I had never camped before I met Kevin. I grew up in Singapore, a little island city in Southeast Asia on the southern tip of the Malaysian Peninsular. The only outdoor recreation I remember was a place called Outward Bound in Pulau Ubin, an offshore island with an obstacle course and campsites you had to take a little fishing boat to get to.
A few weeks into dating Kevin, he took me on my first, time-of-my-life camping road trip in June 2010. He picked my little duffle bag and me up and we drove down Highway 395 towards Lake Tahoe. We had no campsites booked since we didn’t know how far we would get in our drive. As sunset drew closer, we decided to stop near Mount Whitney to check if they had any available campsites for us to pitch our tent. Kevin was certain we were not going to find any spots since it was the weekend and we’re at one of the most popular hiking trails in California in summer. We were lucky to find a campsite and it was number 44. My Chinese name my grandfather gave me was pronounced “44” in mandarin and Kevin’s football jersey number he picked in high school was 44 too. We had an AHA moment and of course immediately felt that we were absolutely meant for each other. I was sold on this whole camping thing.
I look forward to our camping traditions each year, usually camping several times over summer and fall. When Kyan came along, before we took him tent camping, we went on a 10 day RV camping road to Arizona in July 2012. (We also cloth diapered all 10 days! Washing once at the Zion National Park RV Resort.) He did great, since he was only 6 months' old, he nursed, slept and hiked like a champ with us in his backpack most of the time. When he turned 18 months, we took him on his 1st tent camping trip in May 2013. We camped for one night in Cave Springs, a campground in Oak Creek Canyon, AZ near Sedona. We did not know how Kyan was going to do sleeping in a tent so thought it best to be realistic with our camping goals and do one night, at a campground 30mins drive from my in-laws' house in Sedona, in case we needed an escape plan in the middle of the night.
Kyan slept restlessly through the night in Grandpa Phil’s tent. We heard him wake up and cry a couple of times. We were anxious since we didn’t like disturbing fellow campers. We made it through the night with no major meltdowns. Sometime near dawn, while we were all still fast asleep, loud yelling came from Phil’s tent and I had never seen Kevin move so fast. He jumped up and out of our sleeping bag, unzipped our tent in one swift second and dashed into Phil’s tent not forgetting to grab one of the leftover logs from our previous night’s campfire. Phil was just having a bad dream and was yelling at his predator. We thought someone was trying to abduct Kyan.
Phil shared later that night at dinner, “The only thing scarier than my nightmare was waking up to my son barging into my tent with a stick in his hand butt naked!”
After that, we went on a day hike and decided to call it a day and headed back towards civilization and a hot shower.
We started building up the nights out in nature and quite frankly, maturity and exposure did the trick. I believe children naturally love being outdoors and in nature. As Kyan grew older, he simply got more accustomed to sleeping in a tent. Tent camping just became part of what we did. We did learn a few tricks to keeping him comfortable at night. Like giving him a bigger sleeping bag because he just did not like to be confined, dressing him in layers and, or warm fleece onesies kept his toes warm when socks just won't stay on, bringing his pillow from home, his lovey blankets (and extras very important!), a spoonful of manuka honey right before bed to keep his throat moist (mountain air is dry and causes coughs, congestions and sleepless nights) and very recently, his own special flashlight that hangs from his wrist so he feels secure knowing he can see at night when it gets dark.
I now have a checklist for days leading up to our camping trip. Long or short, the things we bring are basically the same. We also have an ongoing "Camping Improvisations" list Kevin and I share on Wunderlist and always manage to add new ideas, reminders and lessons learned each trip to make the next one better.
WHAT TO PACK
- tent (we use this one and it fits us three plus our yellow lab when we had him). It's not too oversized and not too small for our needs. We had Kyan sleep in a pack-n-play in the tent with us until he was 2 and now he sleeps in his own sleeping bag. We love the size and the easy setup of and dismantling of our tent. The zippers tend to stick after a while but rubbing a little beeswax does the trick to make it glide again.
- sleeping bags; we zip two of these together to make on big sleeping bag so we can cuddle. Kyan sleeps in a single next to us.
- self-inflating sleeping pad; the one we have is probably older than I am. But it's this one except several generations back. Maybe one day we'll get one of these fancy ones.
- lovey blankies; we don't go anywhere without these
- headlamps & hats (so the headlamps stay on their little heads); or these cool beanies with LED light on it works awesome too
- poncho / raincoat
- collapsible water tank
- camping stove; we even pan fry our steak on the stove with some olive oil and garlic cloves when starting a fire takes too long
- camping cookware set; Kevin's probably had this set for a LONG time. I remember the first time I used the skillet with that detachable handle ribbon screw, I thought "wow, this is really fun." There are many other types available on the market but I think these are pretty cool too with the compact folding handles plus it's lightweight and great for backpacking trips.
- protein-rich snacks - beef jerky, cheese sticks, peanut butter & jam sandwiches, these morning buns we love - lots of them to keep the little one's protein up and belly happy
- plastic container - for all the sandwich fixings. I find myself searching for sandwich fixings each time we want to stop to make lunch. Having everything you need for a lunch sandwich in a handy box makes it so much easier than digging through the back of your truck for lose plates, utensils, jams etc.
- cooler; having two smaller ones are better than one large one we found out. Foods get lost in the big one and it's hard to dig through especially when it's late and you want to start cooking quickly
- insulated water bottles; to keep ice water cold especially during the hot summer. We've tried several different brands and this one remains Kyan's favorite.
