Taking son camping for the first time. It will also be my first time.
October 23, 2012 12:10 PM   Subscribe

Please help me take a first-time Cub Scout on a group camping trip with family in tow.

Tanizaki Jr. is an enthusiastic Cub Scout and looking forward to his first camping trip this weekend. We will be camping at a campground/resort site with about forty other scouts and their families. Given the setting, we will not really be roughing it in any sense since there are on-site fire pits and such. However, we will still be sleeping in tents.

I have never been camping before, even in civilization as described above. We already have a tent, but otherwise, I do not have a good idea of what might be good to have on-hand besides the obvious things such as insect repellent, first aid kit, toiletries, et cetera; food is also taken care of. For example, should we sleep in sleeping bags or on air mattresses? Should I get some sort of battery-powered illumination for inside the tent? Another other sort of amenities? I want to make best efforts to ensure that we are not in a situation where we are found wanting for some helpful amenities that could make the trip for enjoyable.

Thank you very much!

This is in Florida in October, so assume pleasant weather at night.
posted by Tanizaki to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Here's our car camping packing list: Probably more intensive than you need, but it was formed through multiple trips going "Man, I really wish I had that!" I took out the food-related things since you said that's covered

Sleeping pad
Sleeping bag
Fan (check for batteries)
Extra batteries

General Campsite:

First aid kit
Newspaper for starting fires (firelighters for wet weather)
Bug spray
Dry bags
Extra stakes


Trash bags (2 lg, 2 small)
posted by brilliantine at 12:23 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Flashlights are usually sufficient for light inside the tent. Bring more than one flashlight and extra batteries.

I would bring an air mattress if any of you have sensitive backs. As a kid, I could sleep on the floor just fine, but now it's just downright uncomfortable. If you do bring an air mattress, I would also bring an electric pump because it took me two hours to hand pump mine.

Also, keep in mind it's always colder to sleep outside - so layer up! Bring blankets for sitting around the fire and just in case it gets cold. You might want to be lawn chairs. I don't know what sort of fire pits you have (whether it has seating or not), but they're always helpful to have.

Other things that I can think of - cards or other small board games to pass time if needed, garbage bags, water bottles...

I don't think you'll need too much. I've been on girl guide camping trips and they're always very prepared for everyone.
posted by cyml at 12:23 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You need SOME sort of mattress, a full air mattress is really way too indulgent though; get a foldup/rollup from EMS/REI/online/whatever. A good one will last him into boy scouts as well, so don't be afraid to invest; you also don't need a full-body solution, just something that'll cover about 2/3rds of you. Don't forget a small pillow substitute. In a pinch you can roll up some clothes and stick them into a bag.

You absolutely will need a tarp for underneath your tent, even if rain's not predicted. Make sure it doesn't stick out from under the tent- that's how water gathers underneath you. When you post your tent, use as many of the included stakes and string to really firmly anchor the rain fly and the tent itself - a taut tent is a dry, comfortable tent. Angle the anchors in towards the tent so tension keeps them in. Figure out what direction you'll be sleeping before setting up, so that your head is uphill slightly. Comb the area for pinecones + other backwreckers as well.

Always carry multiple sources of light. Small hanging lanterns or magnetic lamps are available specifically for the interior of a tent. Some tents include little nets you can set up above you to hold a regular flashlight and air out your socks. You may want to carry a pocketknife and hatchet for various things like nailing in the tent pegs, but remember cub scouts are not allowed to use these items.

Fun stuff for cubs: bring a good collection of sticks for marshmallow roasting (harder to find than you'd think), or oil and popcorn kernels for popping. With the joys of an ereader it's easy to bring along scary / other camp stories to read. There are many sources of skits and/or camp songs online, as well.

After camping, when you get home, air out all of the gear and clean the tent immediately. This prevents mildew which is the main killer of camp equipment. Have fun!
posted by MangyCarface at 12:23 PM on October 23, 2012

Headlamps. They are the Best Thing Ever when it comes to camping, even not-roughing-it camping.
posted by rtha at 12:24 PM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

For example, should we sleep in sleeping bags or on air mattresses? Should I get some sort of battery-powered illumination for inside the tent?

