Family Camping Basics
Camping with the family can take special preparations
The author’s children during their 2011 summer stay at Lafayette Campground in Franconia Notch State Park, Franconia, NH.
Photo by Ernesto Burden
Camping. The mere word can strike either fear and loathing or conjure up feelings of great joy and nostalgia in the hearts of those who hear it. For me it's the latter. Nothing brings back the best memories of my childhood as does the thought of camping out.
Camping means different things to different folks. For some it's sleeping in a fully loaded RV for each night as they make their way across the country. For others it's a trek deep into the mountains or woods, away from people, with everything they need packed on their backs.
Right now for me, it's somewhere in between. My first vacation with my husband was a destination camping trip, but camping is different now with four young children. I grew up camping with my own family and my memories of it were hiking, fishing and boating, crackling fires and sticky fingers from eating s'mores under starry skies.
My mother remembers all that too, but the preparing during the week before the trip she would dread. She turned packing the car into a highly skilled art form.
Now we are the parents packing and prepping, but I understand why my parents did it. It's all worth it to see my kids outdoors, away from the TV and video games, learning about nature and wildlife and having their eyes opened to things they don't get to see every day.
The White Mountains offer so much for camping families and there is no end to the variety of activities. You truly can do as much or as little as you like. With a little preparation you can create an outdoor adventure of a lifetime and plant the seeds that will grow into truly "happy campers."
The White Mountain National Forest comprises 698,811 acres in New Hampshire (42,363 in Maine) and boasts 23 developed campgrounds.
We have borrowed camping equipment before, and that's a good thing to do when you don't know how often you will be camping, but once you are hooked and know you will be doing it year after year, it's time to invest in your own equipment. And if you plan to camp with your kids, you know how rough (especially the younger ones) can be on things, so it is nice not to have to return a tent with some extra ventilation holes torn into it. Of course until you are certain you will want your own gear for future camping adventures, rent or borrow whatever you may need to save you the expense.
The Cougar Flats II Family Dome tent ($279.99) is an excellent tent for families- I know because I own one. We comfortably fit a family of six in this easy to assemble, two-room tent. It comes stowed in a great storage bag with wheels (it's heavy!) making for easy transport and actually fits back in no matter how poorly you re-pack the tent. It features a cyclone vent system to better circulate air and a GoBe Dry rain protection system to keep all the sleeping campers dry inside.
Depending on your level of comfort camping, you may or may not choose to cook at your site, but if you do, you can't go wrong with a Coleman propane stove. The PerfectFlow 2-Burner stove ($59.99) features 22,000 BTUs of cooking power with the PerfectFlow system which regulates heat to help maintain consistent cooking temperature.
Even if you're camping in the middle of summer in the Whites, temperatures can still plummet at night so it's good to have each member of your brood equipped with a 3-season sleeping bag. The REI Kindercone +30 ($64.50) gets high marks for comfort and warmth and features Thermolite Quallo which continues to insulate even when damp. It also comes equipped with a pillow pocket in the hood for stuffing extra clothes in to create an extra-comfy pillow, and an external chest pocket for keeping essentials like a flashlight close by at night. Comes in styles for both girls and boys.
You will want an assortment of flashlights on hand for any camping trip (pack extra batteries!) but for task lighting at the site, a propane lantern is ideal. The Coleman Deluxe PerfectFlow Lantern-with carry case ($39.99) features both a stable base for setting on the table and a bail-style handle for hanging. This two-mantle design puts out 967 lumens and the light setting can be adjusted to suit your needs.
While you're likely to want to escape your own camp cooking at some point during your trip and head out to a restaurant, (one can only eat so many hot dogs and burgers) you will need to bring some food with you and perishables need a cool hangout so Coleman comes to the rescue once again with their 50 Quart Ultimate Xtreme Wheeled Cooler ($69.26) which keeps ice from melting for up to 6 days in up to 90 degree heat. It features 2-inch deep drink holders, large wheels for easy transport over uneven ground and a 'no-tilt' channel drain.
You're going to want a comfortable seat after hiking all day and the REI TravelChair Easy Rider ($49.95) is the ideal spot for warming yourself by the campfire. The specially angled back allows room for wider shoulders and the padded hand rests provide extra comfort. It's super-durable construction can take the rigors of rough handling and still keep itself together.
Expert Advice from Gregg Pitman
What are some attractions and activities that families can see and do in the Whites?
There are so many, such as the Flume Gorge and Cannon Mt. Tramway in Franconia Notch. There's Crawford Notch with the Highland Center, Bretton Woods and the Mt. Washington Hotel, as well as Pinkham Notch with access to Tuckerman Ravine, Wildcat or the Auto Road. And then there are all of the attractions from Story Land to Six Gun City to Santa's Village and various water parks. Hiking, kayaking, canoeing and rock climbing provide access to this area's natural wonders. And for the shoppers, there are the outlets of North Conway. Something for everyone can be found in and around the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
For those who have never been camping before, how should they begin to prepare for a trip?
Determine what kind of camping you want to experience and then see if you can rent the equipment you need. Many campgrounds have various rental units including cabins, RVs and tents. If it's your first time out and you don't know what to bring, try a rental unit to get the camping experience without all the fuss of having to purchase equipment. Let the campground tell you what you'll need to bring to go along with the unit you are renting. There are also RV rental companies that can provide you with a unit ready to go and delivered to a campground in NH. Or you can pick up a rental unit and drive it to your campground of choice. Before investing in camping equipment, especially an RV, go and try it out by visiting a couple of different campgrounds. Talk to other campers to learn about their experiences and listen to their advice. Learn as much as you can about camping before running out to make that big purchase.
What are some of the essentials campers will need to have at the site and what safety precautions should they take?
Essentials include food to prepare around the campfire - and don't forget the marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars for s'mores - these are essential! Never cook over an open fire and ask the campground owner for their advice and a little help. When building your campfire, remember to have a source of water close by and never leave your campfire unattended. Also, remember that NH has bears and campers should take precautions not to attract them to their campsite. Don't leave food out unattended. Keep food in a secure location such as the trunk of your car - not in your tent - or suspended out of reach between two trees. Ask campground owners for guidelines while in their campgrounds about what precautions should be taken for a safe camping experience while visiting.
What amenities should families look for in a campground when booking a reservation?
What amenities a family wants for their children will help in determining the kind of campground they select. From rustic backwoods, to resort style and everything in between. There are many choices based on the camping experience you want to have.
Why do you think people come from all over to the White Mountains to go camping?
The White Mountains are a destination for campers because of the variety of campgrounds from private to public state and national forest areas, offering something for everyone; from rustic campsites for tenting, to all of the amenities offered at many private campgrounds. It is the lure of Mt. Washington to hike or ride up on the Cog Railway or by car to the top of the highest summit in the northeast, or maybe the beauty of a drive along the Kangamangus Highway with a stop for a dip in one of the many pools along the Swift River.