Mountain guide Jessica Baker’s tips for getting out there with the whole family.
Hoping to get out for more family camping trips? It’s one of those things that sounds fun in theory, but then in actual practice can feel so daunting it’s easier to just let it go and stay home for the weekend.
All sorts of excuses and barriers make it feel difficult to get out there—that’s why we asked Mountain Guide and Outdoor Research ambassador Jessica Baker to spill her secrets.
As a mountain guide, Jessica has training and deep experience with menu planning, packing, route selections and interpreting weather forecasts. “A lot of my soft skills come into play too,” Jessica says. “Helping people feel safe and cared for in the outdoor environment.”
Jessica is also a mom—and when she’s not out guiding clients toward their alpine climbing and skiing goals, she’s often camping with her family, sharing her beloved backcountry with her two young daughters.
Even with her own deep well of experience, Jessica says there’s always a learning curve.
“Part of it is the personality of your kids,” she says. “Will they like it? What camping food will they eat? Are they picky eaters? How far can we hike before we reach their physical limit? How much can they carry, if anything at all? How do I keep this fun while still making this reasonable for us as the parents? So many unknowns.”
We picked Jessica’s brain to help us put aside excuses and plan our best family camping trips yet. Here’s her expert advice.
Don’t get too caught up about having the right gear.
“One of the biggest obstacles, or misunderstanding, can be the gear. Camping comfort can be greatly improved by good gear, but at the core of the act of camping, it’s really all about simplicity. We go to escape our busy lives, to connect with nature, to connect with ourselves, to have quality time with friends and family, to enjoy the simple things in life. If you don’t have the ‘ideal’ gear like the lightest, the newest, the latest greatest, don’t let it get in the way of getting out there and enjoying nature.”
Rent, borrow or buy used gear to save money.
“Camping gear does not have to be new. There are many secondhand outdoor stores and e-stores with really great camping gear for a third of the price.”
Find community support and inspiration that speaks to you.
“The outdoor community can do a better job inviting those into the outdoors that have previously not had the opportunity nor felt welcome to do so. If you’ve felt that way, there are many people and organizations working to help make the outdoors more accessible and welcoming to all. Here are just a few examples I know of—some of which I have worked with: Coombs Foundation, Edge Outdoors, Inclusive Outdoors Project, Teton Adaptive Sports, Pattiegonia (Wyn Wylie), Outdoor Afro, Justice Outside, PSIA-AASI, Ski Divas, Indigenous Women Hike, Adventurous Natives, Hunters of Color, Natives Outdoors, Black Outside Inc, Pura Vida, Latino Outdoors, Outdoor Asian.”
“This is not an exhaustive list, but a great start. Everyone should have the opportunity and feel welcome in the outdoors.”
Packing lists are your friend.
“Packing can feel like a behemoth of a task when you’re already juggling children and
their basic daily needs. I find a packing list can help a ton. No one needs clean clothes every day while camping—one outfit for each person plus some clean socks and underwear is all you need. Don’t bring the closet with you. Keep it simple.”
Plan your menu before you go to the grocery store.
“It can be simple—remember, food always tastes better in the wild! How many people for how many nights/days will you be out? Calculate how many meals you will need, and then add snacks and drinks on top of that.”
“Pre-make nut-butter sandwiches for your lunches. Use dehydrated meals for longer backpacking trips where weight matters. I recommend a JetBoil stove if you just need hot water for drinks and dehydrated meals and soups. I always bring at least one or two pieces of fresh fruit to mix up the variety, even though they are heavy.”
“Premeasuring daily portions of trail mix and other snacks can really help you keep track if you have enough snacks. Ask the kids what kind of treat they would like and bring that as a reward during or after hiking, etc.”
“If you’re car camping, don’t skimp. Bring good, fresh food and a cooler to help make the meals more enjoyable. We often bring a 2-burner propane stove for car camping and a few pots and utensils with a basic bin setup for dishwashing so that we can prepare full meals while camping.”
Check the weather, and aim for good conditions if possible.
“But also, reading a book or playing cards in the tent while it rains can be a very relaxing and wonderful time.”
“Also try a point forecast for higher elevations and remember that a general rule of thumb is for every 1,000 feet of elevation you gain, your temperature generally drops about 5 degrees Fahrenheit. So if you start at sea level and the forecast shows 65 degrees for a high and 40 degrees for a low, and you will be ascending 2,000 vertical feet to your camping destination, you can generally plan on having your high be 55 degrees and low of 30 degrees. So you may want a warmer sleeping bag if it’s going to drop down to 30 degrees at night. You can reverse this formula for lower elevations, especially if you’re in dry desert landscapes, you may need to plan for extra water if the temperatures are going to be hot.”
Embrace the dirt.
“Don’t be afraid to get dirty. We live in the age of hyper-cleanliness. But it’s ok to get dirty—showers are not always necessary. If you feel very strongly about that part, then bring some baby wipes or face wipes for a “sponge bath.” Bring some biodegradable soap to wash your hands. Or even better, jump in a mountain lake or stream.”
Know your critters.
“Are you in bear country? Do you know how to properly store your food? Do you have bear spray? Are there marmots or mice that will get into your food at night if not stored properly? Know your options for storing food safely and away from your tent. Leaving food in a tent never ends well.”
Learn how to shit in the woods and leave no trace.
“Please do your do far away from water, buried in a hole six to eight inches deep and pack out your toilet paper in a designated trash bag for TP. Or even better, pack it all out. We humans tend to be everywhere these days, and the increase in the amount of feces being left in the woods is beginning to take its toll on water quality and basic enjoyment of the outdoors. Rest Stop bags, Groover buckets, etc., are all viable ways to pack out your waste. Pee is ok, but don’t pee in the water. Be conscious of water sources, and remember to pack out all TP or just shake dry.”
“Teaching your children these Leave No Trace principles will set up future generations to be stewards of wild places and allow many generations to enjoy wild spaces long into the future.”
Here are a few things I don’t leave home without:
A comfortable sleeping pad and a warm enough sleeping bag (or blanket)
A Steripen or good water filtration system—clean water is really important
Bug spray if it’s mosquito season
Good hiking shoes and backpacks if you’re backpacking—fit is really important
Enough food—running out of food in the wilderness is a bad feeling
An Ursak—a bear-proof Kevlar stuff sack that’s critter proof
A down jacket that can then be stuffed into a stuff sack to become a pillow at night
Here are things I leave at home.
“You don’t necessarily need some fancy lightweight foldable chair—sitting on a camping pad or cross legged can do the trick and keep your load lighter. You don’t need a hammer to pound in your tent stakes, rocks do that job just fine. And leave electronics/screens behind—don’t let your kids bring their iPads, iPhones, video games etc.”
Try not to have too many expectations.
“Don’t put pressure on yourself to make it the perfect camping trip. Let it unfold naturally. Take care of all the basic needs, but otherwise don’t get too caught up in how it should or should not go while you’re out there. Even a “bad” camping trip has its golden moments, and memories for a lifetime. Allow time for everyone to soak in their environment and take note of all of nature’s splendid details.”
Final advice? Just do it.
“Set aside the time and commit to it. Put it on the calendar, clear the schedule, book the permits, and just go. It’s so easy to make excuses, or bail on plans, but just go, it’s so worth it.”