Sleeping bags and air mattresses will be the most comfortable option -- "pleasant weather at night" can still be pretty cold for those used to sleeping inside, especially small people (like kids). Everyone should bring a sleeping bag -- if they feel hot they can sleep on top of it. Air mattresses or foam pads are optional, but will make sleeping a lot more comfortable.

As for illumination: everyone should have their own small flashlight, or maybe even two (they tend to disappear right when you need them). Headlamps are especially great because they're hands-free, and the batteries last a long time. Having some sort of central illumination (LED lanterns are awesome) is also nice if the tent is large, or if you plan to hang out outside after dark.

My favorite amenity for trips like these is a hot dog/marshmallow fork, like this one (you can find cheap ones in the BBQ section at the store). Cooking over the fire is wonderful fun, and these work better than sharpening the end of a stick...
posted by vorfeed at 12:25 PM on October 23, 2012

I would check with the cubmaster and see if he/she has recommended the equipment that would be needed, I'm surprised that didn't happen (a great way to teach kids how to "be prepared").

Temps at night are going to drop into the 60's, you'll be best to have sleeping bags, and a foam pad to sleep on (better than air mattresses).

Dress in layers....

Have fun!
posted by HuronBob at 12:25 PM on October 23, 2012

You can wow the boy scouts with this trick: take a frosted gallon jug of water and slide a headlamp over it, then flip the headlamp so that the light is shining INTO the jug. This is the cool result. Great for around the campsite or inside your tent for ambient light.
posted by HeyAllie at 12:44 PM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Don't use flash-lights - get a head-lamp.
posted by Flood at 12:44 PM on October 23, 2012

You absolutely will need a tarp for underneath your tent, even if rain's not predicted.

This, along with the sleeping bags, is essential. The first time I went camping, I had no concept of how cold 60 degrees could feel, especially when I was damp.

I have this lantern. It's very small, quite bright, and it will hang from the ceiling of a tent if you'd like hands-free lighting inside. I like having a few bottles of water for hand washing, etc., especially if your facilities will be porta-potties rather than any place with running water.
posted by gladly at 12:46 PM on October 23, 2012

In addition to having the headlamps, I've found it a really good habit of always putting it in the same place in my tent. For me, that means if I'm not wearing it, it goes in the small tent pocket by my head. So if I need to get up and go pee, I can grab it and my glasses without any effort devoted to looking for them.
posted by advicepig at 12:52 PM on October 23, 2012

Headlamps annoy me; your head bobs around much more than you realise and half the time you are blinding someone. I wrap this around my neck so the light faces forward and downward as needed. It stays in place. It can also be propped up in the tent for general illumination.

Also practice putting up your tent before you leave if you've never used it before.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 1:02 PM on October 23, 2012

At my last Cub Scout campout one of the dads brought a bunch of the glow-in-the-dark bracelets/necklaces that you can get in the dollar bin at Target or wherever...the kids had a blast with those after dark.

If you plan to do much camping I'd also second the notion of investing early in some roll-up personal air matresses- I'm still using the Therm-a-Rest matress I got at REI 25 years ago.
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 1:10 PM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, for the adults doing the majority of the heavy carrying, headlamps are a must.
posted by elizardbits at 1:14 PM on October 23, 2012

Agree completely about the glowy bracelets, etc.--not only because the kids have fun, but because it makes it WAY easier to keep track of them in the dark. I do this for outdoor events like fireworks or fairs after dark just for the visibility factor (which also works in reverse--wear them so your kids can see you and know it's you).
posted by dlugoczaj at 1:54 PM on October 23, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you for all of the answers so far - please keep them coming.

Would I be correct in assuming that my kids' current Disney character sleeping bags are not going to be up to the job, or will the interior of a tent in Florida be sufficiently "indoors"? (I am also getting foldup/rollup air mattresses)

I would also appreciate some encouragement that this will be a good time. I have never gone camping for a reason and am frankly not relishing the thought of not sleeping in a climate-controlled, permanent structure.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:51 PM on October 23, 2012

Wash cloth, hand towel and soap (with something to put them in when wet.)
As a leader, we used glow sticks to mark the location of the outhouse and the leader's tent to help kids (and adults) find their way in the dark.

