Camping Made Easy for Urban Families

Image of car and tent at night under the stars

iNTRODUCTION


If you are reading this, you are probably living in the big smoke and keen to take the kids camping. No stars for working that out!

But you might be hankering to get down to the local camping store, or check them out online, and load up on stuff in case they sell out or the sales end.

But before you do, you need to read this.

Because hands up who has ever had buyers regret? Yes, my hand is well and truly up!

Buying camping gear without a plan is like building a cubbyhouse or a shed without one. You could do it if you knew a bit about carpentry, or in our case camping with kids, but it would most likely still be done quicker and with less wastage if planned out.

So, it's great you are here, and ready to learn the five things that will make camping for urban families easy before you spend your hard earned money.

Because here's how you can swap your urban surrounds for the great outdoors and take the kids camping, any time you liked, even with just 1 hour notice, to explore, to learn and to just be kids?

Not only that, here's how you can camp comfortably, travel safely, and have as much fun as most other camping families out there?

And especially, here's how you can do all of this without the need for the trailers, camper trailers, caravans, RVs or enormous cars that most camping families use nowadays?

Without all of the trial and error and frustration that goes with camping for newbies as well?

If that sounds appealing, then you are in the right place.

Because, as most of us know, camping is so good for you and your family on many levels - self confidence, resilience, the hip pocket, mental and physical health, and reflection, just to name a few.

But, for the city slickers amongst us (me included), there's one thing that gets in our way. And that is space, or lack of it, and the logistics around that.

It's hard enough if you are a busy parent to actually take the kids camping if you don't have the know how, the confidence and the right equipment. For many, that in itself can be a giant leap, especially if as well as that you've never camped before and perhaps haven't even grown up in a camping culture.

Add to that the logistics of urban life, and those challenges are perpetuated.

In this article, we will look at why urban families are very much under-represented at campgrounds compared to those living in suburban and rural areas. 

I will also give you our top five tips to camping for families living in high density areas to put you on an equal footing with other families. In fact, when all is said and done, I think you will agree you will be way out in front on many levels.

I will focus on apartment living families in this article, but the principles apply equally to any family living in a smaller home, including units, flats, townhouses and terrace houses.

I will give you tips to help you DIY everything we cover in this article. But I will also reference our Camping Kickstart Program for those of you who want to avoid all of the trial and error with a tried and tested solution.

This program covers everything you need to know about camping trailer free, from the planning process right through to your return home.

WHERE ARE THE URBAN CAMPING FAMILIES


It was a real surprise to me to read that, according to the 2016 Australian Census data, nearly 11% of apartment residents are 0-11 year-olds. Such a statistic, I imagine, would be much higher in many other countries.

But despite their limited local outdoor natural spaces, you won't see many apartment dwelling families around the campgrounds - in my experience anyway.

And that statistic was taken 6-years ago. I can only imagine an upward trend since that time given skyrocketing property prices and the level of high-rise developments. 

In actual fact, I have observed over recent trips that over 90% of camping families tow something like a trailer, camper trailer or caravan when they go camping.

That would not only rule out the average high-rise family, but many other urban families as well.

The pros and cons of urban and apartment life

Living in an urban area is absolutely a great lifestyle choice for many families because of affordability, location, social life and proximity to work and family. These features are all highly sort after by families.

However, as noted in many articles written on this subject, including research published in Theconversation.com, many parents living in apartment complexes felt their children did not have sufficient access to local natural outdoor spaces.

While it won't necessarily reduce the importance of local outdoor play for the kids, one great way to get them outside into nature is to take them camping.


Barriers to camping

But on top of the usual challenges of beginner camping families, living in an apartment means you often have: 

  • A lack of storage space, not only for trailers but for bulky camping gear 
  • Alternative transport and car/ride share options that make car ownership less attractive, or at least a suitable car for camping
  • Logistical challenges when it comes to loading the car when there are long distances between the camping gear and the loading bay or car park, especially when stairs are involved.

But here's a news flash....

Families living in apartments and smaller homes are just as likely to appreciate the many benefits of camping as anyone else, if not more so given their limited living and outdoor spaces for the kids.

And here's what you can do about it.....


THE FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW now

#1: How to camp trailer free

Split image of a camping setup (top image) and a loaded car (bottom image)

Firstly, since we don't have the parking space, the key to camping for urban families of up to 5 is to avoid the need for any kind of trailer, camper trailer, caravan, RV, or an enormous car for that matter, and to camp trailer free.

