How To Camp Better With A Large Family!
While we are by no means the experts in the field of camping, I don’t think you have to be to enjoy this absolutely terrific style of family holiday. Is it hard work? Well, yes, in all honesty it is. It’s hard work before you leave, from the planning and packing (playing Jenga in the car more like) and it’s hard work when you’re there (with children at any rate – keeping things tidy being my main concern) and then no dressing it up, it’s hard work when you get home and have to unpack and do about a million loads of washing. It is a wholly different type of holiday to one you may just turn up for and relax at. However, despite all the work somehow it IS still a holiday and it really does make you feel like you’ve had one. IF you’re a little bit savvy about packing choices, sites booked and the core purchases you will need to make to run your trip smoothly.
Having an electric pitch makes life a LOT easier – trust me on this one. You don’t NEED one as such (not even for a cool box – I’ll come on to that) but it helps makes things easier. Usually an electric hook up pitch isn’t too much more and the world of difference it makes is so vast it is entirely worth it. We’ve just been to Polzeath in Cornwall and stayed at The Valley Caravan Park which thankfully offers electric pitches and we chose one which was close, but not next to, the toilet block and the same for the kids park. This site is brilliant actually and those two points are important to us because you don’t want to be kept awake all night hearing other people go to the bathroom, neither do you want to wake up early to someone else washing up. However, being too far away from these amenities is also problematic so choose your pitch wisely is my first tip of “how to camp better with a large family!”
Next up, and potentially this should be the main event, you need to make sure your tent is right. Coleman Tents offer BlackOut bedroom technology in their tents which uses fabric to block the light. You absolutely do not want to camp with kiddos without this. We have used many Coleman tents over the years and this is just one of their most desirable features that sets them a cut above. We used the Weathermaster 6XL for this latest trip and no one (aside from me) was awake before 7.30am on any of the days. This is quite unheard of for my children, the youngest two especially so! With 3 bedrooms we all slept in a line with Jimmy in one end on his own, Me, Jonny and Posie in the middle and Raffie and Florence the other end. Ideally we’d need something bigger for us all now actually. A couple of teenagers really both needing their own space means we will soon have to upgrade to a 4 bedroom tent and we love this one so much (it’s an air beam – they’re absolutely superb to pitch and go back in their bags with no effort on the take down too) we don’t see any reason to change to a different style. Just a bigger one!
Beds are important and here Jimmy is lying on a rather cheap air bed which did let us down (or him down if we’re being literal) by morning each day. There’s no puncture, it’s just not that good. We, by contrast, didn’t need to add any air into our Coleman Extra Durable Double Air Bed which shows you do need quality really, otherwise you’ll end up buying twice. This beauty went up in about a minute, stayed up all week and when we let the air out it easily folded in on itself and into the attached Wrap ‘N’ Roll carry bag. Very clever. It has double lock valves which create its airtight system and honestly, the faff of the other ones which seem to only retain air when you’re actively trying to let them down and fold them up as small as possible, make them a no brainer. Of course this leads me onto bedding. Jimmy’s sleeping bag is fine actually. There really isn’t anything wrong with it and it washes and dries super easily so that’s great but… Coleman sent us two of their Monstera Sleeping Bags which, frankly, most other sleeping bags are going to pale next to.
The Monstera sleeping bags by Coleman are made from the Monstera plant, apparently this is a very popular bedding choice in general but for camping let me tell you this. There was no way we were ever going to be cold. These are built for the artic I swear, they are utterly brilliant (the seaside in Cornwall in the middle of the night in August may sound warm in theory but hey, let’s be realists, it’s COLD!) and so super cosy too. The inner part feels like a soft flannel and then the outer layer provides all the cushioning and warmth. I think the very best bit however, is that you can unzip that soft player and wash that solo which makes so much sense! I had to wash 5 sleeping bags yesterday and the other three had to do a wash on their own they are so bulky. The outside of these barely got touches so being able to wash just the inner layer makes a lot more sense in time, effort and indeed being eco friendly. The bags come in two different sizes and I promise, go back into their yoga style bags with ease. We actually unzipped ours all the way around and used them like a duvet for most of the time too so if it was warmer you’d only need one between two!
There’s a main room (which is big) in our tent too and we need to figure out some better ways of storage to use within it for our next trip. Storage, or lack of it, was the downfall for us. Stuff everywhere isn’t the one when camping and, you need to be tidy so my best tip here would be to invest in some collapsible, stackable boxes. At least that’s what we could think of as being the best solution and what we will try to do for our next trip (up coming) unless you guys can message me your better ideas?!