We like to sleep in sweatpants and clean t-shirt. Expect to have to make a bathroom run during the night. Sweatpants mean non-embarrassing, and warm without having to find pants. (Kids should have a buddy if they leave the tent at night - probably will end up being you if he is in your tent.)

extra batteries!!
posted by metahawk at 2:56 PM on October 23, 2012

Camping will be fine. (Hanging out with Other Peoples Kids may be a bit of a trial.)

Are there flush toilets with lights? Camping bathrooms vary in quality, cleanliness and inventory. And the bathroom floor is always wet. You want to have your own TP that you never put on the floor even when you're unzipping/buckling. When the girls were small we took some string and looped it through the cardboard tube. Voila. TP holder necklace which will look ridiculous, but will work great for nighttime bathroom visits.
posted by 26.2 at 2:59 PM on October 23, 2012

My first camping experience was also at a Cub scout family camping trip. I didn't even know how to put up the tent. (An older scout helped us) followed by 10+ years in scouting, including as a GS leader. Not my most favorite thing but it is so great to watch the kids take on new challenges and grow in both confidence and ability. It is great family time and well worth it.

Also, many adults tend to do too much for the children at these events. The idea of scouting is for the kids to get to experience challenges that they might not have at home. It is OK (and probably necessary) to do things WITH your kid but try very hard not to do things FOR him. He should be involved in all of the chores - it is a big part of the learning.

ps. I never sleep well the first night in a sleeping bag - I wake all the way up every time I have to roll over (even if sleeping on a cot). By the second night I'm fine. But being a little sleep deprived is all part of the "fun". It will be fine. And if it is not fine, it will make for a good story.
posted by metahawk at 3:05 PM on October 23, 2012

So, to be sure everyone's talking about the same thing (maybe it's just me that's confused), are you talking about an air mattress like this, or a sleeping pad (which are also inflatable, but are not the same as an air mattress)? Because the only time I have been colder than the time I slept in an uninsulated shack in New Hampshire in January was the time I slept on an air mattress (indoors, in San Francisco). I know they make insulated air mattresses these days, but in my experience, the foam-celled sleeping pad makes for warmer sleeping.

The sleeping bags will probably be fine, especially if you're willing to schlep a couple of cheap fleece blankets along for just-in-case.
posted by rtha at 3:06 PM on October 23, 2012

Are you going to Camp La-no-che in Florida? I've been several times when my boys were in Scouts. I did not read all the answers. My suggestions:

1. Definitely flashlights or some sort of battery lamp for inside the tent.
2. I always brought pillows and air mattress and made bed up with bottom sheets, quilts, and sleeping bags on top. Kids like to get into their sleeping bag. It's fun. Test out your air mattress. Make sure it is charged/working/fresh batteries, etc.
3. Insect repellent (if you are going to La-no-che they spray for mosquitos but you'll still need it)
4. Fold up chairs for outside your tent for sitting around the fire.
5. Cooler. Bring more drinks and water than you think you will need. Food and snacks, too. Leave outside your tent near the door. Always make sure your tent door is closed. Don't leave it open for long -- insects and mosquitos will get in.
6. Whisk broom to sweep dirt and leaves from your tent.
7. Wet wipes.
8. Make sure you have all your tent supplies. I would always set up my tent at home in backyard a day or two before I left to make sure I had everything I needed and the tent wasn't damaged.
9. Make sure you and your kid have shoes that sand can not enter. You don't want sneakers with mesh, you want some sort of hiking sneaker or shoe that does not allow dirt in. Wear darker socks like olive green to black and darker hiking shoes. Your feet are going to get filthy.
10. I always showered daily and so did my kids. Bring soap, towels, washcloths, etc.
11. Smores sticks and plenty of Smores supplies.
12. Make sure each person in your party has a flashlight. My kids always had the windup type.
13. You can charge your cellphone at the bathroom/shower stations but there is absolutely no reception if you're going to La-no-che.
14. Hats, visors, sunglasses
15. Hiking stick for your kid.

