How to Go Camping With a Baby and Not Lose Your Mind
Armed with the right gear, proper planning, and the right frame of mind, your first camping trip with baby can go from daunting to awesome.
Plan, Plan, and Plan Some More
The first order of business as you’re getting ready to go camping with a baby is to ensure your kid is healthy and not teething or going through a growth spurt. These things are hard enough to deal with at home. Once you’re good to go, start out by mapping out every meal. Pack a baby first-aid kit with children’s Tylenol and entertainment suited for your baby’s age. It’s also not a bad idea to do a practice run in your backyard so you and baby can get a feel for co-sleeping in a tent.
Pick the Right Campsite
As your child gets older and you gain experience and confidence camping with a baby, you can venture farther out, but stick to campsites relatively close to home (or at least close to a town) when you’re getting started. Choose a campsite with amenities like maintained bathrooms so you can easily throw out dirty diapers and have access to running water. Go with a site that has plenty of shade and one that is far enough from other people, so your baby won’t wake up everyone else if they’re fussy in the middle of the night.
Get an XL Tent
Even if it’s just three of you, you’ll want a tent that will give you plenty of room to spread out and fit in all your baby essentials, plus some extras that can help everyone sleep better. Some parents opt for a portable crib to keep baby higher off the floor, while others might go with a more compact day bed. Whatever sleeper you decide on, try it out for a few months before the trip, so your baby is familiar with it. It’s also a good idea to lay down a mat to insulate the tent.
Rock Diaper Changes
It’s pretty much business as usual if you camp close to a bathroom where you can dispose of dirty diapers. Keep track of how many diapers and wipes you go through in a normal day at home and pack accordingly (better yet, bring extras in case of accidents). Bring a fold-up changing pad so you have a clean surface to change baby when you go out on the trails. If there’s no trashcan around, you have to follow Leave No Trace rules and carry waste with you. To dispose of the soiled items, put the diaper and wipes in a sandwich bag, stuff that into a bigger Ziplock, and put all of it into a bear box—even if you’re not in bear country. Cloth diapers are slightly trickier, but not impossible. A good middle-of-the-road option is to get reusable covers with compostable liners; wash and hang-dry the covers and bury the liners.
Maybe you’re used to—and much prefer—roughing it in remote campsites far from civilization and amenities. But when you have a baby in tow, a kitted out campground or even a glamping set-up might be your best bet. You don’t have to go all five-star luxury. Plenty of campsites have bare-bones yurts and canvas tents that will equip you with the basics to make camping with a baby easier on everyone. Same goes for adjusting hikes (keep them relatively short and shady), connectivity (don’t go off-the-grid), and even the length of the trip (prepare for the possibility that you may have to cut it short). On the day of the trip, hit the road right before or during nap time, so you don’t arrive in a new environment with an exhausted baby.
Watch the Temps
Temperature control is one of the most concerning factors for parents camping with a baby. Temperatures can plunge from hot to cold, and either extreme can be harmful to a baby. Just like with adults, the key is to layer properly. Brings pieces that go close to the skin, middle layers for warmth, and outer layers to protect from the elements. Bunting bags or fleece suits are great for sleeping through chilly nights, as are knitted hats and mittens. Look out for cool, clammy skin which could indicate your baby’s temp is dipping. Overdressing can be a concern too, so plan to wake up throughout the night and check on your babe. For hot-weather camping, bring light-colored clothes, a portable fan, and tarp to cover the tent, which keeps it cooler. Co-sleeping is a good way to keep tabs on your little one’s temperature throughout the night.
Once you have all your adult-camping gear in check (that headlamp will be super handy for nighttime diaper changes), add some specific baby essentials. Your exact packing list will vary depending on your family’s needs, but everyone will benefit from having a baby carrier backpack for hiking, a playpen, and a propane stove for heating bottles and boiling water. Other gear parents swear by includes the Bumbo Seat (good for hanging out and feeding time) and a solid outdoor stroller like the Thule Urban Glide 2. For layered clothes, check out Patagonia’s Worn Wear online shop for sweet deals on gently used items.
Sunscreen and bug spray aren’t recommended for younger infants (6 months and above for sunscreen and 2 months and above for bug spray), so if you’re camping with a tiny human, you’ll have to rely entirely on clothing and other supplies to do the job. Bring pants that can be tucked into socks, long-sleeve shirts, and a good hat with a sun flap. For babies six months and older, look to natural, scent-free sunscreens. Among the many awesome eco-friendly camping products out there, Thinkbaby is a great SPF 50+option, and it’s reef-safe for when you camp by the sea. Keep bugs away from your campsite by lighting citronella candles and make sure you have a netted daybed or playpen to protect your little one during naps.
Consider a Group Camping Trip
Many parents who love camping with a baby say they like to stick together. Plan to go out with another couple with kids, and you can rely on each other if things go wrong and have a blast together the rest of the time. And remember: Kids are resilient. A little dirt won’t hurt.