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Family Camping 101

Family Camping 101

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Updated on Mar 6, 2009

Whether you’re a wilderness guide or an urban cowboy, the thought of taking your kids camping may give you pause. On the one hand, eating s’mores under the stars is a time-honored tradition. On the other hand, who’s going to haul all that gear, and can Junior really survive a weekend without a cell phone, portable dvd player and ipod charger?

Relax. “The days of packing up the car and driving for ten hours out to a primitive campsite are in some ways long gone,” says John Lofthus, Director of the Family Vacation Center at the University of California Santa Barbara. “Yes, you can still have that true wilderness experience, but many families, especially those with young children, are opting for a ‘luxury’ camping experience.”

Now, whether spending the night in a cabin outfitted with electricity, plumbing, and a jacuzzi really counts as camping is debatable. What isn’t is that these days there’s no excuse to stay home – there are options to keep everyone happy. From lodges that rent cabins to national parks that rent “tent cabins” and rv sites, there are plenty of family-friendly choices that come with running water. Of course, for the hard-core camper, nothing but a tent in the woods will do, but driving up to the site will make it easier to lug the inevitable kid stuff. Ready to do some real hiking? Make sure to stay on the trails and tell someone where you’re going.

Lofthus suggests families bring the following: a first aid kit, cell phone, clothes for all weather, food, flashlights, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, sunscreen and insect repellant. If you’re hiking, you’ll want a trail map, canteen, compass and matches. Don’t forget either bottled water, water purification tablets or a handheld water filter; the last thing you want in the backcountry is a nasty intestinal illness. Be familiar with local dangers and how to handle them. Wear long pants and high boots to ward off ticks and know what poison ivy and poison oak look like. If you’re hiking in bear country, attach a bell to your knapsack so they’ll have time to leave before you make your grand entrance.

Is that cabin with electricity sounding good? Camping out is harder than hitting the local hotel, but it offers benefits manmade getaways can’t. Lofthus says, “Kids walk away with the following: a better sense of their environment, increased self-confidence, (and) greater independence (kids are able to have a level of independence and freedom that they aren’t able to have in the urban areas).”

So, grab a book of ghost stories, a bag of marshmallows and your sleeping bag, and get ready to camp – even if you don’t go farther than your backyard.

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