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We’ve just come back from a test-camp to make sure all our kit was in good shape for the upcoming summer holidays so I thought this would be a good time to talk about camping with the kids.

My love of camping started with Duke of Edinburgh’s award hikes. We sold our last tent six years ago because it was too small with our growing family and drifted away from camping.

In our family, as a general rule,  the Wife organises holidays. But, a few years ago, I broke the mould and decided to poke around and look at self-catering cottages. With our spread of children, we require a minimum of a three bed self-catering in high season, usually in holiday areas. When I saw the prices, and then compared them with sample camp site prices, my mind was made up.

I sold the idea to my wife by pointing out that every holiday we would be saving around five to six hundred pounds. Add to this that camp-sites, even in high season, are more flexible, so it’s possible to pop out for a shorter break. So, with this figure in mind, I spent some serious money.

Time for bed!

If you can get to sleep, get a good night’s sleep and wake refreshed, then you’ve won half the battle. Our bed is a combination of a folding bed with a thick self-inflating mat on top of it, and the boys sleep on old-fashioned stretched canvas camp beds. Not an air-bed in sight and the whole experience is a lot better for it. All the sleeping bags are good quality and chosen with input from the boys. Sleeping bags come in a range of warmth ratings, called seasons. A one season bag will do for summer, up to a two or three for spring and autumn use. Strangely, the warmest bags for extreme use are five season! For normal camping in the summer a two or three season will be fine, with a full length double ended zip for extra ventilation. Also, take jumpers and track suit bottoms (anything without zips and buttons) to double up as extra pyjamas. Our tent is so big that when I wake up, I (at over 6’2″ tall) can stand up and get dressed without crawling around. And it has a carpet which makes getting up a bit nicer.

We could have spent a lot less money on the sleeping arrangements, using air-beds for example. But, then we wouldn’t want to go camping, wouldn’t be happy when we were there and the money would be wasted. While we’re on the subject of sleep, I find that I have to be reactive to the children’s moods when camping. They love to stay up and “explore the dark”. This involves going to the loo and cleaning teeth, playing with torches, and generally being outside in the night-time. But this does mean tired children in the morning. So, breakfast has to be well planned, and if the children seem tired, then we tend to scale back day-time activities. On the other hand, if they’re running around causing chaos then we go out somewhere.

Spending the money

What we did was to buy the basics first – tent and sleeping kit, with other bits and pieces. Then, after one successful season, we picked up more stuff. A couple of windy camps meant a wind-break was added. We went for a porch and carpet for our tent, along with the footprint, which is a very heavy-duty ground sheet. We’ve now also got a kitchen and a cooker running from a big gas can. On holiday, we tend to eat out lunch-time and cook an evening meal. Even when we’re in self-catering, eating out in the evening tends to make the children over excited and also costs a small fortune when there are five of us on holiday for a week! So again, the rationale is straightforward, spend a bit on a nice kitchen and recoup the money in one week’s holiday. All these items have been bought piecemeal and stored in the garage to spread the cost.

The Boys

I give every child their own torch and make sure they know where it is when they sleep. Although now they’re a bit older, they tend to cope quite well – although they always fight over the torches and which one’s better (it’s always someone else’s!) I also pack more warm clothes than they think they need. We always have a big think about technology on holiday. On the one hand it’s nice to have a back to nature break without everyone staring at a screen. On the other, keeping them safely occupied while you put up the tent or cook or whatever is good. We tend to make the decision on a case by case basis. Oh, and also, you can drain a car battery enough to be stranded just by recharging phones and tablets without the engine switched on. (Just don’t ask how I know this!)

The other thing to do when setting up the tent is to assign out jobs if necessary. Our children have very different personalities. Eldest will read a book (or play with tablet) while I do the work of putting up the tent. Youngest and Middlest tend to fight over mallets and tent-pegs unless they’re given age-appropriate tasks to help with putting up the tent. It would be faster if I did it on my own, but that’s not the point.

Another tradition that’s developed is that we arrive, put up tent and beds and then light the barbecue. Everything is packed in the car to make this happen. It means quick, easy cooking without more unpacking, and also all the fresh meat can get cooked before it spoils. The next day, the children explore while we put the finishing touches to the tent.

The Haven secret

I can’t remember how I found this out but you can take your tent to some Haven camps. We are having a week at Haven in August for under £400 including an activity pass. We did this last year and can confirm that you don’t feel like second class citizens. Once you’re up and about, you have full access to the whole site, with no difference between you and those in caravans. This year we’ve booked a caravan for the Grandmas so we know what the saving looks like. And to be honest, we feel really cramped in a caravan with five of us, so we’re really happy.

So, do you camp with your children? If not, what stops you? Just curious, for The Wife, it’s the threat of mud and dodgy toilets that mostly puts her off, so we do choose time and place carefully.