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How to survive camping with kids

Have you accidentally booked a camping holiday again this year? It’s understandable - a week in a tent is much cheaper than renting a cottage or jetting off somewhere with guaranteed sunshine and unlimited cocktails.

And then there’s the hope that you’ll unzip the door to birdsong and blue skies, watch the kids gambol around a meadow and finish the day with a family campfire sing song.

The camping dream - enjoying the great outdoors (14916474)
The camping dream - enjoying the great outdoors (14916474)

Only now you’re remembering that last time you woke up on a deflated airbed with the joints of an arthritic 90 year old and spent £500 on trips to aquariums, pottery painting, indoor play and amusement arcades just to get out of the rain. And nothing ever dried properly and the barbecue wouldn’t light and you were freezing at 3am, and the children didn’t look up from their iPads.

Fear not. With the tips we have gathered from outdoor experts - including a Scout leader, a children’s wild camp organiser and an independent camping shop - you can survive, and perhaps even enjoy, this year’s trip.

Genuine pic from one of our recent camping holidays (14916582)
Genuine pic from one of our recent camping holidays (14916582)

My personal advice, after years of camping with children, boils down to these five golden rules:

1. Go with friends: then you don’t have to organise any activity for the kids at all as they will entertain themselves. They are enjoying that pine cone fight or dangling from that tree. Let them be, especially if you pitch your tent next to the playground so you can watch them from your deckchair.

2. Remember it gets dark and cold at night, outside, in a field. Bring MANY layers and blankets if you want to sit out enjoying a drink and a chat under the stars, otherwise you will freeze. Also, don’t get caught without a lantern - shining a torch in each other’s faces doesn’t have the same ambience.

3. Don’t cook! Camp somewhere near a fish and chip shop or pizza take out. The only essential food and drink items are cereal and milk, coffee, crisps and wine (red, so you can drink it unchilled).

4. Buy the most expensive airbed possible. Your back will thank you.

5. Check the weather forecast before you go: If it’s going to rain then don’t bother. Your house is infinitely nicer than a wet field.

But don’t take my word for it. These experts have the hard won experience of years in the field - or the camp site - that sees them through any holiday under canvas.

Gus Whitby from the Open Air Outdoor Store, on Green Street, Cambridge offered these essential tips. Visit openair.co.uk.

Try a practice run

Spend a night in your tent at home in the garden with your camping kit before you go on your trip to check it all works.

If you're going to bring one of those pop up "festival-style" tents, practice pitching it and folding it up at home so you're not 'that guy' at the campsite. If you happen to be camped next to someone struggling to set one of these tents down, make sure you've got your camp chair and a nice wine at hand as it proves to be incredibly entertaining!

Young family stuck in their tent during a rainy day (14669562)
Young family stuck in their tent during a rainy day (14669562)

Stay dry in a downpour

Consider a plan of attack for getting into and out of your tent if it’s raining, to make sure you don’t get too much water into the sleeping area.

If you have a really big porch, you could take your rain gear off in there, but otherwise take your waterproofs off just before you get into the tent then change straight away into your dry set of clothes. Even if it’s raining, you only get your worn clothes a bit wetter and are soon cosy and dry. A j-cloth is useful for mopping up condensation from the inside of the tent (if car camping you could take a thin towel).

Sleep soundly

Ear plugs are a lifesaver. No matter how hard you try to avoid them, you'll always end up pitched next to someone who snores loudly.

Follow the sun

For those that like a lie in, when you pitch your tent consider where the sun will rise and set. A compass will help. In midsummer you want your tent in the shade in the morning which will keep your tent cooler and darker to help you sleep. Evening sunlight keeps the ground lighter until after dark and means you are not cooking by headlamp.

Ask the campsite before you collect sticks for a fire (14916478)
Ask the campsite before you collect sticks for a fire (14916478)

Keep the fire burning

Consider a windshield or some sort of barrier around your stove to block wind. You can save a lot of fuel.

Make do and mend...

Most camping equipment can be repaired using duct tape and cable ties so make sure you carry these.

Debbie Webb, Haverhill Explorer Scouts Leader.

Debbie regularly takes large groups of teens on camping trips and has these words of wisdom.

Rainy day activities

Always take a selection of your favourite board games and books or coloring (depending on the age of your children) to cope with quick showers.

Find a good swimming pool nearby as this can also use up a wet day or afternoon. Other good indoor activities are pottery painting, escape rooms, museums, indoor play areas, roller skating, ice skating. Have a look on line at what is in the area before you go and have a wet weather plan in your back pocket just in case

What I look for in a campsite.

Good toilets. Seriously, proper facilities are a must for a family camp, especially with small children.

