How To Camp With Kids And Also iPhones (End Of Summer Edition)

September 2, 2011

This weekend, we’d planned on doing one last canoe trip. It would have been our sixth such trip this summer. To say that we were looking forward to it would be a gross understatement. We’ve loved these trips. Sure, they were hard work – lugging two small children and camping gear for four into backwoods lakes in a canoe – but they were an escape. They were islands of quiet in the vast, churningly busy weeks of the ocean that is – was – this crazy summer. They were our getaway, our holiday, our us time. And we’d gotten really, really good at them.

When we started out, on our first trip, a couple of months ago, we were still figuring things out. We packed too much food and not enough beverage, too much sunscreen and not enough bug repellent, too much bear spray and not enough chipmunk-be-gone. We struggled with solar chargers for our gadgets and failed to figure out how to use the GoPro. We did not yet understand that beef jerky was a food. But by our most recent trip, we had things down to a science. We sorted out the charger issue (trick: get a really good charger and charge it in advance) and figured out how to ward off chipmunks. We’d worked out the exact amount of food we needed and had figured out how to hack a portable, fully stocked bar (with ICE). We understood about beef jerky. We had it down. And this last trip? Was going to be a model of backcountry camping ninja efficiency.

But then I got sick, and Kyle got sick, and with too much stuff to do – little things, like sort out immigration and relocation and figuring out how we’re going to move our entire household to New York City in the next couple of weeks – and we just couldn’t do it. So this weekend, we’re staying in Nyquil and leasing forms and packing boxes, and just dreaming of the lake, and of how this would have the camping weekend to end all camping weekends.

So I thought that I would list the things that we would have done, which basically amounts to a list of the Very Important Learnings Of Camping For Comfort Addicts that we mastered this summer:

1) You CAN bring your iPhone. And you can use it. Just don’t use it for social networking or checking email. Give yourself a break from being connected and just use it for taking photos and video and reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants, as God intended.

2) But if you must use it to make the occasional posting to Facebook, do what my husband did and maximize your 3G access by lashing your phone to a very tall log and hoisting it up in the air (hit ‘post’ before you lift the log. The log will not know to do this for you.) Or do as I did and paddle yourself out into the middle of the lake, where the 3G reception is always better, and the kids won’t see you with the phone and shriek at you about wanting to watch Thomas videos.

3) Conserve your phone battery by force-quitting all apps and powering off the phone at night and for at least a few hours during the day. I was able to get 3 days of battery life out of my iPhone doing this. Then we discovered the world of high-end solar chargers, and the trick of charging them in advance of the trip, and that made all the difference.

4) It seems like just one more thing to lug across a portage – and believe me, when your trip includes two portages and multiple beaver dam crossings, the more you have to carry, the more miserable you are – but trust when I say that lugging a block of ice is totally worth it. Chipped ice makes all the difference to filtered water, and to a warm tetra-pak of Pinot Grigio, to say nothing of its ability to chill beer and keep chocolate from melting. (A block of ice, by the way, lasts almost a full day longer than a bag of cubes. Heavier, yes, but you will be grateful for that extra day. Keep it in the shade in an insulated bag with a wet towel over it.)

5) Bring the best sleeping bags that you can afford. Even if it’s super warm into the evening, at some point in the night, you will get cold, and you will hate it. Emilia and I both had Selk’bags, which are genius. They’re sleepwear sleeping bags – they’re like sleeping bag suits – which seems like a gimmicky idea until you try it. Having a soft hood on a cool night is amazing, and being able to get up in the morning and NOT LEAVE YOUR COCOON OF PLUSH DOWNY WARMTH is triple mega awesome. And for kids, who kick their way out of ordinary sleeping bags and end up waking in the night moaning about the cold, the Selk’bag is the best thing ever. Also they get to pretend that they’re Barney, if Barney went on the Atkins diet and deflated dramatically.

6) Starbucks instant coffee is your friend. You can also get instant machiatto and latte mixes (not Starbucks brand, but still), and these are much more drinkable than you’d think.

7) Chipmunks like machiatto mix. Hide your machiatto mix.

8) Raccoons like chocolate bars. Hide your chocolate bars.

9) Master your gadgets before a trip. We had no idea how to use our GoPro before our first trip and we missed getting awesome footage of Emilia falling into the lake while fishing because I was holding down the wrong button. That was a $10,000 winner on America’s Funniest Home Videos right there.

10) Just do it. You just need a canoe (you can rent them) and a tent and a map and some food and bug spray. It’s a bit of work, but it’s so worth it. Two days of being miles and miles away from civilization feels like an age, and it’s restorative, really, truly, it is.

And you get the best pictures.

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