Author Topic: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?  (Read 1886 times)

Aelias

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Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« on: December 29, 2018, 05:41:06 PM »
We have two friends who are planning a big multi-family car camping trip for their birthday.  We have 2 kids, 6 and 3.  We don’t currently camp, and even though I haven’t really liked camping in the past, I feel like I can understand the appeal. I like the idea of taking the kids camping on a long weekend.  Like, I’m not sure I actually want to camp, but I want to want to camp.

So, we will need to get some gear, but one quick look through a camping website gave me the same feeling I used get looking at baby gear — how much of this crap do I REALLY need?  Like, a tent is probably necessary.  Also a flashlight, basic fire building stuff, and a first aid kit. But sleeping bags for everyone?  We already have a ton of blankets.  A camp stove?  Dedicated camp cookware so you don’t have to bring and possibly ruin your normal stuff?  A lantern?  A utility spork?

So, tell me, family Mustachians: what do I really need to have a great camping experience?

gaja

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2018, 06:05:22 PM »
You need to keep yourself dry and warm. All other stuff is wants. No need for fancy cooking gear until you have figured out how you like to cook while camping. Sandwiches and marshmallows will keep you going. But I do not recommend skimping on sleeping bags. Being cold during the night will ensure bad experiences for all. Personally I hate sleeping on the ground (too close to the grass; triggers my hay fever), so we either camp in the van or use hammocks. But for the tent people, a good air mattress is necessary.

kimmarg

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2018, 06:42:38 PM »
I second the last post. Dry and warm. A tent, sleeping pad and sleeping bag or blankets. You actually loose more heat through the ground so a cheap blue foam mat will help a lot on warmth, although not do a whole lot for comfort. I'd strongly lean towards a sleeping bag but it depends where you're going and when. Fall in the northeast needs warmth but southern California can probably get by with a blanket.

Food, take a cooler and whatever you normally eat. I totally have dedicated camp stuff but that's because we go a lot and I like to have the box all packed. It's not necessarily cookware marketed for camping (that's expensive overkill) but more a cheap set of goodwill pans, plates, etc that we have at the ready.

Flashlight or actually headlamp is really recommended. You can get it at Walmart the cheap ones work. Just bring a couple bic lighters and you're set for a fire.

Kids get wet and dirty easy (and love it!) so extra set of clothes and a towel for everyone.

Have fun!

redwagon

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2018, 08:08:28 PM »
I took my 4 and 5 year old car camping this past summer and they loved it. I used to do a lot more "backcountry" camping so most of our gear is more backpacking lighter type stuff but car camping makes it easy and potentially more comfortable for everybody since weight doesn't matter.

Make sure you have a good sized (and water proof) tent so everyone can spread out and have a bit of room. We find that you can even pick up decent comfort inflatable air mattresses many places these days (just watch for sales and read the reviews). If you have lots of blankets no need to buy extra sleeping bags- we have put a warm comforter directly on a blow up mattress for insulation many times and just use sheets/ blankets on top.

Also we always set up a tarp in addition to our tent on our campsite - is great for when it rains to have extra space to sit / be sheltered.

I'm guessing you are in the US but here in Canada is much cheaper to pick up good quality used/ nearly new camping gear at MEC gear swap (REI has similar). Lots of good quality outdoors stores even rent all the gear you can dream of if you are not keen on buying without trying out.

Our kids also LOVED taking their bikes to the campground as they could ride around safely like freebirds. We didn't really have space but made room for and definitely worth it.
We also enjoy having a hammock and a couple backpacking chairs for extra seating.

We are definitely still on more minimalist side when it comes to car camping as I would rather do stuff than look after stuff and I was totally shocked by the setups and amount of stuff people had at their campsites. Literally people were bringing everything including the kitchen sink. Take whatever you really think you will need and actually use. If you are going with friends can also share equipment!

Also, don't forget bug spray if this applies in your area!! And as mentioned above-have lots of fun!!

CindyBS

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2018, 07:23:35 AM »
Can you borrow equipment from someone and then see if you like it?   

I second not bringing a bunch of cooking stuff as well.  You can do sandwiches, hummus, peanut butter, nuts, and things like that for food.  More sturdy fruits like apples/oranges and carrot sticks tend to be better than cut cantaloupe, watermelon, pears and things that get squished. 

Roadrunner53

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #5 on: December 30, 2018, 07:41:48 AM »
Bring a first aid kit.

