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Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Camping with Kids - a guide, Shred Dog gear for kids, and more

Somewhere between my pre-2021 childless life and my 2022 life with a toddler, I've become an unofficial low-key ambassador for getting outdoors and living a normal life *with kids*. Sure sure, there are pro athletes and big-name influencers getting out there and sharing their stories of life with kids and it's amazing, we love to see it. But, I love sharing a side that's may be a bit more approachable to your average family. I'm your typical mom trying to balance my career outside of this space with the normal stuff like grocery lists, household renovations, overflowing piles of laundry, and weekend get-aways. 

My tone is always aimed at being approachable and it makes every minute spent behind a computer screen worth it to get messages from friends and strangers sharing their inspired stories. All the stories sort of go along the lines of  "I saw this kind of parenting and lifestyle with kids and questioned if I really want kids until I remembered you". It's a powerful statement and a title I don't take lightly. Since having Whitney in early 2021, it's been my mission to prove that kids (babies and toddlers really) aren't a death sentence to your former life and I am beyond excited to keep living this sentiment. 

So today's post is a homage to all the people who gave me a bit of a side eye or inquired with a bit of bewilderment when I told them I was taking my 17-month-old camping for two nights in the Catskills - alongside my three nephews ages 4, 6, and 8. It truly went better than I expected and I hope today's post inspires you to "start em young" and just get out there when it comes to camping with kids. 

Kids at camp

Realistic Expectations 

We are jumping in with the hardest one and it's to set realistic expectations. If your toddler is an amazing sleeper at home in their air-conditioned 72-degree room with blackout curtains, you need to understand that sleep isn't going to be the same while camping. If you find yourself at a campground mid-summer like we did, the sun goes down much later than their normal bedtime and it's likely going to be a loud environment until quiet hours kick in. Whitney's 7pm bedtime was pushed to about 9:30 pm each night when the campground quieted down and the sun fully set. I anticipated this happening and those lowered sleep expectations (and a few tricks) were essential for an easy camping trip. He didn't get his full normal 13 hours of sleep but he got enough sleep and I kept remininding myself, "it's just two nights". We also relied sleep aids like a long drive or a stroller walk for nap times and yes, even on devices to help kids wind down before bed or for a little bit of quiet time for the adults. It's not the time for perfect parenting and realistic expectations are your ally. 

Tailgate camp breakfast in his beloved travel highchair 

Easiest Agenda - All Inclusive Campground

Setting up an easy agenda at an all inclusive campground means less loading cars, planning outings, and more relaxing. This just isn't the outing to plan 2 hikes a day, an excursion to the local tourist trap, and check out that interesting spot an hour away. Try and find a campground that has everything you need without ever having to leave the campground. We stayed at North South Lake in the Catskills of New York and between the playgrounds, hiking trails, swimming beaches, boat rentals, and twice-daily ice cream truck, there was no reason to leave. We came to camp and enjoy eachother's company, this first camping trip wasn't our time to explore the region. Not having to load up kids into a car 3 times a day is easier on everyone, guaranteed. We had no real plans besides making it to the playground, making it on a short hike, and jumping in the lake to swim. No set times, no special places we needed to see, just two nights and empty days to fill with fun or pivot as we needed. 

A propane stove helps with fuss-free breakfast

Easy Tried and True Camp Meals 

Cooking easy meals at camp means you don't have to load the kids up in the car or make a reservation that's kid-friendly. We made breakfast, lunch and dinner right at the campsite each day and stuck to simple, easy recipes and pre-made favorites to take the stress out of meals. My fool-proof strategy is easy propane stove breakfast, no-cook lunch, and a campfire dinner. 

I didn't have the energy or patience to start a fire every morning so instead, we opened up the propane stove top and flipped a switch. For breakfast, it was big batches of scrambled eggs and bacon for the adults. For the kids, it was premade frozen french toast sticks heated up in a cast iron skillet. Precut fruit for all and french press coffee for the adults finished up a perfect campfire breakfast. Lunch was even easier, no cooking needed as we whipped up PB&Js, ham sandwiches, and whatever snacks we had around. Dinner was simple with pre-assembled foil packets and even easier, taco night. Bag of tortillas, ground beef and seasoning cooked in a cast iron and an easy silverware-free meal for all. You may be tempted to try out some fancy new pinterest find trust me, simple reliable staples are best when it comes to camping with kids. 

