10 Tips for Camping with a Baby

Please note that these tips are for a very small baby, who has not yet learned to crawl or walk. Many of the tips will work for older babies, but you will need to make adjustments depending on their sleeping habits.

If you’re a new parent, the thought of taking your baby camping might seem pretty far-fetched. But if it’s something you love to do you may be tempted to give it a shot. Break them in early, right? I figured that the earlier we took our little one out, the better. If I didn’t try, I’d never know, and I might get too comfortable with the idea that it would be too hard. So, this past week my husband and I packed up our sleeping bags and ventured into the great unknown: sharing a tent with a 10-week-old baby.

After our night under the stars with the baby, I had a few requests for a write-up from other parents wondering how we pulled it off. So, here goes!

10 Tips for Camping with a Baby

1. Go For a Test Drive

Our goal is to take the wee one on a backpacking trip this summer, and to hike into some campsites. To figure out what we needed to bring for sleeping arrangements (mainly what we could get away with weight-wise), we went for a car camping trip first. We brought along a few possibilities, including a travel bed, and tried the most lightweight set-up (see Tip #6). We figured we could always add on layers or make changes if needed.

2. Stay Close to Home

We chose a site close to Banff (Two Jack Lakeside) for our first time out camping so that we could always bail if things went horribly wrong. Thankfully, they didn’t. Venture farther away from home on subsequent trips as you figure things out.

Dad and baby enjoying the view of Two Jack Lake. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

Dad and baby enjoying the view of Two Jack Lake. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

3. Bring Extra Diapers

Diapers weigh nothing when they haven’t been used. Bring extras or you’ll regret running out (we did and Paul had to drive home to get more).

4. Chat With Your Neighbours

No parent needs to be defensive or feel badly when his or her baby is crying, but we realized that we were taking our baby camping (ie. choosing to take her to a place where people sleep). We decided to have a friendly chat with campers at a neighbouring site to give them a ‘heads up’ about her usual behaviour (She doesn’t cry at night!). They were actually excited that it was her first time camping, and we felt better that we had talked to them when she wailed for a half an hour before bed. Afterwards I realized it might have been handy to bring some earplugs to offer to neighbouring campers.

5. Bring “Sleep Only” Clothes for Baby

Babies can get a bit sweaty during the day, especially if they are hanging out in a carrier on mom or dad. They can’t regulate their own temperatures very well, so change the baby’s clothes in the evening so that they are dry when it begins to cool down and especially when they go to bed. One reader suggested using wool as a base layer against the skin since it stays cool even when you’re hot, and also stays warm when it’s wet or cold.

This photo was taken earlier in the night when it hadn't cooled off yet. Notice her upper half is out of her  snowsuit. We zipped that up later when it got colder, but didn't want her to get too warm at the beginning. Also, she only has one scratch guard on her hand because she got the other one really wet (she loves to suck on her hand before bed). We were using them for warmth, but ditched them when her arms and hands went into the snowsuit. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

This photo was taken earlier in the night when it hadn’t cooled off yet. Notice her upper half is out of her snowsuit. We zipped that up later when it got colder, but didn’t want her to get too warm at the beginning. Also, she only has one scratch guard on her hand because she got the other one really wet (she loves to suck on her hand before bed). We were using them for warmth, but ditched them when her arms and hands went into the snowsuit. We also pulled the hat down over her ears when it got cold. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

6. Start Light, Add Layers

You’ll have to figure out which sleeping arrangement feels right to you, but we had the baby sleeping separately in the tent (a 2-person Black Diamond Mesa) on a mat (the MEC Reactor Explorer) between our mats with about half a foot of space between each of us.

We had her wear a mid-weight sleeper, a sleep-sack, a light snowsuit (basically a bag with arms and a hood), and a hat. The temperature dipped to about 5 degrees Celsius around 2 a.m. We added one of my sweaters on top of her and she was good to go. I checked her neck from time to time to see if she was too warm. We were pleased that this was all she needed since the gear wouldn’t be too much to carry into a backcountry campsite.

I figured if she got too cold, I could bring her against my body (make sure that co-sleeping is something you are able to do safely and comfortably before you try it camping).

7. Bring Blankie (or Some Kind of Comfort) Along

My daughter can’t tell me if it’s her favourite, but I did bring the fleece blanket she sleeps on in her crib to give her a bit of familiarity. I put it right on top of her sleeping mat and tucked it in underneath so it wouldn’t come loose. I like to think it helped.