Here is something to consider: https://www.amazon.com/Mountain-House-4-Day-Emergency-Supply/dp/B07K8T2ZD2/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1546180181&sr=8-9&keywords=dehydrated%2Bfood%2Bfor%2Bcamping&th=1&psc=1

Keep food simple, hot dogs, hamburgers, steak, chicken you can grill. You can precook some things at home and rewarm on grill. Bring deli meat to make sandwiches, rolls, mustard, You can vacuum seal soup/beef stew, freeze it at home then bring it camping and warm in boiling water. You could do the same with spaghetti and meatballs. Cook it all up at home, mix it up, vacuum seal it up, freeze it flat, then bring it in your cooler. Warm up in boiling water. I recommend double bagging in vac bags just in case bag should leak. You could cook up just about anything, rice, mashed potatoes, baked beans, meat, vac it, freeze it bring it camping. Then you won't have much prep work while camping. Just rewarming!

Aelias

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2018, 08:51:33 AM »
Thanks everyone for the awesome tips (and, by all means, keep em’ coming!).  All this confirms what I suspected—we have most of what we need already, but may invest in a few well-made basics. I’ll try to report back!

Roadrunner53

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #7 on: December 30, 2018, 08:59:37 AM »
Not sure if I made it clear that when you vacuum seal food in the vac seal bags, they are boilable bags. You can just dunk the bags in the water and boil till hot. I had a minor disaster once doing this and the water got into the vac bag so that is why I recommend double bagging if boiling the bag.

CindyBS

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #8 on: December 30, 2018, 11:53:07 AM »
For an initial trip, you may want to keep it very simple to accommodate your learning curve and keep the schedule loose.  Camp close to home so you can leave at any time if it goes poorly, go to a campground with plenty to do onsite like a playground and/or pool and the kids will sleep better in the tent if they are already worn out.  Go on a day that the weather will be nice, and schedule a lot of down time with no big expectations then just see how it goes.

Roadrunner53

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #9 on: December 30, 2018, 12:08:48 PM »
Hope you enjoy your camping trip. I have been on a few and not for me. My idea of camping would be a rock star bus. LOL! But I never went to a nice campground with all the amenities either. I just went to some crappy place in the woods.

If you are just going for a weekend it sould be fairly easy. The bathroom thing would be a concern for me though.

I would see if you can borrow sleeping bags. It would stink if you go this one weekend and decide it isn't for you and buy a bunch of stuff to never be used again. Is there such a thing as renting sleeping bags, tents and cooking gear?

Good advice from another poster camping close to home.

Dee18

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #10 on: December 30, 2018, 01:55:43 PM »
Some REI stores , other outdoor stores, and colleges and universities rent gear including tents, stoves, sleeping pads.  Ask around, perhaps someone you know has access to that.
I camped a lot as a kid.  I was always cold until I got a sleeping pad like this:

https://www.amazon.com/Stansport-Pack-Lite-Camping-Blue-8-Inch/dp/B000BR0ORG/ref=asc_df_B000BR0ORG/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=167131408724&hvpos=1o2&hvnetw=g&hvrand=5008796514187112312&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=t&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9012550&hvtargid=pla-308879815088&psc=1

They are cheap. 

If you decide to buy some things, check Sierra Trading Post online.  They sell last years models of everything at a big discount.  I bought my daughter a sleeping bag there that lasted her for many years.  If it is going to be chilly when you go, sleeping bags for the kids might be worth it....and they will probably want them for sleepovers or scouts in the future.


kimmarg

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2018, 02:49:00 PM »
Some REI stores , other outdoor stores, and colleges and universities rent gear including tents, stoves, sleeping pads.  Ask around, perhaps someone you know has access to that.

Renting good quality stuff is actually a really great idea for your first time. I hate when I see people with cheap stuff that fails and then they are cold and wet and of course they hate it but I can also see why you don't want to invest $$$ if you don't know you will like it.  Renting is definitely a good solution for this.

When you get into long term investment the website 'Mountain Mamma' has a lot of great reviews and resources. I do spend $$ to get high quality kids stuff, but again I *know* I will get my moneys worth by going a lot so it's not as big of a concern.

Also on food, think about what you like to eat. If hot dogs sounds awful then by all means, bring a stove and cook whatever. I've done brownies, pizza and pretty much anything I can do at home, but it takes more skill. So balance the skill/eqipment with what you normally eat. Again people who hate hot dogs and think that's 'camping food' are really missing out. Pasta is easy, as is hummus sandwiches, as is boxed wine with baguette and brie :)

mm1970

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #12 on: December 31, 2018, 09:22:07 AM »
You don't need much to start.  You should ask friends if you can borrow.  We loan our camping gear a lot, because we only go once/ year.

Tent.
Blankets are fine.
Something to sleep on for the adults?  The ground is hard.  We are old.  A thin mat, an air mattress.  Now we use camping cots because: we old.  And they are great for hotel rooms too.

