Autumn Goes Car Camping!

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Autumn Goes Car Camping (1)Like most new parents, my life and that of my husband's, were forever changed last Fall with the arrival of our baby daughter, Autumn Eugenia Goffin. In spite of our permanently altered reality, we vowed we wouldn’t let parenthood stop us from venturing into the great outdoors and doing all the things we loved to do together. Being together in nature was part of what connected us as a couple. We had seen many friends mostly give up on getting out with baby, because it was “too much work” or there was “too much stuff” to pack. It’s true, since becoming parents, we’ve learned that babies have poopy diapers, a constant need to play and explore and usually require a few additional belongings wherever they go. However, with a little extra planning and preparation, we were convinced we could still enjoy regular outdoor family adventures.

As our Summer plans began to fall into place, we—literally--began gearing up for six hiking/camping trips in a variety of settings, including a state park, a national forest service fire lookout and a music festival. Some have passed and some have yet to come, and I’ve decided to share each experience through this six-part blog series. My hope is to pique curiosity and support others looking to get outside in their new plus-one lives. Whether you’re a seasoned summiteer or have yet to hit the trail, I hope to offer some reassurance and motivation, so your families can safely and comfortably enjoy all the natural beauty Oregon has to offer this Summer. Thanks for reading!

Autumn’s Summer Adventures Part I: Car Camping in Milo McCiver State Park Back in early May, my husband Josh and I decided that since we had reached the six month mark, it was time for an overnight with Autumn in the great outdoors. Up until that point, baby girl had explored nature with a few hikes through Hike It Baby, some snowshoeing in Vermont, hiking with friends and on various local trips. Though we were a bit nervous about such an undertaking, we knew we had to test the waters if we wanted to successfully accomplish an overnight backpacking trip with our daughter before her first birthday. So, we planned a trip with our friends and their little one, and headed out for Milo McCiver State Park in Estacada, Oregon one dreary Saturday morning. . .just as soon as our daughter awoke from her morning nap. After winding through rolling hills and acreage of Douglas Firs, we arrived at our quaint, wooded camp site. The first order of business? Putting up shelter. A few gentle raindrops reminded us that if we were to last until morning, staying dry was a must. Once the canopy was secured overhead, it was mostly smooth sailing as we settled in with our little ones around the campfire for the night. Once back home the next day, the campfire smell lingered as laundry, bedding and toys were unpacked, giving way to reflections of a mostly successful first camping trip. Though it wasn’t perfect, babies didn’t fall in the fire and everyone stayed dry—and really, what more could I have asked for? The following are tips and lessons learned on Autumn’s first summer adventure:
      • Make a checklist. It’s inevitable that I will always forget at least one key item on any given getaway, and this trip was no different. Even though we brought more than what was needed for the trip overall, we forgot a lot of things. We forgot to pack potatoes for the dinner we were sharing with friends, we forgot our pillows and an extra blanket for Autumn to lay on in her pack and play (thank goodness for extra blankets in car emergency kits!). So, a checklist is a great way to make sure you pack everything needed and don’t forget essentials. I’ve made a Camping Checklist to help you get started.
      • Bring more than is needed. A primary goal of this trip was to over pack in an effort to decide what was absolutely necessary and what could be tossed back into the camping bin. We found that we only needed half the clothes and diapers we brought, and could’ve gotten away with a couple less toys and no baby wash cloths. The French Press, however? Completely necessary (and we didn’t forget the coffee).
      • Stay close to home. Knowing you are only a couple of Michael Jackson songs away from home should disaster strike offers peace of mind. Though Autumn is about as easy-going and happy as they come, the last thing we wanted to deal with was a screaming baby in our tent in the middle of the night and disturbing others trying to sleep. Barking dogs are bad enough (we know, we have one), no need to add a baby to the mix. Which leads me to my next point…
      • Check in with your neighbors. Though we really only did the smile and nod thing, I wish that we had taken a moment to say hi to our neighbors and let them know that we were REALLY excited to be on our first camping trip with our baby. And it couldn't have hurt to have Autumn throw them one of her heart melting smiles. Really. For everyone’s benefit, consider having a quick conversation before the sun goes down.
