Riverside Lakes Campsite, Dorset, UK
For one night in May
Our first family camp of the year was perhaps a bit ambitious. There was no hiking, kayaking or trekking involved. No, this trip would be tacked onto the end of an even more demanding day… my daughters 5th birthday party. An exhausting day out at a children’s theme park with ten small children and parents, directly followed by a night camping with other friends. The day before was spent madly assembling a birthday cake and trying to get some freelance work done, without much thought for gathering camping gear. My husband was away so I was going alone with my two children.
For our first step into minimalist camping I had decided to try going without:
extra duvets /blankets
And had downsized some of our gear:
four folding chairs were replaced by one Lazi Bed
one double airbed was replaced by two hi-Gear self-inflating 2.5cm mattresses (for the kids)
our spacious 5 man family tent (with tent carpet and footprint) was replaced by a small 4-man dome tent (blackout)
Everything fitted beautifully into the boot of my car with room to spare, we even had space for an enormous helium balloon for the party on the front seat.
However, as our guests left the party late in the afternoon they gasped at our camping plan. ‘Really? Now?’ They had a point. We were all so tired after the excitement of the day I was seriously doubting my decision as I drove to the campsite, driving slowly so I could just sit down and rest a little longer.
At the campsite
We have been to this campsite before and love it. With reserved pitches, scattered generously through a field around a lake, we didn’t need to worry about getting there early to find a good spot. It has great facilities without feeling too civilised, and some of the things we had chosen to leave at home were available to borrow free of charge. Marvellously, two other families we know were up for joining us at short notice, so the kids were off playing immediately.
We were delighted to find a large picnic bench and fire pit close by for us to use. A wooden cabin by the lake housed fridges, freezers and a microwave and in the evening, to my children’s amazement …. an ice cream van came round!
Our tent was quick to pitch and with little gear to unload I was soon sat on the bench with prosecco in hand chatting to my friends as all our children played together in the field.
At dusk the owner appeared and gave every child on the site a glow band which was great fun as it got dark. Ours doubled-up as a nightlight in the tent later.
As this camping trip had been organised at the last minute, I hadn’t made any food plans with friends. Sometimes we share food for a BBQ, take it in turns to cook etc but tonight we all did our own thing. I had brought the quickest, easiest meal I could think of (tinned hot dogs with rolls and rice) which we cooked in one pan on a small single ring stove in 5 minutes.
Our friends took the easy camping a step further and had a takeaway delivered!
This may not sound like a purists’ idea of camping, but who cares? We were outdoors with our families and friends, gathered around a campfire, watching the stars and listening to the sounds creatures at night.
It was peaceful and beautiful and I am SO glad we made the effort to camp that night. It would have been all too easy to head home after the party, watch TV, tidy the kitchen and waste time on boring household chores.
Was camping with less stuff a success?
Well, some things were a triumph, others not so much.
Sitting: As our campsite had provided a picnic bench we didn’t miss our chairs at all, and the new Lazi Bed inflating lounger was great for relaxing on during the day. (We kept it away from the campfire as an ember could pop it!)
Cooking: The single burner stove with one saucepan was fine, no need for anything else.
Tent: Downsizing our tent worked really well. I spent alot less time pitching / packing and the porch was large enough to store our bags. We could also use the car to store things in.
Sleeping: We used to bring two ikea bags full of spare bedding, duvets for laying on top of the airbeds, blankets to go on top of us and a real pillow for all four of us. While this was comfortable, its not packing light, and was a real hassle to gather it all up, then wash it all after the trip. So I experimented with sleeping on a standard airbed without any of it. I was, of course, freezing! I’d forgotten just how cold air gets at night and could feel it easily though my sleeping bag in the airbed beneath me.
The children, however, were fine on their new Multi Mat Trekker 25 self-inflating mattresses, which provided enough insulation and padding between them and the ground. They stayed warm and slept through the night in just thermals and their sleeping bags. At only 2.5 cm thick and £18 each they are budget range but surprisingly effective. I need one!
Instead of bringing my pillow from home I used a small inflating pillow and it was great. Compact to store, easy to inflate and warmer than a cotton pillow due to its flocking.
Minimalist family camping takes trial and error, this was my first attempt.
Self-inflating mattresses are warmer than airbeds and don’t need all the extra blankets
Use the facilities available at the site
Make your life easy! If you want a one-pot meal or takeaway, get one. You don’t need to prove a point, just take your family outdoors and enjoy yourselves.
Ladies, you can do this without a man to help. My husband was away so I took the kids on my own and with minimal gear the set up/packing was quick and easy.
Go for it! It is possible and easy to do a one night camp when you’re mini camping. Instead of falling asleep in front of X-Factor you’ll be stargazing with your family round a campfire making wonderful memories.
Be brave be bold, be free!