Everything you need to know about planning your first family camping trip
Planning your first family camping trip can be a daunting task. It certainly was for me. I spent hours researching tents, footprints, finding out what SIMs are, looking for the best stove and then of course searching online for the easiest family camping recipes, amongst other things.
When you’re just starting out the list of things you need to research feels endless. Thankfully there’s lots of information freely available online and plenty of family camping Facebook groups filled with helpful advice.
Doing your own research can be incredibly time consuming. That’s why I thought I’d put a guide together of what I’ve learnt along the way. We’re yet to go on our first camping trip, but this is planned very soon now that we have all we need, and I’ll be sure to come back and update this list after our first camping trip if need be! I’m sure it’ll be a steep learning curve!
Finding the perfect tent
So the first thing I think of when it comes to camping is a tent. There are lots of different tents available from pop up, tee-pee style tents, inflatable tents and your more traditional pole tents. I would always recommend visiting a local store that sells tents and actually has them up for you to look at. This way you can get a better idea of what you’re looking for.
Until then, here’s some information I found very helpful.
Depending on how many people are in your group always go for a tent that is designed for two more people than you need. For example, if you’re a family of four opt for a 6 person tent. If you’re a family of six opt for an 8 person tent and so on. This is something I discovered from a friendly Facebook group. The extra space will be worth it.
I took this advice onboard when I opted for the Eurohike Hampton 6 person tent. We’re a family of four and this tent has plenty of good reviews online. It’s a great first timer tent because it’s spacious, has a small undercover porch area which is perfect for cooking in if the weather isn’t great, plus there’s a separate living area to the bedroom. I also really like that there’s a side entrance in addition to the main entrance. The side entrance also has a small canopy which is great too.
Another important thing to consider when getting a tent is if you want to be able to stand upright in it. For me, being able to stand up in our tent is a must. I don’t think I could spend one night let alone three or four in a tent where I have to lean over all the time!
Something I hadn’t thought about until a friendly staff member in a local camping shop brought it up is how waterproof your tent is. Obviously living in the UK means we’re quite likely to have some rainfall during our camping trip. What you need to look for when buying a tent is the ‘Hydrostatic Head’. This is a rating of a tent’s waterproof coating (known as PU). It’s the image with rain clouds. The legal requirement to call a tent ‘waterproof’ is 1000. As such most tents start at 2000. Our tent, the Eurohike Hampton 6 person tent has a hydrostatic head of 3000. Of course it goes without saying that the higher the hydrostatic head, the more waterproof your tent is.
I mentioned the word ‘footprint’ at the start of this article so you may be wondering what that means. A footprint is effectively like a sheet that you put under your tent. It protects the base of your tent from wear and tear, and also helps to keep it clean so that when you pack it away you don’t have spend hours wiping mud off and scraping bugs away!
A groundsheet is the same as a footprint. Plenty of tents come with a sewn in groundsheet. It’s sewn onto the walls which is great to stop anything crawling in or out, plus it also helps to keep drafts out.
Tent Poles and Pegs
Most tent poles are made of fibreglass. This means they’re lightweight and flexible, but that also means that can split and crack easily. Steel tent poles are preferable, but I think it’s important to check that you can get replacements for your tent if need be before buying your tent.
When it comes to pitching your tent look at your tent poles for guidance. Many tents come with colour coded poles to help.
Tent pegs are also pretty important. As such you may want to invest in some stronger pegs than the standard ones that come with your tent. The last you’ll want to find when you return your tent is that it’s collapsed!
Pitching your tent
Before you embark on your first camping trip it’s important that you know how to pitch your tent. Practise putting the tent up in your garden, as well as packing it away. This is also important as it’ll give you the chance to make sure nothing is missing and that there is no damage to your tent. You can also close all of the zips for doors etc as this will make pitching your tent easier.
When you arrive at your campsite make sure that your pitch is dry, flat and even. Pitching a tent on a slope won’t be easy and it’ll make for an uncomfortable nights sleep too. Do a quick sweep of the area before you begin to make sure there’s nothing sharp on the ground such as stones and sticks.
Enlist the help of a friend or family member. As the saying goes, many hands light work.
Lay down your footprint first so that you can see the layout and position of your tent.
When it comes to your tent, start at the back. By doing so you can anchor your tent which will prevent it from blowing away in the wind. You can always come back and re-peg it again if you need to.
Be gentle with the poles. You don’t want to split or break them before you’ve even put your tent up!
Use a mallet to hammer the pegs so that they’re secure and try to make sure that the guy lines follow the seams of your tent possible. Guy lines (or wires) are tensioned cables designed to add stability to your tent.
For bigger tents such as ours you can drag the tent forward and peg out the two front guy lines once you’ve pegged down the back and erected the poles to help keep the tent in place so you can peg the rest down.
Sleeping bags for all the family
When I first bought my children their sleeping bags I made the mistake of not thinking about the design and shape of them. One of my girls opted for a ‘mummy’ style sleeping bag while the other went for a rectangular shaped one.
I ordered them online and when they arrived I soon realised that there was a big difference between these two types of sleeping bags. My twin girls are seven years old and they’re on the small side, often described as being slender.
The ‘mummy’ style sleeping bag which was designed for children aged up to 10 was on the small side. It was tapered at the head and legs, and yes, although it was snug and cozy my seven year old daughters feet already reached the bottom of the bag and there was no room for her to turn from, for example, her back to her side etc.
The rectangular sleeping bag was longer and wider meaning my daughter had more room to move around and it will also last a lot longer in comparison to the ‘mummy’ style sleeping bags.
As such I sent the ‘mummy’ style sleeping bag back and exchanged it for a rectangular one as pictured below.
Sleeping Bag Seasons
This was new to me! I didn’t realise that sleeping bags are rated by season. Thankfully I discovered this before I bought ours.
