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.
General Packing for Camping with a Baby
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 of what you can bring camping with a Baby
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.
Another great option that I tried when my son was crawling/pulling to stand but not yet walking was a baby yard 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 asked people on Facebook for advice, one mom suggested putting your crawling baby in an inflatable baby 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, fill it with toys, and treat it as the “playroom”.
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.
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. Here’s a helpful post called Safe Sleep for Babies: Good, Better, Best that gives you some ideas.
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.
If you have a tiny, non-mobile baby and you don’t feel like lugging a huge pack n’ play on your trip, you can get a handy collapsible travel bassinet. (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.)
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 baby deedee sleep nest sleeping bag sleep sacks. They are toasty warm and safe to sleep in.
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 if something 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.
If babe is sitting up and eating solids, I suggest bringing a vinyl tablecloth and a high chair seat thing that clamps onto your campsite’s picnic table, bring a travel high chair like this one or use a go pod activity seat.
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.
Other Stuff for Camping with a Baby
- Your baby carrier for hikes. I’ve used and loved my Kelty backpack for years. (Check the price on Amazon as well.)
- 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 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.
- Rain pants came highly recommended for keeping kiddos dry.
- Bug spray and sunscreen (you can check out our post on sun safety too.)
Really, I promise, camping can be so super fun! Even if your baby is up at 5 am, crawling around and eating sticks off the campground road. Ahem.
Have you taken babies camping?
What did you find helpful? Let us know in the comments!