I feel there are three categories of people: those who love camping, those who tolerate camping, and those who would rather shove a flaming hot s’more stick in their eyeball than voluntarily camp. I’m a life-long lover of camping and I’m doing my damndest to pass this love onto my three kids, even if camping with small children means I’m always yelling, “Don’t put that in your mouth!” My guess is that if you’re considering camping with a baby then maybe you already like doing it and, like me, you want to make it part of your family’s summer traditions. Yeah!
The first time I camped with a baby I was a very nervous Nelly, but it really wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Camping is kind of a pain in the ass and so is having a baby, so I didn’t really feel like it was that big of a deal, in the end. For the sake of this post, let’s assume you’re going car camping with your babe. That is, you’re packing up the car with supplies and driving up to your tent site. So what do you need to bring? What should you avoid? Pull up a folding chair, my friend. You’ve come to the right campfire.
Pack all the typical stuff you need for baby, but bring double. No, I’m not kidding. Bring extra diapers, wipes, food, and changes of clothes. I am constantly amazed by how quickly my kids get dirty and/or wet when we camp. And their appetites are voracious! (All that fresh air, right? It has the same effect on appetite for beer. I digress…)
Your baby’s life while camping will look remarkably similar to her life at home: play, sleep, and eat. So all you have to do is figure out a way to make all these things happen while in the great outdoors.
Here’s a detailed list on what you can bring (you can download it here.) You don’t have to bring it all – I just wanted to get stuff on your radar.
Right off the bat when you pull up to your campsite you’re going to want to unload and set up your tent and get everything unpacked. And then you will immediately realize there is nowhere to put your baby down because you’re in the forest and the ground is covered in rocks and sticks oh fuck, why am I here. Your baby needs a safe place to chill.
Throwing your baby into a carrier is a great option, though I’m not sure how easily you’ll be able to set up a tent while front-carrying. If your baby is tiny you can just plop baby in his bucket car seat and put him wherever. Or, set up your pack n’play and put an elastic sheet or mosquito net over the top to prevent bugs and leaves from getting into it.
(The links and images below are clickable if you want to know where to find them.)
I also love this travel activity seat (or Circle of Neglect, as Amy affectionately calls it).
Another great option that I tried when my son was crawling/pulling to stand but not yet walking was a baby gate on top of a tarp. I chucked a bunch of toys in there and he actually really enjoyed it! My husband called it “baby open-air prison” but hey, at least it provided one safe spot where I could let him crawl around without worrying he’d shove a rock in his pie hole.
When I pinged people on Facebook for advice, one mom suggested putting your crawling baby in an inflatable pool at the campsite with interlocking foam mat squares under the bottom to make it cushy. (The pool can double as a bathtub, too.) Another reader put her son’s booster high chair seat into a collapsible wagon and pulled him around the campsite in that. Another suggestion was to bring a small separate tent and fill it with toys and treat it as the “playroom”. All these people are damn geniuses.
OK, so you’re gonna need a tent. In my opinion, the bigger the better. Before we had kids my husband and I cozied up in a two-person tent. So romantic! Well those days are gone and my family of 5 currently sleeps in a 10-person tent. I like to be able to stand up in my tent so I can change my clothes easily and I like to be able to have everyone’s beds and duffel bags in the tent with us, as well as enough space to set up a diaper changing area, so that ends up being a lot of square footage. Having a huge tent also leaves plenty of space for baby’s pack n’ play next to your air mattress.
If you have a tiny, non-mobile baby and you don’t feel lugging a huge pack n’ play on your trip, you can get one of these handy collapsible travel bassinets. (I used one of these on a camping trip with my 2 month-old and found it great for easily scooping baby up for nighttime feedings.) A baby box is another great option because you can pack all your baby’s stuff in it then use it as a safe sleep option on your trip.
Obviously you can’t regulate the temperature in your tent so come prepared with baby’s warm PJs and socks, even for summer nights. If you know it’s gonna be really chilly you can get one of these cool sleeping bag sleep sacks.
One of my all time favorite tricks is taking a portable sound machine. It downs out noisy neighbors and adds a familiar sound from home.
Note: Keep in mind that air mattresses are not considered safe by the AAP because they pose a suffocation risk from your baby rolling into an underinflated fold, or slipping between the mattress and something else (tent, another mattress, a bag of clothes, etc.) so shoot for a safer scenario if possible.
If your baby is still on an all-liquid diet then your packing needs in this department are pretty straightforward: bring your boobs and/or bring a lot of formula and clean water. When I say ‘a lot’ I mean bring more than your baby typically eats so that just in case you drop some or happens you have plenty of extra.
Cleaning bottles becomes a bit tricky in the woods. Check ahead of time if your campground has bathrooms with running water – many campground bathrooms have a special outdoor sink designated just for washing dishes. You can bring your own wash bin, soap, and sponge to wash out your bottles and then even boil them on your camp stove to sterilize, if that’s your thang. Another option is to use disposable drop-ins while camping, but you’ll still need to clean the nipples.
Also, bring a camp chair that is comfortable for feedings. You don’t want to be stuck sitting bolt upright at the picnic table when it’s time to relax and feed baby.
- Your baby carrier for hikes. I’ve used and loved my Kelty backpack for years.
- Pack some of your gear in a big, plastic Rubbermaid bin and then use it as a makeshift baby tub (campground frequently only have showers in their bathroom facilities)
- A few readers suggested infant Carhartt overalls because the knees can take a beating for babies crawling around over rough ground. It’s also easy to layer them on over another outfit and then peel them off again.
- Bug spray and sunscreen (you can check out our post on sun safety too.)
- Hand wipes (for sticky baby hands and for you after diaper changes)
- Canopy for over your picnic table, in case it rains
Really, I promise, camping can be so super fun! Even if your baby is up at 5am, crawling around and eating sticks off the campground road. Ahem.
Here are some of the amazing photos and ideas readers posted on Facebook. The one below made me laugh out loud.
Christine McDonald, I want to come camping with you to experience the baby zipline! – Amy