Part of me thought we must be crazy to go camping with an 8 month old baby. A 5 year old, no worries, they love to help and feel important and contribute (mostly), but a baby with their own schedule and demands, with no way of coaxing them into our to do list, well that would take some adjusting and manipulating of the daily regime.
Worries aside, we had a goal in mind this year and we desperately wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of suburban life to clear our minds, live presently and make memories with our boys. Finally we were able to make the time.
I’ve yet to hear of a family regretting camping for holidays or quality family time, in fact it seems to be quite the opposite. Almost an exercise in building problem solving skills, resilience, appreciation of nature and simple life skills in case we do in fact head into dire social circumstance requiring hunting, gathering and self sufficiency. In that instance, wouldn’t you like to know you provided your child with the necessary abilities to make a fire at least? Okay, a bit dramatic, but you see where I am heading with this. Did I mention, most importantly, goals of fun and relaxation (as much as camping with a baby allows)?
My upbringing was slightly unorthodox but some of my happiest memories stem from camping mostly with my Dad and his family and my Mum. It didn’t matter where we went, beachside, riverside, at the back of his farm, just the action of setting up a tent and foraging for firewood, making walls out of stones in the river to create a pool, searching for abalone in rock pools. Sunburn aside, they were simple activities but meant more than any crappy plastic toy ever did.
With this in mind, we set a date and headed off late Friday afternoon, once the husband got home from working in the city. This meant we needed to be mostly packed and ready to hit the bitumen as soon as we could manage. The Thursday night, after we both had finished work, we packed majority of the large items, with mainly food being packed before departing. We stayed at Morwell River for 2 nights.
Here is an idea of what we packed to set up our family camp site:
• 2 room tent
• Queen sized blow up mattress with bedding from our bed at home
• Portacot and bedding to suit
• Camp table
• Camp Kitchen Table (with wind guards for the gas stove)
• Gas Stove and Butane
• Large pots for sterilising baby bottles
• Basket with cutlery, crockery, plates dishes and utensils
• Tool box with axe, machete style knife, ropes, hammer, mallet and assorted tools
• Camping chairs x2 adult, x1 child and x1 camp highchair ($29 from Kmart)
• Doritos to help start the fire
• Sage to burn in the fire to ward of mosquitoes
• Picnic Rug
• Sunscreen, sunscreen and more sunscreen
• Face washers, towels, plenty of baby wipes
• Baby food sachets (I like to make homecooked meals, but had to be realistic this time)
• Paper Towel
• 3 sets of clothes each (kids got about 5)
• First Aid Kit
• Fire Lighter Clicker
• 4 Slice Toasting Rack ($12.99 from Rays Outdoors)
• Shovel or spade for toiletry uses, and toilet paper
• Rubber backed picnic rug
• Food: Sausage, eggs, bacon, bread, vegemite, nachos, baked beans – we kept it fairly basic this time
• Soap in a soap container
• Pegless clothes line and washing powder (which we did not need to use)
• Large tapped container of water
• Bottles of water
• Cast iron camping oven/hot plate for the fire -for a more authentic cooking experience really
• Cooking oil
Here is what I forgot:
• Sheets for queen mattress
• Single inflatable mattress for the 5 year old
• ALMOST forgot the tent poles, which I thought belonged to something else, so I unpacked them from the car. Husband was not too happy as I almost ruined everything.
Here is why the above didn’t matter:
• We used Zac’s plush blanket as a fitted sheet
• Having a warm 5 year old as a water bottle came mighty handy when it was FREEZING
While we picked the first full weekend of daylight savings to go camping, we did not arrive at the site until quite late and it was a race against time to set up the tent, then get the campfire going to keep warm. The first night I was extremely cold as I did not layer adequately, the baby ended up in bed with us because his face was quite cold.
Getting a 5 year old involved
Zac was prepared to help with most activities. He assisted with putting up the tent, searching for and chopping firewood, toasting marshmallows. When he wasn’t helping, he made his own fun with sticks and bracken. Once only did he asked for toys, which we had a tiny amount of in the car (mostly broken McDonalds toys) and he only used them when he needed a rest out of the sun in the tent.
