Just the title gives me the willies, but like it or not, we’re going camping with a baby this weekend. A 10-month old baby, who can’t quite walk, and who has no concept of what is “dirty” and what is “clean.” A baby who requires quite a bit of time, attention, and entertainment.
And we’re terrified.
Before baby (we call it BB, in case you’re wondering) we did quite a bit of camping. In fact, I spent 2 separate weeks in the Boundary Waters between Canada and the United States canoeing, portaging, and generally roughing it. Today, I look back on those trips as some of the happiest times of my life.
We knew since our daughter was born that we wanted a love of the outdoors to be ingrained in her, but I freely admit that since college I’ve become something of a posh princess. I work most of my days at a computers, and I really enjoy my air conditioning. I’m not sure I can survive without internet for a full day, much less a weekend, and when you throw a baby into the mix, well, there had a better be a bunch of strong drinks! Still, if I had so much fun camping during my childhood and teen years, shouldn’t I figure out a way to make those same memories for my daughter?
So I researched, planned, and asked a whole ton of other moms, and here are the tips that I came up with. I am happy to report that our first camping trip as a family was a success, and best of all our little girl slept a solid 15 hours her first night back at home!
Inevitably, something will be forgotten, something will break, or the weather will not cooperate. I highly suggest camping an hour from home or closer if at all possible. When you stay close to home, you eliminate the frustration that a long drive gives a toddler. Less drive time = more time for play, and if something goes wrong, you can just hop in the car and head home!
Keep it Short
For your first camping trip with a baby, don’t plan a 6-night extravaganza in the wilds of Africa. Stay close to home (see the aforementioned point) and try to just stay one night. You’ll have plenty of time to play, let your little one explore, and get used to this whole camping thing without biting off more than you can check. And again, if everything goes haywire, you can just pack it up and go home!
Buy a Big Tent
The biggest one you can afford, and that two people can put up, actually. Why? Because almost no one sleeps wells next to their hot, tossing and turning, first-time-camping baby. At the very least you’ll need room for a travel crib (playpen, port-a-crib, or whatever they’re calling it) as well as sleeping arrangements for the both of you. If you can get one with two rooms that’s even better. It gives everyone a little privacy and separation, enabling everyone to sleep better!
Buy an Air Matress
And not a thrift-store air mattress, either. With air mattresses, generally you get what you pay for, so don’t skimp in this area, and don’t try to sleep on the ground either. I don’t care how you camped in high school or college, you body just can’t take sleeping on the ground anymore. Whether you’re up all night doing feedings or just worn out from the day’s fun, an air mattress is a much better place to sleep than the cold, hard, bumpy ground.
Take a Thermometer
My number one concern while camping was sleep quality. I was a babywise mom, and prided myself in getting my daughter to sleep 7-8 hour at night by 3 weeks. By the time she was 3 months old, she was sleeping a solid 12 hours at night. Needless to say, I lived by the babywise saying “Sleep begets more sleep” and I wasn’t about to let camping get in the way of her sleep habits. Regardless of whether you’re a babywise parent or not, I’m sure you know how incredibly important sleep is, both for your baby and for you! Most babies won’t sleep in a tent that is too cold or too hot, so I pack a thermometer with rechargable batteries like this one to take the guesswork out of wondering if my kiddo is too hot.
Over-pack on Clothes
We live in the Midwest, where if you “don’t like the weather, wait a day or two and it will change.” But really anywhere can have unpredictable weather, mud puddles or any other sort of messes than involve changes of clothes. Take thick and thin baby clothing, both for sleep and for awake time to be prepared for any situation. And however many outfits you think you’ll need, double it.
But Be Organized About it
With so many outfits to pack, a suitcase can quickly become a nightmare. My favorite tip is to pack individual outfits (shirt, pants, socks) in a gallon ziploc bag. Then when outfit change time rolls around you can quickly grab a bag filled with clothes and change your tot – no more fishing around in the bottom of a duffel bag for tiny little socks. Plus, that bag doubles as a place to put wet or dirty clothes so they don’t soil the rest of your suitcase.
Be Ok With Changing the Routine
On a normal day, our daughter is in bed by 7pm, and she sleeps in until at least 8am. But when camping, there is just too much going on to expect her to go to bed at her normal time, or to sleep in until she normally would. That’s ok, because that is what camping is all about, so let them play until they fall asleep standing up, and when they wake before you do, embrace it, because it’s only for a couple of days. (And they’ll sleep GREAT when they get home and back to their normal routine)
Plan on Covenience Foods
It would definitely be nice if someone could come up with a way to make gourmet, organic meals over a campfire, but to my knowledge, that has yet to happen. Give you child’s diet a little grace while you’re camping and pack fun and convenient snacks like cheese sticks, grapes (cut, of course) goldfish, or whatever else happens to be their favorite. Snacks that can be eaten on the go, at a moment’s notice, and are shelf-stable will make life easier on both you and your little one.
I’m not going to lie – camping with a baby isn’t exactly a walk in the park, especially if the weather takes a turn for the worse. But with the right preparation, and a whole lot of flexibility on your party, camping can actually be rather enjoyable – even with a baby – and as time goes on not only will you become better at camping with kiddos, it will actually start to become fun!
Til Next Time,
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