Family Camping With Paul Dobie

Cotswold Outdoor Expert Paul tells us what camping means to him, and his top tips for camping with the kids.

What is it that you love about camping?

“We wild camp a lot. We sometimes go to campsites with the kids, but I’ll wild camp with them as well so that it’s just us. When you wake up in the morning and you’re the only ones there, it’s such a nice feeling. We hammock camp, so rather than go on the wet floor, we stick it in the trees and they love that. We have a fire, we toast marshmallows, we cook stuff - I’ve just always done it for as long as I can remember.”

How did you first get into camping?

“I first got into camping by going away with friends. I think the majority of people go though their DofE or similar, but we didn’t do the DofE because we were already going off climbing and to the Alps, so whatever activity they were offering us wasn’t nearly as good as what we were already doing! We used to go up to the Lakes, pitch a tent for the weekend and use that as a basecamp. I wasn’t in the outdoor industry then so I had what I could get hold of; they weren’t great tents and weren’t great sleeping bags but we were still out doing it. You learn from that, and now I’ve got carbon tents and super lightweight kit - my walking kit for trekking and backpacking weighs about 7kg including the bag! Camping kit has really changed, so I’ve probably got about 15 tents of every shape, size and use. I took a stove away on a stove test - we had a Jetboil, a Windburner, a MSR Reactor - and in the morning I lit all three at once to find out which was best. Really sad to a lot of people, but to me that was really interesting!”

Tell us about your experiences camping as a family, and with the kids.

"We do family camping in a couple of different ways. We’ll go as a large family group - my brother and his kids and his wife, and my sister and her husband and kids - we’ll all get together and all go camping. That tends to be once a year but if I find I’m off on a Saturday and Sunday, I’ll come in on the Friday and say to the kids, “we’re going camping” and they’ll jump at the chance. We’ll put the box and bag in the car, and we’ll all go out to a campsite if we have to but if not, I’ll have recced where’s good to go, where’s near a water source and everything. Sometimes my wife won’t want to come, or she’ll be working so can’t come, but sometimes I think she likes the respite of me taking the kids because they’re pretty full on sometimes! But they love camping, they’ll help me pitch the tent, James likes to use the mallet and make sure the pegs go in. They’ve got their own sleeping bags, their own pillows, they make sure everything’s set up, they have their own side of the tent they lie on, they absolutely love it. ”

How does it help you teach them to connect with nature, and how does it make you and the kids feel to be in nature?

"We picked the kids’ school because it had a good network of outdoor classes. They have a stream that runs through the back of the school and classes are held at the stream, they look at the wildlife, they get to go outside and don’t sit in a classroom all the time. We found the Peak District because we both used to work in Manchester, and 30 minutes away you’ve got these hills and a really good environment to bring the kids up in. It’s so important, we go out and I’ll point out nature - I’m not quite Ray Mears but I can point out different tracks! They love waterfalls and lakes, I think they want to go paddling with us in future, too.”

How do the kids respond to being outdoors and camping?

"They’re naturals at it, which is brilliant. The second they know we’re going outside you can see the lift, especially when they know we’re going to go camping. Not so much the long walks, but when we get there and they know they’re going to eat well and sleep well, they’re going to get up in the mornings and have a nice view, and if it’s nice at night we’re going to see the stars. I’ve got a little star chart on my phone so I can point out what’s what. You just see their spirits lift.”

What would you say to a customer who was looking to go camping for the first time and maybe taking their kids?

"My advice to a first-time camper, would be to go to an organised site to start with, just so they’ve got some form of amenities because it can be a bit of a culture shock to go from a home to a tent. I’d advise them on what to take, I’m very much against an airbed so I’d advise something different like a mat or a proper fold-out bed. I’d advise them on what tents are good, how easy they are to pitch, and just instill a confidence that it’s easy. In terms of getting the kit together, you can do it slowly, starting with somewhere to sleep and some shelter and then progressing to end up with a three-burner stove, a barbeque, a pizza oven and everything else! And then you get a job in an outdoor shop and get even more stuff!”

What are your top tips for camping with kids?

"My tip for camping with the kids is to make sure it’s enjoyable for them. Because if they’re not happy, they don’t want to be there. I’d include them with pitching the tents, they help with the food, they tell me that the airbed needs more inflation or if I need to stretch the guy line better. My advice is literally to make it enjoyable for the kids, include them, don’t just set up the car and do everything yourself, and then they take pride in the part they’ve played.”

What is your best UK camping experience?

"My best camping experience in the UK was when I took my dad wild camping with my brother, and we went around the north of Scotland. It was amazing, we went around north of Ullapool taking in Loch Assynt, Sandwood Bay and around the top of Scotland. We camped one night on the edge of Loch Assynt next to an old ruined castle, had a fire on the beach, and cooked steaks on the open fire. And then we packed up the tents, cleared off up the coast and repeated. We cooked lobster that next night on the open fire that the fisherman dropped off for us, as fresh as it gets. We were very spoiled with the weather too, Scotland doesn’t have it that often but it was 26 degrees during the day, 15 at night. It was amazing just spending time with my brother and my dad.”