The Definitive Guide to Preparing for Your First School Holiday Camping Trip
By contributor Renee Gusa. Renee is a deft hand at wrangling her Brisbane family on school holiday camping trips. Her passion is the great outdoors.
You’re itching to get your family outdoors and into Brisbane nature these school holidays, but knowing what to spend your dollars on when buying camping gear is a bit like having to buy a pram for the first time, the options are endless and the features confusing. Here are some great tips and things to consider when purchasing camping gear for your Brisbane family’s camping trip.
There’s no camping without a tent!
The choice when it comes to tents are endless. It comes down to a few key features to consider before you spend hundreds of dollars. These features can make all the difference to your family’s enjoyment of their school holiday camping trip – so consider them carefully before buying.
- Quick Assemble. There are some fantastic quick assemble tents on the market, but here’s a tip, when looking to purchase ask the shop assistant to show you how to ‘knock it down’ or fold it up. If they struggle to disassemble, that’s a sure sign that it’s not the right purchase for a first time camper. With quick assemble options, choose something that makes sense to you and is easy. Don’t be shy, ask if you can have an attempt in store.
- Sleeping chambers. The more sleeping chambers (rooms) a tent has, the more poles it will require and the longer it will take to set-up. If youré planning only to do 2 or 3 night stays, opt for something that is less complicated and quicker to assemble. If you have older children (10+), consider do they even need to be in the same tent as you, or are they old enough to have a smaller two (2) man tent next to yours. Don’t get sucked into buying a massive tent if you’re planning short camping trips over the holidays. It will only become an excuse not to go camping frequently.
- Seasonal camping. Tents can become stifling hot and incredible stuffy during the warmer summer school holidays, or cold freezer boxes in the winter break. Think about when you plan to do most of your camping trips. If in summer, select a tent with big window openings, so you can capture as much airflow as possible. If you’re not planning on purchasing a tarp or shade cover, consider a tent that has a large ‘fly’ shade area at the entrance.
If winter school holiday camping in on the cards, choose something with smaller windows and double zip coverings over the windows for additional insulation at night when the temperature drops. A large tent fly is helpful when winter camping too.
Sleeping gear for kids and adults
You can spend a little or a lot on sleeping gear. In truth, if you’re on a really tight budget for your first ever camping trip, invest in quality sleeping mats over sleeping bags, especially for the adults. A sound mattress is worth its weight in gold. Air mattresses, whilst compact, are usually not great for a good night’s sleep – especially for us old folk parents. 4×4 wheel foam mattresses are excellent for the adults (memory foam on top makes it extra comfy and kinder to backs), whilst self-inflating or standard air mattresses are generally adequate for children.
Rather than purchasing cheap sleeping bags, use normal bedroom linen; a single sheet with doona or blanket works wonderfully. Look at purchasing sleeping bags at a later date; they make wonderful birthday and Christmas gifts.
What to consider when choosing sleeping bags
- Sleeping bags can be bulky; if you need to conserve space, opt for more expensive sleeping bags that ‘crush’ down small. These bags are usually suitable for winter camping.
- Seasons. If you plan to do a mix of seasonal camping, save yourself money and space by purchasing a sleeping bag that is suitable for summer and winter camping. It’s much easier to unzip a sleeping bag, than trying to warm up in a sleeping bag that isn’t keeping the heat in. Look for something with 0 to -5 degrees rating. The few extra dollars are worth it, as even in Easter and September school holidays can get chilly at night.
Camp kitchens and gear
There are two main purchases you need for your first trip; chairs and table. While there is numerous camp pantries, dishwashing stands and camp kitchen storage solutions available (camping is a thriving industry) save your dollars the first trip and invest in the basics. From you first trip, decide if you want to purchase more, or if your happy with what you have.
Remember, the more ‘stuff’ you have, the longer it will take to set-up and pull down. Work is even less fun on holidays.
Camp cooking gear
Camp cooking gear can be bulky and unnecessary if you can raid your home kitchen. There are fantastic new ‘starter kits’ on the market that have everything you need to cooking up a storm in the outdoors. It’s far more cost effective to purchase one of these kits over buying items individually from the local supermarket. Check your local camping store.
For your first trip all you really require for cooking is:
- fry pan
- 2 saucepans
- Mixing bowl
- egg flip
- large spoon
- sharp knife
- bowl, plate and utensils for everyone
- plastic cup for each per person (coffee cup might be required for hot drinks & don’t forget a wine glass!)
- aluminum foil
- plastic wrap
You will be surprised how resourceful you can be with limited cooking tools.
Outdoor cooking options
There are two kinds of cooktops to consider; those that use gas cylinders and those that use butane bottles. Recently there have been some safety concerns over the quality of cooking units that use butane bottles, so check with your local camping store before purchase. In the past these have been a great option for first time campers.
When you’re starting out, investing in camping gear that can be used for more than one function is going to save you time and money. Barbecues are an excellent investment for novice camping families. Look for a barbecue that can roast, fry and grill. It may cost you more initially, but the investment is worth it as many national parks and caravan parks do not allow for open fires. Best of all, many of these camping barbecues are perfect for everyday use at home. If you’ve got a giant barbecue gathering dust at home, sell it off and invest in a portable version.
Chillin’ in the great outdoors
Keeping food (and beer) cold is important; the last thing you need is an outbreak of food poisoning or worse, warm beer! There’s a big difference between an “Esky” and a chest cooler. An “Esky” needs restocking with ice daily (or more frequently over the summer holidays) whereas an insulated chest cooler can keep food cold for days.
As a first time camper you need to decide, do you want the cheaper esky and pay for ice daily (often $4 a bag) or do you want to spend a little more and get a better quality unit. The beauty of ‘chest coolers’ is if you use frozen water bottles from home, for a 2-3 day camping trip you don’t have to spend a cent on ice.
Lighting for your school holiday camping trip
Like all things for your first trip, keep lighting simple. For main lighting (if you’re not paying for a powered site), large rechargeable light units are a really good investment. LED versions can last for hours. Most rechargeable units can plug into your car and recharge as you drive around. It saves having to purchase lots of batteries, which can be costly. Best of all, even if you upgrade to gas or LED light stripping, you can always find a job for your rechargeable lights. They’ll never be wasted.
Camping is great fun, it can be as complicated or as simple as you choose to make it. When preparing for your first ever school holiday camping trip, remember, every item you purchase adds to your set-up and pull-down time. So, start simple, it’s OK if you forget things, fellow campers are generally generous! Taking your Brisbane family on a school holiday camping trip is the ultimate way to spend quality time together – all you need is love – and a decent barbecue.