My recommendation is to give the kids a chance to help and try to be patient. We discussed what animals we may be hearing, or what animals may possibly be in the bush, gazed at the stars and talked about the planets (Zac is space nut) and quite generally enjoyed each other’s company and ability to live in the present moment sans distraction.
Camping with a baby
Judd is not crawling yet but is rolling and wriggling distances. We used one room of our tent as storage and a kids play area. There was not much shade at our site and let’s face it, sometimes you need to contain babies in a safe area to get a few minutes peace. When we brought him outside, he often sat in the camping highchair or sat/rolled around on the picnic rug, which usually led him to rolling and playing in dirt. *Helpful Tip: dress kids in anything but whites and creams.
We did bring toys for the baby but he was mostly happy playing with the wipes packet and food. Sachets of food came in handy for a quick fix when we were cooking finger foods.
Bottles were heated using a pot filled with water which we bought on the stove, I then sat the bottles in the pot to warm. They were rinsed afterwards, then we did a big wash up, sterilize and filled them in one hit ready for the next day.
Washing the Kids
As we were next to the river, hubby filled one of the storage tubs with water from there and boiled a pot to pour into it also. One by one the kids sat in the tub for a wash and that was enough to ward off any nappy rash etc. (Judd inherited my sensitive skin).
What we will do differently:
- Ditch the portacot, the baby was more comfortable with us and I felt more comfortable being able to be closer to him and check his temperature
- Arrive with more sunlight to spare. An hour was not enough.
- Ideally find a campsite with trees to tie tarps to, or trees close by for shade. Having a freestanding gazebo would remedy this too.
- Bring the blow up mattress for Zac. He slept great without us.
- Sleeping bag for Zac and eventually us – from a thermal and organisational aspect, it would be easier to wash a sleeping bag when we get home rather than rushing to clean and air our king sized doona and pillows/pillow covers
- We may try a scavenger hunt for Zac for another source of entertainment. It could also be fun for adults.
- Buy a bigger axe. We found some felled trees which made great firewood, but it took forever to chop it up. We burned it bit by bit, moving it up into the fire as it burnt through, but it would have been easier in smaller sections.
- Bring some healthier food options. I was so exhausted shopping at 9pm the night before and rushed to grab whatever food that I could (as I had a busy day prior to departing for the trip). Next time I would bring more salad options and veggie options.
Camping Hacks for kids
- $2 packet of glow sticks. Perfect for a night light for Zac.
- Minimise toys. Shock horror, our kid survived without them or technology. In all honesty, that would have terrified me 1.5 years ago but it can actually happen
- Give kids a task, collecting a certain size of stick, just a goal for them to achieve and a way to contribute to the campsite.
- Baby sleeping bags and Bonds Wondersuits with fold over mittens (if camping somewhere that is cold at night). We layered Judd and he really slept so much better as a result. His poor little face was the only body part affected by the cold which is why I snuggled with him.
- Having a safe play area in the tent gave them shade and somewhere to rest. An enclosed gazebo would work just as well.
- Go on adventure walks.
- Zac would say the best hack is “Pringles”. Which is what he told his kinder class 😐
The cleansing power of living in the moment in nature
I wish I could explain the weight lifted after we arrived home and had time to rest. Yes, there was a lot of cleaning and packing away but will get better and faster as we gain more experience. By weight lifted I refer to the background noise we live with every day, as 21st century suburban parents, dissolving because are physically removed from it. With kinder drop offs, work, cleaning, washing, cooking, exercising, house maintenance, worrying about educating our children enough, communicating with family adequately, being constantly switched on to serve technology addiction, is it any wonder we all get depressed and anxious.
We struggle to allow our minds to do nothing, to think about nothing but what is right in front of us, regularly enough.
I was so relaxed that I fell asleep in my huge camp chair by the fire on the second night (sorry hubby, I know I was bad company). I have not felt that way at home in a long time.
To summarise in one word. Refreshing.
And to conclude. If you are a family feeling sluggish, give camping a go. It is not without challenge, but it can disrupt the rut you may be in and it is worth the effort for the end result.