Family Camping: It’s Joys and Sorrows (Ignore the Sorrows Part)

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Family Camping

Camping with the family, woohoo!  Our family loves to go camping.

funny-comedian-quotes-about-camping If you haven’t tried it, maybe this story will motivate you.  A couple of summers ago my wife and I decided to take our kids to Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park for a couple of nights of camping.  I’m talking about tent camping.  The “deluxe” tent camping spots have wooden decks for the tents.  So we merrily ambled down the hillside to the decks and pitched our tent, which was difficult because you can’t put tent stakes into wood decks.  Meanwhile, our two oldest kids (12 and 10 at the time) were messing around under the deck and got stung by hornets.   After the 1.5 hours of crying and drama about that we finally got our campsite livable.  Just about 50 feet away at the other tent deck was a couple with one toddler and a baby.  They cried a lot.  The toddler and baby cried sometimes as well.  The couple told us they wanted to go home rather than stay another night, but decided too late and now they were too tired to pack up their tent and leave.

That first night on the deck in the tent would easily put an ex-POW into a flashback.   The temperature dipped down to a low of 89 degrees and the air was still as the dead.  We lay on our leaking air mattress and perspired profusely.  Dawn was a long time in coming.  After the loud party in the RV section of the campground died down, the raccoons came out to scavenge under the deck.  Then the air mattress completely deflated so we are lying on the wood floor.  Of course the kids slept soundly and woke up refreshed and excited for the day ahead!

Thankfully I remembered to bring my French press coffeemaker.  After a strong cup, I was able to open up both eyes and appreciate the lake that stretched out before us.  After breakfast I got in my kayak and took a short tour of the lake with my youngest daughter.  Then the two older kids got a chance to hone their skills in the kayak on their own while our youngest played along the shoreline.   Despite the night before, the morning unfolded in an idyllic fashion.   After lunch we decided to take a hike.  I remembered the couple’s dilemma from the night before, so we quickly took the tent down and decided one night was enough.  We enjoyed the rest of the day at the park, and went home to sleep in air conditioned comfort.

While we have gone camping a lot as a family, I chose this story to demonstrate that even though it was one of our worst camping experiences it is still filled with good memories.  There are so many benefits to this kind of family activity that it far outweighs the calamities you might experience.

One of the most obvious benefits is the time together.  Getting away from the house together for a while means that you leave the to-do lists and other distractions at home.  Most importantly, everyone can get UNPLUGGED.  Getting out of cell-phone range and power outlets gives all of you a chance to go through “technology detox.”  In Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder” he describes a growing epidemic of “nature deficit disorder” in children.  The hallmark of this disorder is a chronic preference to stay indoors and in front of electronic screens.  The results of chronic exposure to the flashing screens of videogames and smartphones include overstimulation, lack of creativity, increased stress levels, and a deficit of knowledge of how the natural world works.  Just 24 hours out in nature can lead to stress reduction and needed “unwinding” from the busy-ness of modern life.

If you are interested in camping in West Virginia, I recommend you get Johnny Molloy’s book “The Best in Tent Camping: West Virginia.”  It’s a great guide to beautiful camping spots throughout the state.

Happy family camping in tent


  1. Stay warm, dry, hydrated and well-fed.Each human body puts out bewteen 70 and 500 BTU/hr of heat (depending on activity level and available calories). A decent tent will trap some of this heat, to take some of the edge off the cold, but not enough to substitute for the insulation provided by clothing and/or a sleeping bag. The use of type of heater inside a tent is discouraged for safety reasons. So to stay warm, you need an appropriated-rated sleeping and clothing system.(Note that each body also exhales about 8 ounces of water each day, and without adequate ventilation and tent design, this moisture will condense on cold tent surfaces and possibly run down walls to get sleeping bags and other gear wet.)On the sleeping end, your first concern should be a sleeping bag rated appropriately for the lowest temperature expected, with an additional 20*F margin. I.e., if you expect 20*F, your sleeping bag should be rated for 0*F. There’s a few reasons for this: 1.) most sleeping bag ratings are optimistic, and are seldom truly comfortable down at their minimum rating; 2.) it might get colder than predicted during your trip. If you don’t have and can’t afford a properly-rated bag, it is possible to improve a bag’s cold weather performance by using a thermal sleeping bag liner, by doubling-up on sleeping bags (i.e., one inside the other), or by using additional blankets on top of the sleeping bag. In addition to the sleeping bag you will need a foam or insulating air/self-inflating mattress to protect you from the cold, hard ground.As for clothing, use layers of clothing that you can remove or add according to the temperature and activities. It is important to stay warm, but crucial to stay dry. Wet clothing does not insulate as well as dry clothing, although wool, silk and many synthetic materials still provide insulation value when wet. Cotton should be avoided as it becomes a heat conductor (rather than insulator) when wet, and takes a long time to dry. The basic layers are:1. On-Skin (underwear top bottom)2. Base Layer (long johns)3. Outer Layer (thick to thin, depending on activity conditions)4. Wind/Rain shellDon’t forget essentials such as a hat and gloves. If the weather will be wet or you will be very active if would be worthwhile to bring an extra set of underwear, socks and base layer. Aside from the insulation, there are some things you should do to keep warm:1. Drink lots of fluids, particularly warm fluids. But avoid sweetened and/or caffeinated beverages. If your body gets dehydrated it will affect its ability to regulate temperature. Warm beverages help keep your body core temperature high without consuming calories.2. Eat extra calories, particularly fats. Your body will need extra calories to generate heat. Fat provides the ideal fuel for your internal furnace. In particular it is beneficial to eat a hot, high fat meal close to bedtime. 3. Stay active. The more you move the more heat your body generates. Be cautious not to overheat and sweat.Finally, if additional heat is needed you can fill water bottles with hot water, wrap in extra clothing and stuff them inside your sleeping bag. These will need to be refilled every 4 hours or so. You can also use chemical hand warmers that will last 8 to 12 hours.

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