Chilly camp mornings in their Shred Dog puffers

Tents - Dark and Roomy

I have a lovely little 2 person tent I take backpacking that perfectly fits two adults and a dog or two. This tent is currently on the top shelf in my garage, behind the new 6-person tent with a large screened porch and light-darkening panels that probably weighs 20 pounds. I knew we needed to upgrade from my compact cute setup to a family-friendly get-up. When looking for that family-friendly upgrade, if you are camping with a toddler, I highly recommend you go bigger than expected. It's kind of obnoxious but trust me, by the time you set up a pack and play in there, a few fans, your air mattress, and whatever gear you want to keep dry, space is tight. We went with a 6-person tent that perfectly fit a queen air mattress and pack and play with a little bit of room to spare for our clothes. I also recommend you shop for a tent that offers "blackout" or "light darkening" features (here's an option). It's not perfect but it will definitely help toddlers get to bed a little earlier than sunset and hopefully keep them asleep longer than that 5 am sunrise. 

Essential Camping Layers - Shred Dog Element Kid's Insulator Puffy Jacket

Layers - a Good Puffy Coat

I've said it a thousand times (and dedicated an entire post to the topic) but layering is essential when spending time outdoors in different seasons. We always underestimate how the temperatures drop overnight and how chilly the early mornings can be. I don't care if it's July, especially if you are up in the mountains, expect to wake up to chilly mornings. I don't bother starting a fire in the morning but instead, rely on a good insulated puffer to keep the kids (and myself) warm when hot summer days slip into cool summer nights and mornings. 

Car space and pack space is often limited and you don't need a winter coat in July but a high-quality mid-layer is essential for the in-between temperatures while camping. Marc at Shred Dog sent us two of the Element Kid's Insulator puffy jackets which were perfect for those crisp mornings. They are warm and comfortable without the bulk and restriction of a heavier coat. The kids even sized up with the intention that this high-quality jacket will be able to last them several seasons before being handed down to their brother and eventually cousin. The colors ironically perfectly matched our setup and the Adjust-A-Fit System allows you to shorten the sleeves for now (without awkwardly rolling them up as I did), lengthen as they grow, and then re-shortened for a hand-me-down later. Because I focus so heavily on "approachable" aspects of getting outside with kids, sharing high-quality gear that's offered at a fair price point is really important. Their price point is lower than comparable high-end brands because they skip the retailer and sell directly to the customers. If you really want to snag some layers at an even steeper discount, check out some of the pre-order items that are an extra 40% off (you can get this puffer for $50 until August 31!). This layer even zips into the Kids' Elevated Hardshell which offers a great raincoat solo or the perfect winter layering for the upcoming ski season. 

Shred Dog kid's gear and our camp hammock

Make a List 

My type A personality does really well with a list. I've invested in a lot of quality camping gear and general outdoor accessories and I want to make sure I have what I need when off on a trip (no running to the store for me). I have a few camping bins in my garage that make it pretty easy to "grab and go". I still make a list and run through it the night before the trip. Let's be honest, you can wing it as adults but when kids are involved, you almost always need a lot more "stuff". My list isn't a "Must Have to Sleep in the Woods" but for my family, it makes our camping trips so much smoother. 

Camping Checklist - PDF HERE

Just Do It 

Like anything outdoorsy and kids related, my number one advice is to do it early and often. It may seem daunting to take your toddler or kids on their first camping trip but I promise, the earlier you start and the more often you go, the better. Parenting requires a certain set of skills (patience, organization, a good sense of humor...) and I truly believe it's a skill you have to flex often. It will get easier with time and the younger you start, the more normal (and exciting) it will become for your kids. If you are really intimidated, pick one night somewhere local and tell yourself you can always "abort the mission" and head home if needed. Set realistic expectations, be prepared, get a good list with some good gear, and head out. I promise you the nights around a campfire, camp days with cousins, and those lovely summer Sundays spent in tents will be the memories you and your kids hold onto. 

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