‘Be prepared’ is the well-known motto of the Boy Scouts, created to instill the importance of mindfulness and bodily preparedness; ready to do the right thing at the right time.
As an ex-Scout, I carry this motto with me at all times, but I have to admit that I no longer carry a rolled up handkerchief with safety pin, pencil and the other essential camping accessories befitting of a resourceful Boy Scout contained within. I do however, carry some modern-day equivalents to help me feel prepared for whatever the trail or ride might throw at me.
So, in no particular order, these are some of the family camping accessories I think are important to take:
1. Emergency fire starting kit from Zippo
Knowing you can start a fire if you needed to, gives you a satisfying peace of mind. This neat little kit comes contained within a ‘stay dry’ plastic box, and contains a flint and water-resistant waxed tinder sticks. This is essential family camping equipment as it makes starting a fire easy, even in tricky conditions.
2. Swiss Army knife
Affectionately known as Swiss Army knives, Victorinox makes a range of high-quality pocket knives and multi-tools. With a range of models available, the tough decision is not whether to buy one, but which one to buy! The Champ knife is my choice for family camping gear as it has a choice of blades (for cutting and whittling) and a decent saw blade capable of sawing through small branches in an emergency situation. Victorinox also make knives with lockable blades – ideal for responsible (and supervised) youngsters.
3. Solar power charger
A portable solar charger can do more than keep your Go Pro or iPhone charged – although I suspect this is their ‘mainstream’ use – it can also provide power to your GPS, walkie talkies and other important accessories. There is a range of options for solar-powered chargers on today’s market from lightweight, rugged, handheld solar chargers to more substantial expedition-ready kits. As with most family camping gear, what you choose depends on how you will use it, so whether you just want to keep your MP3 player charged, or survive in remote mountain regions … shop carefully. You also need to make sure you’ll be able to catch some sun wherever you’re going – otherwise the charger won’t do much good. Plus, there are wood-burning chargers available, if that’s more your speed – you can charge your electronics while boiling water for dinner!
4. Walkie Talkies with weather radio
More than just a fun way to keep the kids in contact (and motivated to keep walking), this family camping equipment could be a life saver. Often you can never get the phone signal when you want it – or worse still, when you need it – and having some decent walkie talkies (not the toy ones) gives you another chance of making contact with others. When you have the weather radio as well, you can be advised of quickly changing conditions. You want to choose ones that are waterproof and have a built in light, and of course, can transmit morse code on a range of channels. The kids will love using them, but be sure to keep an eye on battery life. If you’re traveling to Europe, you’ll need to buy a new set of PMR radios as they do not use the same GMRS frequencies we use here in the U.S.
5. GoPro and mounts for helmet/bike
Family adventure, for us, is about getting outdoors, pushing our comfort zones, but most importantly having lots of fun! Capturing these moments make the memories long-lasting and fuel an appetite for more; and GoPro cameras are the perfect family camping equipment for both. Small, lightweight, yet very durable, this camera is ideal for the most gnarly and bearded of outdoor types, as well as family adventurers looking to capture their exploits from interesting angles and viewpoints in ultra-sharp HD.
6. Water bottle with purification
Maintaining hydration on hikes and rides is essential – particularly for young adventurers – and while drinking from streams and lakes might not be everyone’s preferred choice, the ability to clean and drink water you might find on the trail, is reassuring. It also means that you can keep your load down (water is heavy) and refill on the fly – an important consideration for some. There are many options for water-purifying family camping gear – including filters that allow you to make large quantities drinkable at once, so find what works for your tribe.
7. First aid kit
The essential camping supply, you should always ensure an up-to-date, fully-stocked first aid kit is in your backpack. Children who are confident and comfortable in the outdoors tend to get cut, scraped and stung as a result of their explorations and adventures. Fire-lighting, whittling with knives and cooking in the outdoors all increase the chance of minor injuries that need treatment. But most annoyingly, a fun family day in the outdoors can be brought to a premature end by even the smallest of blisters. So, be prepared and carry a first aid kit.
Digital navigation devices are cheaper and more reliable then ever, and the range and models available offer solutions for experienced explorers, novice walkers and those wanting to participate in the popular hobby of geo-caching.
While digital devices offer some obvious affordances and reassurances, they are entirely useless if they lose signal or run out of power. They therefore need to be used sensibly, and be backed up by the skills and knowledge to navigate using a map and compass (which must also be carried at all times).
9. Dry sacks
It’s often too tempting to overlook some of the cheapest and most obvious camping accessories like dry sacks, and too easy to be caught in an unexpected downpour resulting in a soggy camera and damp spare socks/clothing. Simply by lining your backpack with a dry sack, or carrying your camera in one, you can avoid unnecessary expense and discomfort. If you are planning to take the kids in a boat of any kind, dry bags are a must. If you’ll be backpacking, consider a pack cover in addition to your dry sack for increased protection against the rain.
10. Kid-sized backpack
Encourage kids to start pulling their weight by getting them to carry some of your family’s camping gear! It’s no good giving them an overloaded and over-sized backpack though. In the same way they need the right size boots and waterproofs, they need the right size backpack. With the right gear, you’ll actually find your children rising to the challenge and enjoying the responsibility more. Plus, you’ll enjoy the extra help that literally takes some of the weight off your back.
This is by no means a comprehensive and exhaustive list, but by taking some or all of this family camping equipment, hopefully you will have more fun together on the trail.
Be safe. Be happy. Be prepared.