Sunday, August 19, 2012

Learning to love camping: It's all about style

This may come as a shock to readers who've been following all of my camping posts this summer, but I actually didn't like camping until this year.  I loved hiking, climbing, adventure, and travelling  but at the end of the day I've always wanted to be in my own bed after having a hot shower and a meal that did not consist of hot dogs.  If my own bed wasn't available I still wanted an actual bed - off the ground - with sheets.

So what changed?  How did I go from hating camping to absolutely loving it - to the point of wanting to go every weekend?  I discovered my camping style!  And I'm not talking about cute curtains on RV windows or designer outdoor fashion.  I'm talking about the method in which you camp.  Before having a child, our style was always extreme minimalist.  We slept in a tiny two person backpacking tent.  Sometimes we camped in an official campground but more often than not we pulled into trailhead parking lots late in the evening, crawled into the back of our truck to sleep, and woke early to start a hike or climb.  On road trips, we'd pull off onto gravel backcountry roads and do the same, sleeping in the truck so we could get on the road nice and early again in the morning.  We'd use gas station bathrooms, grab coffee in the nearest town, and cook breakfast on a picnic table at day-use area.  That was our camping style.

Our first tent

Breakfast on the go at a day use area

Life is much different when you have a child though and while you can still go camping, your style changes a bit.  Things didn't change much the first year other than that the three of us didn't fit in the back of the truck or in our tiny two person tent.  To cope with that we bought a screen house and my husband often slept there on the ground in his bivy sack.  Other times, we'd set up the old tent for him while Noah and I slept warm and cozy in the back of the truck.  By the second year we knew we had to do something so that we could all sleep together.  Now this is the point where most families upgrade to a tent trailer, a Fifth Wheel or even an RV.  Not us!  We just upgraded to a three person backpacking tent.  We knew we'd need something for both front and backcountry use and couldn't afford two tents so it was the best we could do at the time.  Two seasons later, and we're still using the same three person tent.

The screen house and our new three person tent

There were other small changes as well including an upgrade to the Coleman Stove, lantern and my thermarest.  Noah got my old three quarter mattress and so I finally got to buy a full length one!  I was always told it would be too heavy for backpacking but I no longer cared.  I wanted to be comfortable.  
Small changes aside, I didn't like camping any more or any less.  It was what we did when we were travelling and couldn't make it home in time for bed.  It was what we did when we wanted to hike twice in the same weekend and needed to establish a base camp in the mountains.  It was not something we did for the pure pleasure of enjoying camping in and of itself.  That is - until this year!

This year I've discovered some very important things about my camping style and it's made all the difference.

One - I NEED to camp with friends.  

I'm kind of an extrovert and although I love my family, camping with two other people isn't enough for me.  After going on a group trip this summer with 17 other families I know that I don't need quite that many other people to come with us but I do need at least one or two other families.  Campfires just aren't the same without friends.  My son has no other kids to play with, nobody to swing in the hammock with, and nobody to chase around the campsite.  Camping with friends makes all of us happier. (and it's just not cool to drink alone)

THIS is a campfire.
Hammocks are more fun with friends (Cypress Hills Prov. Park Trip)

Two - I may be camping, but I NEED to be organized. 

We bought a camp kitchen this summer and I'm in love with it!  It's a kitchen table (designed for camping) that we put in our screen house tent.  What's so great about this table?
  • A place to hang your lantern
  • A place to hang a roll of paper towel
  • A basin for washing dishes
  • A rack for putting your stove on
  • Fabric shelves for storing dishes in
  • Hanging baskets for spices, your lighter, matches, etc.
  • A large surface where we can store water bottles, the baby wipes, glasses, etc. 
  • A lower shelf where we put the pots and pans.  
It allows me to enjoy the simplicity of tent-camping with a touch of comfort.  The only problem we are having is keeping the screen house down in strong winds or storms.  It's a great tent but manages much better in fair weather.
The Screen house with the camp kitchen (Waterton Lakes National Park Trip)

Three - I NEED warm weather.