      • Don’t over plan your agenda. I’m an over planner to the max, so naturally, I prepared a mental agenda for our short trip. I had plans to hike around the park as a group, plans to go and explore as much as possible and plans to break out a deck of cards. What really happened? We sat at camp playing with our babies and drinking beer – though, I did get to sneak off for a short run late in the afternoon. (But let’s be honest, it was really just an excuse to get a break from nursing and holding Autumn for 30 minutes.) It will take at least twice as long to do most things with a baby, and even longer at a campsite, so be realistic in your goals.
      • Consider sleeping arrangements. I’ve been plagued with fairly severe sleep problems and deprivation since being a mom, and really can’t sleep in the same room as my child. Sleeping in a hotel room is bad, but sleeping in a tent is pretty much torture. We brought a pack and play for Autumn to sleep in, and it worked really well. Autumn slept great. . .as did her dad. If you’re like me, co-sleeping in a tent may be difficult and sleeping bag sharing may just be out of the question altogether. So, think about your sleep preferences ahead of time and make a plan that will work for everyone (even if it means mom is in another tent or in the car).
      • Don’t forget comfort items. Though babies are extremely adaptable and flexible, they do take comfort in routine and familiarity. Favorite toys, books or sounds can help add a level of comfort for a little one in a new environment. Keeping the bedtime routine as close to how it is at home may also help baby drift off and feel secure. Don’t forget your own comfort item, as well—a good book, a cozy sweatshirt or slippers, an essential oil or a beverage of choice might make all the difference!
      • Give yourself a baby break. We packed a big blanket to spread on the ground, so that the babies could sit and play without getting dirty. It worked great. Our friends also brought and shared their mobile activity seat, which was a life saver. The babies took turns playing in it while the parents got a well-deserved break. I can’t stress this tip enough!
      • Embrace the weather. While we were nervous about the rainy weather on this trip and really wanted a warm, sunny day, the end result ended up being perfect. The rain provided white noise during naps and at night, and the cool temperatures prevented Autumn from overheating in the tent. A complete win!
Camping with a baby definitely takes more commitment, energy, planning and time, but should also be a fun experience. Gather as many tips as you can so that you can confidently plan a getaway the whole family will enjoy. Here’s to building a campfire, kicking back, relaxing and toasting to your bad-ass camping self. You certainly deserve it! Autumn Goes Car Camping (2)    

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The New Era of the Family Camping Tents
As your family grows, it's common for your family's tent needs to grow, too.  For us, life before Mason was a lot simpler when it came to camping. My go-to for years was a 2-man backpacking-style tent from Sierra Designs. It got the job done and I slept many nights under the stars. Then came baby. It’s funny how a little person can take up so much room. Life after Mason meant graduating to a 4-man Alps tent, which we loved hard for the last few years. But as of recent, our little family of three seemed to have outgrown this one, especially when camping in the rain or needing a little sheltered play space to tuck Mason into during the afternoon. Photo: Arika Bauer/Zion Adventure Photog I started to throw out the idea of something a little bigger, to which Mark, my significant other, rolled his eyes and insisted we didn’t need. But I when my sister showed up with her twins to camp with us, toting what looked like a circus big-top tent because it was so large, I had to admit I was a bit jealous. Then we had an opportunity to try out a Big Agnes Big House Deluxe 4-man and it was a game changer. The first time we pulled it out of the bag and began unrolling it, Mark groaned and whined for the first minute. But within five minutes, we had popped it up. Then when Mark walked into the tent and could full stand up, he was sold and there was no going back. We were both sold. While I am very aware these bigger tents also come with a bigger price tag, here’s what I’ve found with them: if you spend the money and pick the right one, this is a tent that can be with your family for many years. Family Camping Tents - Top 3 Picks Over the last year, we've been trying different “family-style” camping tents and decided on three we feel are completely worth every penny spent. I also include a runner-up tent that is at a lower price point. Big Agnes Big House Deluxe, 6-man / 3 Season If you're looking for the easiest setup of all time for a large tent, the Big Agnes Big House Deluxe might be it. There are two hefty poles that crisscross at the top. Lay the tent flat, cross the poles and feed them through a sleeve on top. Pop up and then snap