How to Camp with your Family Before Winter Comes

In which we debunk five myths about camping before it gets too cold. 

Edouard Portelette

Camping is a polarizing topic. When I shared my plan to take my daughters—aged 9 and 6—on a camping trip, I was met with two very distinct reactions from people: “Awesome idea!” and “I hate camping.”

To be honest, it'd been a while since I pulled out the camping gear, so even I was a little unsure about how I felt. I have a lot of memories of past camping trips (some as far as childhood) including tents challenging to set up, heavy backpack full of gear, and difficulty sleeping on my side on hard surfaces—combined with magnificent sunrises and overall fun experiences.

It doesn’t have to be that way. I argue that with a few pieces of modern camping gear, camping is for everyone. Let’s debunk a few myths so you can understand where I am coming from.

Myth #1: You need a big car to pack up all that gear

Not true, I traveled with my kids in my Mazda 3 hatchback that can transport two tents, two sleeping bags, one inflatable mattress, a chair and two bags of clothing for the family. Modern camping equipment is very light and can be packed very tightly (see animated gifs below).

Myth #2: camping is very uncomfortable

Again, not true. Some of the appeal of camping is “roughing it”. But let’s be real, nobody wants to share a day with me when I didn’t sleep well the night before. So with a couple pieces of equipment, you can be almost as comfortable as on your new fancy Casper mattress.

I recommend these three pieces of equipment:

  1. A good sleeping bag: There are lots of good options out there. I would stay on the lighter, 3 season bags if you are only going to camp occasionally (and not on K2). From REI to North Face ($244.20) to Marmot ($179). Or you could try this awesome Big Agnes double bag for couples! ($369.95)
  2. An inflatable mattress: I used the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX 40”x72” ($249.99) and it was very comfortable and very light. Whether you sleep on your side or on your back, this is the way to go, comfort for very little extra packing weight. Note that these mattresses are not always the easiest to inflate on the fly. So I recommend you plan for that before you leave, either by also getting the pump that comes along with it ($34.95) or build your own DYI version.

Big Agnes

Q-Core inflatable mattress

3. A chair: We can debate that one. If you are flexible, an avid yoga practitioner etc (I am neither), than sitting on the floor is probably your choice. For all of us out there who are not, something like the GCI Outdoor Firepit Rocker ($59.99) is excellent. It’s very light, easy to fold and transport. It also rocks and has a beverage holder. Need we say more?

CGI

Firepit Rocker

Myth #3: You have to camp in a camp site

Not true. You can do it in a backyard to start. Whether you stay with friends or rent a house for the weekend, it can make the adventure more exciting to set a tent in the yard for one of the two or three nights you spend there.

Myth #4:  The Tent is so hard to set up

Modern tent are incredibly easy to set up. I had the chance to test two tents on this latest trip and both of them were a stark departure from the tent set up memories I had.

Here is the SlumberJack Nightfall 3 ($169.95) in action:

Edouard Portelette

Easy as 1, 2, 3...

And here is the Big Agnes Big House 4 Deluxe ($349.95), mounted with MtnGlo lighting system ($32.95):

Edouard Portelette

Quick to build modern tents

Myth #5: Real camping is a multi-day commitment

Not true. One night is the way to start, particularly if you have young children. The issue is not so much their appetite for adventure, but that they will have a lot of fun and therefore not sleep as much as they should. You can handle that for one night and the following day. A few nights in a row might be tough.

If you don’t have any kids, logic may still apply for your needs of civilization (especially a proper bathroom). I found that alternating camping nights with regular nights, hotel or otherwise, works well.

Some things never change though: You do wake up very early. All 6 of us were wide awake at 5:15am. The sunrise and the birds are great alarm clocks.