Family Camping Gone Bad – How to Recover

Not a happy camper!

My girl, not a happy camper! Utah – August 2013

My first camping experience as a first time mother, with a brand new family of three, was absolutely awful! Our baby boy was six months at the time and we had planned two camping trips for the Summer 2010.  We were extremely excited to go on our first family camping trip at Sunset State Beach near Santa Cruz, CA.   As outdoors enthusiasts, it was our dream to go camping with our son but to our dismay our first experience was so bad it made me want to cancel our second summer camping trip.

What Happened?

There were so many factors that made our first camping experience awful but the number one factor was our sleeping arrangements.   My son was so uncomfortable during the trip he cried A LOT in the wee hours.  All of us were exhausted, which meant our son was extremely clingy and didn’t want to eat.

Our bad sleeping arrangements just set the tone for an awful camping trip that all I can really remember was how irritable we were during the trip.  In retrospect, this was probably the WORST sleeping arrangements we have ever had!

  • 4-Person Coleman Tent
  • Peapod – Kidco
  • Inflatable Full-Size mattress
  • Two Adult Mummy Sleeping Bags and blankets for baby

Mistake #1:  I had never had my son sleep in the PeaPod before, not even a regular nap.  My son does not do well with change, therefore sleeping in the new environment was not something he was going to take on so quickly.  This first mistake added to the intensity of the following mistakes.

Mistake #2:  I used a inflatable mattress, which worked great during my pregnancy but not with an infant.  Eventually my son made his way into our mattress and every time one of us moved he would wake up and scream all over again, for a total of about three hours in the middle of the night.  We were so irritated and embarrassed that our son probably woke up other campers. Our only hope was that  all the bushes that surrounded us kept his crying confined to our campsite.   We broke Camping Etiquette No. 1 – Quite Time and I still feel sorry about it.

Mistake #3: Northern California beach weather can get very chilly at night.  I’m pretty sure when my son woke up screaming in the middle of the night, a part of it was that he was cold since he only had a tucked blanket, even though he wore warm pajamas.  I was also cold because I could not zip up my own sleeping bag.  My son ended up between sleeping between us, covered with our sleeping bags.  A good idea might have been sleeping in a Teton Sports Mammoth Double Sleeping Bag, if I would have known about it.  Currently, we all sleep on our own sleeping pads in our individual mummy sleeping bags.

Due to my three major camping mistakes our first camping experience not fun at all.  We were TIRED.  My son was extremely clinging and I had to carry him in my arms during most of the trip because I didn’t even have a baby-wearing carrier.  At this point you are probably wondering if this a post to discourage a family from camping?  Absolutely not!

Recovering from Bad Family Camping

Like everything else in life, just because an experience is bad doesn’t mean it should never be repeated again.  In my frustration, after we returned from our beach camping I told my husband I wanted to cancel our Sequoia camping trip but my wise husband told me to wait a few days to think about it.  With my frustration gone a few days later, I conducted a “post-op” of our Sunset Camping trip or an evaluation of what we could to better in future camping trips.  In this particular case, I revamped our sleeping arrangements with a larger tent, more practice naps in the Peapod prior to camping again and had different sleeping bags for our next camping trip at Sequoia National Park.  A few weeks later a warm, rested family had a fantastic family camping trip at a beautiful national park.

Camping, in particular family camping is like learning to ride a bike, the more you practice the better you get.  The learning “camping” curve is longer when campers become family campers.  “How to Camp: 89 Camping Tips to Elevate any Campsite“, is a great camping resource that can help shorten the family camping learning curve.  I do not claim to have perfected our family camping trips but I have four years of under my belt and I still learn something new in each camping trip we take.  We have become more efficient with setting up and breaking down camp and almost perfected our sleeping arrangements but I’m still learning how entertain our children at camp, have a great kitchen camp with great food recipes, as well as dealing with unexpected events such as sickness, injuries, etc.

Happy Campers!

Happy Campers!

Family camping requires lots of patience, making sure everyone is comfortable and finding out what camping type suits your family.  Some families like a more rustic camping feel and others prefer “Glamping”, but I believe there is great value to family camping.  It creates family memories and experiences that can only be experienced only if you take your family camping!  As a previous non-camper turned into a someone who loves camping, I encourage you to enjoy learning how to camp with your family.  Happy camping!

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Melissa is a California native, wife and mother located in the San Francisco Bay Area. With the outdoors adventure "bug" running through her veins since many generations ago, Chasqui Mom is loving nature through hiking, backpacking and anything outdoors as a family any chance she gets.

  • Kate @ WildTalesof…

    Oy vey! That first experience was definitely rough, but I’m so glad you endured, learned from what went wrong, and made some good changes! Love that you are willing to share with others—very inspirational.

    • Melissa Avery

      Thank you Kate! Yes, I’m glad we can learn from our mistakes and share with others. It gets better every time now, happy we kept at it.

  • Pingback: Camping With Infants: It Takes a Village | Adventurous Moms()

  • http://somernelson.com Somer Nelson

    I had a horrible first camping trip with my young one as well. She did really good at first but woke up a couple hours after going to sleep and puked all over me. I didn’t bring an extra jacket so we packed up and drove home. Which was good because the poor thing was so sick. We have invested in all new gear to make it really comfortable. We bought her a cot and she loves it. I agree with you on learning how to do things different. It took us awhile to figure it all out.