- insect repellent spray; We try not to use any products with DEET, especially with Kyan around. So I make a blend of lavender, peppermint, citronella & tea tree essential oils to keep the mosquitoes off. They wear off after a while and needs to be reapplied. Next time before we go camping, I'm making this recipe. I've heard it works like magic. I hate mosquitoes. I also try to keep Kyan in light long sleeves tops and long pants in breathable quick-dry material if mosquitoes were swarming, even if it was sweltering hot.
- dish soap & hand soap; I love the ones from Mrs Meyer's. They cut grease and washes off clean. Plus it makes your campsite smell like a mini spa and not the strong artificial perfume smell used in most soaps.
- wet wipes & cottonelles; always handy for after meals and especially for going number 2 and trying to feel clean & fresh. Our favorite brand remains this costco brand - cost effective and no soapy, sticky after feel. This one from honest company is a close second, same great after feel, just pricier.
- paper towels & trash bags; we pack all trash up and dispose of them. Everyone does their part in maintaining a clean campground.
- utensils, spatulas for cooking
WHERE TO CAMP
National Forest service and Bureau of Land Management campgrounds range from remote and extremely primitive sites (we love!) to well-maintained facilities with live-in campground hosts. Many Forest Service campgrounds strike a good balance between comfort and rugged outdoor living, offering well-spaced sites in a pristine setting, while providing basic amenities such as purified water, picnic tables, and, sometimes, indoor plumbing. They also tend to be less pricey and less crowded than national and state park campgrounds. We also love the primitive forest and BLM (Bureau of Land Management), which are free and requires a bit of exploring and taking the road less traveled.
We've tried camping at campgrounds with more amenities especially since Kyan came along and always feel like they are crowded and noisy. Now that Kyan is older, we much prefer primitive camping because being in the woods and enjoying quiet nights and mornings is really what camping for us is about. The lack of amenities also exercises us to learn to use water consciously and appreciate the convenience of electricity and plumbing which we've come to take for granted in our modern society.
- Higher Altitudes - lesser mosquitoes makes for a much MUCH better experience.
- Flat soft grounds - watch for poison oak, poison ivy which thrives on lower altitudes.
- Near water source
- See beautiful scenery
- Explore / Book Ahead / Arrive early morning - If you know a campground is going to be busy especially during the season, booking ahead doesn't hurt, if they allow reservations. Most of the campgrounds we go to are first come first serve. so landing the best campsite is sometimes stressful. We drive early to get to the campground so we can nab the best one available. Even when we get there early sometimes, we want to explore around before committing to one for the next few days and the exploring may sometimes cost us the original site we wanted. But the stress is so worth it and kinda exciting too.
WHAT TO DO
Activities that are fun for us and fun for the little ones. When we enjoy ourselves, it always translates positively to our child. That's when they learn through positive modeling. The one thing we try to balance is to add into our daily activities, things we know Kyan enjoys doing. Like: Playing in the water, kicking / playing / sifting through dirt, collecting rocks and sticks, stopping by a playground we drive by and we engage him. There's no messages or emails to check since we often don't get reception where we're at, we just play with him. 100% undivided attention. We often get carried away with our own agenda and only realize when it's too late. When Kyan starts to not listen, get cranky, difficult and defiant - That's our cue. That's when we know we have neglected him. Take time for your own adult fun activities and throw in intervals of fun things for the little ones too. All they want is to connect with us.
- Day Hikes
You will need: Backpack carrier for your infant / toddler.
We hike a good amount on our trips. We started hiking with Kyan when he was 10 weeks old. Our very first hike with Kyan, we thought pushing him in the stroller up Mt. Baldy was a good idea and it turned out to be much too strenuous and totally unneccesary. After that painful lesson, Kevin put him in a baby carrier and we loved ours we found at a garage sale. Our version is no longer sold in stores but you could still occasionally find them for cheap on eBay. When Kyan was 6 months' old, I got Kevin a proper backpack baby carrier and picked this one from REI after extensive research. We could not be more pleased with our Deuter carrier. It has withstood many hikes and camping trips and Kyan lives in it. Super utilitarian and lightest for all it has to offer. The longest hike we've done with Kyan sitting mostly in the backpack was 9 hours at Zion National Park Wilderness on The Subway Trail. He was 7 months' old.
You will need: 4WD vehicle. Secure car seat and soft blankets / clothes small enough to wedge child's head for when they fall asleep on the trail. We take our beloved #stocktacoma everywhere we go. One of the easiest way to have fun out in the wilderness.
- Canoeing / Kayaking
You will need: A canoe / kayak, life jackets, paddles and water shoes.
- Build A Dam
You will need: Lots of rocks and a shallow, slow moving riverbank.
- Sightseeing. Bring snacks, water and a diaper with you, especially when you will be joining a guided tour by a chatty ranger. There's nothing that would spoil a vacation sooner than having your child on the brink of melting down because he is hungry and needs to pee and can't stay focused anymore, plus it's nearing the end of the day and you are perched on the edge of an ancient cliff dwelling having to wait for the whole group to finish with questions and pictures before you can climb back up.
- Start a campfire. Which kid would say no to starting a fire?
WHY WE DO IT?
Because this is our zen. We love nature and what the outdoors has to offer. Many beautiful hiking trails can only be accessed through camping at base camp. It's therapeutic and rejuvenating, fun and exciting, and we get to watch Kyan thrive in Mother Earth's arms as his personality shape and independence grow. Besides, family camping / hiking pictures and selfies with the spectacular backdrops are quite simply - the best.