The season rating is used to inform buyers of the time of year that a sleeping bag is suitable for.
Season one is ideal for warm summer nights, typically 5 degrees celsius or above.
Season two is designed for cooler evenings in spring/summer usually around 0-5 degrees celsius.
Season three is for anywhere between 0 to -5 degrees celsius, such as a cold night but with no frost.
Season four is best suited for winter months with temperatures as low as -10 degrees celsius.
Finally season five is for temperatures as low as -40 degrees celsius so they’re more for expedition style camping.
After reading up on different types of sleeping bags I opted for season three sleeping bags for all of us as the nights even in the summer in the UK can get cold.
I bought two double sleeping bags and a single sleeping bag each for the kids. I thought it would be a good idea to have a spare double sleeping bag in case the kids wanted to join me or their dad as they do tent to sneak into our beds at home!
Camp Bed or SIM (Self Inflating Mattress)
Now that you have your sleeping bag, it’s time to think about where you’ll sleep. You could invest in an air bed, but the more popular option nowadays are self-inflating mattresses (SIMs). The recommendation from seasoned campers is that you invest in one that’s at least 10cm thick. They’re easy to put up too. You simply tag them out of the bag, unroll them, open the valves and they’ll suck in air in to inflate all by themselves! No need for a foot pump unless want to make it a tad firmer I guess. We recently bought two double Silent Night SIMs. They work really well and afterwards we simply rolled them up to let the air out and popped them in the bags.
The other option of course is a camp bed. These are another great option, but they do take up more room in your car.
Cooking is one of the things that I worry about most when it comes to camping. Thankfully after a visit to a local camping shop where I had a very helpful chat to a staff member, I feel a lot better about this now.
There are a few different options available to you. I have a portable barbecue. This is great because it folds up small and has a carry handle. It’s also lightweight and doesn’t take up much room, yet there’s plenty of room to cook sausages, burgers etc on it. It uses charcoal and of course you can bring along some marshmallows for the kids to toast too! Just remember to bring some firelighters and a lighter with you.
Depending on how long you’re going camping for, a portable barbecue may be all you need. However, if you’re going for more than a couple of days you may want to look into a stove.
My husband and I recently invested in a double gas stove. It’s perfect for cooking pasta or rice on for example. Of course this means you’ll need to bring two saucepans along with you. The stove is gas which means we need to buy a gas canister and a regulator. I discovered that after buying the initial gas canister you can simply get it refilled for a price. The gas canister I was looking at is a 4.5kg butane gas canister. The initial price of a new bottle is around £57, but then the refill price is around £17. You can also keep an eye out for second hand empty gas canisters which will inevitably be cheaper.
We’re planning on having an EHU – Electric Hook Up so we’ll also bring a long a toaster and kettle.
In addition to your barbecue and stove, you’ll also need pots and pans, cooking utensils, cutlery and tableware etc. I also have a collapsible washing up bowl which I can use for washing up if need be but it’s also handy to carry everything to the kitchen block etc.
There are lots of options available when it comes to cool boxes. You can buy a standard cool box that you may use for picnics or a day out at the beach, or you can opt for an electric coolbox. Obviously you’ll need to ensure you have electric at your campsite for this.
I recently bought an Outwell electric coolbox and used whilst on a recent glamping trip to Somerset Yurts. You simply pop a frozen ice pack in or food that has already been chilled or frozen and then plug it in to keep your food cool. An electric coolbox is perfect for longer camping trips.
Electric Hook Up (EHU)
An electric hook up (EHU) is pretty much what it says it is. If you want the luxury of electricity whilst camping to charge your phone, plug your kettle and toaster in, use a heater or radio etc, then you’ll need to book an EHU pitch.
You’ll also need to invest in an electrical lead such as the one pictured below to enable you to have electric in your tent. The lead will have a blue three-pin plug which goes into the electric outlet on the pitch.
I thought I would finish this post with a list of camping essentials:
- Tent, poles, pegs, mallot
- Self inflating mattress or campbed
- Sleeping bags, pillows
- Camping chairs
- Camping table
- Electric heater
- Electric hookup/extension lead
- Electric coolbox, ice packs
- Stove, gas, regulator
- Portable BBQ, charcoal
- Kettle, toaster
- Matches, firelighter, lighter
- Tin opener
- Plates, cups, cutlery, drink bottle
- Cooking utensils
- Pots and pans, chopping board
- Collapsible washing up bowl
- Scrubbing brush, sponge, tea towel
- Fairy liquid
- Food containers
- Kitchen roll, Foil
- Marshmallows (and sticks)
- Popcorn kernals
- Salt, condiments such as ketchup, mayonnaise
- Coffee, tea sugar
- Bacon, beans, eggs (omlette)
- Salad, corn on the cob
- BBQ food – chicken, sausages, burgers
- Bread rolls, bagel
- Jacket potato, cheese
- Rice, pasta
- Toothbrush, toothpaste
- Shampoo, conditioner
- Hair brush, hair bands
- Hair dryer, straighteners
- Styling products
- Face cream/deodorant
- Toilet roll
- Potty for children
- Dustpan and brush
- Black bags/green bags
- Wellies, shoes, trainers
- Pyjamas, dressing gown, fluffy socks
- Rainwear, sunhats
- Socks, underwear
- Gloves, hats, scarves
- Swimming costumes
- Spare batteries
- Ear plugs, eye mask
- Picnic blanket
- Hanging storage
- First aid kit, medicine
- Phone charger
- Sewing kit
- Insect repellant
- Multi-tool, pocket knife
- Telescope, binoculars
- Walkie talkies
- Bug kit, net
- Bat and ball
- Magazine, books
- Pen, paper, notepad