the plastic hooks in place to secure it. This is one of the fastest tents to set up I've ever seen when it comes to large tents. There’s nothing complicated about the initial setup; however, like most large tents, you'll want two hands on deck. Photo: Arika Bauer/Zion Adventure Photog What I especially love about this tent is its headroom at 6.5 feet. And the top is mesh, so if you are in a dry environment, this tent is amazing for stargazing. The mesh also keeps it very breezy inside the tent. I was a little wary of the fact that, unlike most tents I've owned, this one didn’t have a mesh door, so when you zip it closed, that’s it – it’s closed. Another thing that makes this tent a great family option is the storage. There are mesh pockets running along the top of the tent just below the mesh roof, which are great for storing keys, phones and other things that you want to keep up and away from a baby or toddler crawling around on the floor. This is also a great place to slide a headlamp in for light inside the tent when you want to have light but don’t want a lamp on the floor. Spacewise, there is tons of room in this tent for families of 3 and 4. As you get to 6, you might find yourself feeling a bit cramped, but there is a vestibule option ($139.95) that can be added on for an additional storage area if you have a lot of people camping in the tent or if you brought a pack n’ play, which can take up a lot of space. The downside to this tent is the rainfly. We put it on during a bit of a windstorm in Zion National Park and found it to be a bit confusing to figure out the front and back. Also, there is a small tension pole that seems like it should be easy to slide in to hold the front of the fly out a bit from the tent so rain stays out of the tent, but it was really tight and hard to get in place. We felt like we were going to break the piece, so we put it in and actually have avoided using it since, which leaves us with a floppy fly. Luckily we have been mainly camping in good weather and we also have the vestibule, which means we don’t have to use this fly. This was pretty much my only complaint with the Big House Deluxe. But despite the rainfly, there were a few pluses: the packing down is very easy. Just roll it up quickly and slide it in. There are two pockets –  one holds the fly and the other holds the tent. The two side sandwich together and buckle. It's very easy to pack and head home. It’s also light considering the size. After hauling around a Coleman for a season, I was pretty surprised at how light the 13 lbs., 11 oz. family-sized Big Agnes was. Other great features: the poles are color-coded for easy setup and they're all pretty straight forward, making setup in the dark a breeze. Having doors on both sides is a major plus if you don’t want to crawl over anyone in the night. The “welcome” mat at the front door is also a nice added touch and a reminder of just how family-friendly this company is. To summarize: Pros: Easiest setup, high headroom, lots of storage options, two doors, easy to pack up and carry at under 14 lbs. Cons: Rainfly was hard to get into place. Price: $399.95 Nemo Wagontop 4-Person If you want a family camping tent that will likely last you until your toddler goes to college, Nemo is the one. Known for building both high-quality and aesthetically pleasing products, this tent is just another bomber item from the company. Again, we were surprised at how easy this tent was to set up – after the first time. While the tent is actually quite easy once you figure out the pattern, what I personally found frustrating was that the directions didn’t really spell it out clear enough and assumed the user had set up a similar style tent before. Luckily, I recruited some help from a nearby site to rescue me from ending up a weepy mom mess in the middle of the campsite while my son ran around like a wild animal. So give yourself time, patience (and an adult helper) the first time you set it up. After that, it will be a breeze. Photo: Arika Bauer/Zion Adventure Photog I was solo camping on this first trip with the Wagontop, so I had to manage my tiny four-nado while trying to get a new tent up and the sunset was long gone and dark was fast approaching. Yes, horrible planning on my part and I definitely should have done a YouTube scan on how to set this tent up before arriving, but I had been spoiled by my experience with the Big Agnes tent, so I expected the same. Once we figured out the crisscross pattern of the two very bizarre-looking poles, it was easy. I think the spidelike-ness of the poles can seem a little daunting until you have tried it a few times. The second time I set it up was easier, and then by the 4th time, I began to really understand why the designers did it this way. Here’s what’s awesome about this tent: it’s rock solid. I feel like you could practically survive a tornado in it. Definitely my son torquing on the poles and leaning deeply into it for “fun” is similar to severe weather. The pole system makes this tent feel like you don’t need the guy lines staked down as seriously as