Bobbi-Sue Menard kicks butt at camping. This Kelowna-based freelance journalist and mom of five kids knows a LOT about camping in every type of weather and condition. She goes on 10-day camping trips, she’s experienced 12-hour drives, she copes with torrential rainstorms, she’s even gone canoe camping. Wow. Sort of puts the one-night outing in perspective. Let’s hear more:
Why do you love camping with your kids?
I love camping with my kids because we do it together with abandon. Once we are out there, while we might have adventures, and it might not work out, life is kind of simple. We’re camping and that’s it.
Do you have a favorite BC family camping spot?
We were at Shuswap Lake Provincial Park three weeks ago and loved camping in the middle of a cedar forest, just beautiful. The sites seem like they are set up in a fairy glen forest. We also have fond memories of the Lakes District around Burns Lake.
What’s the longest camping trip you’ve been on in British Columbia?
We did 10 days in two stages. The first spot was in Syringa Provincial Park, which we loved, although it doesn’t have showers. We were there for three days before moving on to our true destination, Waterton Lakes National Park.
We looked at the map and despite the fact we are experienced mountain drivers we estimated the second leg of the trip to be 7-8 hours drive; we were wrong about the travel distance, it was closer to 12 hours with traffic, plus we had a late start as we had had truck problems so we left late.
When we arrived at 11 p.m., we set up in Waterton at our reserved site on the flats at the end of the lake. It was the pitch dark, with the torrential rain driven by 60-90 km/hr wind gusts. We pitched the brand new, 8-person dome tent in the shelter of our Expedition SUV, yet the wind was so strong, the tent would inwardly flex so the roof would touch our faces.
The next morning we tore down camp again and waited in line at the non-reservable campsite on the mountain side where the wind was still strong but bearable. After a morning blessedly free of rain, it turns out it was just saving up…it sheeted rain for the next two days.
Eventually it eased off into a steady drizzle for the remaining two days of our trip and we got in some hiking and went paddle boating. Nonetheless we considered the trip a triumph. The kids were aged 9, 8, 5, 3 and 1 — and none of them were sick, everyone kept good spirits and we were able to tell some really fun stories.
Wow, that is hardcore. Is there a point at which you know you need to pack up the tent, call it off and go home?
Serious vomiting or diarrhea, significant equipment failure that we can’t reasonably replace and puts us in real discomfort or possible danger. For example, when the last kid to go pee doesn’t shut the tent properly and the sleeping bags at that end of the tent get wet beyond reason with no way to dry the bags — we go home.
We have canoe camped with young kids, despite tons of planning, the right gear, and short trips, it generally sucked. Time in a canoe is rarely fun after the first half hour or so with small kids.
Any general tips on camping with babies or toddlers?
With babies or toddlers, divide and conquer. Take turns with the kid(s) while the other parent accomplishes the basic tasks. Bring the portable play pen, put the toddler in it whenever necessary. If you aren’t too tired, use your child backpack or baby carrier liberally.
If you are hiking to the most gorgeous waterfalls you’ll ever see and they are at the end of a 7 km trail, with a 7 km hike back, make certain you have had toddler in a backpack for a 14 km hike more than once.
Love the environment, but don’t be a fanatic, bring stacks of baby wipes, STACKS. (Lora says: And bring even more baby wipes! An unending supply of baby wipes! Or 1000 cloth washcloths, if you must).
I am in awe of anyone who manages cloth diapers on a camping trip. Make certain you have a good system, because those diapers will either be locked in your vehicle overnight because of bears or in your hard sided, possibly un-air-conditioned car with you.
Invest in a box of large Glad freezer bags, they’ll fit a wet, soiled outfit perfectly and keep the mess safely stowed until you get home to your laundry. When I said invest I meant it, handling liquids on a camping trip can be a hassle, with kids you could be relying on the sealing power of quality bags more than you think.
What’s the most difficult thing, in your opinion, about camping with infants and toddlers? How do you overcome that problem?
Accepting how infants/toddlers sleep schedule is going undergo a big shift and you will be at its beck and call. Depending on your kid, day two or three could see a parent quietly sitting in camp while your darling naps away an entire afternoon while the other parent takes older siblings on an outing. Plan to keep your child well rested; that will cut down on accidents (trips and falls), keep the hot afternoon whining down, and your child’s eating more regular.
So, what’s your never-leave-behind item that you feel like every family should pack on a camping trip? Anything special when you’re camping with toddlers?
Never leave behind prescription meds, a photocopy of ID, emergency contacts and medical insurance, and $100 cash. That’s the civilized list. For physical emergency, never forget a first aid kit, or rain gear. Bring pull-ups/overnight diapers for any toddler night trained for less than a year. It gets cold in a tent and when kids are TIRED, accidents are more common than you would like to believe.
Is there anything that you think a family COULD leave at home?
You COULD leave home your dog on the first trip ever. The first time can be a bit overwhelming and a dog can be a lot of stress. You could also leave home everything electronic. Try the trip without a DVD player — play ‘I spy’ or ‘Simon Says’ in the car.
Any tricks for preparing for a camping trip with five kids?
For me the big thing is to think through solutions to situations before I leave so that my expectations are managed. Then I tell the family how we are going to handle things when they go wrong. For example: We now bring on board game for vehicle breakdowns. We laugh about it, “This trip Monopoly only gets played it the truck dies…” etc.
For little kids we go over our expectations each day, “We are camping, we are here to have a good time, but as a person although you are small, you must remember please and thank-you, no whining and you wash your hands with the baby wipes before you eat anything.”