As longtime readers know, I’m not a fan of having stuff one doesn’t need. But if you camp often enough, these family camping splurges are worth considering.
And many of them have uses beyond family camping trips.
I added these things to our family camping checklist after three back-to-back camping trips last summer. While we managed fine before them, they’ve definitely enhanced the experience for all of us.
Best of all, many of them won’t break the bank!
So, without further ado, here are my
Top 10 Family Camping Splurges, Part 1
1. Compact weighted picnic blanket
Several years ago I bought a compact, lightweight family picnic blanket made of parachute silk. It was great for roadside picnics, but it always threatened to blow away. Then my friend Raiah gave me a lovely roll-up mat that I now use instead. While sturdy and durable enough not to blow away, it’s too bulky to take along on day hikes.
But while camping with Keisha and her family last summer, I found an even better solution. After a short hike with our two husbands and four kids, she whipped out a compact picnic blanket that was water- and stain-resistant, big enough that all eight of us sit on it, super-light, and had weighted corners so it wouldn’t blow away!
Alas, the kind she has is no longer available; but I plan to add a reasonably-priced alternative to our family Christmas list.
Also useful for: hanging out with Baby in your yard; beach trips; roadside picnics; stargazing/watching fireworks; keeping in your car for anytime you find yourself wanting a clean, dry alternative to sitting on the ground.
I first read about these in The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping With Kids, and thought they sounded extravagant but intriguing. Now I wouldn’t go family camping without them.
CGear mats are fancy mats that let dirt and sand fall through. They utilize a technology developed by the military for our 21st-century desert military operations.
Why would you want one of these? Let’s put it this way: After our first family camping trip with the girls, in our nice brand-new family-sized tent, the floor of the tent was covered with dirt, tiny pebbles, and other grit they had tracked in from the outside.
The following Christmas, we received these mats from my in-laws at my request. Multiple camping trips later, the only crud on the floor of our tent is the residue that remains from that first trip, pre-CGear doormats. These mats have effectively reduced the amount of new dirt being tracked into our tent by enthusiastic children to zero.
Also useful for: family beach trips (especially if you hate lying down on a towel your kids have tracked sand all over!); any time you want to keep yourself and your stuff separate from the dirt and sand on the ground.
3. An ice cream ball
My dear husband’s parents got the girls one of these when we went cabin-camping with them last summer. I remained skeptical after the girls made their one and only batch of ice cream on that trip, even though we’d all loved the delicious homemade ice cream.
Then, a few weeks later, we went camping with Keisha and her family. As I’d hoped, rolling the ball for a half-hour kept our four kids, then ages 3-6, occupied while the grownups set up camp and prepped dinner – and it gave the kids a chance to make an important contribution to our evening’s meal, of which they were proud.
Other uses: Really, anytime you want to keep your kids entertained during the summer – especially if, say, they have friends over or you have company visiting; great way to both entertain and educate them while keeping them occupied.
4. Fleece sleeping bags
Before my dear husband came along, the only camping I’d ever done was in Scouting, where regular sleeping bags were the norm. But after plenty of summer camping trips in sweltering temps, I’ve long envied my husband’s lightweight, low-profile fleece sleeping bag liner as a more practical summer alternative.
So last summer I finally decided it was time to get my own fleece sleeping bag. When I realized how little they cost, I wondered why I hadn’t done this sooner.
Having received fancy heavy-duty sleeping bags from doting grandparents, my girls refused to camp without them last summer. Even when it was much too hot and I didn’t want to cram something that bulky into the car. Ditto for sleeping on the floor on summer visits to their grandparents’ non-air-conditioned homes.
But since fleece bags are rated for temps as low as 50 degrees F, I added them to the girls’ Christmas lists last year. Kimmie can’t wait to use hers at sleep-away Girl Scout camp next week, and she thinks it’s cool that she can fit it PLUS her travel pillow in her backpack.
Moreover, if your child doesn’t have a sleeping bag and won’t be winter-camping, fleece bags are an inexpensive, space-saving alternative.
Other uses: Sleepovers; any travel where your kiddos will be roughing it on the floor; snuggling in front of the TV; movie nights; stargazing or fireworks-viewing on cooler nights.
If you regularly camp anywhere with mosquitoes and other biting insects, and haven’t tried permethrin-treated clothing yet, trust me: this is one item totally worth the splurge.
I’m a longtime fan of my ExOfficio insect-shield gear. And given heightened global fears about the spread of Zika, West Nile, and other mosquito-borne illnesses – not to mention tick-borne diseases – this might be the right time for you to consider investing in insect-repellent clothing.
As I noted a few weeks ago, One Step Ahead makes a line of permethrin-treated clothes for smaller kids. But since kids outgrow clothes so quickly, DIY permethrin treatments are a cost-saving alternative. For the cost of one kid-sized insect shield garment, you can buy enough permethrin to treat several garments.
Other uses: Anytime you or your kid will be playing or hanging out where insects or ticks could be a problem – day camp, sports practice, early morning/late evening, walking in the woods, cookouts, trips to the park, etc.
See my next post for items #6-10 on my list of Family Camping Splurges, and happy camping/travels!