And by that we mean to transport everything and everyone using just your vehicle.

Now that might be easy to do if you go down and visit the local hiking store for some lightweight, relatively uncomfortable overnight hiking gear for your camping setup. And perhaps also leave the bikes and other fun things at home.

But not if you want to camp comfortably, travel safely and participate in activities such as bike riding, fishing, 4-wheel driving (etc) like other camping families.

For that, you need:

  • A comfortable camping setup that can be comfortably and safely transported by car
  • A compatible car capable of carrying the load safely 
  • An efficient way of packing the car.

> Your camping setup

Firstly, you need a family camping setup that can be transported comfortably and safely by car. One that also includes a well equipped kitchen, good lighting, a decent tool-kit and good outdoor shelter as well as comfortable sleeping arrangements. And of course, a chair for everyone.

The setups in the images below are examples of compatible setups, at least for a family of 4-5, that we can help you put together in the Camping Kickstart Program.

Image of 4 camping setups

While exactly what you will include in your camping setup will vary, everything will generally fall into the following categories:

  • Tent and accessories
  • Tools
  • Power and fuel
  • Lighting
  • Camp kitchen
  • Refrigeration
  • First aid
  • Bathroom
  • Furniture
  • Sleeping
  • Clothing
  • Entertainment


For a copy of our editable gear checklist to help you pack for camping, feel free to get your complementary copy here.

Alternatively, head over to the  Camping Kickstart Program for a detailed walk through of everything in our Kickstarter Kit, together with printable and editable checklists, access to regular Q&A sessions and more.

You also need the right kind of car for camping capable of carrying the load. Specifically, your chosen vehicle will need:

  • An adequate payload to carry your particular load. While for our type of setup, smaller vehicles will be out of the question, there are some mid-size vehicles that would be compatible, at least for a younger family of four.
  • A sufficiently large rear cargo area or boot - with a minimum depth of around 100 cm / 39 inches.
  • Roof rails to carry the gear that the rear cargo area won't hold, unless it is sufficiently large enough to hold all of your gear internally.

Alternatives to actually buying a vehicle include:

  • Hiring or renting one, which is covered in point two below. This can be done either through a commercial rental car company, or one of the various car share services now available
  • Hiring a second smaller one to carry the extra load until you were ready to upgrade your car
  • Borrowing one, if you are the reliable type

In our  Camping Kickstart Program we cover in detail how to choose the right kind of car for camping, including the best mid-size cars for camping trailer free. AND, we have hired and packed our fair share of them to show you how it is done.

> An efficient way to pack the car

And finally, you've got a great camping setup and the right kind of car capable of carrying the load. The final piece to the puzzle is the way in which you pack the car taking into consideration passenger safety, car limits and road safety.

Car loaded with camping gear and bikes driving

Essentially, our Trailer-free Formula for packing the car goes like this:

  • Tent: Firstly our tent and some tent accessories are transported on the car roof, either placed in a roof box, bag or tray, or strapped directly to the roof racks. 
  • Bedding and clothing: Soft, padded items like sleeping bags and sleeping mats are transported in the rear passenger cabin, space permitting, with the remainder of the bedding as well as clothing transported on the car roof.
  • Everything else: The rest of your gear, including camp furniture, the various camp kitchen components, tools, lighting, electronics and incidentals, is transported in the rear cargo area. It might look like a lot, but it is totally achievable.

All of the above is spelled out in much more detail in our  Camping Kickstart Program, including our step by step process with images for packing five different vehicles to show how it could be done.

#2: Need to hire a vehicle? How to choose the right one


A common feature of high density living is accessibility to schools, work, public transport, the local amenities and access to share vehicles, taxis and rideshare services.

With all of this so easily at hand, and more apartments and other properties not even providing car parking, hiring or renting a vehicle for your camping getaways can be a really practical and cost-effective option if you don't own one.

As hire cars usually lack the useful roof rails and crossbars, your car hire options for a family or group of up to five will be limited to vehicles with an adequate payload or weight carrying capacity. They will also need a sufficiently large internal cargo space to comfortably and safely hold all of your gear, such as:

8-seater "people movers"
Image of 8-seater people mover

8-seater people movers are commonly available for hire and are an excellent choice for a camping holiday for up to 4-5 people if a dual cab ute with a canopy (see below) was difficult to secure.