8. Make Mama Comfortable

Nursing on the ground can be hard on the bum and back, so make sure you’ve got ways to cushion and support yourself. Fold your sleeping mat and place it under your sit bones so that you have extra cushioning. Also, be sure you’ve got a way to stay warm while you’re nursing (if you’re car camping, I recommend the Acadia Maternity and Nursing Poncho from Mountain Mama).

Hanging out in the tent. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

Hanging out in the tent. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

9. Get an Early Start

Each baby has his or her waking and feeding times, so this may not apply to you. Back when she was a wee thing, ours would rise around 5 or 6 a.m. for a feed, sleep a bit more, then have some rather vocal play time. To avoid disturbing other campers in the morning, we actually packed up the car while our daughter dozed after her feed. We let her sleep in the tent until it needed to come down. Then we quietly left the campground and found breakfast and coffee elsewhere. You could keep your cooking gear handy and make breakfast at the next rest stop. If you’re camping for more than one night, leave the tent up, of course!

10. Keep In Mind Who Is Really Adapting

Last, but not least (and surely I’ll have more tips to come), remember that babies are incredibly adaptable and resilient. It’s more likely that you – the parents – need to adapt your camping style and also learn to trust that your baby will do just fine. Don’t let stress get the best of you. I can almost guarantee (from experience!) that if you show signs of stress your baby will pick up on that. Make it fun, even if it becomes a total disaster. Laugh at the debacle. You can always pack up and leave if you really need to.

Want some more ideas? Check out these other great posts about family camping from Tanya Koob on Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies.

Check out these popular posts:

Hiking with Baby: 12 Items You’ll Need

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What tips to do you have for camping with a baby?

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86 responses to “10 Tips for Camping with a Baby

  1. awesome post! we will have our first in september. i was wondering what tent (brand/model) did you guys used, we have only two people tents that won’t work for a trip like this.

    • Hi Ed – Congrats! It’s great that you’re already researching how to make things work with a baby.

      I suppose it depends how big you are, but we actually used the 2-person Black Diamond Mesa (http://www.mec.ca/product/5024-508/black-diamond-mesa-2-person-tent/) and had ample space. We considered also placing our daughter at our heads (still enough space) but figured she would be warmer between us. The floor area of the Mesa is 2.3m x 1.5m and there is plenty of space under the vestibule for storage. So perhaps you just need a larger 2-person or a 3-person.

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  3. Our son is 14 months old and I am looking forward to go camping with him this summer. We went last year and it was super easy, but I am a little bit more worried this time around, as he really likes to crawl around, but doesnt understand concepts like stay here, or this is dangerous just yet. We got a second hand travel bed for visiting friends, and to go car camping, i can imagine it’s going to be a life saver too!

    • I’m sure a new set of tips is needed as the baby gets older and more mobile! I’ve heard some parents recommend bringing along a Pack and Play (if you are car camping, of course), but that might be quite constraining for a 14-month old (or at least he wouldn’t last long!). Does anyone else have tips for camping with a “mobile” baby?

      • A Pack and Play is actually what we use as travel bed! I wouldnt have thought of letting him play in it, but maybe it’s a possibility for short whiles, while we are cooking for example…

      • I went camping with car camping with my crawling infant and we just let crawl around on a blanket, she eventually crawled in the dirt and rolled in it. Every parent is different but I’m fine with my kids playing on the ground like that. We just had a set of her “ground dirt” playing clothes and anytime she wanted to crawl we’d put her in those clothes.

      • If youre camping somewhere with a picnic bench definitely bring a cheap booster seat with straps. Ours cinched down to our benchand baby was strapped in with crayons when we were not hiking or playing.

    • We went camping when my little one was 9 months (but she had just started walking so was still crawling for speed!). It was a working farm so I was a bit anxious about cow poop and hay and things! BUT my essentials were 1) a lightweight high chair so she could interact at our level when I was cooking etc …which had the added bonus of containing her when I needed to. We have a great packable ikea one 2) a woven wrap to carry her for naps and grizzly times (we went for loooooong walks to get her to sleep as the tent was so hot!) 3) chilling out about all te hay I found in her nappy from her ingesting it!!! 4) accepting that one parent is on constant baby-watch/interact (we had a camp fire whih I wouldn’t feel comfortable just letting her crawl around freely). It wasn’t the mos restful of holidays but good to do…I would def go again but not at that age/developmental stage:/ I just know that my sister took a 2.5 year old who had te time of her life….maybe worth waiting a couple of months;)

      • It’s definitely true! Depending on your kid, when they are mobile and squirmy, I find they are difficult to camp with! I think I’m about to enter a ‘good stage’ at just beyond two years old. We have a trip planned for next week – wish us luck! And thanks for your tips. Have you ever seen the Lobster Chair, which can be attached to a picnic table??

