Keeping kids happy while giving them a dose of outdoor magic isn’t always easy. David Lintern takes us through his top tips…

This advertising feature is produced in collaboration with our friends at Therm-A-Rest. 

In late June, as Scottish schools broke for summer, we headed to a quiet, local estate hut armed with some of the latest, comfiest camping kit from Therm-a-Rest. You can read about this experience in the September issue of The Great Outdoors magazine.

At the time of our visit, MBA bothies were still off limits due to the pandemic. In the meantime, our micro adventure at a non-MBA bothy was pint-sized in just
the right way.

We’ve learnt the hard way that adventures with the kids are best when kept small and simple – we want them to grow to love being outdoors, not put them off! A little timing, planning and preparation go a long way. Here’s a few ideas to help make the most from your time together this summer and avoid tears before bedtime.

With some good kit and a bit of know-how, bothies can make great bases for family adventures. Photo: David Lintern

1. Try less formal campsites

We’re not too keen on big, stuffy campsites but there are plenty of smaller, quieter options, from rustic to glam. We love tiny, community-run places with honesty boxes and cold-water-only bathrooms just as much as a heated toilet block and a nearby bar… although an on-site playground does go a long way to keeping them happy. Wherever you are based, the Therm-a-Rest camping gear we tried out would be just at home in a family tent, pod or yurt as it was in our secret howf. Some of it will work brilliantly for a winter wild camp, too.

2. Make it more about the destination

Wherever you are calling home that night, younger children have smaller orbits than adults. They are generally happiest when they have a base from which to explore around, from and to. Avoid ‘are we nearly there yet?’ with a shorter approach. A car, pushbikes or a campervan can help cut out some of the legwork, too. If possible, it can also be worth avoiding busy times or places and waiting for the best weather… all in aid of making the best memories.

Blue skies and open trails. Photo: David Lintern

3. Don’t sweat the weight

If you want to keep them coming back for more, outdoor trips with the little’uns are about stretching their comfort zone, not breaking it – so don’t fret about the grams. Packing non-dehydrated food, real milk and a few cuddly toys helps to create a home from home atmosphere and settle them into a new place. An extra change of clothes is also recommended for when things get messy.

The Therm-a-Rest mats we tried were perfect in this sense. While none sit in the ‘ultralight’ category, it was reassuring to know they were robust and not prone to punctures… kids are tough on gear and will bounce around on mats! Given just how much like a genuine home-from-home mattress the MondoKing3D is,
it packs down surprisingly small. It was easy to transport rolled up on top of our bike trailer and perfect for camps where weight and space are not an issue.

4. Get properly rested

In the summer months especially, a dark- walled shelter will allow an earlier night for your excitable little explorer – and it’s your break too. Our hut had curtains, but ‘black-out’ family tents are now available, which mean the adults just might manage a beer and an hour of downtime before crashing out!

5. Keep them busy

Make sure there’s plenty of reading and colouring books to help settle and occupy them at camp. Don’t forget the audio soothers, night lights and fresh batteries before you embark, too.

The MondoKing3D and the Neoair Topo Luxe side-by-side make a comfy bed. Photo: David Lintern

The Therm-a-Rest mats provided a comfy base while the kids were reading and colouring in, as well as sleeping. We found the larger MondoKing and the Neoair Topo Luxe worked well together as a large double bed, both having squared-off edges and being pretty much the same height when inflated. The quilt and cushions were the icing on the cake!

6. Stay hydrated

We generally don’t bother with water filtration in Scotland except if we are with the kids. The MSR Guardian Purifier is a good belt-and-braces option but the brand’s Trailshot is more pocketable if not. Either provides peace of mind if we’re refilling bottles from ‘wild’ water sources.

Home-from-home comfort

NeoAir Topo Luxe sleeping mat, £155 (regular)

The well-known NeoAir, but on steroids! A plump 10cm of cushioning with squared- off corners providing a super-stable sleeping platform. Inflation and deflation is fast and fuss-free with two dedicated one-way valves. It comes in four sizes, has a starting weight of 650g and has a R value of 3.7, stats that make it perfectly suitable for winter camping as well as summer luxury. This is the mat my eldest is requesting for holiday sleepovers at home!

Trail Pro sleeping mat, £120 (regular)

The first mat I ever bought was the now legendary Prolite Plus, a self-inflator which is still going strong. The Trail Pro brings that toughness and security up to date, with 7.6cm inflation depth and a plush mix of thermal foam and air panels inside and a stretch knit fabric top. The 2-way Winglock valve makes it easy to inflate, and while it’s not light at around 820g, it is genuinely all- season-ready with an R-value of 4.4.

Questar-6 sleeping bag, £240

The Questar sleeping bag in action. Photo: David Lintern

The Questar offers 650 fill hydrophobic, RDS-certified down, zoned to provide plenty of cosy warmth in all the right places down to around 0 degrees. The weight starts at 840g, which means it’ll work for backpacking too. Useful features I’ve grown to love on Therm-a-Rest bags are well-designed hoods, a zipped pocket at shoulder height and the ‘Synergy Link’ feature, which stops the bag slipping off the mat.

MondoKing 3D, £215 (x large)

This was a bit of a revelation, and a firm favourite with Mum. With 11cm of self- inflating foam, vertical side walls and a crazy R value of 7, it looks and feels like a real mattress. Despite the construction, comfort and build quality, it only weighs 2kg and packs down reasonably small. There are two valves and it’s surprisingly quick to inflate.

Vela Double quilt, £265

Quilts like the Vela can be an alternative to sleeping bags. Photo: David Lintern

I’m a big fan of outdoor quilts so I’m pleased to see this 650fill Hydrophobic, RDS-certified down quilt from Therm-a- Rest. It’s rated to around freezing and
in use we found it really cosy, making the most of combined body heat. There’s a useful footbox and poppers to really lock in the warmth, but it’s just as easy to stick an arm or leg out if needed. Packed down, it’s barely any bulkier than a regular sleeping bag and weighs 1270g. It worked perfectly with the MondoKing.

Compressible pillow, £26 (medium)

A touch of luxury made from recycled foam, these squished down well in transit and would work well in the car or on a plane, too.

MicroPump, £40

The Micro Pump makes inflating mats a breeze. Photo: David Lintern

The mats come with inflation sacks to save on puff and reduce the chance of mildew longer-term, but this small, quiet air pump made short work of the NeoAir inflation – from flat to full in less than five minutes. It weighs 65g and uses two AA batteries.