I was a city boy growing up. I was raised on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. My only real exposure to nature was camp outside of the city. And that wasn’t camping.
My wife loves camping.
She introduced me to its allure. I gave it a shot and found it wasn’t so bad.
(Although we endured a terrible thunderstorm over our first night.)
We did a bit of camping, but it wasn’t a ‘thing’ for us. But then our son came along…
Two years ago, we tried family camping with our then five-year-old boy. Specifically, at the annual Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, New York.
I think the sweet spot for any family camping location is to go somewhere that already has built-in activities to do as a family. So, the idea of a music festival that includes a family tent for kids was perfect.
Our kid really digged it. The concept of pitching your own little ‘house.’ It was magical for him.
Now, family camping is absolutely a ‘thing’ for us.
Grey Fox has become an annual event…
(We just returned from our third Grey Fox camping adventure.)
So I think it’s fair to say that today ‘we’ love camping.
My iPhone Goes Camping Too
I haven’t totally played fair. I’ve also spent the last couple of years figuring out technology tricks on how to stay ‘connected’ while on our camping excursions.
(I’m sure purists might fault me for this intention.)
My reality is I simply can’t leave my iPhone behind. My life doesn’t easily let me disappear for a few days. If my 84-year-old father needs to reach me, I’ve got to be able to answer the call.
Fortunately, the giant field we camp on at Grey Fox gets one to two bars of AT&T cell coverage.
(Other service providers are noticeably absent.)
So, my iPhone didn’t fall off the grid.
The bigger challenge was keeping my iPhone powered up.
(Plus, my wife’s iPhone)
Looking to the Sun with Goal Zero
As long as the sun shines, it’s a great idea to bring a portable battery station that recharges with a solar panel to nurse multiple smartphones over the course of days. A while back, I did my research and decided to go with some nifty gear made by Goal Zero.
Goal Zero Sherpa 50 Power Pack
Capacity: 50Wh, 5,200mAH
$178.48 on Amazon
I paired it with the Goal Zero Nomad 20 Solar Panel, which has a 20W solar capacity.
$159 on Amazon
And I added in the Light-A-Life 350 LED
$32.00 on Amazon
to illuminate the inside of our REI Kingdom 400 tent.
Goal Zero Upgrade
We were camping with another family this year, and I found it especially convenient that the other dad was also at home with his tech.
My friend brought the newer and more powerful models that Goal Zero offers:
The Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station, which provides 150Wh and 14Ah of battery power
$199 on Amazon
He paired it with the Goal Zero Nomad 28 Plus Solar Panel, which has a 28W solar capacity.
$249.99 on Amazon
Important note: Solar-powered battery solutions are not cheap!
You’ll notice that the Sherpa 50 and Yeti 150 are essentially the same price, but the Yeti 150 gives you a much bigger bang for the buck. The only downside to the Yeti 150 compared to the Sherpa is the Yeti is much bigger. But if you’re car camping, that shouldn’t really be a consideration.
We tethered the two Nomad solar panels together and successfully created our very own solar ‘FrankenPower’ Grid.
A Cheaper Choice
Over the course of multiple camping excursions, Goal Zero gear becomes less expensive per use. But if you want a cheaper way to power your gear on your first camping adventure, just bring a few basic (inexpensive) power sticks.
(You just need to bring enough since you won’t have a solar recharging capability.)
Last year, I picked up this beefy RAVPower battery pack as a backup option-
RAVPower 26800 Battery Pack (26800mAh)
$49.99 on Amazon
(It has three USB ports and is rated to recharge an iPhone 7 nine times!)
There’s also the RAVPower 12000 (12000mAh)
$21.99 on Amazon
(This cheaper version can still recharge an iPhone 7 over four times.)
So, you can probably get away with spending less than fifty bucks to power your smartphones on a family camping trip. It all depends on your needs and your desire to generate additional power in the field.
You might be thinking about now… “Maybe Barrett doesn’t really love camping if all he talks about is how to maintain his ‘normal’ life with all of his companion tech.”
And you might be right.
But I’ve decided that for me it’s not about loving the camping experience.
It’s about proving to myself that I actually can camp. And enjoying the fact that I can step out of my comfort zone and rough it for a few days.
To successfully ‘survive’ in the ‘wild’ and provide your family dry shelter… that’s a useful skill.
(Just don’t take all the credit when your more-qualified spouse is also there pitching the tent.)
And to MacGyver your mobile tech to stay connected with the world…That can make you feel a tad clever, although I guess that’s not in the spirt of true camping.
Perhaps this all falls under the category of ‘glamping.’
(Guilty as charged!)
Tips to Take with You
The truth is I’ve not really taken my family that far away from civilization.
(Our car was located a whopping fifteen feet away from our pitched tent.)
So, I’m not pretending to be some kind of Grizzly Adams.
The point of my story is you can teach a city boy some new tricks.
And for all of you out there who think they may hate camping, remember there can be a lot more to the experience than just spending a few days in a tent.
To review, here are my 5 family car-camping tips that will brighten your days in the ‘wild.’
- As long as there’s a bar of cell phone coverage out there, you don’t have to disconnect from the world if you don’t want to.
- Just bring battery and/or solar powered backup to keep your smartphones going.
- Camp with someone who knows more about camping than you do.
- Camp near a festival or event that can fill your day with baked-in activities for the family.
- Don’t stress. Remember, you’re really only fifteen feet away from the rest of your world.
(As long as your car’s battery doesn’t die)
Jump in… the water’s warm!