  4. I am so thankful for blog entries like this! My husband and I LOVE camping/backpacking/rock climbing, and we are having our baby boy next month. We have read so much trying to prepare for how to camp with a newborn, and it is very helpful to read tips from more experienced family campers! I’ll have to check out the nursing poncho from Mountain Mama. I have several other tops from there that I have loved! Thanks for this article!

    • Congrats on the baby, Meghan, and thanks for your comment! I also researched and read a lot about adventuring outdoors before my daughter came along (check out Resources at the top of the website there). At the end of the day, of course I had to figure a bit out on my own, too, but the tips definitely helped!

  5. Nice post! Maybe it is just the way this is written, but you seem very concerned about making sure you don’t infringe on your neighboring campers. I remember taking our baby out for his first hikes, and being so embarrassed when he would cry, like it was bothering all of the other hikers looking for “solitude” in the mountains. But, after few years of having a kiddo and being around lots of kiddos, I think that this is not really an issue. Kids make noise. Babies cry. It really doesn’t bother many people, and if it does, there’s lots of space outside, they can go find their own. I don’t think you guys needed to pack up and leave to keep from disturbing other campers in the morning… it’s CAMPING. How much solitude can you expect to get at a campground? 🙂 So, just relax, let the baby cry, don’t bring earplugs for other campers and let your kids be kids!

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Kate!

      I’m all for letting kids be kids, but I suppose some of it comes down to personality and what you’re comfortable with (I think of children running around restaurants screaming while parents simply stand by watching and don’t say anything…where do you draw the line?).

      My husband and I were conscious of the other campers who travel to Banff to really ‘get away’ (and pay a fair amount to stay, even in a campground). This is a place where people come to camp, not simply camp en route. We genuinely wanted them to have a good time. I was only really concerned if our daughter cried a lot during the night.

      We were happy to leave early in the morning. We didn’t sleep much and thought there wasn’t a point in staying and trying to prepare a breakfast in the cold while tending to the baby. It was much more pleasant for us to pack up and go elsewhere for that.

      I’m sure we’ll get over it a bit more. We are pretty new parents! Thanks again!

  6. Thanks for this post!

    And thank you for getting out there to begin with. My wife and I are in a very similar circumstance. We’re hoping to backpack in August some time, with our now 11 week old boy. It all depends on test runs and how quickly our son’s neck is strong enough for the child carrier. Very soon I hope to start with a backyard campout.

    Look forward to your future kid related posts.

    • Congrats on your son!

      We are also quite excited for our daughter to be ready for the child carrier (backpack). We’ll use a front carrier until she’s strong enough – I wonder how you really know when they are ready for that? I’ll have to look into it. I wouldn’t want to set off on a 15km hike when they aren’t actually ready to sit in the backpack.

      And thanks – maybe I’ll write more of these….

      • Thank you!

        Do you own one yet? We picked up one from the Osprey Poco series. So far our son likes it. The information that came with the pack says don’t use it until your kid can sit up unassisted, so perhaps were taking a chance, but we have set him up in it in the living room, and today I took him for a walk down to the end of the driveway and back, and he was pretty content. Looks for far like it’ll be a match made somewhere nice and fluffy.

        • I’ll be gear testing the Deuter Kid Comfort III, which is on the way!

          I just want to be sure my kid will hold up over the course of a few hours. She is especially floppy when she’s sleeping, which I know she’ll do while we’re hiking.

          • Oh fun

            Ya I compared the Kid Comfort III to the Poco Premium in store and by watching online videos. Came down to weight (I strive to be a lightweight backpacker) and although similar (in most ways), the Poco comes with the sunshade. The Deuter looked really nice too though. Decision was also motivated by an REI sale.

        • I heard it is very unrecommended to go with a backpack carrier- i.e. most brands have a notice on the bag’s label, and it is also the situation here in Germany, where the security norms are a lot more lax (it is not forbidden to bike around with a newborn in a chariot for example…) But, but, but, we hiked a lot last year with our baby in our Ergo. They are meant to be worn in the front or in the back (when the baby is strong enough). I hear the manduca is the same. If you use that, make sure to bring a couple extra pajamas, as their is less aeration between you and the baby and it can get quite… wet! We took regular breaks (every hour or so) and changed him first thing. He loved it i think!

          • Yes, that’s why I’m definitely waiting to use a backpack carrier until she is 5-6 months, or demonstrates really good stability in the sitting up position. I’ll stick with the Boba for now!

