To spend as many nights under canvas as possible is one of our goals in life. In nine years of camping with kids we have only used a (borrowed) car once for a three night trip. So the short answer is YES: no-car camping is completely possible with a baby, with toddlers, with small and increasingly bigger children. Our trips have ranged in length from a weekend to the entire school summer holidays. Whatever the adventure, no-car camping has always worked for us.
No-car to pack
So how do we do it? Usually with bicycles, panniers and a bicycle trailer. Bicycle panniers are roomy and fit a surprising amount of gear in. A year ago, the children had a pannier each for the first time; now they have two each. I would recommend two lighter panniers rather than one heavier one as it helps them keep their balance. Both children frequently complain when asked to carry a rucksack but say they barely notice the weight from their panniers.
What do the children carry?
Lightweight stuff they might need access to on a journey: cagoule, waterproof trousers, fleece and a snack or two. This summer they carried their own lightweight camping chair. We carry some toys, crayons and books but any cuddlies they want need to fit in their bags. So does anything they acquire on the way … feathers, shells, huge stones, Lego sets…
When we went camping in Australia for a month we had one piece of checked luggage each. So we took two rucksacks and two pull along suitcases that the adults could manage, as well as cabin bags. We wouldn’t have liked to carry it very far but we knew it was simply a matter of getting to and from the airport. As we were visiting family, we spent all of our three week stay on one campsite. We took more than we needed (think lots of changes of clothes, a skateboard, loads of books, toys) precisely because we knew we could manage the luggage for those short distances. Next time, we’ll just take one pull along suitcase. My biggest fear was whether or not the tent would clear customs. Read that story here.
We’re planning a night walk out of Sheffield with literally just the tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, toothbrushes, a few snacks and the clothes we’re wearing. We’ll camp for a night in the Peaks and head back by train in the morning. We’ll let you know how it goes.
How do we make it lightweight?
We purchase our gear carefully, choosing lightweight options. Our tent weighs 5 kilos. Our Trangia and MSR stoves provide us with two rings but each use a different type of fuel. Therefore, if one fuel type is not available, we have a back-up. We take minimum cutlery and crockery. Then, we stuff our mugs and MSR pan with a couple of tea towels, dishcloths, pegs and a small refillable bottle of washing up liquid to save space.
For a longer no car camping trip, we take 3-4 changes of clothes and go for layers which can be stripped down if it’s hot. Weighing clothes beforehand is an interesting activity! I never knew how much difference in weight two T-Shirts could have.
Our children (mostly) choose their own clothes. Sometimes, the absolute favourite party dress has to come or the heavier-than-I-would-like cosy jumper. Especially if they have to wear the same items again and again for a few weeks, they need to be happy in them.
Clothes are stuffed into drybags which helps reduce space and obviously keeps them super-dry. Everyone has a different colour and clothes stay in them in the tent so everyone can find their own things easily.
We always take our kitchen sink (yes really!), swiss army knife and headtorches. Lots of strong plastic bags (which we re-use) are great for organising stuff in the tent and to carry washing up to the sinks.
We always have a food pannier which contains a picnic for the travel day and other snacks. We do squeeze in olive oil, soy sauce, tomato ketchup, honey and jam which travel along with us.
Choosing a location
Deciding where to camp often means a lot of research. We have spent hours on google analysing routes from train stations to campsites to make sure they were safe for the children to cycle and possible for us to reach with heavy bicycles. Check out our post about no-car camping in Edale here.
Once, we headed off through the Peak District on a cycle tour just to see if we could manage the hills with all that gear. The conclusion was: we could, but it wasn’t fun.
My key criteria also include proximity to a shop, a washing machine and preferably a swimming pool. No-car camping means you need to have the foul weather day options covered.
Last minute discards
Once we have everything ready to pack, we have a final check and ask will we really need to use that? Or can we manage without that? It’s easy to slip things in just-in-case but it’s those extra just-in-case items that can really tip the balance. Of course, it may be debatable how much Lego we actually NEED but on a rainy day in a tent I never regret bringing the Lego.
After the trip, we reflect on whether there were any items that we didn’t use and decide if we’ll strike them off the packing list next time. When we went from the UK overland to Finland, we didn’t use our waterproofs in the whole 5 weeks but I certainly wouldn’t ever go camping without them!
Please let us know how you’ve managed no-car camping or ask us for any more details you’d like to know. We’d love to hear your thoughts.