Camping for Two Weeks Without Killing Your Family

I love camping. I love playing in the mountains, exploring, seeing new country, and doing activities that toughen myself and my children. With six kids, spending time in the outdoors can be a challenge. Whining, filthy little brats tax your patience, and yet spending the quality time is a great way to see them learn and grow.

I say two weeks, as that is about as much time as I have done. However, several years ago, my brother lived with his family at our 5 acre campground, without power, running water, or cell phone coverage for about 7 months. During that time, I saw a dramatic character improvement in his three kids. They built zip lines, panned for gold, built a cabin, rope swings, and cleaned up the camp. The boys went from typical suburbanite video gamers, to some really cool kids. The girl developed cooking and crafting skills. All of them became more personable.

Sleep Well

Nothing ruins a camping trip faster than a cold, sleepless night because you bought the cheap Walmart sleeping bag on the thought that you don’t go very often so why spend the money? What happens is, if you don’t get a decent sleeping bag, you will dread camping and you will not use it. Get a decent $60 sleeping bag and an inflatable mattress. At the moment, we have 14 sleeping bags for the eight of us, some are older, but all are decent quality. If your kids don’t sleep well, you don’t sleep well.

As for me and the missus, we have a queen sized inflatable mattress, two good quality identical rectangular sleeping bags (they can zip together if they are identical), and a tent for privacy. The boys get a tent, the girls get another. We put the baby in a foldable playpen with heavy sleeping clothes. The kids don’t need an inflatable mattress, but a foam ground pad will help in colder climates.

Everyone Has a Responsibility

As the dad, you will be tempted to run the show with all chores. If you do so, you will become a servant, rather than the leader and teacher. Make sure all capable kids are doing their part, even if it takes them twice as long. We go out one several short weekend trips throughout the year, and the kids can set up their tents, clean up camp, collect firewood, or whatever. If it is simple food like hot dogs or oatmeal, they can do that too.

Hygiene and Laundry

If you are going for an extended trip, hygiene is vital. Not showering for a couple days at home is one thing, when you are in the dirt, sweating, or sitting over a campfire, the need to get yourself clean takes on a whole new meaning. Have a hygiene bag and clean yourself up daily if possible, not to exceed every three days.

Laundry is a huge part of it, especially with the kiddos. They love to play in the dirt, get chili down their shirt, or whatever. If they are kicking off their shoes and going around like that, take the shoes away and keep them stashed and available for when you are going in public. I don’t know how many hours we have spent looking for shoes.

KISS

Keep it simple stupid. Many fall into the trap of getting the latest and greatest gadgets for everything. No, you don’t need a campfire heated popcorn or a wind up radio/walkie talkie/flashlight/corkscrew/generator. The modern comforts are nice, but they are one more thing to haul, one more thing to worry about getting broken, one more thing to set up. Often, we will crash on the side of a lone highway with no more than a bed roll after getting a sub sandwich at the last grocery store.

Relax and Enjoy It

Camping is a great way to allow kids to be kids. They are naturally curious and will explore and try out new things, so long as you confiscate all electronics. Let them have fun, let them get hurt a little. So long as they are not annoying the neighbors, or doing something life threatening, they are going to learn new boundaries. Meanwhile, you can relax with your wife by the campfire.

Push Them a Little

Best thing about camping is to be in a place that you can explore new territory. A simple creek can offer new sights and wonders to behold. I try to avoid the popular sites where thousands come to take their picture and move on. Instead, get off the beaten path, and look for smaller features that offer more isolation.

Although more intense, I love backpacking with my kids. Every year, we will go to some lake, some canyon, or some mountain peak that pushes them. It helps them see their capability, and helps them improve their self confidence.

Explore

Near Zion National Park in southern Utah, is this place called Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. Unknown by most everyone except the local residents, I thought this offered more opportunities to hike around and explore than the main attraction where you are confined to the parking lots and crowded hikes where you go, take your picture and drive on.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Often, the unnamed logging roads, the canyons that are overlooked, and the vast expanse of National Forest or BLM land offers more opportunity to see what you want, that is a growth in your kid’s character.

Often, we are tempted to plan out our trip to the point that there is little room for freedom. Part of the fun of camping trips is doing unplanned activities because something looks fun.

Spontaneity

Last year, we stopped at the rim of Glenn Canyon at this overlook. I walked up there, and noticed this sandy bank about 4 feet below the edge, out of the view of my family. I told them to take my picture. As my wife had the camera, I backed up and pretended to trip off what they thought was a 1000 foot drop. The screams were hilarious.

Another time, we were driving on this lone highway in northern Idaho. We stopped at this out-house to have lunch at. My son who was about 10 at the time was in the outhouse taking care of business. I threw in a pack of lit firecrackers while he was on the pot. He comes out all mad. The funny thing was, it wasn’t 2 minutes later that some maintenance worker drives up to clean up the site. He opens up the door and all this black powder smoke rolls out, he looks directly at me and says “looks like somebody was playing with fireworks”. I love being a turd.