These vehicles provide the two main elements we look for in a car - good cargo space with the third row of seats folded down, and a high payload intended for transporting a lot of people.

As with most hire cars, they won't typically come with a cargo barrier if that safety feature is important to you.

A dual cab ute and canopy 
Image of dual cap ute with cnopy

Being a "workhorse", these vehicles also have a high payload for carrying heavy work/trade materials, and a very large cargo area, which also has the added safety feature of being completely separate from the passenger cabin.

These vehicles would hands down be your best option for camping. In our experience though, many available for hire are not fitted with the necessary rear canopy.

The share economy

The worldwide movement to rent or hire rather than buy has extended to the car market. This gives you much more flexibility to source the right kind of car for your needs from individual car owners themselves for the period you want it.

Campervans/motorhomes
Image of campervan

If you are going to hire a car, consider whether going a step further and hiring a campervan or motorhome would be a better option, especially if you are new to camping and are still building up your setup. 

They are, however, not as readily available as hire cars and need to be booked fairly well in advance.

#3: How to store gear in a small space

One of the issues facing apartment living families and also those living in other smaller properties is the limited amount of available storage space, both inside the home as well as in any storage cages or units provided in your apartment complex.

But we do need some storage space, and primarily in the one location where it can be maintained, sorted and replenished in between trips in readiness for a quick getaway at any time.

When time to pack and load the car, it should be taken from and returned to this location with minimal double handling.

Whether you store your camping gear in a spare room, your storage unit, garage or shed, your parent's garage or an external storage facility, we have a tried and tested solution for you.

How much storage space do you need?

It goes without saying that you shouldn't need much room to store your camping gear if you have followed our advice and kept it all to the confines of your car and car roof.

All you really need for our type of setup is an area that is about 1.5 metres wide by 1 metre deep (60 x 40 in). If you don't have access to a storage facility, try a section of wall in a spare room or other out of the way place. Shielded by a nice room divider and you would (sort of) barely know it was there! In fact, you will probably have some space in this area to store other items as well.

Diagram of storage space required

While you might want to keep a few items separately in your home, such as some clothing, first aid and toiletry items, most of your camping gear can be stored in this one location.

Recommended shelving

The camping gear can be stored on two sturdy shelving units that are available from any hardware store measuring W:90 x D:40 x H:180 cm (W:35 x D:16 x H:70 in) or resting next to them on the floor according to the layout below.

One particularly deep shelf of the same height and width would also be suitable. Just make sure they have five shelves.

Image of two storage shelves side by side - one empty and one loaded with camping gear

Having one deep shelf instead of two shallow ones side by side allows you to place items at right angles rather than parallel to the wall, making the items easier to access and remove.

When constructing the two shelf units, the shelves should be fitted at identical intervals and the shelving units placed one in front of the other to make one deep shelf unit to measure around 90 cm / 35 in wide by 80 cm / 32 in deep.

Location of shelving
  • Choose one locationIdeally, your camping gear should be stored, maintained, sorted and replenished in the one location as much as possible. This allows for easier loading and unloading of the car and minimal double handling.
  • Locate close to the exitCarrying sometimes heavy and bulky camping gear through tight spaces and long distances can be difficult and frustrating. Whether you store your gear in a shed, garage, storage facility or spare room, it should be located as close as possible to the door / entrance of the storage area, and also to where the car will be situated for loading and unloading.
  • Establish a sorting area: Ideally, your camping storage area should have a table, bench or other flat surface nearby to allow you to quickly sort out or check an item or bag without necessarily removing it from the storage area. If there isn't sufficient space for a permanent flat sorting surface, you could just temporarily pull out a camping table.

#4: How to buy space efficient gear


When you live in an apartment or smaller home, there’s usually not a lot of room for bulky camping gear. So, while minimising what we take is important generally, it is all the more so when you live in a smaller home.

In particular though, when choosing the individual items for your setup:

Avoid large tents

Living in an apartment, the biggest consideration when choosing your tent will be the practicalities of how to dry it out when you return home, which is inevitable if you camp often enough.

If you have limited space to dry out wet camping gear, choose one or two smaller tents rather than one large one.

Alternatively, you could also choose a small tent that you can extend to create an enclosed annex using wall panel accessories. The basic tent and the separate loose panels will be much easier to dry than larger two and three-room tents.

