Festival season is approaching as is the camping season, so what better time than now to explore our essential guide to camping with small children.
I write this having returned from camping at the Big Church Festival in Sussex with my 3 children (7yo, 4yo & 2yo).
With the cost of living not looking to ease off anywhere near as quickly as we all first hoped many of us are opting for holidays closer to home to help keep costs down. Camping is a great way to do that, especially with so many campsites and glamping sites popping up all over the countryside these days.
I have very fond memories of camping with my sister and Dad when we were growing up as well as school and Brownie trips too. Camping has come along way in the past 30-40 years and can be of relative luxury if you want to. Tents pop up in a matter of minutes not hours, and some air mattresses could be mistaken for soft pillows of clouds rather than roll up sleeping mats on a cold, damp floor.
Here is our top 10 tips for camping with small children in the UK.
- Planning is key
Before going anywhere I always have a list of things to pack, meals to prep and various other things I need to remember. Do you love a list? Or are you more likely to chuck everything together last minute? If you’re a planner like me, then a list is essential. Click here for our FREE printable list of packable essentials.
Make sure you’ve practiced putting up and taking down the tent in your garden before you go and you know where everyone will sleep etc.
- Think layers
Even on the warmest day the evenings and night-time can be pretty chilly here in the UK, especially towards the beginning of the camping season. Therefore lots of layers are essential. Whether you’re camping in May or camping in August, the weather is changeable in the UK. Thermal tops or leggings for little ones to wear under pyjamas can be helpful along with waterproofs (even if no rain is forecast) and warm jumpers or onesies too. If little one is used to sleeping in a sleeping bag then bring that with you, probably a warmer tog (2.5tog+) depending on the forecast temperature at night-time. A warm jumper or hoodie is helpful for those early morning alfresco breakfasts, or evening kickabouts before the hot chocolate kicks in!
- Pack small
When we go camping, it feels like we are moving out, literally packing the kitchen sink! There is a fine line between being prepared and packing essentials only. With our kids we limit what they can bring. Each child has a small plastic box to put their clothes and then any toys, activity books, books etc. in. This works well for us. I did notice that the few toys they did bring they didn’t actually use as they were having too much fun making friends with the neighbours’ kids. I wonder if we had had some rainy days whether they would have used them more. The reality is the novelty of being outside 24/7, weather and activities planned for the day has a big influence over what the children really need from an entertainment POV. Always pack at least 1 spare outfit, but you know your kids. How many changes of clothes do they normally need? Can you get away with less? Does the campsite have a restriction on where you park your vehicle? If so a wagon might be helpful to transport your goods and will impact how many times you need to trek too and from the carpark and where you pitch your tent. Are you going to wash their hair for example? If not, then you won’t need to bring shampoo for them. Decant bigger bottles of toiletries into smaller containers. You can do the same with washing up liquid. Take a couple binbags instead of a whole roll for example. Take a few portions of cereal instead of a whole box etc.etc.
Keep the tent organised so you know where to grab the things you need easily.
- Don’t forget your torches
Night-time in the countryside can be pretty dark. Torches are essential for seeing around your tent and campsite during the darker hours. When we camped recently with the kids I popped a torch each in their individual boxes as well as attaching them to our rucksacks. We also have a dedicated lantern that hangs up in the tent so if we misplace all the others we know where to find that one.
Arrive at the campsite with plenty of daylight. It is never fun putting up and setting up a tent in the dark, especially with little people in tow.
- Safe sleeping
This is especially important for babies under 2 years old. It is not advised for a baby to share an airbed as it is not a firm surface. If you have a travel cot with a firm mattress for your baby/toddler already, take that with you and pop it up inside the tent, creating a safe space for your baby. Follow the usual advice of placing baby at the bottom of a cot with no thick duvets etc. Use a sleeping bag suitable for the temperature of the tent. Remember this will most likely be considerable colder at night than your house, so you might need a thicker tog rating (2.5TOG+) than you are used to for the summer season. Use your judgement based on your tent and the weather presented. Aim for natural fabrics for pyjamas and layer up with thermals, vests etc. This will help your baby/ child to regulate their own temperature without sweating. Add a blanket, well tucked in too if you feel they need it. Consider adding a sleeping pad under the travel cot too to help stop the cold from the ground coming through. The travel cot is a good option for babies to play in during the day too if you don’t want them accidently getting under-foot whilst cooking for example.
