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February 2007

Family Camping: How to Pull it Off

87 tips for making your next family trip easy, fun, and comfortable

Secrets to success, for all ages

Invite another family Don’t get all sappy with the kids about precious quality family time. Save that for Disney World. Once your kids hit about age 5, their enthusiasm for any given activity is greatly enhanced by the presence of friends. Plus, with another set of parents around, you can take shifts, maybe even allowing time for a kidless getaway hike.

Start small Make your first few trips overnights or weekenders. Choose your destination wisely, too. Don’t be overly ambitious when it comes to mileage or altitude. Look for places where you can hike in a mile or two to a scenic basecamp that’s within reach of a swimming hole, boulder field, gravelly river, or some other attraction. (Keep in mind that you’ll most likely be making at least a couple of trips to shuttle in gear.)

Bribe early and often If ever there is a time to ply your kids with sugary treats, it’s on a hiking trip. When you sense a whinefest coming on, stop for a break, bust out the Skittles, and a major attitude adjustment is guaranteed.

Check the weather A rainy afternoon holed up in a tent can be great fun, but if the forecast calls for a stormy cold front all weekend, scrap your plans until good weather returns.

Battle the bugs If mosquitoes or blackflies inhabit your chosen destination, having the right gear becomes paramount. Each kid should have a baseball cap and mosquito headnet, plus loose-fitting long-sleeve shirts and pants. Bring plenty of bug spray–look for the kid formulas with less deet–and keep it off their faces and hands.

Don’t skimp on gear Fun cannot happen without comfort. Once kids hit 4 or 5, they can’t share your sleeping bag any longer.

Ditto for clothing Invest in a few key items: quick-dry pants or shorts, a warm jacket, good raingear. (Tip: No budget for synthetic long johns? Buy a pair of perfectly functional polyester pajamas at Target, Wal-Mart, or K-Mart.)

Keep a group journal For longer trips, this is a great way to involve the whole family in a common project. Each day, assign a different journal keeper to record whatever he or she deems important–the weather, wildlife sightings, observations, conversations. Younger kids can draw pictures and gather leaves or flowers to press.

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