Wild Camping with a Wild Toddler
Before we had our son, our camping trips were usually one of two very different options. It was either a spontaneous trip to the mountains with hurriedly packed rucksacks crammed with tent, sleeping bags and anything else we could stuff in the bags. We’d be thinking thoughts of if we haven’t got it we don’t need it. We just craved being outdoors, relaxing and re-centring ourselves and remembering what life is all about. Or on our more hardcore escapades, it was multiday treks where the route was planned in advance, get outs were coordinated if needed, boots were waxed, nothing was forgotten and we were psyching ourselves up to thoughts of dodgy river crossings and the idea of living off nothing but porridge and rice for days.
Now though, with a two year old it’s all a bit different. We knew camping wouldn’t be the same as it was before and we were ok with that. But thinking about it a bit more, why couldn’t it be? Maybe it could be something same same but a bit different, a completely different type of adventure and just as enjoyable.
Then one week in March, it happened. The UK had a bit of sunshine forecast, so we decided to go for it, strapped the canoe to the roof of the car, threw everything else inside and headed to north west Scotland, trying to answer all the questions little one had about what camping would be like, if we’d see any bears or dinosaurs and what was for dinner. The main reason we dusted off the canoe was that we overpacked by a mile but decided not to worry about that too much and threw everything in to drybags.
For us two big kids, we were so excited to introduce little one to the idea of camping, to provide that experience for him and for us to take a back seat. We’d take this initial foray any way it came. Ok, so we had thoughts of what if’s, that’s natural I guess, but if we didn’t try we’d never know. This trip was for little one. To see if he liked it and to see where he took the experience. We were just along for the ride.
As complete newbies to camping with a toddler, here are some things we found useful, as well as a list of things we’d do different next time, taken from our introductory wild camping trip:
- We used self-inflating downfilled mattresses. These are excellent for keeping you warm and pack up small. Any good insulating ground mat will do the trick but remember it’s not a good idea to use airbeds, as the air pockets will make you feel much colder.
- Remember it’s easier to cool down than it is to warm up, so don’t scrimp on sleeping bags. We found a down-filled sleeping bag for little one which is good to 0°C and has Velcro hood fastenings which are safer than drawstring ones. It’s also short enough that he doesn’t disappear in to it, and can make full use of the down filling. During the night, we did open up all the sleeping bags and snuggled down with little one and Daddy snoring in a tangled heap until morning.
- Be smart about what else you wear to bed. This means long underwear and socks. Depending on the time of year, it may also mean layers and hats on heads. It’s warmth and safety we’re after here, not high fashion so don’t worry about looking your best.
- Keep headtorches nearby for when little one wakes up during the night. We also tied a mini lantern to the hook on the roof of the tent for quick light when it was needed.
- As it was his first wild camping trip, he bought one of his soft toys with him to share the adventure with. A little bit of home away from home and a familiar face. We also took a few books for him so he could have a bit of quiet time if he wanted it.
- Acknowledge that the routine you have at home is not going to work when camping. It’s all part of the adventure.
- Pack lots of snack and keep it handy. Our little one woke up in the middle of the night saying he was hungry. Our mistake? Cookies! Of all things to have in a tent during the night. So after filling our faces with our midnight snack, we woke up in the morning with crumbs in our hair, stuck to our face and scattered throughout the tent.
- We took welly boots for ease of jumping in and out the tent.
- Don’t structure it too much. This is a new environment for the children, so let them go! Let their imaginations develop and show you a world you didn’t even think existed! Simplify your expectations of what it will be like, and don’t stress about it needing to be a magical experience. Magic will happen without an agenda, without intervention. Just let it happen.
- Don’t overthink it. Sure you’ve probably packed the car to the roof with gear, not forgetting those just-in-case supplies, and extra supplies just-in-case, but the best thing to do is just go and see where the adventure will take you!
- Enjoy the time together as a family!
Things we’d do differently next time:
- Pack better. A few changes of clothes are understandable for the toddler, but perhaps not needed as much for us big kids just for an overnighter.
- We’ve got excellent lightweight 2 person tents from before we had little one that we’ve used on our treks all over the world but are still on the lookout for a suitable lightweight 3/4 person tent. This time though we used a basic supermarket dome tent which worked absolutely brilliantly, even with surprise rain showers through the night.
- I still can’t believe we forgot the marshmallows – a definite for next time!
That’s the funny thing about kids isn’t it? For ones so young, they teach us so much. They are honest and raw, curious and daring and completely fearless. Possibly the best type of person to go adventuring with! We still don’t know why we didn’t try camping sooner. Little one absolutely loved it, loved the whole experience and getting to sleep in his new sleeping bag, not just ‘get used to it in the house’. He went exploring, found dinosaurs (ok so they were toy ones we hid when he wasn’t looking), crossed a river in Africa that had hippos in it, managed to eat some food in between running laps on the beach, dug for treasure on a pirate beach and finally finally slept, snoring loud enough to keep us two big kids awake for a while. We couldn’t have had a more enjoyable end to a brilliant day. And little one? He created a completely unscripted adventure all his own.
***Please note: This is a blog that was previously published on another of our blogs Adventurous Little Legs, and linked to an online store we also had. We have closed these both down. All content and pictures remain those of Stacey and Keith at Adventurous Little Legs and An Outdoors Family