Breastfeeding overnight in a tent isn’t the most enjoyable experience and could be chilly if you need to get out of bed to do so. Consider wearing a thick jumper or hoodie to bed and lift up top layer, pull down bottom layer to feed so limited skin is exposed to the cold. Keeping baby in their own sleeping bag is helpful in this situation so you can both keep warm without compromising on safety.
Older children can use an airbed safely but remember to pump it up fully so it is firmer. They too will probably need extra layers, and an extra blanket over their sleeping bag or duvet to keep warm.
Put zips up higher if you’re worrying about crawling babies escaping in the night or position yourself in the way of the doorway so they have to climb over you to escape. You should then wake up before they get anywhere!
- Freeze ahead meals
This is a game changer for us. I like to freeze ahead as much as possible and then wrap that meal in foil and place in mobile fridge/ cool box filled with ice packs. We also limit the amount of time that the fridge/ cool box is open so it stays as cold as possible, slowly defrosting over a few days. We successfully transported all our meals for 3 days using this method without needing to buy additional food. For example we froze uncooked sausages for one evening and a fully cooked bolognaise for another. This lasted over 48 hours and was still a little frozen when we came to cook it towards the end of our time away. By keeping all the chilled and frozen things together surrounded by ice packs meant even in a boiling hot tent for 3 days the items kept each other cool. The trick was to limit the amount of times the cool box was opened and things handled, making sure the air stayed cool inside the mini fridge.
By preparing meals ahead as much as possible also meant that we didn’t need to take much time to cook or make the meals, leaving more time for fun as a family. This also meant we didn’t need to take as many utensils or kitchen items, we could keep our mobile kitchen pretty basic.
- Get the kids involved
If your kids are anything like mine they hate waiting around for things or everyone to be ready. So get them involved! Life is play to little people, make the process a game. For example my kids love putting the tent down. We ask them to lie on the tent once we’ve taken all the poles out and are trying to wipe it down before putting it back in the tent bag. They love the simple act of lying and rolling over the tent to get the air out. Same with the airbeds. They also love pumping airbeds up with the foot pump. Let them! Take it in turns or finish it off once they’ve had a go. In my experience things go a lot quicker and smoother with less bickering, moaning and arguing if they feel they have a purpose. What else could they help with? You’ll be surprised how helpful they might be, especially toddlers.
Whether your kids are well past potty training, or you’re not even there yet, a potty inside the tent, especially at night times can be really helpful and save a trip to the toilets in the middle of the night. If you’re camping at a festival we all know what a state the shared toilets can get in! A potty will seem a luxury in those situations! If you know, you know. J
- Leave the tech at home
Pop your phone at the bottom of your bag for emergencies and leave any tablets or computer devices at home. Enjoy time together in nature. Even if the weather is bad, card games or simple board games can keep a variety of ages entertained together.
- Lower expectations
Routines can go out the window during the holiday season which can in turn mean overtired, grouchy kids (and grown ups). I find the key during these times is to keep expectations low. Young children may nap less or more, and at odd times compared to at home. Adaptable plans are probably best. Try not to cram too much into your days, keep some free to just play and explore, sit and enjoy time together. Simple games of tag or stuck in the mud go down well with toddlers and older children, or even throwing a Frisby or kicking a ball around together. Outdoor group games around the campsite are great if you need to entertain a variety of ages. Often the older ones can keep the little ones entertained whilst you enjoy a brief sit down and a cuppa with the grown ups. Campsites are often full of families, this is great place to make new holiday friends and let the kids entertain each other whilst you take a little step back.
Tag us in your camping adventures this summer on Social Media (@bronwynsbaby) and share your own tips in the comments for all to see.