This month we nearly got the entire family of five, with one on the way, into the woods for a campout. It wasn’t until we pitched the tent and set up camp at Ann Lake, an hour northwest of the Twin Cities, that we realized we had forgotten one of the most crucial items – pullups. Crap.
I was ashamed to call myself a boyscout. So much for my 5 kid-camping essentials.
What to do? Our two oldest are potty trained, but only by day. I was willing to get up every two hours, all night, to avoid an accident in the tent, but we had also brain-lapsed on the baby’s diapers. Could I fashion some out of leaves and sticks? Does mother nature provide nothing that’s waterproof on the outside and absorbent on the inside? Moss? Lichen?
What did parents do before pampers? After 20 minutes of debating with myself I reluctantly struck the tent and packed the gear. We had dogs and s’mores and sat by the fire until 10 before returning home.
The next week we were back for a sequel – the Batman Begins kind, not the Batman Forever or Batman and Robin kind. We had a stockpile of pullups and diaps, enough for Jon plus Kate and 8. But this time my wife couldn’t join us, so it was just me with the three kids.
Total chaos, hoards of ticks, lots of fun.
Most kid camping gear lists, including my first draft, seem to focus on what the parents should bring for their kids. Instead, here are seven basic items that every camping kid can learn to pack and utilize, on their own. They’re based entirely on the two principles of camping enjoyment.
Download the checklist: pdf
- Gear bag – Kids need their own personal pack, whether a grocery sack or an old Jansport. Even when car camping, they can learn to manage their own stuff. Start small (clothes) and increase the load (sleeping bag, food, etc.) as they grow. My son, who’s 5, carries his own clothes and water. My daughter, who’s 3, carries all the snacks and treats.
- First aid – In addition to the comprehensive kit for the group, kids can carry their own personal items. Again, start small, with things they might occasionally use, like band-aids, lip balm, and a sphygmomanometer. Build the kit together ahead of time and discuss the importance of each item.
- Extra Clothing – For the cold, precipitation, or to replace an outfit once it’s covered in mud. This is partly for your own sanity, as kids tend to enjoy getting wet and filthy. Inclement weather can spoil a campout if you’re not prepared for it. A rain poncho is a step in the right direction – youth sizes are easy to find, but for young kids a garbage bag is perfect. [Our winter camping adventures]
- Sustenance – Kids can learn to be responsible for their own nutrition. A disposable water bottle, cheap and light, may suffice for H2O. On long hikes, teach about bringing the right amount of water – not too much, as it’s heavy (8.35 lbs/gal, 2.20 lbs/L) – and making it last. Plan meals together and let them carry their own snacks.
- Flashlight – Young kids rarely get to explore the outdoors in the dark, which may be one of the reasons they’re afraid of it, and one of the reasons camping is such a unique activity. Nighttime is more fun, and safer, with some lighting. The cheap or free keychain type is prefect, though maybe not very luminous.
- Sleeping gear – Good sleeping bags for young kids are hard to come by, as most are designed for youth and often weigh as much as the adult counterparts. Tailoring your own bags is feasible and fun. Liners add versatility. Around 40° and below my kids use closed-cell foam pads, which can be obtained for under $7 and cut down to child-size to make them more portable.
- Mess kit – This last personal item is perfect for teaching a kid to take care of their gear since losing it or failing to wash it can have an immediate consequence, i.e., hunger. [More on mess kits for kids]
Camping is also a great opportunity to teach about service, teamwork, and group responsibility. In addition to personal items there are many things to be shared – food, shelter, toilet paper, whatnot. Here are a few simple things that kids can oversee.
Items to Share
- Marshmallows – The true essence of the marshmallow is its cookability over a fire. It can be replaced with anything which burns or heats and is afterwords still nearly edible, but s’mores make for a nice camping tradition, and mallows are the critical ingredient. They’re cheap, light, and indestructible – perfect for a kid’s pack.
- Topicals – Sunscreen and bug spray. These are also items a kid can share and learn to apply themselves, with some supervision. [Beware of ticks]
- Activities – Last but not least are camping games and activities. As far as preparation and responsibility go, we should always include the kids in our campout planning. Discuss what they’d like to see and do, and what they’ll need to make it happen. Talk about costs, feasibility, and required equipment. Examine the trail map or research the destination online together.
Please share your comments and suggestions!
Minnesota is waterlogged this time of year. Winter has outstayed its welcome and spring has finally taken a stand, liquefying the snow much faster than the earth can soak it up. Hiking trails are soggy. Campsites are more mud than dirt. Nevertheless, in celebration of spring’s triumph, my son and I spent May 6th and 7th on the Superior Hiking Trail, in northern MN.
Despite the snow melt and overgrowth the hiking was great. We covered a few miles of the George Crosby section, just north of Little Marais, MN, and spent the night on Sonju Lake.
The single campsite on Sonju is on the north side of a small hill with lots of shade – most of it was either under snow or puddle and there wasn’t a single dry stick to burn. Conclusions: in the spring months, don’t camp on Sonju or plan on a bonfire. Also, watch out for ticks.
Here are more pics and a link to the Superior Hiking Trail Association. And here’s a map of the campsites, parking lots, and trail section, about 23 miles, from County Rd 6, through the state park, to Hwy 61:
View Superior Hiking Trail: George Crosby Section in a larger map
Spring has finally arrived in Minnesota, and so have the ticks. Last week was our first experience with ticks and kids, an unfortunate combination.
As long as bugs keep to themselves I don’t usually mind having them around. I can tolerate the pesky ones that sting and bite in self defense, and I’ve even made peace with mosquitoes. But any creature that takes up semi-permanent residence on my person is an enemy. And anything that goes after my kids will face my wrath. Sitting in church on Sunday I nearly swore out loud when I found a tick clamped to my daughter’s neck.
We had gone hiking, to get some bald eagle photos, on Friday morning. So this tick had been stalking us for over 48 hours! It gets worse. Sunday afternoon I took the baby (18 mos old) for a walk. When we got home, while twisting her hair into a mohawk, I found a tick on her neck!
We finally concluded that the pair had been waiting on my older daughter’s jacket, which she had worn on our hike, and which my youngest had worn on our walk. Lesson learned – ticks are patient, persistent, and they’re gross.
Here are a few more facts I recently learned:
- They typically hatch in the summer/fall, live three years, and are dormant through the winter. It’s not until the second and third years, or phases, that they’re most annoying and most dangerous.
- Deer ticks (aka, blacklegged ticks) carry lyme disease and they’re not all deer ticks. The ones we found, in the photo above, were dog ticks.
- They don’t jump or fly. Instead, they sit and wait, usually in thicker grass and brush, and grab on when someone comes by.
- Depending on the humidity (the higher the better, for them) they can survive indoors. The rugged ones can also survive a wash cycle, but none will make it through an hour in the dryer.
- Good methods of prevention are keeping the kids on the trail, putting them in long pants, and doing a thorough check after being out. Tweezers are the best method of removal.
There’s a variety of information on the web, but you’ll find everything you ever didn’t want to know in this document: www.ct.gov/…/tickhandbook.pdf