Camping was glorious and I’ve only by miracle and mild coercion managed to excavate the dirt from my children’s curling toenails. Camping was grueling and we woke up every morning to the call of loons and watched the fog lift off the lake as we sipped our cocoa and coffee. Glorious and grueling, a family vacation defined?
There are lots of reasons to camp. Maybe you already know them. At $22 a night, state-run campsites with access to plumbed toilets and running water are a budget vacationer’s dream. The opportunities to commune with nature, to shake up our routine, to bid the world that we know adieu and barrel into a new one, all unparalleled. On our trip there were lake swims and sunnies caught and released and cried after. There were row boat rides and waterfall hikes and tromps through the woods singing to keep a family of bears at bay. We made dinner while our kids threw rocks into lakes and sometimes at each other. We cleaned up breakfast while they built fairy houses and destroyed them. We climbed fire towers and chatted with fellow trailblazers and practiced our doggie paddles. Have you ever listened to your children singing softly in the dark night on their way to brush their teeth? The stuff of parenting dreams. Mine, anyway.
Still, camping is work and two weeks of camping with three little kids is a lot of work. There’s camp to be set up and broken down. There are meals to be made and cleaned up after. There’s weather to contend with and wildlife to keep at bay and toddlers who insist on running into the woods. Keeping things safe and comfortable requires a certain amount of vigilance and organization that isn’t always all that relaxing or restorative. Less the stuff of parenting dreams? Hissing at my children to stop treating the family’s patchwork of sleeping bags like a ball pit at a highway rest stop. Or, shrieking at my family when they’ve left the tent hanging open for the fiftieth time and all I want is to go to sleep without being menaced by the high-pitched whine of mosquitoes. Or, losing all cool and calm while crouching over a wash basin with a headlamp for a light and a toddler crying over a smoldering marshmallow at my back. I could go on. There are fireflies and star gazing and the tender trills of campfire songs, but there’s the other stuff too, let it be known.
I remain myself and so there’s a certain amount of consternation that comes with packing and reckoning with all the stuff that camping requires. We are a family of five and so the math doesn’t do us any favors in terms of keeping things light and minimal, though we did try. I’ve received so many requests to update my original list that I thought I’d oblige. For what it’s worth, here’s a look at what we took with us:
+ A six-person tent and its attending rain fly and ground cover
+ 1 double sleeping bag and queen-sized air mattress for the parents to share
+ 2 kid-sized sleeping bags plus 1 adult-sized lightweight single bag for kids
+ 3 assorted other sleeping pads of the self-inflating variety for kids to use
+ 2 camp pillows and 2 regular pillows for the adults
+ 1 quilt
+ 1 2-burner propane camp stove
+ 1 campfire-ready kettle
+ 1 skillet and 1 stainless steel sauce pan
+ 1 stainless steel mixing bowl
+ 1 metal spatula; 1 wooden spatula; 1 wooden spoon
+ 1 potholder
+ 1 cutting board
+ 5 forks, 5 spoons, and 2 knives from our everyday cutlery
+ 1 folding opinel knife plus corkscrew; 1 serrated knife
+ 4 enamelware plates and 5 enamelware bowls and 5 enamelware mugs
+ 1 2-cup measure
+ 5 dish towels
+ A few rolls of paper towels for messes. (And zero regrets.)
+ 1 tablecloth
+ 1 cotton clothesline and clothespins
+ 1 sponge and 1 scrubby pad
+ 1 bottle of Sals Suds
+ 1 stainless steel water dispenser
+ 1 old enamel wash basin
+ 1 borrowed cooler
+ 1 borrowed screened-in canopy
+ 2 camp chairs
+ 1 toddler backpack carrier
+ 2 adult headlamps and 3 kid headlamps
+ 2 kid-sized fishing poles (and a fishing license for their adult)
We have an old station wagon with lots of trunk space, but we still borrowed a collapsible car top carrier from my parents and it was hugely helpful. Not sure if I would invest in this same one, since it’s already sprouted one leak, but other similar options abound. We also borrowed a screened-in canopy shelter from my mom and dad (similar to the one linked), which was very helpful as a cover for our picnic table on rainy days. I’d consider investing in a simpler set-up without the screens for our next trip—something to keep the stove and table dry, but minus the walls which I found to be more cumbersome than helpful and absolutely no match for the bugs anyway.
We were short on chairs and that’s something I’ll probably also try to rectify before our next trip. Generally I find the options for camp chairs to be too heavy, too ugly, too uncertain, so if anyone has favorites, please share. James found a used toddler backpack carrier for sale locally before we left and while too heavy for me to comfortably use, it was perfect for James and made many hikes much, much more feasible for our family.
In terms of clothing, I packed probably too many daytime shorts and t-shirts for the kids and not enough evening/camp long sleeves and pants, which is what tended to get dirtiest during the aforementioned marshmallow roasting and general campsite lounging. (We did laundry twice at local laundromats, thank goodness.) Rain gear proved essential and I was beyond grateful that my kids’ sets from Fairechild still mostly fit.
We packed clothes and supplies into duffle bags and travel packs and the rest of the gear we put into open wooden crates. If James had his druthers we’d invest in a few lidded containers to help contain things a bit better in the car. Maybe one day.
For the additionally curious:
The beautiful yellow birch bowl shown here is a souvenir from our travels, made by Chipman Woodworks.
Other questions, just ask, unless you have questions about how to get small children to chill around the campfire for extended periods of time, in which case, I have no answers.
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