Garden camping is a great option if you want to sleep outdoors as a family but don’t feel confident enough to tackle a campsite. It’s cheap, safe, very local, (mostly) stress-free, and loads of fun!
As a couple who love being outdoors but have never been fond of sleeping in tents, Gemma and I have always been fair-weather campers at best. We both hate cramped spaces, being cold and wet, getting kept awake by rowdy campers, and then being woken up early by the sun. We also hate faffing about pitching fiddly tents, cramming half the contents of our house into the back of the car then realising we’ve left the pegs and torch at home – and most of all we just despise having a bad night’s sleep.
Throw a crazy toddler into the mix who doesn’t even like sleeping in his own warm, comfy bed, and you’ve got a recipe for pure camping misery. But you’ve got to try these things, right? So that’s exactly what we did last weekend, and here’s what we learned.
1. You can pick your weather window
Last Saturday night the weather forecast suggested warm temperatures mixed with rain showers, so rather than taking the gamble of heading to a soggy local campsite we decided to set up camp in our own back garden. We’ve just got a great new family tent and comfy double airbed, plus a cool outdoor gas grill and more head torches than we know what to do with (what’s that old saying about all the gear and no idea?). The basic plan was that if the weather turned bad we would all run inside the house rather than get wet and miserable in some boggy field. But in the end we lucked out and were treated to clear skies, warm temperatures and a perfect night for garden camping.
2. You can get the kids involved
By containing your children in the back garden without the distractions of a campsite and loads of other screaming kids to drive them nuts, garden camping provides a great opportunity to get the whole family involved with setting up camp. Sonny’s only just turned 2 years old and always insists on being part of what we’re doing, so he pottered around fiddling with pegs, poles and guy ropes while I figured out how the hell to pitch our massive new family tent.
3. You don’t need camping furniture
Pitching a tent in your garden saves a fortune on camping chairs, folding tables, plastic cutlery and plates, sleeping bags and all that other expensive nonsense that you spend more time trying to figure out where to store than actually using. As we were only camping around 20 feet from our back door, we simply pulled a few garden chairs and a little table over to the tent, attached a few battery-powered fairy lights, then poured ourselves a glass of wine each in proper wine glasses. I was starting to understand the appeal of garden camping!
4. You can use all the bedding you need
Don’t have a decent sleeping bag? Don’t worry. Just chuck loads of pillows and duvets in the tent until it’s warmer and cosier than your own bed. That’s what we did – and it worked a treat!
5. You can easily cook an outdoor meal
We waited until Sonny was in bed before we grilled ourselves a couple of burgers. But rather than struggle with gas burners and hot plates for his dinner we simply cooked him some pasta in the kitchen then let him eat it in the tent. As far as Sonny knew he was still eating a camping meal, except we got to make it indoors as normal then wash everything up in the dishwasher!
6. You can get kids ready for bed easily
Rather than try to bath Sonny in a washing-up bowl outside or rinse him off with the garden hose, we just bathed and dressed him for bed in the house as usual. Then we headed into the tent for some bedtime stories and got all tucked up in bed at his usual time around 7.30pm. Of course he didn’t got to sleep, and he was still sitting up laughing at us and watching the Gruffalo on his iPad at 10pm, but once the excitement died down he nodded off to sleep leaving us free to listen to music, watch bats flitting around our garden, and drink a few beers outside the tent.
7. You can bail at any time
By some miracle Sonny actually slept better in the tent than he usually does in his bed, and we all stayed tucked up under canvas until 7am on Sunday morning. But the main reason garden camping appealed to me was that, if we’d wanted to, we could all have headed back indoors at any point and crept upstairs to the comfort of our own beds.
8. Strong coffee is never far away
I boiled the water on a camping stove to make it feel authentic, but there was no way I wasn’t heading into the kitchen to grab our pretentious cafetiere for a mega strong cup of coffee as soon as Sonny booted me out of bed.
So what are you waiting for? Next time the sun shines on a Saturday night, head outside and try garden camping as a family. If you want to attach a date to your overnight adventure, check out the Wild Night Out campaign on June 30th, 2018. It’s a great nationwide event that encourages friends, families and groups to spend a night outdoors together. We’ll be doing it – so look out for pics on Twitter and Instagram!