It was pouring rain when we set off for the campground just south of Carlisle on the Appalachian Trail last Friday. I’ve always been a look-on-the-bright-side kinda gal and my husband had a cooler full of his favorite beverages, so we loaded the kids up and waved goodbye to the farmstead for a weekend away. Kids don’t mind rain, so when we arrived we turned them loose to explore their new digs, rigged up a shelter with our clothesline, some tarps and the plentiful trees, and opened the cooler. Later when the rain had stopped and the kids had successfully laid claim to the bamboo patch, rock pile, and poison ivy that festooned our site, we set up our tents. Tent camping is definitely an affordable kid-friendly organic activity. We make an annual event out of our camping trip with several other families. We get better at it each year, forgetting fewer things and discovering more ways to entertain ourselves. I’ll pass along some of the things that work for us, but as I said, our annual camping adventure is a work in progress.
Finding other families to camp with is definitely worth it. We split the grocery list, cooking duties, and clean up and there are always plenty of parents available to ride herd on the herd of kids we always have. This year we brought a few extra kids and were easily out-numbered. One of the things I love best about camping is watching the kids create their fun. Set a bunch of kids loose in the woods and they will be entertained for days. I didn’t hear an “I’m bored” once and no one begged me for screen time.
We learned one lesson about dividing the grocery list this year. A few days before departure, the other moms and I got together and created the menu and divvied up the grocery list. We didn’t feel the need for a master list of who was bringing what and didn’t worry about it until Friday night’s dinner. Several families were not so keen on setting up in the rain, so there were only a few of us there at Friday’s campfire when we discovered that we did have the hot dogs, but we didn’t have the buns or the ketchup. We had the pasta salad, but nary a utensil to eat it with. Not to worry, we ate our dogs naked, our pasta salad with a couple communal spoons or fingers and feasted on the s’mores. Note to selves: next year only the die-hards can bring Friday’s meal.
When you camp with a bunch of families, it’s pretty critical that these families be relatively like-minded. We never have an agenda, just a vague idea of what we might do. That usually includes some geocaching (a fabulous kid friendly organic idea I need to blog about soon) and a wiffle ball game. Throw in some hiking and swimming and lots of sitting around the campfire chilling out and our weekend is full. We are blessed with friends who think this is a great way to spend a weekend. So we look for campgrounds that are a little out of the way and quiet. If you camp with other families, I’d suggest you discuss expectations before you leave so that no one is frustrated when it doesn’t play out the way they want it too.
We choose campsites that are about an hour’s drive away. We don’t want to spend the better part of our weekend just getting there and back. Plus, that’s about the limit to the time my children can spend in such close proximity to each other without someone getting hurt or mommy losing her mind.
Here’s a few more tips for Kid-Friendly Organic Camping:
1. Create a “camping box” that can be used for each trip. Fill it with the necessities that you are most likely to forget and the items that you use solely for camping so that you don’t have to track them down each time. Our big plastic bin for camping trips includes:
Lots of rope (for clothes line, securing tents and temporary shelters, and tying up unruly children - kidding)
Flashlights – lots of them (remove the batteries if they’re going to sit for a long time so they don’t leak)
Shovel (if you’re in to primitive camping and have to dig a latrine)
Toilet Paper (also for primitive camping and just in case no one wants to walk you to the bath house at 2am)
Pans just for cooking on fires
Spatula for same purpose
Utensils, cups, plates (even if you’re planning on using disposable products, you just never know when someone won't show up)
Fat wood/fire starters
Waterproof matches and/or lighter
Oven mitts (several)
Playing cards (in case of rain)
Ear plugs (in case you have noisy neighbors or barking dogs)
Camping journal (of trips past and things to remember next time)
2. Keep a list in your camping box of things you want to be sure not to forget. Add the things you forget to the list before you pack the box up after each camping trip. This has been a life saver. We always think of things we will bring next time, but by “next time” we’ve forgotten. The list reminds us. This year I added: recycling box, ear plugs, and extra garbage bags)
3. Buy safety marshmallow sticks. These are the greatest invention since sliced bread. Truly. They fork back on themselves so there are no sharp, pointy metal ends. We still end up screaming at children to keep the flaming marshmallow away from other campers, but at least we don’t have to worry about anyone taking another’s eye out. We bought ours at Plow and Hearth.