How to make an awesome campfire

A fire basket can help keep flames under control and stop the ground being burnt (14916859)
A fire basket can help keep flames under control and stop the ground being burnt (14916859)

Firstly if you are going to cook food on your fire I recommend using natural untreated wood or charcoal. Wood such as pallet wood is chemically treated and you don't really want to have that on the food you eat.

To light a fire you need dry wood in 3 sizes. Kindling, sticks and logs if you are going to aim to keep it going for a while.

I recommend buying some natural firelighters. You can purchase straw firelighters that are dipped in was online and in camping shops. You can also make your own with egg boxes, tumble dryer lint or cotton wool and candle wax.

These give you plenty of time and heat to get the wood caught. Once the wood is alight you are 90% there.

We use a pyramid structure as it funnels to air into the center helping the fire to catch the kindling.

To keep the fire going, you just need to feed it. Sticks should be about small wrist size and logs about calf size as an idea but use what you have it will all burn.

Try to stay away from pine if cooking as it burns brightly with less heat that hardwoods. It also spits due the resin content.

Cook hotdog sausages (precooked so it won't make anyone sick),salami is amazing cooked on a stick or skewer, I also do bacon wrapped cheese mushrooms for the adults.

Lindsay Rae from Find Your Wild organises camping trips for groups of children or adults in Cambridgeshire, as well as bushcraft lessons and team building activities. Visit findyourwild.org.

Toasting marshmallows is the best bit about camping
Toasting marshmallows is the best bit about camping

“We organise outdoor events, so we can't stop for the weather. The only time you should not be out in the rain is if there’s high winds in the woodlands or storms, because that is just dangerous.

“If it chucks it down you just carry on but you wear the right clothes. Being warm and dry is a winner. Whatever the weather you have to take waterproofs, just in case, and dry feet are really important.

“Suitable running shoes are a must because open toe shoes can be really dangerous in the woods and long grass.

“It's also a good idea to keep arms and legs covered. There are insects that bite, plants that can cause skin reactions and tick repellant at this time of year is essential. The one we use is Smidge, which is insect and tick repellant. It’s easy to buy and apply and is natural. Also a tick removal kit is useful if you’re going to be out a lot.

Have a safe campfire

Don't forget to pack the essentials - Coco Pops, milk, coffee and wine
Don't forget to pack the essentials - Coco Pops, milk, coffee and wine

“A campfire is part of the magic of camping. If you take a small fire bowl that's raised off the ground you can have a fire without being destructive. It doesn't have to be big. It wastes resources if you throw everything on the fire. You can keep a small fire going for longer. Make sure it’s not near your tent as embers can travel.”

Games to stave off boredom

“If you have large groups of kids to entertain, consider setting up a treasure hunt or scavenger hunt game or playing capture the flag. Other popular activities on our camps are tracking games where one team leaves a trail for the other side. Use sticks to make arrows to follow and crosses that mean you have to turn back. There should be chocolate at the end.”

Surefire campfire recipes

“Kids are always hungry when you’re camping - it’s the fresh air. Get up early to start the fire if you plan to cook a fried breakfast and don’t want any grumbles while they wait.

“Toasting marshmallows over the campfire is absolutely the most popular thing and everyone expects it,” says Lindsay.

“Bread making is also popular. It's very messy and we love mess. You just need self raising flour, powdered milk and water. Mix 3:1 flour to milk powder with enough water to make a dough. You can cook it over the fire on a skewer. If you want to use a stick, make sure it is hazel. Some other trees can be poisonous.”

Her other tips include stuffing bananas with chocolate, wrapping them with foil and cooking them in the embers or the edge of the fire.

Jacket potatoes can also be double wrapped in foil and baked.

Don't be that guy. Check you know how to put up your tent before you leave.
Don't be that guy. Check you know how to put up your tent before you leave.
Camping nirvana
Camping nirvana

Heffers Games advises: Best games to pack for a camping trip

Rory's Storycubes: £9.99

Roll the dice and create a story from the pictures revealed! Perfect for creating fun and interactive storytelling experiences and requires no table space to play!

Harry Potter Dobble: £14.99

The newest iteration of the popular classic Dobble. In this simple and fast pattern recognition game, players race to find a matching image shown on two cards.

Sushi Go: £13.49

Make the best meal by taking cards off a moving conveyer of delicious sushi dishes. But never neglect your dessert in this fast card drafting game! Quick to pick up and requires very little space to play.

Happy Salmon: £14.99

This "fin-tastic" game is fast, chaotic fun that can be learned in seconds and played in minutes! Perfect for all ages!

Deep Sea Adventure: £19.99

Do you dare delve into the deep? Players are racing to collect the most treasure from the seabed whilst sharing a rapidly depleting oxygen supply. Roll the dice and sea how deep you can go!

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