We've done quite a few trips with others who have all the cooking gear and such.  We still usually go with mostly cold food, instant coffee.  We even stopped cooking instant oatmeal in favor of already made muffins and fruit for breakfast.  If we are going for a few nights, then we will cook something like chili nachos.  Maybe eggs for breakfast.  The whole "cooking a lot" thing seems to appeal to people who have a place to wash the stuff more than it does to me.

jeninco

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #13 on: December 31, 2018, 11:27:42 AM »
You don't need much to start.  You should ask friends if you can borrow.  We loan our camping gear a lot, because we only go once/ year.

Tent.
Blankets are fine.
Something to sleep on for the adults?  The ground is hard.  We are old.  A thin mat, an air mattress.  Now we use camping cots because: we old.  And they are great for hotel rooms too.

We've done quite a few trips with others who have all the cooking gear and such.  We still usually go with mostly cold food, instant coffee.  We even stopped cooking instant oatmeal in favor of already made muffins and fruit for breakfast.  If we are going for a few nights, then we will cook something like chili nachos.  Maybe eggs for breakfast.  The whole "cooking a lot" thing seems to appeal to people who have a place to wash the stuff more than it does to me.

We take nachos as a treat on backpacking trips too, and because there's not much to wash:
freeze-dried chili (if you're car camping, just make regular chili ahead and heat it in a pot?), chips, guac, cheese, grated carrots with a little vinegar (that's the vegetable),and hot sauce. We have beans in our chili, or you could use one of the tasty versions of re-hydratable beans.

Find a brand of instant coffee (and instant hot chocolate for the kids) that you like (taste-testing ahead of time is a plus!). Bring herbal tea, so there's something else warm to drink. If you like hot drinks, bring a thermos so you don't have to boil water every few minutes.

Definitely +1 for borrowing stuff from friends and neighbors.

Have fun!

Prairie Stash

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #14 on: January 02, 2019, 10:34:18 AM »
You need to set it all up in a nearby location (someones backyard) and test it out. The #1 mistake is to get a bunch of stuf and try it out while on the trip. Fumbling with a tent in the middle of nowhere isn't much fun, nor is finding out you overpacked blankets and you could have saved a lot of effort.

From a little ones POV it can be very scary and unfamiliar; bugs, stars, animal noises and unfamiliar surroundings. Easing them into it with a fun backyard experiece will go far if there is some unexpected thunderstorm while you're camping. Like a lot of things a bad first impression can turn them off forever, make sure the first time is enjoyable for everyone. Do it a month before and the kids will build anticipation for the real adventure.

https://www.kidscanpress.com/products/scaredy-squirrel-goes-camping
I enjoy scaredy squirrel these days, what's your favourite camping stories to read to the kids to get them excited?

galliver

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #15 on: January 02, 2019, 11:29:09 AM »
Blankets are probabaly fine for trying it ourt, if it doesn't get too cold (below 50F, 45F if you wear sweats, not pjs, to bed; that's my unscientific rough estimate). DO insulate underneath you. Air mattress with a comforter on top works, or any kind of foam layer: my parents have all kinds of backpacking equipment, but for car caming my mom has been using those foam floor mats with puzzle-piece edges since we grew out of them. By the way, the benefit of a (mummy style) sleeping bag is that it reduces the space you have to keep warm with body heat. With blankets you'll lose more heat.

If you plan to cook over a fire, you will RUIN your pans from home with soot. If you plan to use the campfire to cook, grill or make foil packets (and make sure fires are allowed in the location/season in question...it's not a given in CA).

Use a propane camping stove (Coleman brand isn't too $$$, good addition to your home emergency kit!) with a pot from home to boil water for beverages, oatmeal, soup/ramen, mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, etc. I personally find bacon/pancakes aren't worth the effort in the woods. Too much specialized equipment needed! Others disagree.

Bring extra outfits and layers. Kids get dirty/wet while camping (let them stay that way if it's not a threat to health and safety). It's also always colder than you thought.

Roadrunner53

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #16 on: January 02, 2019, 11:35:09 AM »
Buy the precooked, shelf stable bacon. All it needs is a quick rewarm. Canned corned beef hash just needs warming up. Make up a batch of scrambled eggs at home, put them in ziplock bags and rewarm in a skillet.

AMandM

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #17 on: January 02, 2019, 11:58:15 AM »
For beginner campers, there's a bit of a trade-off. On the one hand, there's very little that you actually NEED: a tent, flashlights to find the bathrooms in the dark, first-aid kit.  On the other hand, you want  camping to fun, not a burden, otherwise what's the point?