The porch area is where we stored our kitchen area (to be taken outside properly to cook on) and our new 70QT Extreme Cool Box (also Coleman). This thing is actually incredible. We forgot to take ice blocks with us (rookie or what – don’t do that) so had to just buy ice in the shops and yet the box kept our food cold for 4 days without the ice fully melting. Even then it was still cold, just a little soggy and we replaced the ice which again, was mostly still ice a couple of days later when we packed up to come home. I don’t know what the technology is, or how it does it without electrics but it’s flipping brilliant. And HUGE! You can keep LOADS in there. It also doubles as an extra seat (strong enough to take 113kg/17.79stone) or as we used it, a little table with the 4 corners being dipped for drinks. It’s really ideal and so well thought out. We also used it to pack most of our clothes in for the journey down and back (no jokes)! I love this box and it comes in other sizes, some of which have wheels which I think would make it even better. It’s not heavy (even when full) but the wheels would make it more accessible for some. It’s a winner!
And that brings me onto tables in general. You need one. A communal place to sit is the key bit of camp life and ours is fine but I actually preferred the cool box if I’m honest. We sat around it in our new Coleman chairs of which we have two styles. Shown above is the Forrester Deck Chair which has its own little drinks holder. Super light and folded up this is not a space taker in the car at all. We have some much nigger Coleman chairs which we regularly take on our day camps to the beach (life of a surfer’s Mum) in the 8 Position Recliner Chair however, much as we love those they do take up a lot of space which because they’re flat is not a problem with a fully usable boot but with 4 children and one of our boot seats in use just didn’t work for us this time unfortunately. Not to fear, the Forresters (shown above with the cool box) were very comfortable and we wouldn’t be without them. We also loved (possibly best of all) the Kickback Chairs which are SO light and small we could take them to the beach every day just tucked under one arm. Which was great as we’d had to leave the Camping Wagon home this time on account of space – trust me, it was a mistake, we should have left one of the children (jokes but… We need a bigger trailer)!
The space thing IS an issue in general and we need more of it. We probably need a mini bus as a 7 seater, top box AND our new wagon trailer still didn’t allow us the chance to pack a few of the things I really needed when I was there. Not having a wagon, which usually replaces a buggy just on regular days out, was hard work. So make as much space as you can to pack all the essentials. I think we may have to build an extension to our wagon!
In a bid to save money, as that’s the best bit about camping, you can stay in the best locations (Polzeath is like the English Riviera) but on the cheap. This doesn’t mean scrimping on it all though! We ate very well both out having saved money on the accommodation but also at camp too. Ideally I’d have take the Campingaz Party Grill 600 Stove as you can do a BBQ, cook a pizza, oh it has multiple uses and is BRILLIANT but because we were tight on space we packed our Campingaz Kitchen 2CV Stove which has a double burner. It did us very proud. It seems to be incredibly economical on the gas and we made lots of yummy food at camp including our daily staple cheese and ham toasties and one evening a fairly complicated pasta dish, In a way the fact this compact stove has two burners means it’s easier to do more elaborate dishes which is great! The only improvement it could have to make it a touch better would be an ignition button. Saying that, one of the children knocked the ignition button off our party grill during a game of rounders with a hard ball and it doesn’t affect its use so I’m being pernickety here and finding critique!
Aside from choosing the right spot (beach bound for us), and making sure you have the comforts you need for bed, kitchen and home life I’d say pack an event shelter too. It really makes a difference to the outside bit of your area and we couldn’t fit ours in (our next trip is a two car job so we’ll have the whole kit and kaboodle with us) but it creates that vibe you want for camping as well as some much needed cover from the rain and sunshine. You also need to pack some cards. Nothing too much to entertain the children, they will love camping and take to the life of it very well without much prescriptive entertainment at all but a pack of cards is a must and one of our most lovely evenings was teaching our second youngest how to play in the tent while it rained outside!
We had the most brilliant trip, learned loads (as always) and congratulated ourselves on remembering the things we’d not known before the trip before this one. Most of the time… We still hadn’t invested in a camping washing line and as we looked longingly at almost everyone else who had one (and dry towels) we knew we’d neglected another must have – but we’ll get there!
Thanks to Coleman we are far more competent campers than we’d ever have been without them and their brilliant products! Thanks to them we know that we don’t have to be experts because they are for us. Thank goodness for that!