If you are going to La-no-che I can tell you about the pros and cons of paying for the meal option.
posted by Fairchild at 3:09 PM on October 23, 2012

Camping can be fun! My parents started taking us camping at the age of six (and then through GS/BS up through to college). My father used to lead camping trips on snowshoe, and his conception of "ideal weather" was not really the same as mine, but I loved it.


1) Complete change of clothing for everyone, down to socks, etc. Any amount of water will make your clothing damp and chilled overnight.

2) Pillows. If you're car camping, there's no reason not to pack comfort.

3) Bandanas are really useful for just about everything; some camps don't provide paper towels, so they're a useful stand-in.

4) Extra gallon or two of drinkable water. Good for drinking, also good if apples fall in the dirt or whatever.

5) Definitely test out the tent and groundcloth beforehand to make sure everything works and that you know how to use it. Bonus: you'll look like a boss among the other first-timers. Label everything. It's also kind of a pain to fold up some groundcloths and new tents, especially if there's condensation on them, so maybe pack a couple of garbage bags to throw them in-- less hassle, and you'll have to take them out to air anyway.

6) Sleeping bags usually have a temperature rating-- your kids might be okay, given Florida, but you could also pack some light blankets or sheets.


8) Slip-on shoes for late-night bathroom runs.

9) Do they do camp songs? Ask the Scoutmaster about this beforehand.

10) Seriously label everything, I have no idea how kids shed so much stuff during encampments, but they do

11) Definitely air out the sleeping bags and other gear at home before putting them away. This shakes out any dirt and pine needles, and yeah, mildewed camp stuff is fantastically gross.

12) Photos!

13) If you are a coffee or tea drinker in the morning, talk with the Scoutmaster about the hot water arrangements for the morning or with the other parents about mass arrangements. Kids love cocoa in the morning, but oh my gosh, there is nothing scary than having fifteen adults realize no one brought coffee.

Seriously, I hope everyone has a great time!
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:35 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Set the tent up as soon as you get there. It will take longer than you expect, especially with any "help" you receive from youngsters.

Anyone who plans on using available showers should bring waterproof footwear. The shower floors can be nasty.
posted by Morrigan at 3:47 PM on October 23, 2012

Yes, coffee!!! I got one of those starbucks cans of chilled latte and stashed it for myself in the am - it was a beautiful thing to wake up to.
posted by selfmedicating at 3:48 PM on October 23, 2012

I would say check with the organizers and see what they think you'll need. Definitely tent, sleeping gear, flashlights, toiletries, and changes of clothes. You probably won't need a mess kit, but water bottles and coffee mugs will probably come in handy. As noted above, the guest-bed type air mattresses (and cots, too) are not the best choices for camping, because the air will circulate under you and cool you down. You may be OK in Florida, though.
posted by ckape at 3:52 PM on October 23, 2012

I would also appreciate some encouragement that this will be a good time.

My cub scout nephew (8 years old) just camped for the first time with his family and his den about three weeks ago. They camped in a farmer's field with porta-potties, no other bathroom facilities, very few amenities. He, his younger brother, and my sister and brother-in-law, had a fantastic time and are now planning to go camping again in the spring. They were exhausted the next day, however.
posted by gladly at 3:54 PM on October 23, 2012

My husband and I have camped with our littles, and it really can be fun. Take whatever you think you'll need to be comfortable (and I'll nth the recommendation for foam sleeping pads - even the cheapo ones work well). Our kids use some simple Coleman bags I got at Target, and they do just fine. I always make sure I pack a small lantern or booklight so I can read a bit before I go to sleep, I always take my favorite pillow, etc. -- it normalizes things a bit. My husband and I are relatively lightweight campers compared to friends, we just haven't accumulated that much gear yet, but you really don't need much to be comfortable.

We really enjoy camping and I wish we did it more often. I like getting away from the house, the kids slow down and explore their surroundings, and everything tastes better outdoors. It's more fun when you have other families along, too.
posted by hms71 at 8:06 PM on October 23, 2012

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