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Family Camping: Sleeping Strategies

Create the perfect outdoor shelter with available camping gear for kids
July 22, 2014
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Kids just love sleeping outside at night, don’t they? And let’s be honest; a night under the stars, under a tree or even under canvas is exciting for us adults too, isn’t it (or is it just me?)

There’s something invigorating about being close to nature and sleeping directly in the outdoors.

There’s something invigorating about being close to nature and sleeping directly in the outdoors.  When the day comes to an end,  instead of retreating to the comfort and protection of our bricks and mortar, we are no longer insulated from the natural environment; we are exposed. Our natural instincts kick in when we feel a little vulnerable. And this is what is exciting; what makes us feel alive.

But throw our precious little ones into the equation and there can be a seismic psychological jolt! A clash with the parental instinct that tells us to protect our kids, get them under a roof and make sure they are wrapped up in cotton wool. A natural instinct to avoid the potential jeopardy of leaving them out in the wild with the critters, nasties and whatever else our fear-induced imaginations conjure up.

A tree tent can make sleeping outdoors all the more adventurous

A tree tent can make sleeping outdoors all the more adventurous

Kids who experience a little bit of discomfort and pain when growing up in their otherwise soft, fluffy, everything-at-hand lifestyles, will be more robust and resilient in the long run as a result

Ironically though, camping out with kids and taking them to sleep in the outdoors doesn’t mean going against any of these parental instincts; they will still be protected, they will still have a roof over their heads (though it may be made of canvas or even woven leaves), and they will still be appropriately wrapped up – albeit in down or man-made fibers, not their comfy bedspread! And what’s more, I believe that kids who experience a little bit of discomfort and pain when growing up in their otherwise soft, fluffy, everything-at-hand lifestyles, will be more robust and resilient in the long run as a result.

So, you want to take your kids out on an overnight family camp out now, right? Well, here are a few different ways to go about it with various pieces of camping gear for kids:

Under canvas

Kids need to have a good experience when they are introduced to the idea of sleeping outside, particularly young children. A tent is a good first step as it is likely to keep you dry if the weather is not favorable.

Pop-up tents are ideal for first time camping out with kids for a single night or two, and are good for a quick spontaneous camp in the back garden as they are so easy to erect – they do literally pop up! However, they are not so easy to carry. Their construction means they are quite large when packed down, which makes carrying them any distance quite a chore.

Tarpaulin shelter

A tarp shelter is a good stepping stone between a tent and a bivvy bag.

A tarpaulin is a small-ish piece of canvas which can be made into a waterproof shelter using some walking poles, some guy ropes and a few pegs. A standard tarpaulin is likely to be big enough to make a shelter for two or three people, as well as any rucksacks. Cheap, easy to carry and very easy to erect – you might have to improvise with walls, trees, fence posts, etc. – a tarp shelter is a good stepping stone between a tent and a bivvy bag.

Bivvy bag

A bivvy bag is a kind of waterproof jacket for your sleeping bag. They pack down nice and small and are very light, thus are easy to carry when out hiking. The micro size and light-weight nature of bivvy bags makes them ultra-portable and quick to pack away, making them ideal for wild camping (sleeping out on hills and in woods or fields).

Bivvy bags can lead to the buildup of condensation as you breathe and perspire in the night, so always try and buy a breathable bivvy bag if you can (or borrow one).

The 'Family Bag' was hugely effective at bringing us together - literally!

The 'Family Bag' was hugely effective at bringing us together - literally!

Family bag

A family bag is a new creation based on something we made up.   It came about from us wanting to sleep in one place at an ancient stone circle as a family (including our dog) to celebrate the Summer Solstice.

We took a tarpaulin sheet, folded it in half, used some bungee ties at the edges to make on extra-large bivvy bag big enough for a family of five – hence the term family bag.

Hammock

Hammocks come into their own when you want to sleep off the ground – away from creepy crawlies. They are also cheap and compact – and very comfortable. The knack to using a hammock comes in the pitching of it – it can take a bit of practice to get the hammock hanging as you like it.

One downside to a hammock is that the airflow below the hammock can cause your bottom to get a bit chilly - so make sure you use a role mat!

Tree tent

The floor is like a combination of a trampoline and a hammock, and so they are very, very comfortable!

Tree tents like those made by Tentsile make camping on uneven terrain easy – and fun! Suspended from three attachments, a Tentsile is very quick to set up, and easy to adjust – you could actually sleep inches or even feet off the ground. And sleep you will – the floor is like a combination of a trampoline and a hammock, and so they are very, very comfortable.

Make a shelter

Making a shelter to sleep in, particularly one that’s watertight, takes some skill and effort, and can be very time consuming. You need to know what you are doing. That said, sleeping under a shelter that has been hand-built can be one of the most rewarding experiences of all. Practice making shelters and dens during the daylight hours – trying new techniques and variations – then go for it one night and endeavor to sleep in it!

Hammocks

Hammocks: cheap, compact and very comfortable.

An overnight family camp out is a wonderfully liberating and thrilling experience that never gets old.

An overnight family camp out is a wonderfully liberating and thrilling experience that never gets old. While your kids might get a little dirty, and there may be occasions when they may fall out of bed – particularly if they are new to hammocking – the overall reward is worth it. With the thrill and buzz of the overnight family camping experience, you can be confident that, when they awake after a night in the outdoors, it won’t be the wrong side of the bed!

Tips and suggestions for family camping trips

Variety is the spice of life, so try sleeping out in different ways:

  • Camp somewhere high, or low
  • Sleep by a river, a lake, the sea
  • Sleep on an uninhabited island – have your own Swallows and Amazons adventure
  • ”Claim” a local wood and sleep out in it regularly. Make it your family’s special camping spot.
  • Camp out at different times of the year. If you are really hardcore, you might consider going sub-zero camping!
  • Go on a trail that requires an overnight camp - this ups the commitment level as you have to carry all of your gear. Make sure you have proper hiking boots for the entire family.
  • Sleep out to mark an occasion: a birthday, a meteor shower, a solstice
  • Make a “family bag” and sleep out as a family – even take your dog (or cat!)

  • Dave Lane

    we took our kids camping very early in their life and both absolutely love it. Best thing we ever did. Actually took two trips out west to Natinal park hop using tents the whole way. Amazing what a couple of tents some sleeping bags and hiking does to family bonding moments. the trips were over ten years ago and they still talk about hiking out to Angels Landing at Zion. Great stuff!

  • Petr Johan

    As a young person I, too, was taken camping but, where I grew up, we called it going on safari. Learned how to put broken glass around our area to dissuade one of the varieties of poisonous vipers indigenous to the area from joining us in the night, to check before you strung a hammock to see what else might be in the tree, getting Malaria in the bush….one must wonder if kids in the United States would have enjoyed my life in South Africa? Of course I thought it a treat as I was given my first Mauser and taught to aim and shoot…I would have found American style “camping” tedious, without purpose, I’ll bet the children who “absolutely love it” never learned how to field dress a Kudu and then braise it for tea.

  • outragex

    I like the family bag approach…even when alone…if the bugs aren’t bad and rain is not likely. I find that kids and less experienced campers often prefer the feeling of security with a bug and critter proof tent. For these campers it’s nice to have a tent on standby if bugs or rain show up. Another simple trick is to put up the mesh part of a light tent without the rain fly. This is cooler in hot weather, and allows star and moon gazing. You can connect and roll the rain fly on one side for quick use if needed or for morning privacy. Young kids and new campers need to be challenged in small ways, but never to the point of being so miserable they never want to go again.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Meek

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SUP, hiking, camping, canoeing
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All Out Rush
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