Mountains are for hiking and the Prairie is for camping.  There I said it.  I LOVE Kananaskis but it's just too darned cold in the morning and at night.  We took our first camping trip of this season to Dinosaur Provincial Park, South of Calgary and it was a revelation for me of what camping in warmer climates could look like.  We still got to go hiking there and the kids got to play in the water - In MAY!  There's still snow in the mountains in May.  We aren't about to stop camping in the mountains but we will be doing a lot more camping in the foothills and nearby lakes next summer out on the prairie.  Ol' MacDonald's Resort - guess we'll be paying you a visit next year to see what all the fuss is about.

My husband would also like to add that we need GOOD weather.  He's right.  It's just no fun to go camping in the rain when you are tenting.  Thunder storms can end the good times pretty quickly and a windy weekend drains the energy out of you really fast.  We camped in high winds at Bow Valley this year and I felt like I was being beaten and battered all day long.  I couldn't ever just relax and soak into the day.

May in Dinosaur Provincial Park:  Green trees and no snow

When you can do this - it's warm enough for camping! (Kananaskis Backcountry Trip)

Four -  We NEED water

We are quickly discovering this summer that we might be water people.  My son is a water babe without a doubt!  Some of my most pleasant memories this summer:
  • Sitting in a lawn chair by the creek at Dinosaur Provincial Park drinking my morning coffee while I watched my son play in the water.  
  • Watching the kids playing in the creek that flowed through our campsite in Cypress Hills.
  • Our Backcountry Canoeing Trip to the Point on Upper Kananaskis Lake.  (Loved the bonfires we built on the beach at night)
  • Kayaking in Nakusp, BC this past week on our vacation while staying in a yurt on Upper Arrow Lake.  It was our first time kayaking and it won't be the last!
  • Learning to paddle a Stand Up Paddle Board in Kelowna on our vacation last week.  I have found a new sport that I want to throw myself head first into!  So much fun!  And within five minutes I had my son on my board with me.  (Don't try this as a beginner if the water isn't really really calm!)
  • Watching my son play at the beach on our vacation in the Okanagan last week.  He went up and down the beach slide more than any kid on the beach I'm sure.  Over and over, he just couldn't get enough of splashing into the water as waves would crash over his face.  Over the course of a few days, he taught himself to float, he learned to belly flop by throwing himself into shallow water on his stomach, and he perfected the toddler swim (pushing yourself the bottom of the lake using your arms).
When I plan next year's camping trips they will definitely feature water.  (And hopefully I'll be bringing along a SUP with me.)

Stand Up Paddle Boarding on Vacation in British Columbia
Canoeing in Kananaskis (Kananaskis Backcountry Trip)

Five - We NEED to relax

In the past, we've always used campsites as a base camp for hiking.  There was no down time, no relaxing, and no rest.  We hiked hard all day, had dinner, drank by the fire (maybe that was the down time), and went to bed.  End of story.  Now, I'm getting older I guess and I just want to relax when I go camping.  What we're doing to relax:
  • See number one above.  If there's other kids along on the trip, they will play together.  You can take turns playing with them and supervising.  It doesn't take all of the adults present to do this.  Those not actively involved can sit back and chill for a few moments.
  • See number four above.  If there's water, the kids will be playing in it.  If they are happily playing, you can take turns sitting back and relaxing.
  • We try to choose one-stop destinations when we go camping these days.  We don't want to have to get into the car to drive to a trail head for hiking.  We don't want to drive to the lake.  We don't want to drive anywhere.  We bring our bikes along and try to bike everywhere.  If we can't bike somewhere, it's too far away.  When we camped in Bow Valley Provincial Park  and in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park this summer we could choose from numerous hikes and bike all of the campground trails without  getting into our car.  Both our campgrounds in Cypress Hills and Dinosaur had creeks running right by our campsites.  We also had a playground across the creek in Dinosaur and a few hiking trails within a few minute's walk.  This is how to relax when camping.
Playing in the creek at Dinosaur Provincial Park

Biking the campground roads in Bow Valley Provincial Park

Are camping style hasn't changed all that much and we are still doing things pretty minimalist with our small three person tent.  I have to crouch down on my knees to get into the tent, we crowd into our screen house if it rains, and we hide in the truck when there's lightning.  But at this point, I wouldn't have it any other way.  I want to cook outside.  I want to eat outside.  I want to hear the birds chirping from my tent or the water flowing from the nearby creek.  I want the kids to be outside all day.  I don't want a microwave, running water, my own private toilet, a TV or God forbid - a satellite dish!  We make our coffee with boiled water and a Bodom.   We make popcorn over the fire.  We do it all outside.  Our Screen house provides us a bit of extra comfort and a small shelter from inclement weather but for the most part, we are outside 24/7 when we go camping and we love it!  We go with friends, we relax, we play in the water, and we try to chase the sunny weather.  And we love it!