4. Bring plenty of firewood. We fill our car-top carrier and another family with a pick-up brings plenty also. Firewood at campgrounds is pretty pricey – just like food at amusement parks. Most campgrounds don’t appreciate you scrounging their woods for campfire wood and many are already picked clean anyway.
5. Some great things to include on a menu –
marinated chicken - pack it in freezer bags already marinated. We like honey mustard dressing and Montreal Chicken Seasoning.
corn on the cob - we soak our corn in the husk for 30 minutes and then cook it in the fire
breakfast scramble - bacon, homefries, eggs, and cheese, cooked in that order in one skillet all together– ridiculously yummy. I like to throw in sautéed onions and peppers too.
s’mores - get beyond plain chocolate and try Reeses cups, caramello bars, anything you like. Try a chocolate graham cracker with a marshmallow and cookies n cream white chocolate bar. Or use chocolate chip cookies instead of graham crackers. The possibilities are endless!
6. Bring lots of extra towels and tarps – you can never have enough. If it’s humid the towels don’t dry fast enough and if it rains, you’ll need them to dry everything off. Tarps under and in front of a tent are mandatory and they come in handy when you need extra shelter from rain or sun.
7. Take LOTS of fruit and veggies for snacks. Camping makes children extremely hungry and having fruit available keeps them from breaking in to the s’mores fixins. Pack it in Tupperware containers and leave it sitting out so little people can sneak some whenever they need to.
8. Bring poison ivy soap, Caledryl lotion, hydrocortisone cream, Benedryl cream and medicine, sun screen, Tylenol, and bug repellent.
One item that is critical for an enjoyable outing in the woods is insect repellent. This year I searched for an option beyond Deep Woods Off and its chemical nastiness. I tried out a recipe for homemade insect repellent and even convinced a few fellow campers to give it a go. This insect repellent was easy to make once I procured the ingredients.
The repellent itself smelled very nice and was actually good for our skin. I had a few scraps on my arms from an encounter with a pine tree while mowing this past week and the tea tree oil and aloe vera juice in the recipe healed them up nicely. So those are a few nice side effects of the repellent.
As far as actually repelling insects, it seemed to work fine for about 30 minutes and then needed to be reapplied. I used it at the campsite and while hiking. I sprayed it on my kids, who didn’t complain of any bites, but then again, they are generally moving too fast for anything to bite them. I took a lot of grief from my husband and a few other campers once it was discovered that the key ingredient in the repellent is vodka. Still, I recommend it over the toxic options out there. I’ll continue to test it on my morning runs and my horseback rides. There isn’t much that deters deer flies so that will be the true test.
There are lots of options included in the recipe that allow you to target exactly what you’re trying to deter. I found this recipe on the blog Little House in the Suburbs.
Homemade Insect Spray
1 cup vodka
2 Tablespoons aloe vera juice
2 teaspoons favorite conditioning liquid oil (soybean, castor, olive, etc.)
1 1/2/ teaspoon essential oil blend
Lavender Oil – mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, fleas, flies
Lemongrass Oil – mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, fleas, flies
Peppermint Oil – lice, spiders, ants
Rosemary Oil – fleas, ticks
Tea Tree Oil – mosquitoes, lice, ants
Eucalyptus Oil – mosquitoes
Citronella Oil – mosquitoes
I used tea tree oil, because I like the smell and because mosquitoes were my main foes, repelling ants seemed like a bonus. Hopefully, there were no lice around to deter.
I put my concoction in a used salad dressing sprayer and a small spray bottle I found amongst the travel size toiletries at the dollar store. Both containers worked nicely. Be sure to shake before using.