So--if the thought of acquiring and using a stove, pots, ingredients, utensils, etc. gives you hives, bring disposables and picnic food.  If hot food rather than sandwiches will make it way more enjoyable for your family, then bring a camp stove and pots and pans.  But if cooking with limited facilities will drive you bonkers, bring premade reheatable stuff. Etc.

Think about gear or supplies you'll need for activities you'll want to do: swimming, boating, birdwatching or stargazing, hiking, biking, etc.  Also allow for bad weather: cards, drawing supplies, board games.

Lots of gear is available cheap on Craigslist.

I hope you have a great time! We've taken our kids camping for years. Now the older ones are married with kids of their own and we all camp together once a year. We have a treasure trove of family lore collected over the years, and the grandkids are getting to hear stories that begin "remember the time when... ?"

Kapiira

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #18 on: January 02, 2019, 12:00:28 PM »
I agree with those who said that you should start by borrowing or renting if possible.

If you decide you like camping, I recommend buying a good tent and sleeping mats/inflatable mattresses.  Blankets and comforters should be fine.

I think REI brand family camping tents are great.  They are priced reasonably and they all have full rain covers, which cheaper tents lack but are really necessary if you want to stay dry.
https://www.rei.com/b/rei-co-op/c/camping-tents/f/sc-4-person?ir=category%3Acamping-tents&r=c%3Bf%3Bb&origin=web

Mongoose

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #19 on: January 02, 2019, 01:04:57 PM »
Do you mind my asking what you didn't like about camping in the past? It might be helpful to address those issues with regards to your upcoming trip. We got a super cheap pop up trailer before a week long family camping trip last year and it made things much, much better. Not super frugal but, honestly, I just wasn't willing to continue with our inherited poorly functional gear.

What kind of a site are you planning to stay at? With or without hookups? Electricity? Primitive sites only? Bath house in campground?

bearandmoose

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #20 on: January 05, 2019, 06:44:42 PM »
Lots of good suggestions!  For the kids, sand buckets for collecting treasures, a ball, frisbee, kite etc.  and buy glow in the dark toys - glow sticks, a ball, necklaces etc. Walmart tends to have that stuff year-round. For kids afraid of the dark, having glow stuff makes night fun.

More flashlights than you thought possible.  The kids steal them to play with at night.

Finally, melting chocolate for s'mores can be hard. If nuts are ok, smearing Nutella on the graham cracker instead is awesome.  For adults open to different combos, peanut butter is also good with a toasted marshmallow on a graham cracker.

Finally, if you have access to electricity at your camp site, we bring an outdoor extension cord and a regular power strip (which we keep covered).  We also bring an electric kettle and an electric griddle.  We cook/warm up pancakes, hash browns, sandwiches, quesadillas, pre-cooked bacon, pre-cooked sausage, toast, bagels etc.  We also can put a pot on the griddle to warm up soup etc.  The kettle warm gets you hot cocoa, tea, coffee, instant oatmeal etc very fast. 

elaine amj

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #21 on: January 05, 2019, 10:53:24 PM »
I third the recommendation to just borrow what u can in the beginning. When I first started camping, I think the only gear we had was....hmm...nothing. I borrowed a sleeping bag. By the 2nd or 3rd trip, I had my own sleeping bag and had purchasd cheap air mattresses (looking back I think one must have been a pool floatie lol - They lasted at least 10 years of frequent camping haha).

Anyay, for the first 10 years I camped with friends and always just shared their gear. I had a tent, air mattresses, pillows some flashlights and a lighter. Oh and I always brought the disposable plates, utensils, tin foil - stuff like that. We would menu plan together and split the grocery bills. I didn't need a stove/cooking supplies because we would all just cook together on my friend's stove.

It wasn't until we started camping by ourselves that we stocked up on our own gear. Now we have lots. Heaven help me but DH just ordered a weird multipurpose axe today. I don't know what possessed him - he's never even chopped wood before!

In your case I would just borrow a tent and some air mattresses (if needed u can get air mattresses for $8-10 at Walmart). Use fitted sheets and your own blankets (it is always a few degrees colder sleeping outdoors!) and share cooking gear with your friends. We mostly use our phones as flashlights these days.

Oh one very very important tip. Bring extra clothes for your kids...then add another set. My kids got horrifically dirty when they were little. I remember running out of clean clothes for my son one trip and had to borrow from my friends!

Have fun! Tent camping is my favorite type of vacation.

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Reggie

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #22 on: January 14, 2019, 09:45:21 AM »
We've done a lot of camping with 2 kids (4 and 2) and last summer we did a 30 days East Coast trip. All while tenting.  We did about 8 or 9 campgrounds.  We started with all mostly cheaper stuff (Canadian Tire stuff in Canada, equivalent to Walmart quality). 

