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Happy campers need waterproof tents and yummy meals. Here are tips for the family of rookie campers on surviving a weekend in the great outdoors.

Read more about the joys of camping here

Under canvas

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When choosing a family tent, opt for either a cabin-style or a dome-style model. Cabin-style tents offer easy access and the vertical walls create bigger living spaces. Some cabin-style tents have extra awnings, which can be used as “room dividers”. Dome-style tents tend to be sturdier in windy and stormy weather, but the rounded walls do reduce the living area inside. That said, your tent is essentially for sleeping in and hiding from unexpected bad weather. Happy campers need water-proof beds!
In the know
Tent capacity is based on how many sleeping bags fit the tent’s floor space, with no provision for storage. It’s thus a good idea to select a tent that can sleep two more people than the size of your family. Practise pitching your tent before you leave for your destination; and plan to arrive well before sunset – you’ll want to choose the best spot, set everything up and be done before it’s time for sundowners. If you don’t like waking up at sparrow’s, pitch your tent so it’s in the shade at sunrise. Older children will love helping to put up the tent, but toddlers may need to be kept busy – so have toys and activities somewhere close at hand.

Sleeping on air

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Mattresses are essential for a good night’s sleep. The roll-up variety will do fine but a blow-up mattress is a lot more comfortable. Some mattresses self-inflate, for others you’ll need a pump. Consider the time of year and the area’s climate to determine the appropriate weight for sleeping bags. Pack a couple of blankets and don’t forget the pillows.

In the know

Before pitching your tent, make sure the ground is free of sharp objects. Thorns can damage the under surface of your tent and work their way up into your mattress. Sweep the inside of the tent before you insert the mattresses. Pitching your tent on a groundsheet will also help.

What’s on the menu?

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Invest in separate containers (plastic crates with handles work really well) for kitchenware, non-perishable food, toys, swimming gear, bedding, the tent, one for Dad’s toys (such as chargers, braai equipment, torches and the like) and a separate one for the cameras, binoculars and other valuables. Never leave home without your first-aid kit. The best way to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything is to create a standard checklist for your travelling first-aid kit.

For kitchenware, your checklist might look something like this:

  • coffee mugs and glasses
  • plates and cereal bowls
  • spoons (big and small)
  • forks
  • knives (steak, bread, cutting, spreading)
  • pan and kettle
  • fire-proof pot
  • chopping board
  • corkscrew
  • paper towels
  • refuse bags
  • pot holder or oven glove
  • food preparation tools (tongs, spatula, can opener, potato peeler, mixing bowl)
  • cleaning tools (scourer, dish cloth, drying rack, washing-up liquid, wet wipes)
  • tin foil

Good non-perishable foods to have as standard in your camp “pantry”:

  • salt and pepper
  • herbs and spices
  • coffee, tea, sugar and hot chocolate
  • cooking oil
  • condiments (chutney, tomato sauce)
  • snacks (rusks, crisps)
  • spreads (peanut butter, jam, Marmite)
  • cereals
  • starch (rice, pasta)
Work out a rough menu before you leave and make sure you pack the necessary ingredients. Keep recipes simple. You might like to invest in a portable gas cylinder plus ring burner. It’s easier for preparing simple breakfast dishes, boiling the kettle and for making side dishes.
Store perishable foods in a cool box or camp refrigerator. Pre-frozen ice packs or gel packs are a winner for keeping food cool for a few days. Remember to keep your cool box in the shade, drain it of excess water regularly and don’t open and close it unnecessarily.
Find easy camp food recipes here.

In the know
When packing your vehicle, think of what you’re going to need first, and pack this last. Pitching a tent on a hot day can make you thirsty, so make sure Dad’s ice cold beer and some cold drinks are within easy reach.

Light up your life

Ready steady
Ideally, you’ll have just the moon and stars to light up the site but this means you’ll need your own lighting. Choose the option that works best for you:
  • Headlamps – perfect for tasks that require two hands and for children that need all their limbs free to have a good time.
  • Torches – they’re good for trips to the loo and night-time bug hunts.
  • Candle lanterns – they’re cheap and eco-friendly, but must be kept off the ground and out of the tent.
  • Solar-powered and rechargeable lanterns – a sometimes bulky but good eco-friendly option.
  • Battery-powered lanterns – these can be used inside the tent, but chew batteries.
  • Gas-powered lanterns – especially useful for lighting up a large area but should not be carried around or used inside the tent.

Don’t forget to pack the batteries!

In the know
The campfire is still your best friend: you can cook on it, spend time as a family around it and, when the children are asleep, dream a little dream with the fire as your companion. Remember to put in matches or a lighter, charcoal or briquettes, firelighters and wood. Most campsites sell wood; so don’t go felling your own tree. Some sites allow the gathering of dead wood on their premises. Safety is of utmost importance and children should be supervised at all times once that fire is lit.

Dressed for adventure

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Pack only the clothing you’ll need, making sure everyone has something warm and windproof. For summer, bathing suits, sunhats and sun block are a must. Pack shorts and loose-fitting long pants for hiking. Don’t forget socks and hiking boots or walking shoes. Tracksuit pants and sweatshirts with hoods are great for cooler evenings. Remember raincoats and towels – one for swimming and one for bathroom use. Only take the basic toiletries but pack sufficient toilet paper and insect repellent.

In the know

It’s sometimes wise to take a pair of slip-slops for each camper to wear to the ablution facilities.

Child’s play

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Camping with children is great fun. It’s an opportunity for you to see the natural world through their eyes. Camping with a baby is not impossible, but it will need some planning. You may want to take cooled boiled water from home to use for bottles; and remember to put in sterilising liquid or tablets and a container to use for sterilising. You can use one of your crates as a baby bath. A baby carrier or rucksack can be a big help; a stroll in nature is the perfect way to calm an unhappy baby. Toddlers are always on the go so make sure there is enough for them to do and always keep an eye on them. Teenagers can cry boredom quickly, but if you involve them in planning the trip and put them in charge of certain “departments” of the camp site, they should be fine. Stock the children’s toy crate with bats and balls, water toys, board games, cards and disposable cameras.

In the know

Become a child again. Explore with them. Braai marshmallows. Tell not-too-scary ghost stories. Play rounders or cricket, throw a Frisbee, or go on a treasure hunt – and let them get dirty.

Child Magazine