Family Camping Gear
The family camping trip is a great summer tradition, but it’s no walk in the woods. Forsaking a perfectly good bed for a patch of campground requires steely resolve. (Doing it twice requires a short memory.)
Family Camping Tents
The ideal family tent should perform two functions — keep the rain and bugs out and offer your tribe a little privacy from adjoining campsites. If it accomplishes those things well, you’re 85% of the way there, but if you’re tent shopping, here are some other things to consider. Size matters. The occupancy rating for tents should be taken with a grain of salt. A three-person tent will hold two comfortably; a six person tent is good for four. Always shop one or two bodies up from the maximum rating. A good rain fly and taped floor seams will allow you to weather a Biblical flood, but make sure your tent has good ventilation. Multiple bodies in a confined space tend to create the ambiance of a locker room. Some family tents come with a removable partition for extra privacy between sleeping areas. Once you’re happy with your portable home, establish and enforce a strict no-shoes rule inside the tent and remember to store all food outside (preferably hanging from a tree) to keep your tent from becoming a convenience store for bears and raccoons. Here are a few good tents to look at in several sizes.
Sleeping Bags and PadsFinally, a few words on sleeping gear. Since it’s unlikely that your family will be summiting K2, you can save yourself a bundle by sticking to down or synthetic bags that aren’t rated for sub-zero conditions. Similarly, rectangular bags will do just as well as the mummy variety and for summer car camping expeditions they’re probably the more comfortable alternative in that they allow you to move around more freely. (And Mom and Dad should note that they’re much less awkward than mummies when zipped together.) Whatever you do, don’t skimp on your pad or mattress. It can make the difference between a fitful night of inadequate sleep and sheer agony. An air mattress will give you the most support and keep your weary body off the cold hard ground. Foam pads, the choice of serious backpackers, just can’t begin to compete. With the right bag, the right mattress and a little luck, you’ll be able to drift off to the drone of a lone mosquito in your ear and the thumping bass of the car stereo in the next campsite. Ah, Wilderness!
More sleeping bags
Camp FurnitureDuring the Victorian era, British officers were known to carry special, easy-to-assemble drawing-room suites of upholstered furniture on military campaigns from Cape Town to The Crimea. That’s a bit much, even for the cushy car-camper, but even if your campsite comes with a picnic table it’s a good idea to invest in some camping furniture. (If a hard picnic bench is all you have to sit on, after a half hour or so, you may prefer standing — or hanging by your thumbs.) You can find a variety of lightweight folding camp chairs that are almost as comfortable as your favorite seat at home. If you don’t want to go that route, at least throw a lawn chair or two into the trunk. An extra table comes in handy for larger families or for an extra surface for meal preparation. And if you can talk yourself into believing you’ll have lots of time to relax with a good book, a good hammock is essential. Here are a few nice-to-haves with links to more.
Camp StovesSome camp chefs prefer to lug along a charcoal grill, and if you have room in the wagon, why not? But if space is at a premium, you’re better off with a two- or three-burner liquid fuel or propane camp stove. Anything smaller and you’ll be serving the last of breakfast about the time the family’s ready for lunch. Propane stoves are generally the easiest to operate and you won’t risk spilling fuel, but the typical white gas pump stoves burn efficiently and, with a little care, will do yeoman service. Some campgrounds offer a hearth or fire pit at your campsite, but if it’s been awhile since you cooked over an open fire and you’re happy with your eyebrows, you’d be wise to stick with a stove.
LanternsFlashlights are fine for shining into the glowing eyes of a startled cougar you meet on the path to the privy, but if you’re planning on staying up past sundown, you’ll need a good camp lantern. If you’re using a white gas stove, pick up a lantern that uses the same fuel and make sure you pack extra mantles. You can also find ones that use propane, butane and gas. Electric lanterns tend to be heavier, less bright and can run through a lot of batteries — their only real advantage is that you can take them into your tent. (Fuel-burning lanterns should never be used inside due to fumes and risk of falling over and fricasseeing the family.) Generally, the light from most lanterns is brighter than it needs to be and you’d do well to be conscious of other campers who might prefer the light of the fire and the moon. Given that your kids and blood pressure will be up at dawn, an early night isn’t such a bad idea.