Half way through the trip our tent zipper ripped, so I spent an afternoon at the campground office (for their wifi) analyzing the best suitable replacement.  Debated going for something more expensive and start slowly upgrading all our stuff.  Then I realized I could get the same tent (8 man) at Canadian Tire for $100 CAD. So I figure even if the tent only last 50 nights and has to be replaced every few years.  You still probably come out ahead. Obviously this is with no environmental considerations.

Long story short, I feel like with kids cheapest might be best because they could are reckless with zippers and may ruin an expensive tent too.  When the kids, grow up, I may go the higher qualify route. Just my thoughts.


Kl285528

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #23 on: January 14, 2019, 09:56:07 AM »
Son is a boy scout, and I've been camping with the scouts for 8 years - started out simple, and every camping trip would spy someone with something that I thought would be useful for my next trip - so now, I try to just add one item per big trip - +1 on cots - more comfortable and create under cot storage space in a big tent. BTW, for car camping, I think when you see something listed as an 8 person tent, divide that number by 2 to truly evaluate how many people and gear you can reasonably fit in the tent. I love when you see the diagram they show as to how many people can be packed in a tent, LOL!


jwharki

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #24 on: January 14, 2019, 03:00:24 PM »
redwagon mentioned this briefly above, but I would consider some type of chair to be close to a necessity for a car camping trip.  You don't need anything fancy -- pretty much any portable chair will get the job done, although a dedicated holder for your drink is nice.  Many campsites will have picnic tables you can use, but those often get monopolized by the food and in any case are rarely close enough to the fire ring that they're useful at social hour.  Chairs are a relatively safe investment, too, because they're not very expensive and it's likely you'll have a soccer game or concert down the road where they'll come in handy.

bognish

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #25 on: January 25, 2019, 11:37:18 PM »
REI tents are expensive for car camping. You can get a Coleman tent that will hold up just fine car camping for years at Target, Walmart or a Big5 sport store for under $50. For car camping with kids we just use sheets, blankets and pillows from the bed. So much more comfortable than a sleeping bag. I cut a big Egg crate foam pad to fit the floor of the tent and cover it with a sheet.  This stuff is heavy and takes up a lot of space, but who cares when your trunk is only a few feet away.

littlebird

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #26 on: January 26, 2019, 12:05:40 PM »
I think the quality of the tent required depends on the environment you'll be camping in. If you live in a sunny, dry place like Colorado you can get away with a cheap tent like a Coleman. If the weather is more variable and storms are a possibility I think a sturdier tent is a good investment. I've woken up in the morning to see cheaper tents crushed by storms or their owners crawling out sopping wet while we were fine in our tent with full-coverage rain fly. People always say they don't plan to camp in the rain, but do you really want to pack up at 2 am when you're caught in a thunderstorm? With a good tent you can weather the night and decide in the morning

Linea_Norway

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #27 on: January 26, 2019, 02:03:22 PM »
If there are musquitoes, you will need to bring effective musquito repellent, for example something with DEET. We usually bring thin jackets that are musquito angle proof and we have musquito nets to put over our head on occasions that they are really bad.

Bring warm enough mattrasses. A normal air mattrass is not so warm. A thick foam mattrass is and you can get them cheap. Long technical underwear is nice and warm. And bring woolen hats and thick socks and a warm  sweater. Everything can be worn at night as well if the blanket alone is not warm enough.

Have something to do indoors in case of a rainy day. Cards or so.

galliver

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #28 on: January 26, 2019, 08:47:18 PM »
I think the quality of the tent required depends on the environment you'll be camping in. If you live in a sunny, dry place like Colorado you can get away with a cheap tent like a Coleman. If the weather is more variable and storms are a possibility I think a sturdier tent is a good investment. I've woken up in the morning to see cheaper tents crushed by storms or their owners crawling out sopping wet while we were fine in our tent with full-coverage rain fly. People always say they don't plan to camp in the rain, but do you really want to pack up at 2 am when you're caught in a thunderstorm? With a good tent you can weather the night and decide in the morning
This. Coleman is fine in ideal conditions. If there is any chance of rain, you will be much happier under a full fly, i.e. not cold and wet.

daverobev

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Re: Car Camping with Kids — What do you REALLY need?
« Reply #29 on: January 27, 2019, 06:17:09 AM »
Bugspray particularly if you are, like me, a mosquito magnet.

A way of making tea/coffee.

Earplugs maybe?

Hope for the best but plan for the worst - assume it will rain the whole time you're there :P