How to survive a camping trip in your 40s

A bit like Marmite

Camping: do you love it or hate it? I am not a fan, although I have been camping every year for the last four years.

My camping backstory

I spent four months living under canvas while travelling around Africa during my gap year. During those fitful evenings, I endured biting ants, locust swarms, dust storms and floods. The worst night was spent holding onto the central pole from the inside of my tent, while a gale-force wind tried to rip the canvas from the ground and thrust it, and me, skywards.

That might account for my dislike of camping and my fear of storms.

For twenty years after that I managed to avoid all camping trips. I am one of those awful people who will only go to Glastonbury if I can stay in a Winnebago, with hot running water and a proper toilet. Now I’ve ticked that one off the bucket list, I never have to go back.

Having said all of that… I don’t want my kids to feel that way when they’re older. I have raised a couple of little urbanites. I want them to be adaptable and adventurous. And to be able to survive in the wild with just a couple of steaks and a camping stove.

Here's everything the uninitiated need to know to survive a midlife family camping trip, including my top tips and the ultimate camping packing list.

Here they are several years ago, having a little tent tea party in a friend’s back garden

Family camping

Five years ago, we were invited to go camping with friends and their families. I had already made plans for that weekend (shame) so Mr Maven reluctantly agreed to take the kids. Neither of us had any camping experience, didn’t think to ask for advice and as a result were woefully unprepared and under-equipped. Cue an uncomfortable weekend with two damp, hangry, miserable children. The tent we’d borrowed ended up in the campsite bin.

How we managed to persuade the kids to try again the next year is beyond me. This time Mr Maven insisted I join in. We got organised, spending a fortune in Argos and Halfords. We borrowed a tent (again) and bribed friends to help us erect it.

My resounding memory of that first camping adventure was Thing Two sitting in a cowpat before we’d even unpacked the car. Thing Two does things wholeheartedly and this was no exception. He really committed to it, covering every inch of jeans with bovine shit. We found the cowpat the following day and it still had the cast of his bottom imprinted in it.

Lesson learnt that year: bring more clothes than you think you’ll ever need.

Refine each time

With each subsequent annual camping trip, we have refined our packing and added to our equipment. For example, this year, for the first time, we’ve invested in a camping table and small stove (£10 each, so no big deal). Previously we’ve done our food preparation on a rug, and looked on with envy as our friends made hot cups of tea and fried bacon for breakfast.

Here's everything the uninitiated need to know to survive a midlife family camping trip, including my top tips and the ultimate camping packing list.

Not quite glamping, but close

Because we’re in denial that we are a camping family, five years on, we still have not invested in a tent. Instead, we cheat. Here is my toppest of top tips: Find a campsite which offers pre-pitched tents.

Oh yes folks, we are the Smugs. We arrive on Friday night while everyone is sweating and hammering away. We just casually swing our bags into our MASSIVE tent, which includes blown up airbeds and a camping accessories pack, and crack open the wine.

Midlife camping

Here are a few ways that midlife camping differs from teenage/festival camping:

  • Your tent has a porch
  • You’re committed to going camping, unless rain is forecast
  • No one brings a guitar
  • The only thing being smoked is the bacon

The packing list

I’ve compiled a list of all the stuff you need for a comfortable family camping trip. I add to this each year and print it out to help with the packing. You need to take pretty much everything, including the kitchen sink (well a washing up bowl) if you want to be a comfortable camper.

Here's everything the uninitiated need to know to survive a midlife family camping trip, including my top tips and the ultimate camping packing list.

  • Tent
  • Mallet
  • Sleeping bags
  • Gazebo
  • Blow up beds (with pump) or carry mats
  • Pillows
  • Camping chairs
  • Folding table
  • Torches
  • Cool box and ice packs
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Toilet roll
  • Shower gel
  • Wet wipes
  • Washing up liquid and bowl
  • Dishcloth & tea towel
  • Ear plugs
  • First aid kit
  • Wellies
  • Flip flops to wear in the shower
  • Towels
  • Several changes of clothes
  • Matches & firelighters
  • Stove or barbecue
  • Bottle opener, corkscrew, tin opener
  • Bats, balls & water pistols
  • Waterproofs
  • Suncream
  • Cutlery
  • Plastic plates, bowls and cups
  • Chopping board
  • Food


I hate to jinx it, but so far we have been incredibly lucky with the weather. The kids go feral, the dog eats her own bodyweight in sausages, the gin cocktails flow and everyone has a great time. But all of this could be massively improved if it took place in someone’s garden and we could all just go home to our own beds.

So in conclusion

I still hate camping.

Tell me what you love and hate about camping and let me know if I’ve missed anything vital off the packing/shopping list.

Much love, Vx

[Disclosure: nothing sponsored – I mean who in their right mind would sponsor me to go camping!?]