Offroading and camping have changed a lot for me in the past two years. If you’re reading this, I assume you’re in a similar boat or about to be. Having kids is the best thing that’s happened to my wife and me, but it’s also made us take a step back when it comes to our outdoor lifestyle. We still have a lot to learn, but below is a list of five things we’ve found to make camping with our little ones possible.
We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat (or SUV)
I’ve garnered a bit of a reputation among friends and family for constantly finding an excuse to buy and sell vehicles. But this time, the excuse was legitimate. The 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee I had bought my wife three years ago, anticipating having kids, started to feel tiny. It was fine for camping with one baby and our 90-pound lab, but now that we have a toddler and an infant and a 90-pound lab, it was nearly impossible.
Our solution was to ditch the solid axles and mid-size space and buy a first-generation Toyota Sequoia. It’s a full-size SUV with way more interior room and drives great on the highway. Plus, it still has a true 4-wheel-drive system with 4Lo to safely get us around, whether in the mountains or in the desert.
The Right Tent for a Growing Family
A good ol' Coleman 4-person ground tent was fine for two adults, but you know what it isn't good for? Two adults, two pack-n-plays, toys, books, and lots of diapers. We researched tents with roughly a 12' x 12' footprint that we (my wife) could stand up in, good ventilation for afternoon nap time in the sun, and tons of pockets. We landed on this REI Co-Op Base Camp 6, which unfortunately, is no longer available.
The downside is ol' dad here gets to spend quite a while setting up the behemoth while mom tries to wrangle the little ones. Also, big fancy tents like these are costly and usually range from $300-$600.
Speaking of wrangling little ones, containment is key when camping with children of the crawling or walking variety. Our favorite tool for the job is clip-on "high chairs." They are relatively small to pack and fasten safely to a typical picnic table. We'll usually throw on a plastic tablecloth under the chair arms to make cleanup easier. Then, we can put one or both kids in their chairs and provide a coloring book or other entertainment while we prep dinner. The chairs work great for snack time or sitting and eating a meal with the whole family.
Meal Prep Everything
While clip-on chairs are great for containing little ones for a short while, they don't last forever. That's why we've found it necessary to meal prep as much as possible before the trip. For breakfast, we will pre-make and freeze blueberry pancakes and oven-baked egg cups in muffin tins. Then, for lunch, a pre-made pasta salad works great. Dinner can be more challenging, but we like pre-cut foil-packed meals tossed over the fire or cooked on our Coleman stove. Shredded chicken taco bowls or even soup can also be good pre-prepped options.
Keep Your Expectations Low
Last but certainly not least, we've found it essential to hope for the best but expect the worst. We try to remind ourselves of all the things that could go wrong. Then, when not quite everything goes wrong, we can be intentional about enjoying those brief moments. Even though we know it will be tough, we should camp with an infant and toddler because we know it will only make it easier as they get older. What's more, if we remember to take a few pictures and videos along the way, it'll make for great memories.