Ah, the great outdoors. There’s nothing quite like a camping trip in the wilderness – but if you’re unprepared things can go horribly awry, and with whining kids in tow, the horror is magnified 10-fold. Never fear: with a little bit of planning you can make yours a trip to remember for all the right reasons. (Unlike a recent trip one Time Out Kids staffer took in which she was stranded on a gale-swept deserted beach accessible only by boat, with a tent but no tent poles… hey, as the favourite parent saying goes: do as we say, not as we do.) If your pampered brood are unsure about braving the elements, the best way to get them excited is to give them a role in the process.
Mum of three and monthly camper Gisele Hodges says, ‘Put kids in charge of the list of things to pack.’ If you’ve never camped before, Gisele recommends joining other families: ‘When you first start out, the best way to do it is to go with people who already have everything, so you just need the minimal amount of equipment.’ This also means your ankle biters have companions to play with and you can split up the food so that one family is in charge of breakfast, another lunches and so on. Inevitably, kids need to be entertained, so bring along games to keep them occupied. The heat is another issue – hike early in the day and bring along plenty of sunscreen and a gazebo for some much-needed shade.
Safety is, of course, a top priority: make sure the kids are savvy about heights and wadis, along with having an awareness of campfire safety, insects and reptiles. ‘A friend’s son once got bitten by a scorpion, so at night we always make sure our kids are wearing shoes,’ says Gisele. ‘And, of course, take a full medical kit with you so you’re ready for the inevitable cuts and grazes.’ See p56 for first aid kit tips, and read on for what to bring, where to camp and real-life camper experiences.
Bear in mind that camping in the wilderness means your toilet will be al fresco and there are important things to remember when nature calls in the great outdoors. The most glaringly obvious is to make sure you do your business far away from other people and at least 100m from a water source – and do it in a spot where no one is likely to tread any time soon. Bring a small shovel designated for toilet use and try to scope out a decent area before it gets dark. Then all you need to do is dig a hole in the ground (at least 15cm deep) and set about it. If you don’t use biodegradable toilet paper, then it’s best to burn the paper, and cover the lot up with sand or dirt when you’re done. Or, if you’re feeling brave, take your used paper away with you.
Simple is best when it comes to whipping up tucker around a campfire: nothing beats a barbecue and some marshmallows, not least because they’re relatively easy to prepare. If you’re a little more adventurous than us and want to cook proper meals (heaven forbid), it’s still worth keeping it simple for sanity’s sake (and so you don’t have to pack your entire collection of herbs and seasonings). No matter what you cook, we can’t stress the importance of food safety enough: charcoals must be glowing red and have a dusty white surface before you start cooking, otherwise the meat could end up being black on the outside but raw on the inside. Move the meat around the grill and turn it regularly so that it’s cooked evenly throughout, and serve only once it’s steaming hot in the centre and the juices run clear – then it’s buns at the ready.
Use existing tracks where possible, keep music and noise to a minimum, leave the campsite clean and take all your rubbish with you, including cigarette butts. Never use detergent or soap of any kind in a water source, bury toilet waste and don’t cut living trees for firewood. Seeing as summer is only just drawing to a close, there’s a good chance that trees which appear to be dead aren’t. Bring your own firewood where at all possible. This can generally be bought cheaply from locals and small stores. Leave No Trace, an American system for camping and trekking, is based on the principle that your camping spot should look exactly the same as you found it after you leave. Paul Oliver from Absolute Adventure (www.adventure.ae) summarises:
Know before you go: Be prepared, take the right gear, check the weather forecast, have the right clothing. Know about where you’re going.
Choose the right path: Stay on a proper trail; don’t create a new path if you don’t have to. If you’ve got to have a toilet spot, it’s important to have it at least 100m from a water source.
Trash your trash: Take everything out with you that you brought in, including toilet paper if possible.
Leave what you find: Take photographs and memories with you, but nothing else. Even shells should be left behind so that they can be enjoyed by the next camper.
Be careful with fire: If you have to make a fire, make a fire ring (a ring of stones which keeps the fire contained). Every time you build a fire it damages the soil underneath, so try to find a place that’s been used for a fire before rather than virgin ground.
Respect wildlife: Observe animals but don’t approach them, feed them, follow them or chase them.
Be kind to others: Respect every other person in the area – people cycling, trekking or on horseback, or, of course, fellow campers. Don’t make noise that is going to disturb people who are there for a wilderness experience.
So, you’re tempted to give the whole camping malarkey a whirl – you can see why tots to teens will love the experience. But what if your nipper is still a babe in arms? Alice Osborn, mum to Keira (two) and Gemma (seven months) says camping with bambino is a breeze – provided you’re prepared. ‘One thing to remember is not to go when it’s too hot. The tents can get quite sticky and that can be dangerous for a baby who can’t yet regulate her body temperature.
We took Keira when she was crawling, about seven months old. We just made sure we had a travel cot that fit in our tent, and a ground mat for outside so she could play happily without falling foul of those prickly things you can get in the sand. We also had a little camping chair for her to sit in while we fed her. Even if you’re bottle feeding you just need to make sure you take plenty of water and a big pot for sterilising on your camping stove. I probably wouldn’t take a brand-new bub, but once they’re one or two months old, there’s no issue.’
Don’t forget your bits for bambino. We’d be lost without muslin wraps at the best of times, but they come into their own on camping trips where they can double as dust sheets, bibs, something to keep the insects off etc.
We love this sturdy diaper bag in functional canvas which, apart from space aplenty for all essentials, is robust enough for the great outdoors.
Aiden & Anais’ zoo animal muslin wraps Dhs199, Gaia&Ko diaper bag, Dhs499, both from www.babysouk.com.