other tents. Another plus of this tent is while the tent only has doors on one side, there are two doors on the font, which means you don’t have to lean over your child or partner to zip out of the tent. And the headroom is awesome at 6.6 feet. It also feels a lot bigger on the bottom than many 6-person tents, so even if you have four people, you won’t feel crowded thanks to the design that flares out a bit. The thing that Nemo does really well is the single wall setup. This means no pesky rainfly flapping in the wind. The window flaps and extra front door piece that you snap on after setup will protect you in a rainstorm. The lack of fly also means there is less to dry out when you break down camp. Add the garage on and you have tons of extra space for muddy boots and wet jackets. If we have any complaints about the Nemo Wagontop (beyond the tricky first-time setup), it might be the weight (27 lbs. definitely makes this one a bit heavier to haul around) and zipping it into the duffel bag. You don’t have to be precise, but you do need to take time to pack it up or it may not fit in the bag. Once it's zipped in, it’s super compact and really slides into a trunk well. Another Nemo product we got to try was the Victory blanket. This is a waterproof mat that’s an excellent addition to throw outside your tent and stake down so baby can roll around on it with toys and not get dirty while you work your way around the campsite setting things up. Also, this is a nice layer inside the tent to keep the bottom a little bit cozier. It fits perfectly into the 4-man! To summarize: Pros: Tent is rock solid and sturdy; holds up well in rain or wind. Easy to set up (once you get the hang of it), tons of storage space with added garage. Cons: Instructions not explicit, so we found it confusing to set up the first time; heavier to carry (though compact). Price: $399.95 Therm-a-rest Tranquility 6 Are you a 2-parent, 3-kid family? The Therm-a-rest Tranquility 6 is the tent for you. Weighing in at 18 lbs., this family cabin of a tent offers great space and privacy dividers to keep the kids in their own zone. What we liked about this tent from the moment we got our hands on it was how it packs into a backpack. This tent could actually be taken on a backcountry trip with an older child (OK, maybe pre-teen or teen) carrying the tent in for the whole family. Photo: Arika Bauer/Zion Adventure Photog The tent slides out of a backpack and reveals three separate attached sleeves to put poles in (there are three sets of poles), so everything stays neat and tidy in there. The poles can feel a little overwhelming upon first glance, but the directions were great and we were able to quickly pop the tent up. We didn’t try it solo, but it seemed like this is actually one of the few behemoth tents that can be set up with just one person, making it a rare family option for the single parent. The key thing that makes this tent easy to raise is that there are hard plastic loops on the poles to hook tent clips and rainfly into on the top of the tent to make it secure and raise quickly. Once you pop it up, you’ll notice a lot of great features. We love the boot and flip-flop prints at the entrance of the door, indicating the best spot to put your shoes before entering the tent, which is a good reminder for little kids popping in out with dirty shoes. We also loved the storage inside the tent. There were plenty of places to slide in a phone or keys up high and out of the way of little hands. The length of the tent make having a front and back door key. This one is a bit like a caterpillar and definitely feels like a 6-person tent. Another great part of this tent was the zipped-in separation area, allowing for a kid and adult zone. This can be zipped open and tucked away or closed easily. This tent gets an A+ for stargazing. Again, we see the rooftop mesh, which is a great feature for families at night, especially when a little one can’t sleep. And if the rain comes in, the fly is relatively easy to slide on in a hurry. We suggest watching the excellent video that Thermarest has on their site to see how to attach the fly quickly. Another side note about this tent is that the poles, add-on floor mat and rainfly can actually act as a sun shelter without the tent if you want to use it for a day outing. This makes the tent multi-purpose and allows you to ditch the heavy pop-up tent you have been hauling to the beach. This tent has the least height of the three we reviewed with 6.3 feet in headroom, which is still plenty tall for most families. There are also additional accessories that can be purchased to increase size in the tent if you need more storage and poles that can allow you to turn the rain fly entrance into a stand-up awning to protect the entrance from rain and making it easier to enter the tent.   