            I’ve been looking for ideas for staying cool and dry while using a front carrier, so if anyone has any other suggestions feel free to throw them out there!

  7. For when they are older we found taking a high chair with us to be invaluable (car camping obviously, get the cheap ikea one that you can pop the legs off to make it easy to pack). It gave us somewhere safe to put the kids while we pitched the tent, cooked dinner etc. They could be quite close to the action and easily watch us. Oh, and it is so much easier to feed them in a high chair than trying to get them to sit at a picnic table.

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  9. Great post. 🙂 We recently tried tip#1 by going car camping at a local spot for a test run. Our 6.5 month old cut a tooth that night! Whoops. A bit loud for the neighbors, but we were comforted by the fact that there was another screaming child. 😉

    Other than that, everything went pretty smoothly and was so worth it! It was SO great to get back out there! My biggest concern was my son’s temperature regulation at night. His bear snow suit was perfect for evening while setting up, hanging out, eating, etc. but he roasted in it between us. I like your idea of layering, but how to change without waking them? He also kept falling into the crack between our two sleeping pads. We were thinking about getting a double sleeping bag…

    For set up and play time, we used a GoPod.

    http://www.amazon.com/Kidco-Go-Pod-Portable-Activity-Seat/dp/B00477ND0Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1371534308&sr=8-1&keywords=gopod

    Much lighter than a pack n play and folds up like a camping chair. Now that he’s eating solids, I’m sure it would work fine as a feeding chair as well, (while he’s solely being fed instead of feeding himself.)

    • Thanks, Heather! I’m glad to hear you still pulled it off even though your kid cut a tooth!

      I found it helpful to create a space between my mat and my husband’s mat and then put her mat wedged in between and underneath. She had ample space, but could still benefit from our warmth. I guess it depends on how wide your tent is.

      For layering, we put her in her snowsuit, but didn’t zip it up over her. When it got colder I zipped it up and she didn’t even notice. She also didn’t notice when I laid one of my sweaters over her body as another layer.

      That Go Pod is really neat! I’ve bookmarked it in case I think it’ll come in handy.

      Thanks again for your comment!

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  12. Thank you for a great list! I went camping with my 7 months old son this weekend, and found some good tips here. I have a comment when it comes to clothing- In Norway it is very common to use wool as a first layer- all year around. As you mentioned, babies can’t regulate their temperature very well, but wool has a couple really neat features- it doesn’t get “sticky-warm” or really sunny days, it is warm even it it gets wet, and it is always warm if it gets cold. We use the ergobaby carrier alot, and we always dress the baby in wool- even if it is 25 degrees celcius outside. I always sweat when I carry him, but as long as he wears wool, he’s not affected by it.
    So this weekend he slept in his Voksi down footmuff with his wool PJ’s (the temperature dropped to about 8 degrees C during the night). And he slept all night as- who would guess- a baby 🙂

    Best regards, Ingebjørg, Norway.

    • That’s great advice! I know merino wool is a great option because it doesn’t have the itchy feel. I have definitely done a lot of hiking and trekking in merino wool (for the reasons you mention), so could find some for my little bambino, too. I’ll add your idea to the post!

      • Kia Ora from New Zealand. My husband and I had a wee babe in September and have spontaneously decided to go overnight camping tonight. Thanks for all the quick tips. Also being from the country where there is 10 sheep per capita, our bubs lives in merino clothes. Try http://www.merinokids.co.nz/ fingers crossed tonight goes well. I know it will be fun. My only concern are those darn sand flies!

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  15. I’d suggest mats from ewonderworld.com. The prices are a bit higher, but the quality… I didn’t go cheap on my baby, plus I could re-use for my next. Anyways, they have test reports for their mats for toxicity… colors are bold (pastel means recycled or toxic material, usually) and are thicker for better protection.

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  18. Excellent post. Thank you. We are heading off tomorrow morning with our 6 month old for some chilly camping. Hoping for the best and your post made me feel a little better about it. 🙂

  19. This is great post! We are also preparing for camping in June. I like the idea of carrying a sleep sack as our lo sleeps in one we take it to camping as he feels comfortable once inside the sack. We do follow idea of layering the baby. We use a babydeedee.com sleep, which is very lightweight and easy to carry but warm

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  22. So happy to have stumbled on your blog! It is making me miss my years in Banff. Taking our 10 week old baby girl out camping for the first time next weekend with our 3 year old who is a camping veteran now. Will be checking back on you blog – love it!

  23. Just wondering about sleeping in a tent with our 8 month old girl. I am definitely going to try that vest idea! So many great tips!