What breakfast looks like for us (Dinosaur Provincial Park Trip)
Camping with friends (Bow Valley Provincial Park Trip)
Outdoor Kids - Happy Kids (Cypress Hills Provincial Park Trip)

What's your camping style? 

Check out what other outdoor families have to say about their camping style:

Adventure Tykes:   A Tent On Your Roof? What?   My camping style: no fees, no toilets, no people 

Kid Project:  From Tent to Trailer, What did we do?! 

Wilderness for Kids:  Camping Styles and Public Use Cabins

Colo Calders:  Camping in style with an RV Trailer 

A little Campy:  Secrets Revealed - Outdoor Moms Share Their Camping Styles 

Peek Thru Our Window - Summer Reflections:  Finding Our Camping Groove 

Go Explore Nature - Budget Friendly Camping


Have a great story you've written about your camping style?  Let me know and I'll link you in here too.


  1. Our camping style always includes water. We are a HUGE water/boating family.

    AND my other camping thing... do you know that while I have a Coleman stove, every single thing I make for us to eat while camping is done on the fire. It's really easy to do, just takes menu planning.

    I have a coffee percolator for the fire too. BEST coffee ever!

    1. I wish we were more like that, cooking over the fire for every meal. We are very novice when it comes to cooking that way. Seems like an awesome idea for a guest post...

  2. Glad you found your style and are enjoying the camping now. You definitely have to find out what makes it the most fun for you and your family.

    Really like that, even though you have expanded your required gear, you are still spending most of the time outside. For me, cooking oatmeal and making percolator coffee on a cool morning is a great way to start the day.

  3. So interesting.. I have never thought about my camping style...maybe I just like camping in anyway.. but close to the water is my favorite for sure... Good idea about having more friends is very bad the most of my friends hate camping...very sad .
    Thank you Tanya for all the ideas ..

    1. Thanks Giulliana. Sounds like we all like water. Sorry your friends don't like camping. Maybe they just haven't found their style yet. :)

  4. My camping style sounds the same as yours but add 2 dogs and a tent trailer. That pop up saved our camping we went from tears and begging to go home (the little one not me!) to begging to go camping again and tears about going home! I'm with Sami highly recommend fire cooking, I don't drink coffe so I wouldn't know

    1. Thanks Leslie. I'm sure it won't be long before we have a tent trailer too. Right now the debate is on over trailer Vs. kayak and SUP board. Can't afford all.

      And how can you not drink coffee?

  5. Tanya - What a great article! Your do good at covering all the details. I love it. And I LOVE that camp kitchen!

    1. Thanks Lindsey. I do like details. (Makes my stories a tad long at times unfortunately).

  6. Great post and really great pictures! I love seeing all of those kids out having so much fun! The hammock looks like a beautiful way to play the day away. :) I love that you've figured out what really works for you and you're willing to be open about those requirements. Saying "I need a little help from my friends" seems like it can be so hard sometimes, but totally true for most of us.

    Also, we don't camp near water very much. It might be because Colorado is turning into one huge desert, or maybe because I have a kid that is WAY too excited about it for his age and size (last camping trip at a lake involved me diving into the water in leather sandals with a $2000 camera on my back to save said toddler from near-drowning), or maybe because rock climbing is better with dry rocks. But we do better on top of the hill rather than next to the creek, I think. :)

  7. Thanks for your support Kate. I can imagine that would be scary having a child with no fear of water.

  8. Here is our link about what we love about camping!

  9. Beautiful pictures. We were like you in the pre kid days. However, we have not camped since we became parents . . . until this weekend. I am excited to share this side of nature with our daughter, but I am worried about not being prepared, so here I sit blog scrolling "family camping." Thanks for sharing your tips. I will be packing the bikes and I love your screen room.

    1. Thanks Kim. Glad you found me and that you like my tips. We loved our screen room last summer. Got a trailer for this year. Lovin' it!