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We've pulled together tips and tricks from Mumsnetters who have done the hard yards when it comes to putting up a tent and surviving a holiday with family in close quarters. So, take note, and good luck!
Consider your campsite
First things first, make sure you pick the right spot to pitch your tent. Free camping on a beach seems like a great idea when you're watching the sun set over the ocean with a glass of wine, but will it be as lovely when you realise there's no running water and the iPad has run out of battery? Whether your site has its own café or you have to pay extra for a larger tent, consider what utilities you need and double check whether your chosen site can accommodate for them. Take a look at this list of Mumsnetter favourite UK campsites to get your started.
What Mumsnetters say
"I love camping and I don't need electricity, but I do need a good toilet and shower block otherwise I'm miserable! We tend to go to caravan club sites."
"Does the site have a washing up sink? You might need to bring a washing up bowl, some liquid and a sponge."
One of the reasons camping can put the fear of God into people is because of the level of preparation and equipment it requires – forget a tent pole or cooking utensils and suddenly things can end up looking a lot less fun and more “Why didn't we book those flights to Mallorca?”
But if you do remember the essentials, there's nothing stopping you and your family from enjoying a holiday to remember for all of the right reasons. Here's how to get it right:
Choosing your tent
For some people being able to stand up in their tent is important, while others opt for an extra sleeping compartment to use as a 'storage room' – or maybe you want both. Whatever your preference, shop around to find the right fit for you.
What Mumsnetters say
"Vango are usually very good value for money and should stay standing if the weather gets rough. My preference is something I can sit in, on a chair, but I don't need to be able to stand up."
"I think it's better to have a tent you can stand in. Go Outdoors is good as you get to see lots of tents together to get an accurate feel."
"If you go for three sleeping areas that gives you the option of a storage room, so you can keep your living space and sleeping areas clutter free. You can zip it up to the top so your children can't get in and find the sharp knives, matches etc."
"Give yourself enough space so that the kids can be entertained in the event of rain. Ours has a living area big enough that the table can be set up for board games or colouring, but everyone else can still easily move around."
Don't forget: tent pegs, poles and a mallet, if required.
Keeping your tent clean
You wouldn't stand for mud and dirt being trampled through your home, so why not extend the same courtesy to your tent? Here are some top tips to help keep your nylon living quarters in check throughout your holiday:
- Keep dirty shoes outside - Ikea bags have many uses: they can hold dry clothes and a towel while you shower, and they're strong and roomy enough to carry any bits and pieces you want to bring back. But they also make excellent shoe bags. Leave one by your tent door and hide dirty shoes inside.
- Bring a dustpan and brush – it's always handy to have one of these around because, in spite of your best efforts, some dirt will still manage to find it's way in. This is camping, after all.
- Bathmat – surprisingly multi-use when it comes to camping, not only can you use them for their official purpose, they also keep your ground sheet moisture-free. Alternatively, use a cheap one as an ultra-absorbent doormat that can be chucked in the washing machine when you get home.
- Flexi buckets – not only are they great for carrying toys, washing up, wet clothes and anything else that springs to mind, they also double up as a handy baby bath or washing up bowl. These collapsible buckets are handy and, crucially, won't take up much boot-space.
What Mumsnetters say:
"A doormat inside and outside the tent cuts down on wet and muddy footprints inside."
Foam mats or air beds?
You can pick up really cheap foam mats from places like Aldi. They're warmer and softer than sleeping on a ground sheet, and they can be used for outdoor seating, too. Better yet, why not try a thermal self-inflating mat if you're really pushing the boat out?
If you opt for an airbed, try to spring for slightly higher quality. Cheap ones can leak air as you sleep, and you can find yourself with a bad neck and stuck in the middle after it has sunk.
What Mumsnetters say:
"A double self-inflating mat was DH and mine's best buy. Get slightly better quality for the adults if you can – you're heavier and will notice the difference more."
Forget tripping over guy ropes at night. From lanterns to fairy lights (easy to hang across the tent), make sure you're not left sitting in the dark with a couple of iphone torches and nothing else. If you really want to impress your kids, glow sticks work a treat as well – they're easy to carry and can be hung up as night lights too, or attached around guy ropes to help you find your tent.
What Mumsnetters say:
"We just use fairy lights – if you go non-EHU you will want effective battery ones, and Ikea have some great cheap ones, too."
Top tip: fix a head torch to a water bottle with the light facing in. There you have it – an instant camping lantern.
Here are the other bits and bobs you'll need to remember if you're planning on cooking:
- It goes without saying that cooking utensils and cutlery will come in handy.
- For a sit down meal, a table with fold-out benches is better than camping chairs and a table. Camping chairs are very low and you can find yourself with your elbows up by your ears.
- A portable or disposable barbecue (if the site allows them) is an excellent option if you're only cooking a few meals and feel a burner would be unnecessary.
- Remember to pack your food into boxes that seal to avoid unwelcome visitors.
Other camping equipment you can't afford to forget:
- Swiss army knife
- Wet wipes – these ones are biodegradable
- Water carrier (5l bottle from a supermarket should be fine)
- Small first aid kit
- Gaffer tape
- Plenty of layers
- Ear plugs and sleeping mask – the great outdoors cares as much for your lie in as your child does
- Bin bags
- Hand sanitiser
- Insect repellent candles
- Toilet roll
Now you've got all of the basics down, there's nothing like a few home comforts and luxury extras to really get the party started.
- Wine ice block – buy a box of wine and take the metallic bag of wine out of its box. Freeze the bag for about two days – et voila! An ice block and chilled wine for the weekend.
- Hammam towels – Hammams are clever cotton sheets you can use for all kinds of things – sarong, towel, mat…
- Pillow cases – pack the childrens' clothes in pillow cases – it'll be so much easier to identify whose is whose without rummaging through bags.
- Duvets and blankets – there's no shame in bringing a duvet. You're already in the tent, you've got nothing else to prove – don't be a hero. You might also want to pack multiple fleece blankets and even a hot water bottle, if you feel the cold.