Camping is a Canadian family tradition. From the moment my family emigrated to Canada, my parents dove into Canadian life, and soon after, four recent arrivals from the Parisian suburbs were backcountry camping in Algonquin Provincial Park! We did everything from canoeing, portaging, hanging our packs in trees kind of camping — and we loved it! We all pitched in to put the trip together and learned how to be prepared — together.
When kids feel involved in the preparation of a family adventure, it’s more fun for everyone. By asking children to help with meal planning, listing necessary camping supplies, toiletries, and preparing the gear, it teaches them that for the family to have fun together, everyone needs to help.
Any honest mother will tell you that camping is not the same kind of vacation as lounging under a parasol on a beach while waiters deliver fruity drinks. So let's dispel the idea that a camping trip will pull itself together between when you get home from school pick-up and before the sun sets. You need to be organized, and you need all hands on deck, including little ones who want to be involved.
Here are some tips and product suggestions that will help you get prepared for your next camping trip:
Are you experienced? How old are your kids? How comfortable are you in the outdoors? Have you ever pitched a tent before?
These questions will help you narrow down the type of camping you're prepared for. Once you know whether you're heading for the northern reaches of Manitoba or an all-amenities campground next to a sandy beach, answering these questions will give you and your family a good idea what you need to move forward with planning the trip.
The type of camping you choose will determine the equipment you need. If you're heading to the backcountry, you'll need specialized gear that's lightweight, easy to carry, durable, and can fit in a canoe. Car camping gives new campers the option to buy (or borrow) equipment that isn't limited to what fits in a canoe or that has to be carried on your back.
Choose a tent large enough for your family, but not so big you can host a party, and purchase an easy-to-assemble model. Bed rolls (or inflatable mattresses), sleeping bags, chairs, stove, pots and pans, and other kitchen necessities round out the big items. It's impossible to bring coolers on a backcountry trip but one or more coolers are necessary when car camping. A 24-can cooler is perfect for drinks and leaves room for food in a larger cooler. Aside from the big stuff, make a list of anything necessary for being away from civilization: waterproof matches, rope, rain tarp, and firewood.
One or two days before departure, have the kids set up the tent (younger kids will need your help!), open up the bedrolls and sleeping bags to make sure everything is working as it should. Nothing will ruin your camping trip faster than a tent zipper that won't zip when mosquitoes are hungry and out in full force.
Ask yourself: How many days will you be gone? How many people are going on the trip?
Write out the meals for each day, calculate how much you'll need for each meal and for each person, and make a meal plan accordingly. Don't go grocery shopping without a list or you'll be eating raisins and oatmeal flakes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
And remember snacks! Ask the kids to help you make a list of snacks such as chips, popcorn, home baked treats, sweet treats such as gummies, and a selection of munchies to keep everyone happy. And then there are the items to include or risk a family mutiny: Coffee (for parental survival), marshmallows, President’s Choice S'mores — it’s clearly stated in Camping For Dummies that anyone who isn’t a dummy will provide s'mores and lots of them for their families — bacon, and pancakes cooked in bacon fat (trust me on this one).
You can return to normal meals at home; what happens at the campground, stays at the campground.
Shopping tip: Save yourself some time when pulling all of your camping snacks together. Shoppers Drug Mart is a convenient, one-stop spot to grab all of the needed snack items.
When packing, you will inevitably ask yourself: "Do I really need this?" Repeat after me: No.
You'll wear 1/2 the clothes you pack, so in the interest of conserving room for more important things like extra socks, a pillow, and adult beverages, pack light. Everything takes on the smell of Eau de Smoke after the first night anyway, so don't worry about breaking out your new jeans and sweatshirt; the old ones will do. Camping (even in the backcountry) is no excuse to stink up the place — besides, who wants to crawl into a sleeping bag coated in five-days worth of sweat? So don't forget toiletries: toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, a fragrance-free (to minimize being mosquito bait) good broad-spectrum sunscreen like Eucerin Daily Protection SPF15 Lotion, an all-in-one body wash (I recommend Dial Body Wash), shampoo, and mouthwash.
Find a mid-sized waterproof bag to build your essentials pack. This will house your first aid kit, extra sunscreen such as La Roche PosaySPF60, and a long-lasting bug repellent strong enough to ward off all creepy crawlies. OFF! is my go-to because it contains DEET and while I try to stick to milder products in general, I don't mess around when it comes to insect bites. OFF! Clip-Ons are super practical and don't involve any spraying or product application to the skin. Bring home happy camp memories and not bug bites. Kids can help gathering all the supplies and packing the bag.
Be aware of what can be kept in your tent and what needs to be stored safely away from your site. Any food, gum, - even toiletries - will attract animals so keep these items in your car or hung up overnight in the food pack. Most campgrounds have flyers or posters indicating species of plants to avoid, like poison ivy. Learn what these look like and you won't have the headache of treating a traveling rash. And the most important lesson I learned as a child that I've passed onto my kids? Leave the outdoors cleaner than you found it.
There’s no such thing as the perfect camping trip, something unforeseen always happens and that’s what makes family camping so memorable, but every camping trip can be a perfect family vacation with a bit of prep work and a good list!