the excitement, noise and light, the kids are never ready to go to bed at the normal time, however worried I might be about how tired they’ll be the next day, as they don’t lie in either.

And yes, they’re more tired, but it all tends to work itself out in the end, either by them taking themselves off to bed a little earlier the following night, opting for an afternoon nap or, hey, just being a bit tired, which isn’t the end of the world after all. I reckon late nights and all sharing the sleep space are key parts of the memories we’re making.

Let camping be the main event
I made a bit of a mistake with this latest trip by choosing to camp in Bude, an hour and a half away from where we live near Falmouth. It meant that I felt like I had to justify the journey by planning to see things. As it turned out, we would have all preferred to have just hung out around the campground, maybe venturing out on just one day, rather than both. As usual, slow and simple makes for a happier time with younger kids.

Take a few activities
In times past, we’ve just brought a few books and bubbles and called that that but a year on, I think we need to add to a few things to the list. Certainly if we were going any longer we might bring sketchbooks and pencils, a card game, a chapter book for Talitha, water pistols and maybe something active like a bat and ball.

Choose the right spot
OK so maybe Bude was a bit further than we needed to go, since we live in Cornwall and are surrounding by great outdoor spaces but I couldn’t recommend Cerenety eco campsite enough. The facilities were perfectly comfortable. The compost loos were extremely well kept, there were hot solar showers and we were encouraged to build fires.

They run a quirky caravan cafe, offering coffee and crepes for breakfast and take children around to see and feed their rescue animals mid-morning. The alpacas left a lasting impression on Talitha and Ophelia. There’s even a pond and a permaculture forest garden. The site is conveniently located for Bude but far enough away to feel a bit wild.

A big highlight was going over to Crackington Haven, pictured below. It is such a lovely little beach, perfect for chilling on while the kids play, build and paddle and there was an amazing surfer making good use of the waves too.

Less might well be more
I used to want to pack our entire house, feeling that the kids needed so many clothes, especially jumpers but they run wild, don’t care about the wet or cold and won’t let me dress them. Even when I pack what I think is too little, we never use it all!

Let your children rewild you
Camping used to reside firmly in the category of things I did for Laurence or the kids. I’ve often forced myself to be more outdoorsy or adventurous than I’d be inclined to be on my own.

Bit by bit, I feel things changing inside me. I get braver, more willing to try things, to trust myself, to stop worrying, to let go, to have fun.

I probably still wouldn’t go camping if it weren’t for my children but every time we go, I find I’m doing it a little more for me too. This time, I felt I could have stayed days beyond a weekend, even with the rain.

Capture the moment
There’s a fine line between missing the moment and gently documenting our experiences. I don’t always get it right. I try to take a few snaps and clips on my phone unobtrusively and hope I’m not distracting anyone, including myself. In future, it would be great to add sketching or even flower pressing to the mix. I’d love for the girls to look back and smile at the memories. They loved this video we made of our first camping trip with three children. Do take a look.



Thanks to Millets for the sleeping bags and camping care package