Tents with removable frames, such as your typical dome tent, will be even easier, allowing you to hang the tent fabric on the clotheslines and drape over balconies, doors and furniture. 

Buy easily stackable and packable gear
image of bowls neatly stacked

When shopping for your camping gear, choose space-saving items that stack and pack efficiently, such as stackable dinnerware and cookware, lightweight bath towels, stackable plastic storage containers, and collapsible items.

Limit the volume of your kitchenware

Your camp kitchenware is also notoriously bulky and difficult to store. As shown in the image below, the kitchen and cookware, excluding the camp / dutch oven and related bulky campfire cooking accessories, will comfortably fit into a 35 litre container and a medium sized lunch cooler bag.

Limit the size of your icebox or fridge 

Similarly, the size of your icebox or fridge needs to be big enough to service your family or group, but no bigger in our opinion than 40-50 litres.

Consider hiking style bedding (at least for the kids)
3 kids sleeping in sleeping bags

When looking at bedding options for the kids, consider hiking style sleeping bags as well as sleeping mats rather than the more bulky alternatives you will find in camping and general department stores. 

Acquaint yourself with your local hiking store and you will also be equipped (at least in the sleeping department) for an overnight hike when the opportunity arises.

More compact bedding options will be much easier to store at home as well as to pack in the car.

Just remember though, we suggest buying the best quality products you can afford. Also don't try to save space at home by storing sleeping bags and self-inflating mats/pads packed tightly in their stuff sacks. Keep them loose to maintain their loftiness and they will last you for years to come.

Layer your clothing

When you have limited car space as well as home storage space, choose compact and lightweight clothing, and especially in cold weather, follow the three-layer rule with synthetic and wool-based clothing.

More compact but good quality outer, middle and base layers will be as efficient in terms of warmth, if not more so, than a heavy and bulky overcoat, but it will be much more space-efficient. 

Keep this in mind whenever you are buying clothing that might come in handy for camping, even if it might cost a little more.

Focus on items with a smaller pack size

When buying your camping gear, such as chairs, furniture, lighting, devices, games and entertainment, be selective and choose good quality but more compact items when packed up. You don't necessarily need the smallest item on the shelf, but don't go for the biggest one either.

Every bit counts

Scrutinise everything you include in your camping setup in terms of size, including the small stuff. A small saving on one item might not sound much, but that same saving across everything in your setup will make a big difference to your packing and storage requirements.

#5: How to pack for a quick camping getaway


When you are living in close proximity to a whole lot of people, you want to be packed and gone in as little time as possible, and as discreetly as possible.

Establish a plan for how you will pack the car, and stick to it, so that when you are packing the car there is no second guessing or pondering about how to do it while everyone is watching.

Checkout our article on Tips for a Quick Camping Getaway to help you be packed and on the road in as little time possible.

And if you don't have a specific plan for packing your car, then you guessed it, check out the  Camping Kickstart Program for our step by step, photo by photo, guides to help you pack a variety of vehicles.


CONCLUSION


So there you have it - there are no practical excuses now.

Camping is possible for you and your family, whether you live in an inner-city apartment or on a rural farm, and I hope I have demonstrated that.

So, don't let your urban lifestyle stand in the way of camping with your family.

And, in case you didn't get the hint, I'd love to see you in the Camping Kickstart Program.

If you are a busy parent, or the type that outsources things - your cleaning, tiling and other odd jobs around the house - then why not avoid all of that trial and error and kickstart your camping adventures with us.

You will be camping like a pro before you know it.

ABOUT ME

Image of Jo Simon

Hi, this is Jo Simon. 

Here's a bit of background about me. I am an accountant by profession and started out in private practice before moving into the not-for-profit sector, where I worked in senior financial and business management, and corporate governance roles for over 20 years.

I have now combined those skills, my desire to help people, and my love of camping with my family and friends to help other families experience the many benefits of camping.

The seed for this program grew from a pretty dismal camping experience we had when we first camped with our then 5-month old son over 10 years ago, which wasn't help by a record rainfall event.

It appeared that to camp comfortably a family needed at least a trailer, as all our friends had great camping setups curtesy of their trailers. We didn't have one and nor did we want one. And suffice to say our setup was pretty ordinary.

So, I essentially set about putting together a camping setup that would rival that of our friends without, amongst other things, the need for a trailer to haul it.

I got a bit carried away with it and now here I am sharing that and my other learnings over the years with you guys.

I hope to see you on the inside.

Jo