We didn’t experience any windstorms in this tent, but we have read and heard it can withstand heavy gusts well. Based on the design and how sturdy it felt setting up, we would guess this one would do well in heavier weather. One last thing we would like to note is that we expected this tent to be a hard one to break down and put away (three tent poles, pretty long, seemingly tight backpack bag), but we were pleasantly surprised at how well this one packed down quickly and everything had a place within the pack. We were able to take it from brand new and pack it back down pretty close to what it looked like when we started. (Check out the picture below of Mark carrying it to see the size of it on a 5’10” man’s back for perspective.) If the price tag on this one scares you away, consider bumping down to the 4-man if you don’t need the 6-man tent. We also tried the 4-man out and it felt incredibly roomy and had the same standup height of the 6-man. To summarize: Pros: Dividers for privacy, packs easily into backpack, fairly light at 18 lbs., clear setup instructions, amazing for stargazing, rainfly can double as sun shelter, high headroom and sturdy for all-weather. Cons: More expensive than others on this list, but the features (combined with quality) are totally worth it for larger families. Price: $599.95 Family Camping Tent - Runner-Up While we know these aren’t in everyone’s budget, we're confident they're some of the best when it comes to larger tents. If budget is an issue, here's another suggestion we tried out and liked in a lower price bracket. Coleman Carlsbad 4-person Darkroom with Screenroom The Coleman Carlsbad offers a great price point option with the added bonus of being a dark-out tent, so it's great for midday napping toddlers. Downside: it’s hot. This tent doesn’t breathe, even with the fly off, so don’t plan on using this in Southern hotter regions. It's great for the Northwest or New England. Be aware that the lines inside the tent poles are a little weak and seem to snap easily. Price: $199.95 Photo: Read More Tips for Sleeping in a Tent with Babies Tents, Toddlers and Sleeping Under the Stars 10 Tips for Camping with an Infant What are your favorite family camping tents? What type of gear review should we do next? Comment below! ABOUT OUTGROWN OutGrown is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works to create a world where everyone can enjoy the physical and mental benefits of spending time outside. We are focused on creating opportunities and removing barriers to access so families with babies and young children can take their first steps outside. We believe all families have the right to connect with nature, benefit from spending time outdoors and be inspired to a lifelong love of nature. Since its grassroots inception in 2013, OutGrown is a growing community of 280,000 families and over 300 volunteer Branch Ambassadors. More information on all of our programs can be found at    EDITORS NOTE: We hope you enjoyed reading this article from OutGrown. We’re working hard to provide our community with content and resources that inform, inspire, and entertain you. But content is not free. It’s built on the hard work and dedication of writers, editors, and volunteers. We make an investment in developing premium content to make it easier for families with young children to connect with nature and each other. We do not ask this lightly, but if you can, please make a contribution and help us extend our reach.  
Autumn Stays at Gold Butte Fire Lookout
We had our 4th of July weekend booked for a long time. In fact, just a few days before Autumn was born last October, my husband reserved the Gold Butte Fire Lookout as far out as you can--nine months. So as Spring turned to Summer, we found ourselves eager with anticipation for this trip. It would be Autumn's biggest adventure yet, as we were planning on spending three nights and four days in a small 14 x 14 cabin atop a bluff in the Willamette National Forest. As we were finishing up packing the night before our departure, Josh read aloud the trail description from the web site, "From the parking area, it's about a 1/2 mile difficult hike to the Lookout." The web site also pointed out that there would be a wheelbarrow available to help transport belongings. I commented that I wish we hadn't packed quite as much stuff, but how hard could it be? After all, it was only a half mile, and we were seasoned hikers who had easily made the one and a half mile trek to our camp spot on the beach on Autumn's second adventure with a stroller full of gear. I decided to trust that despite packing as though we were car camping--maybe even car glamping--we could easily make it to the top of the butte with baby, BOB stroller, BBQ (yes, an actual grill), bins of stuff, our border collie and my Bota Box of red wine. The next morning we headed south. Approximately fifteen minutes past Detroit Lake, we began making our way up a winding, narrow, and minimally maintained forest road. About thirty minutes later, we finally approached the second gate where we would be parking, and I immediately spotted the wheelbarrow that would help carry our stuff. Two wheelbarrows would be nicer, I thought. Then, we noticed, despite what the web site had mentioned, that the second gate was OPEN! This meant that we were going to bypass the difficult