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Ask the Expert: Camping Under the Night Sky ... By a Warm Firepit and in a Cozy Tent

Last week, guest columnist Karthika Gupta shared with us her tips for how to hike with young children. This week, she urges you to think about camping with your family. 

The word “Camping” often conjures images of picturesque backcountry spots accessible only by foot, carrying your supplies and disconnecting from civilization. You can almost see the isolated tents among tall trees and steep cliffs and food stored in bear-safe containers!

Camping in California's Sequoia National Park. Photo by Memorable Jaunts.While this is very desirable, it is not always practical - especially for families with young children. How much do we carry, how long can we walk, what about food, what about wildlife?

The good news is that you can still experience camping and all the pleasures it has to offer even if you don’t want to do backcountry camping. Instead, go local, camp for a night or two sleeping under the stars in a state park or even in a private campground. You can even camp in your backyard - just promise not to sneak back into the house in the middle of the night to the comfort of your bed! The kids will have a blast and you will come back with a better appreciation of nature. Who knows? You might even get enough confidence in yourself and your family to try the backcountry camping in exotic/picturesque locations.

Camping is a lot more subjective than hiking, but there are some basic things that you will need: 

  • A good quality rain proof/water proof tent. The good news is that there are several retailers who offer tent rental and they are fairly inexpensive (based on quality).
  • Sleeping bags (again can be rented). Most good quality sleeping bags have a temperature rating on them. This means that the bag will be comfortable up to the temperature listed on the bag.
  • Water proof sleeping pads – typically go under the sleeping bags so that cold and moisture from the ground does not seep into the sleeping bag. These make all the difference when camping off season and I definitely recommend using them while camping. But remember this is not a hotel, so be prepared for some discomfort especially if you are not used to it.
  • Torch/Lanterns
  • Socks. Even when camping in summer, your feet tend to get cold at night since you are sleeping in the outdoors.
  • Bug spray + sunscreen
  • Hammer. Sometimes the campsite has a concrete or hard surface. The tent spokes don’t go in as smoothly as camping over soft soil. A hammer is very useful to push the tent spokes into the ground.

Hopefully this information encourages you and gives you the confidence to try out hiking and even camping with your kids.

Take small steps, especially if you are a novice. Like any new sport or activity, this will take some getting used to. Pitch a tent in your back yard/living room so that the kids get used to getting in and out of the tent and sleeping in it. Camp overnight close to home – a forest preserve or state park are great for introduction to camping. Hike around your neighborhood/forest preserve.

Remember to have a positive attitude and sense of adventure – a positive attitude is highly contagious. Pack the basics and follow the last-in, first-out rule; tents go in last so they can be taken out first. Definitely read the map prior to travel so you know what to expect.

If you are intrigued by what you have read and are motivated to try this out but are not sure if you want to do this alone, join me for a Group Hike at Starved Rock State Park on Saturday, Oct. 8, being planned in conjunction with Geneva's Peaceful ParlourStarved Rock State Park is in Utica, about 90 miles from Chicago and less than 60 miles from Aurora. We will hike some the park’s trails as a group and stop for a group lunch. Expect to be out and about for a couple of hours. The colors in Starved Rock are beautiful this time of year! You can sign up either on Facebook, by contacting Peaceful Parlour or via email karthika@memorablejaunts.com

Karthika Gupta lives in Naperville with her two kids (under the age of 6). She has hiked and camped domestically and internationally with her family. Her daughter recently hiked a 5-mile alpine trail in the southern Colorado Mountains starting at 7,000 feet and gaining approximately 1,500 feet in elevation. Karthika Gupta's boutique family adventure travel company, Memorable Jaunts, creates custom hiking and camping trips for families.

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