We’ve got a rental car squared away. A campsite booked. Hidden swimming holes and scenic overlooks to find. And a few nights left unplanned just to keep things interesting. We figure that as long as we’ve got the gear in place, we can handle a few last-minute arrangements.
Viewed one way, camping is the ultimate in minimalist vacations. Just you, the woods, and a few small things for maintaining safety and sanity in the wild. A trip into the woods means living with only the essentials. Nothing too fancy and nothing superfluous. Just a thin piece of waterproof fabric between you and the star-filled sky. A tiny camp stove, a skillet, and a bit of ingenuity will get you dinner. A cooler can stand in for a fridge.
But the rub comes with the fact that most of the time we don’t live in the woods. We live in an apartment. And though our needs are few, we have things like a refrigerator and a bed and stove to use on a daily basis. When you live out of the woods most of the time, a camping vacation can paradoxically feel like an exercise in needing more than usual, not less. Suddenly the very things that allow you to live with only the essentials for a week or two can make you feel like living with extras the rest of the time.
It can feel like maybe camping vacations are better for people with things like garages and sheds and …closets. Places where a few boxes of supplies can take up a relatively small amount of space for much of the year and provide whole weeks of enjoyment once the weather warms and the itch for a change of scenery grows too powerful to ignore.
But the truth is that we’ve managed to keep a modest collection of camping supplies even in our tiniest apartment. A tiny tent, sleeping bags shoved into small spaces, and a small collection of essentials designed to be carried on our backs has meant that we haven’t gotten too overwhelmed by camping gear and that we’ve been able to take a few pared down trips in the meantime. Still, we began to wonder if camping with a child would mean needing to be a bit more prepared.
The planning began in earnest last week with a spreadsheet. And three columns: Have, Buy, Borrow.
James sent me an invitation to edit the spreadsheet. Normally this is the kind of thing that makes my heart swell. Opposites attract, sure, but sometimes it’s nice to have a husband cut from the same cloth.
But when I opened the spreadsheet, the columns that James created glared back at me. No: the rows. There were a lot of them. From plates and cups to coolers and tents and ground coverings. It looked like a lot of stuff. But at the same time that I felt like our packing list might have gotten a little out of hand, it was easy to think about camping with a baby and wonder if our tiny tent actually was too tiny. If our diminutive cooler was impractical, our backpacking camp stove inadequate.
It’s easy to get carried away, and really easy to start feeling like nice to have is the same as necessary to have. Looking over the list, it looked like we were going to have swap our rental car for a minivan just to fit all of the stuff.
But we reassessed. We got our tiny cooler down from the top of the closet and decided we could probably swing it. We set up the tent we’ve used for two and decided it would work for three. We decided our decade-old sleeping bags are still hanging in there just fine. And what’s a stroller muff if not a sleeping bag? We’ve gotten a few new things that will make the trip just a little more pleasant, but other things we’ve decided to just wing it without. Sure, it’d be awesome to have a rubber tub to bathe our bub, but it’s also possible to shower her monkey-style in the campground bathroom. Larger cooler? Amazing. Trying to store it after we get back? Not so much.
Our trip will likely be a little scrappy. We’ll make a few meals over the campfire, but we’ll also be gentle with ourselves and rely on a few dinners out. Peanut butter and jelly and a loaf of bread will mean that no one will go hungry, regardless of available dining options. Anyway, this isn’t a post about having all the answers. It’s about not having all the answers but going for it anyway. I’ll report back, fear not.
Here’s to adventure.
For the curious:
A similar tent.
Our tiny stove.
Similar sleeping bags.
Similar air mattresses.
Our camping kettle.