PREPARING YOUR FAMILY FOR 2 WEEKS IN A TENT
TIPS TO MAKE IT EASIER
So, we are headed out on a two week trip in a tent that will take us from our home in Wisconsin to Glacier National Park and back. Fortunately, this isn’t our first extended family camping trip and we have a good idea of what to expect. Perhaps more importantly, we have learned a lot from missteps or problems experienced on previous trips. Here are some guidelines and tips so you can avoid those issues and focus on having a great time.
Create a Packing List
If you don’t already have one, here is a LINK to one we use. This list may change, depending on how long your trip is, the location, or the time of year. For our trips, I use a spreadsheet that I share with the family, which has been a huge success since my wife is a significantly better planner than I am.
Stage & Inspect Your Gear
Pull it all out and inspect it to ensure you don’t have any problems or unknown issues. The last thing you want is to get to a campsite and pull out your tent only to find that a mouse chewed a hole in it or that your sleeping bag smells like aged cheese in a locker room because you forgot to air it out after your last trip.
Put Up Your Tent
I can’t stress this one enough. Have your kids help – it’s a great opportunity to teach and practice and it allows you to thoroughly inspect for damage or identify potential problems. In 2015, we rolled into Yellowstone National Park in the early evening and had to put up our tent in heavy rain and 40 degree temperature. It wasn’t pleasant by any means but it only took us about 10 minutes, which would have been a lot longer had we not practiced putting it up before the trip. TIPS ON SETTING UP CAMP IN THE RAIN
Make sure all your tent poles are functional and that you have all the stakes and guy lines ready to go. Even higher end tents don’t include very good stakes and most won’t have guy lines for all attachment points. If you want to guarantee you will be able to weather a storm or strong winds, I recommend investing in stakes and additional guy lines.
Test the Stove
Ever gotten to a campsite only to find that your burner is clogged with dried remnants of spilled food and won’t light? Learn from our mistake and set up your stove to ensure it is running properly. It also forces you to make sure that you have enough fuel.
Check Your Water Containers
This is one that I have repeatedly failed at. Believe me, nothing is worse than going to get water at the campground and finding your dromedary bag is full of mold because your kid decided to make Gatorade in it on the last camping trip and it wasn’t cleaned out. Note – NEVER put anything but water in any of your hydration containers!
If necessary, clean the containers or hydration bladders – we use Efferdent, the denture cleaning tablets. They are a fraction of the price of branded water container cleaners.
Likewise, ensure your water filter is in proper working order (if you will be using one). Giardia is not your friend.
This includes planning for meals while in the car/on the road, as well as, what we call, “bad weather cooking”. If it is pouring out, we are not going to pull out the two burner stove, dice up meat and veggies, and cook up a larger meal. Cooking and cleaning in the rain is not fun so we keep it as simple as possible; usually, Mountain House meals that only require boiling water. That being said, we *love* cooking a nice meal at the campsite if time and the weather allow so we plan for both.
Compartmentalize & Use Containers
Group items that you will use at the same time or that serve a similar purpose together and pack them into containers – it will make it much easier to manage. When we started family camping, we used simple inexpensive Rubbermaid bins with removable lids. Over time we found that the lids didn’t stay on well, (this drove me nuts for whatever reason), and they were generally flimsy and easily breakable. One of my friends suggested using Action Packers instead (also by Rubbermaid) and we haven’t looked back. They are more expensive but there is no doubt that they are more durable and the lids stay on! They were well worth the investment but I am sure there are other alternatives that would work too.
We keep all of our hydration/water items in the same container. Likewise, we put all of the “Fire & Fuel” related items in the same container and so on and so on. It makes it much more efficient when pulling things out and putting them away while at the campsite and it keeps things organized at home when not in use. Don’t forget to label the container and lid – we use duct tape and a sharpie marker.
Practice Packing the Car
In 2017, on the night before we were leaving (at 5:00 AM) for a two week trip to seven national parks/monuments, we were up until 11:30 PM trying to pack the car. Everything was packed nicely into their containers but we had switched a number of items out from our last trip and our packing method wasn’t working out with the new mix of containers we were using. We must have loaded and unloaded the car and Yakima SkyBox 7 times before we figured out a loading method that fit everything in a way that worked well for a two week road trip.
Figure this out a day or two before leaving so you aren’t stressing 6 hours before you are supposed to depart.
Don’t Forget Your Passes, Cards, & Itineraries
One year, we arrived at Colorado National Monument only to discover that we forgot our annual National Parks Pass at home. The NPS will not give you a replacement, even if you show them the email receipt for the original purchase (grrr). Despite our pleading, we ended up having to purchase another ($80).
Don’t forget to print out your reservations, itineraries and needed addresses such as campground locations contact phone numbers. Many popular parks have very limited or no data coverage so you may not be able to pull up information on your phone or even make a call.
On a related note, the NPS has a great program that we are taking advantage of this year called, Every Kid in a Park. It grants an annual parks pass to every family that has a kid that has been in 4th grade that year. Unfortunately, we didn’t know about it when our two oldest were in 4th grade or we would have used it then too.