Camping with a baby is an unbelievably rewarding experience (if you’re a nature lover at least), being out in the woods with a tiny person and watching them experience the world around them in a very tangible way. It can bring tears to your eyes.
You know what else can bring tears to your eyes? Getting only 4 hours of sleep because it’s a full moon out and you might as well have a 60 watt bulb plugged in above your baby’s camping bed. Or trying to cook a gourmet meal over an open flame while your “new to camping” toddler is teetering dangerously close.
While I firmly believe that camping with babies and toddlers alike can be a mutually beneficial scenario, it definitely takes more forethought than the olden days of throwing a sleeping bag in a truck bed and sleeping under the stars. If you are interested in taking on the challenge of tent camping with a baby or toddler, here are some “camping with baby” tips to get you started!
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Camping with an infant, baby or toddler
Start Small When Camping with Children for the First Time
If you are taking your baby or toddler out for their first camping trip, no matter the age, I recommend that you start small. Keep your sights on a location relatively close by and start with just a night or two. Even the most mature of adults can get crabby if you toss them into the wilderness unannounced.
Nothing would be worse than driving 8 hours to a campsite where you plan on staying for a week (you took vacation time and everything!) only to have your child transform into an unmanageable version of their former selves. Instead, opt for a short weekend getaway a couple hours away and be prepared to come home if it gets out of hand. Keep your expectations low and your trips small, and then build from there!
Isn’t this always the case? A well rested baby makes for a happy family. But how can you get a baby or toddler to sleep while camping? First start by trying to recreate your baby or toddler’s home sleep environment. Attempt to keep things like their sleep sack or swaddle, sound machine (obviously battery powered), and lovey the same.
(See more tips on getting a baby to sleep while traveling here.)
If you are camping with an infant, consider a travel baby bed like the Lullyboo Bassinet. We even chose to use our regular Chicco Lullago bassinet from home since it folded up well and prevented us from having to buy another baby camping gear item.
As the little ones get not quite so little, this Cosco Pack n Play works just fine, as does a pop-up tent like the KidCo Peapod or even an inflatable toddler bed like the Hiccapop. The number one sleep savior though, for infants and toddlers alike? The SlumberPod. From a self-proclaimed minimalist and “cheap skate”, the $150 price tag hurt a little bit. But trust me, it is worth its weight in… hours of sleep. Priceless.
Prepare for the Elements
One of the most challenging aspects of camping in general, let alone camping with a toddler or baby, is keeping everyone safe from the elements. Obviously when venturing outdoors, it’s good to be smart.
Check the weather ahead of time and be ok calling it quits if the forecast shows a thunderstorm, especially if you are tent camping with toddlers or babies. But… if all that is keeping you from a wonderful weekend in the woods is some mild weather, then we can handle that!
Excessive heat and sun can actually often be more challenging to deal with than their colder counterparts. Make sure to pack sunscreen, hats, and a shade source like this Kelty Tarp when nature’s shade (aka trees) just isn’t cutting it. A portable fan, either battery powered or USB chargeable is a must if your toddler is still taking naps during the day, as most tents restrict air flow.
For cold and rain, dress your toddler or baby in layers. A good rule of thumb is that your child (especially those under 2) should be wearing one more layer than you are. Fleece jammies, thick socks, and beanies are a must!
And for sleeping, bundle up even more to keep baby warm at night. For camping with baby in cold weather, consider an option like this extra warm sleep sack for older babies or toddlers. If you are camping with an infant who may still be swaddled, something like this will keep your baby warm when the temps drop at night (though always consult your pediatrician about safe baby sleep practices).
Ella’s Wool has some of the best layering options for babies and toddlers. Made with ultra soft merino wool, they keep your little one warm and cozy. We love this newborn base layer set and the tubes knit leggings.
Get a 10% discount on all Ella’s Wool when you purchase direct from Ella’s Wool with discount code FamCanTravel.
Sweep the Area
Once your little ones become mobile, camping can become a precarious endeavour. Part of the joy of camping is allowing your kids to wander and explore, but do your due diligence and sweep your campsite and the surrounding area first. Do some research so that you are familiar with any plants or critters that could cause your child harm and look for those before you let them loose.
Embrace the Mess
Dirt, exposure to the elements, lack of showers, etc. can lead to a messy experience when taking a baby camping. Don’t fight it. It’s a futile effort. Instead, embrace the overuse of baby wipes to keep things under control until you can get home and dunk them in (and yourself) in a warm bath.
Keep Meals Simple
You will have your hands full, plain and simple. Cooking doesn’t need to be complex, especially when you are trying to keep your kids from cracking their heads on rocks, putting leaves in their mouths, or venturing too close to the campfire. Opt for these easy camping meals or things that require boiled water like dehydrated meals or oatmeal. Or pack a cooler and skip the “cooking” altogether. Turkey and cheese or PBJs will be a winner with any kid.