half mile hike to the Lookout altogether! As we continued past the gate and proceeded up the butte, we began to realize just how lucky we were that the second gate was unlocked. In fact, as the road continued climbing steeper and steeper, I began wondering if we would have made it to the top at all with all of our gear. Were the rangers positive this was only a half mile hike, because it sure felt like at least two. When we finally went as far as we could, we learned that although we bypassed a steep half mile climb, there was still an even steeper third of a mile to go. No mention of that on the website! Thank goodness, again, for that open second gate... We unloaded, got organized, secured Autumn in the backpack, and began making our way up the final ascent to the fire lookout. At this point we knew we would be making more than one trip back to the car, but didn't anticipate just how difficult and slow the climb would be. It proved difficult enough that we needed to take a break every 100 yards or so. We almost tipped the stroller off the trail and down the ledge on more than one occasion. Even our dog, Fletcher, who usually made several trips back and forth ahead of us, lagged slowly behind carrying his own pack. As it turns out, this short, undisclosed third mile trek to our final destination was, quite frankly, a bitch. After another thirty minutes or so of climbing, we scrambled our way to the top of the narrow trail to find a tiny cabin with a wrap around porch and wrap around windows allowing for a 360 degree view of the Cascade range. A half a dozen snow covered peaks dotted the horizon against a bright blue sky. If there were a jackpot for most breathtaking views in Oregon, we had just hit it. We looked at each other and smiled. We were exhausted, but we knew it was going to be a great few days in the mountains, and we were ready to enjoy -- just as soon as we made that second and third trip back to the car. Both getting to and staying in a Fire Lookout with an infant is no easy feat. Here are some things to keep in mind should you set out on a similar journey: 1. Go for a hike. Don't let hiking up a steep trail to a Lookout atop a butte be your first hike ever! Even with months of running, hiking, and yoga, the hike to the top was a quad and lung wrecker. I can't imagine tacking on another half mile if the gate had been closed. My best advice would be to do some regular hiking or other vigorous activity with baby on your back before booking a trip like this. 2. Pack wisely. Ok, ok, so maybe the trail description really WAS meant for those who are able to fit ALL of their belongings in a couple of backpacks. Oops. Though we may have (literally) shed some blood, sweat and tears along the way, we certainly weren't complaining when we sat down to eat freshly grilled salmon alongside a bottle of Argyle bubbly. Taking three trips up the side of a mountain wasn't easy, and if we did it again, we'd buy a bigger backpack, so that we could pack most of our gear in one trip. Another lesson learned? Call ahead. Most Lookouts provide the essentials needed for cooking and cleaning (at least both we had now visited). We brought a bin packed with cookware and other kitchen items on this, and ended up not needing most of it. A call to the local ranger station to see what might be available already, could've prevented this packing mishap. 3.  Plan for games and fun. As much as we loved passing Autumn back and forth all day and baby proofing the Lookout, we were ready for a break come nap time. We broke up the routine with board games and by planning a hike for one day and swimming the next. When bedtime came, we were ready with S'mores and a nifty constellation app -- and boy were the stars amazing! 4. Make the best of mealtime. With all the gear we brought, I'm surprised we didn't bring a high chair--which, as it turns out, would have made meal time with Autumn a lot easier. It was challenging for Autumn to feed herself without something to sit in/on, as both she and her food didn't stay in one spot for too long. Looking back, opening a garbage bag for her to sit and eat on would have probably made eating and clean up much easier. If anyone tries this, I'd love to know how it worked out. 5. Pack lots of water. At this particular spot, there was no water available, which meant we needed to hike in gallons of water. We brought five gallons of water for our four day stay, and ended up buying four more when we went into town. We hiked out with only a half gallon of water leftover. It was hot, and we were active during the days, so we drank liberally. In addition, we needed water for the dog, cooking, cleaning, and cleaning Autumn. And just to mention, water isn't light. With each passing adventure, I've realized many of the tips offered in this blog series are less about baby and more for parents. I hope you've found them useful thus far. This was a hard trip to do with a baby, but worth every aching muscle. You just can't beat stunning panoramic views and vistas in the Oregon wilderness, and I think Autumn would agree! Happy hiking!