Conclusion

While tiring, and often expensive, family camping is often one of the funner activities you can do. It offers many real life experiences to your kids and helps you grow closer together as a family. Plus, you sleep well when you get home.

Author: Jim Johnson

As a man in his early 40's, I grew up on a dairy farm in an irreligious home. Disgusted with the choice of women out there, I looked into religion to find a worthwhile mate. At 23, I joined the LDS (Mormon) faith, married, became a civil engineer, and now have six children. My favorite things are puppies, long walks on the beach, and the color blue (not really).

  • nefarious_saint

    First, bitches!

  • Jim Johnson

    This has to be the best article I read all week.

  • The Champion

    I’m half expecting a Blair Witch Project style video from you, Mr. Johnson.

    Personally, I’d sleep much better when I don’t have to worry about insects crawling into my ears or wild beasts eating me in my sleep.

    • nefarious_saint

      Or insects crawling in your mouth, ears and butt.

    • Jim Johnson

      Maybe it is just me, but it is a rare occasion that I have a scary experience camping. Once a friend and crashed out in the meadow without a tent, and woke up to a cougar about 20 feet from us. The only thing I had was an axe, my friend didn’t have anything. Since then, I got a 44 magnum revolver to keep the critters at bay.

      • The Champion

        I had no idea cougars were into camping too. Nothing scarier than waking up and seeing one that close. If I were you, I’d take a fully automatic shotgun…

        • bem

          and then the cougars bring guns….shit escalates….where does it end, WHERE DOES IT END?!?!?!?!

          • The Champion

            Who cares where it ends? This wouldn’t even happen if you don’t go camping in the first place!

            But to be honest, I don’t think ugly old hags have the stones to bring guns.

          • bem

            My mom kept a .38 under the pillow…..

          • The Champion

            Proof that your mom isn’t a cougar.

          • dckhead_con_artist

            It’s been years since I’ve heard a good mom joke

          • bem

            “yo momma so fat”…………..she cut herself shaving and gravy came out

          • dckhead_con_artist

            or the standard comeback to every dig.. “your mom!”

          • bem

            a classic!

        • GhostOfJefferson ✓ᴺᵃᵗᶦᵒᶰᵃˡᶦˢᵗ

          A fully automatic shotgun!?! Heh. Intend on destroying all living things in a 100 yard radius are you? heh

          A .44 mag works great and is much more portable.

          • The Champion

            No, man. There is nothing worse than camping alone at night and waking up to find wrinkly hag who has a thing for handsome, vulnerable men sitting right next to you.

          • GhostOfJefferson ✓ᴺᵃᵗᶦᵒᶰᵃˡᶦˢᵗ

            This situation can usually be avoided by not bringing alcohol on the trip. They’re attracted to it naturally and of course once you have a few belts of Scotch into you, your defenses weaken.

        • dckhead_con_artist

          Carrie Bradshaw looks much better in the dark.

    • Honey Badger

      Just remember that those wild beasts are more afraid of you than you are of them.

      That might not be very good wisdom though because they’ll still kill and eat you just because.

  • dckhead_con_artist

    I forsee the birth of a Neo Branch Davidian compound. AR-15 platforms are cheap these days.

  • Honey Badger

    Going camping with six kids for two weeks? Good lord, man. I have a hard enough time figuring out how I’d get by for that long by myself.

    • bem

      This is phd level Dad shit.

    • Jim Johnson

      It isn’t like you are stranded on a desert island. You get 4-5 changes of clothes and the gear you need (we fit it all in a van) and you go. If you are hungry, you make food and eat, If you need to do laundry, you do it. If you need to wash up, there is water.

      • GhostOfJefferson ✓ᴺᵃᵗᶦᵒᶰᵃˡᶦˢᵗ

        Wait…no Ginger and Mary Ann?

        I’m OUT!

      • Honey Badger

        It just seems like you’d need a lot of patience to make sure everything you need to get done is getting done. My hat is off to you though, sir!

  • bem

    Excellent primer for the uninitiated.
    I’ve been “Opting into Homelessness (as a cynical friend puts it)” since I was about 6 years old and it remains my go-to vacation activity.
    The minimalist nature appeals to me as a source of relaxation, and the last thing I want is to be served or entertained.

    Until it rains – then you’ll find my soggy ass in the nearest diner these days.

  • Good stuff.
    Of course, I read the title and first thought: Miss?
    But in seriousness maybe take some bug spray/killer/repellent along?

    • Jim Johnson

      I didn’t feel the need for a packing list, but yeah if you are in a buggy area.