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3 Valuable Lessons to Take Your Family Camping to the Next Level

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Feb 2016; updated May 2023.

Learn from 3 valuable lessons we learnt that took our family camping to the next level.

It's no secret.

We. Love. Camping.

We camp all seasons, in all parts of the country.

However, it wasn't always like this. We had to learn some valuable lessons first.

I want to share these lessons with you today, so you can also take your camping to the next level.

How our camping story began...

In the early 2000s, we started family camping, which was very different from how Shell and I camped in our youth.

We began camping with just a small tent without all the knowledge and info you can get today from the Internet.

The problem: It's usually wet in Britain!

Can you camp in the wet

Can you camp in the wet

I bet this is a story familiar to you. It's glorious weather all week, but the heavens open when you get to the weekend.

as soon as you've pitched the tent, the heavens open

For tent campers, this goes slightly differently. It's glorious weather all week and on the way to the campsite, but as soon as you've pitched the tent, the heavens open.

How do you entertain the kids? Zip up the tent, open a pack of 'snap' cards, and hope for the best?

Nope. They're soon bored.

where to put wet clothes when camping

where to put wet clothes when camping

OK. Let's get on coats and welly boots and go for a walk.

That works for a bit, but then you return to your tent.

Oh no! Where do you put all the wet gear? In the corner of your tent? Oops, the water has now run onto the sleeping bags! Oh, and the wet clothes have caused lots of condensation in the tent, which is also dripping onto the beds!!


Camping Lesson Number 1: Keeping Dry

Using a tent porch

Using a tent porch

We bought a porch extension for one of our first tents, which was a godsend.

It meant we had somewhere to leave all the wet gear keeping the inside of the tent nice and dry.

It was also big enough for our kitchen unit.

You shouldn't cook inside your tent, which makes things difficult when it's raining. Fortunately, this porch solved that problem.

On one wet camping trip, a group of families turned up. They all pitched their tents and then built an old army field kitchen. They cooked, sat, ate, and played in there. They even had a stove to keep themselves warm.

Now, a field kitchen is too big for the average family, but you can create something similar, and that's what we did.

All you need is a rather inexpensive camping tarp.

use a camping tarp

Using a tarp

With a tarp, you can create a good-sized outdoor living area. We set up our camp kitchen under one.

We also keep a very basic tarp with our camping trailer, which is big enough to cover both it and the boot of the car.

When it's wet, we can pack and unpack in the dry!

keeping things dry when packing away

keeping things dry when packing away

We booked a camping holiday in North Devon in August a year later. It should have been beautiful sunshine. But no. No one had told the weather it was summer.

it was windy, cold, and very, very wet.

Instead, it was windy, cold, and very, very wet.

Many campers had a frustrating time, zipped up in their tents, trying to entertain their kids.

We were the exception. We had a tarp. We could stay dry. We could dry clothes. We could cook. We even had a campfire.

So, an essential bit of kit I recommend to all campers is to get a tarp.

More info on how to stay dry when camping

The Problem: It gets cold.

keeping warm when camping

keeping warm when camping

Just like the wet weather, we get cold weather too.

However, even if it's not too cold when you go to bed, you can wake up in the night freezing.

Here's why...

Camping Lesson Number 2: Keeping Warm

Don't get lulled into buying the first cheap sleeping bag you see. You'll most likely get cold unless you keep your camping to hot late summer nights (which means a lot of trust in the British weather).

A good sleeping bag should have a temperature rating. For example, a Snugpak sleeping bag I've just tested has a 'comfort rating' down to -7C.

Alternatively, a sleeping bag may be categorised into seasons. A 1-season bag is ideal for very warm summer nights (or kids' sleepovers in their friend's bedrooms); a 4-season sleeping bag is perfect for most UK winters.

Get good sleeping bags

Get good sleeping bags

The problem is that many good buys you may find in non-camping shops is that the sleeping bags tend only to be 1-season.

What's worse, there are not many kids sleeping bags made for the colder temperatures.

So, what do you do to keep your family warm?

a blanket on top is not the answer

A blanket on top is not the answer

If you get cold at home at night, you may throw an extra blanket on top of the bed.

While this works at home, it won't work well when camping. You will still get cold.

Why? Because you are sleeping on the ground, the ground will slowly suck the warmth out of your body.

You need a good layer of insulation between you and the ground.

Some sleeping mats have excellent ground insulation. However, using an air bed may still get cold when camping outside in summer.

This is because the cold ground will make the air cold in the mattress, which can then make you cold, and could cause condensation to build up between the airbed and your sleeping bag!

A simple solution is to put a blanket underneath your sleeping bag.

This simple trick will make a huge difference.

1 on top 2 underneath for ground insulation

1 on top 2 underneath for ground insulation

We put a travel rug down in our tent bedrooms and always insulate under the sleeping bags whenever we go camping in the colder seasons.

A simple rule of thumb: you want two underneath for every blanket on top.

More tips on keeping warm while camping

The problem: How do you feed a family when camping

Single hob

Single hob

We made do with a single-hob camping stove for a long time. In fact, we still use it today. It's very reliable.

However, feeding a family with just one hob isn't easy.

We've also had our fill of BBQs. Burnt burgers and sausages soon get boring.

Camping Lesson Number 3: Eat Well

There're lots of interesting ways you can cook at the campsite.

We started finding campsites that allowed campfires and experimenting with a few different recipes.

Pocket Pizzas are a great favourite with kids. Here are a few fun recipes you can get the kids involved with, whether you have a campfire or a BBQ at the campsite.

Cooking bananas over the campfire

Cooking bananas over the campfire

Gooey Chocolate Bananas

Simply slit each banana down the middle, let the kids put in chocolate buttons into the slit, wrap in foil and warm through until the chocolate has melted and the banana is gooey.

Campfire Chocolate Orange Cakes

Slice the top off each orange, and scoop out the middle. Mix up a chocolate cake mix and pour into each orange. Put the top of the orange back on and wrap in foil. Heat in the embers of a campfire or BBQ.

Pocket Pizzas

Slice pita bread in each half. Get the kids to stuff with pizza sauce, cheese, and other toppings. Wrap in foil and warm over a campfire or BBQ until the cheese is melted.

You can also get creative, such as this DIY Pizza Oven we made.

But one of the big changes to how we cook is when we got a Dutch Oven.

You want heat from the top so put hot coals on the lid of your Dutch Oven

You want the heat from the top so put hot coals on the lid of your Dutch Oven

A Dutch Oven is a large cast-iron pot. You can use it to boil, stew, bake, fry, and roast. So you can cook a good variety of food.

Plus, you can use it either with a campfire or, and more commonly, with BBQ briquettes.

Crispy golden brown doughnuts

Crispy golden brown doughnuts

As soon as we could start to cook some great family meals - and involve the kids in the process where we could - our camping improved.

Eating well helps you keep warm. And of course, we cook this under our tarp that keeps us dry. And staying dry helps keep us warm.

More info on eating well when camping

Stay dry-keep warm-eat well

Happy camping in all weathers 🙂