But if you are insistent on a gourmet meal, do some prep ahead of time and make foil packs with chicken and veggies, or breakfast burritos. This way, you can just toss the goods close to the coals and let the fire do its thing while you do yours… cuddle with your kids.
This is a potentially controversial tip, but considering I don’t mind pooping in the woods, one that I feel strongly about. There are typically 2 different ways that you can choose to camp, either at a designated campground with facilities nearby, or in a “dispersed” camping location.
These kinds of sites typically have a fire ring and an obvious place to park your car, but not much else. No tables on site or toilets nearby. Now while this sounds more rugged and in turn LESS ideal for camping with a baby or toddler, the reason I prefer and recommend dispersed sites is because you will have less neighbors.
Most designated campgrounds are pretty tightly packed, meaning there will be more people and more noise. This would mean you will spend more time policing your toddler to keep them out of other people’s business, less time letting them roam and explore, and potentially, less time sleeping due to more commotion in the proximity. While this is not a make-or-break suggestion, it’s worth keeping in mind as you research your camping options.
Keep a Flexible Schedule
If you are like me (read: type A, enneagram 8), you run a tight ship at home (if you are a more chill parent, you can skip on down!). Your kid is on a schedule with naps, meals and bedtimes and these things are relatively non-negotiable. When camping with your kid, you can try to maintain some semblance of a routine, but hold it lightly.
If your baby or toddler doesn’t sleep well the first night of tent camping, odds are good they are going to take a nap on you while you take your morning hike. If it’s summertime in the Pacific Northwest and the sun doesn’t go down till 9pm, getting little ones to sleep at 7pm may be unreasonable (though the SlumberPod can help)! Make your plans, but don’t count on flawless execution.
Don’t miss all our Resources for Hiking with a Baby or Toddler. We cover everything from hiking tips to the best carriers for hiking.
Keep them Contained
There are times when camping that you will need your baby or toddler safe without your watchful eye on them. When setting up/ tearing down tents or cooking meals, it’s typically all hands on deck. In these situations, it’s great to have something like a Pack n Play or larger play yard to keep them in one spot long enough to do what you’ve gotta do!
Another option for containment for kids about 7 months + is a portable high chair like this Chicco Booster Seat or Summer Infant Portable Booster. That way you can kill 2 birds with one stone and keep the tiny person fed and happy while you get some necessities out of the way.
See all Baby Can Travel recommended travel high chairs
Extra Tips for Camping with a Baby
If you are camping with a child who is nursing, remember to wear some discreet nursing accessible clothing. It would be a shame to hole up in your tent every couple of hours for feeding sessions. My favorite nursing wear that is excellent for travel and exercise is from Love and Fit! Check it out!
Extra Tips for Camping with Toddlers
I don’t know about you, but my toddler gets bored more easily than she used to! She can only take so much chill time with Dada in the hammock these days. Don’t be afraid to pack some of your kids favorite toys. Stacking cups, blocks, shape sorters, etc. make great camping toys because they are mostly made of plastic with minimal nooks and crannies and can even be tossed in the dishwasher when you get home.
My favorite toys though are small gardening tools like this set. Let them have at it at the campsite so they leave your flowers alone when you get home 🙂
I hope these tips have been helpful, but keep one thing in mind, whenever you travel with a kid… it is going to be harder than before, but more rewarding than ever.
Camping with Baby – Checklist
Add the following essentials for camping with a baby to your existing camping checklist:
- Camping high chair for baby
- Sleep Sack or camping sleeping bag for baby
- Play yard
- Extra warm layers (mitts, toque, etc)
- White noise
- Easy snacks
- Snack cup and sippy cup
- Wet wipes
- Baby carrier or backpack carrier with rain cover
- Breast pump or formula or baby food
- Baby camping clothes (including layers for cooler days and nights)
- Warm pajamas
- First aid kit
- Favorite toy
- Sun hat
- Portable fan
For your camping with toddler checklist, add the following toddler camping gear to your camping with a baby checklist.
- Camping toys for toddlers
- Toddler camping chair
- Toddler carrier or backpack carrier with rain cover
- Portable potty
- Rain suit
- Rain boots
Shop all these items in our Amazon Camping with Baby or Toddler List
This guest post was written by Lindsay of http://travelwithatot.com
Lindsay and her husband Nate met in college and have traveled to 14 countries on 4 continents since they were married in 2011. Typically millennials, wary of “settling down”, the #palmersquad is determined to continue adventuring along with their little one. You can follow their adventures on their blog or on Instagram @travelwithatot
If you have any questions about this post or travel tips to offer other parents, join us over in our private Facebook group for traveling parents! Join here.