    Maybe I am overthinking this, but our little girl goes to bed around 7:30-8 and I am wondering if we will totally mess everything up unzipping the tent and with our headlamps when we come back into the tent later on in the evening.

    In your experience do they just get used it and go back to sleep, or are there any tips on how to minimize our disturbance when we are all sharing a tent.

    • Hi Rosedale –

      It is a bit tricky and hard not to overthink these details! Most often my little girl surprised me with how much she slept through. My guess is once she’s in a deep enough sleep you won’t wake her, as long as you’re as quiet as possible. And if you do wake her, being ready to soothe and do whatever you would do if you were back at home may just do the trick.

      She may also surprise you and want to go to bed a bit later. You may end up all going to bed at the same time.

      Perhaps bring along some white noise to help her sleep through sudden noises.

      Sometimes you can’t know until you try! It also changes as they get older, so camping is never the same from trip to trip. Plan as much as you can, then just roll with it. All the best!

    • I second that white noise idea. We use it while we are travelling, in the car, at home, in the stroller, etc. It helps keep sudden noises from waking baby. We have it on our phones, so it is with us whenever and wherever we need it. 🙂 Also agree with the stay up later and go to bed together. Such a nice family experience. Good luck!

      • Thank you both for the advice! We will roll with it and let you know how it goes. So excited to sleep under the stars together. Thank you again so much for this blog it is so helpful!

  24. Great post and adorable pictures, I’ve been camping in school days but now going with my nearly 5 month old baby, husband and 5 year old son who are novices! Your post encouraged me to go n gave me peace and super tips about taking baby! We are going for 2 nights in August-I am so excited!

  25. My daughter is three years old, we’ll let it go camping this summer. We buy a new sleeping bag for kids, my daughter enjoyed. And we also prepared many clothes for my daughter to get our summer vacation fun.

  26. Thanks so much for the blog post! We are taking the plunge and taking the kids camping for the first time and my littlest is only 12 months. I need all the advice I can get…wish us luck! Josie 🙂

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  28. Hi there, question for you on this. You mention your babe is on a mat in the tent in between you and your husband, what mat did you purchase?

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  31. This is amazing tips for new parents to camp with their toddlers. a drive would be a good idea. your advice is helpful and informative. it is also important to go nearby camping site and take much diapers along with child.

  32. Haha thank you! Im literally on my way to our first camping trip haha she will be 13 weeks on monday(today is Friday) i will take your advice on diaper s for sure ! We actually even took the mats from her bassinet for her comfort! (: also since we are camping during hot season so we got battery powered fans!! Just an idea (:

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  34. We are going car camping for the first time with our 15mo old daughter next week. We have a two person tent, and from your picture, it looks like you did too. Where did you lay baby to sleep? Between you?
    Thanks for any tips!

    • Hi Kate! We had her sleep between us on a mattress. It was somewhat wedged underneath our mattresses so that ours created a little barrier or sorts. But mine was 11 weeks old when we first went. It’ll all depends on your little one’s sleeping habits! Try to replicate ‘home’ as much as possible, is my biggest suggestion. Bring those special comfort items along.

  35. Our baby is 10 weeks now and we’re thinking of taking him to a family friendly music festival this December when he’ll be 6 months old. Fab tips. I’m feeling empowered haha

  36. I have read your post. good review. I found this post to be very informative and helpful. I will have to recommend you to my friends. Thank’s for sharing.

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  40. Amazing tips!!! I was just wondering I’m a mother to a soon to be 7 month old baby boy and I’m just curious we’re going Camping in July is it ok if I can take him in the lake? Sorry if I sound dumb but I’m just really new at all of this. It’s amazing though.

    • I don’t see why not! But, I would be overly cautious, especially in deep water. Use an infant lifejacket and never let him out of your hands. Kids love water and it’s great to get them acquainted with it!

  41. Thank you for this post! Very helpful especially for the first time camper with a 10month old baby😊

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  43. Such a helpful post for new parents! Not being a parent myself, I admire your tenacity to introduce your little one so early to the outdoors. I look forward to reading more of your posts soon and one day being able to apply your advice 🙂

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  45. Great post! Thanks so much! Do you have any tips for camping with a baby who is rolling around? That’s my concern. Our 6 month old rolls ALL over her crib, so I don’t know how we’ll safely bundle her up if it’s chilly when we go camping in two weeks. I’m also not sure what we can even have her sleep in so she’s able to safely roll if she tries to. Any advice or suggestions?

  46. I really need to take my kids camping one of these days. I haven’t slept in a tent since I was at the college! Helpful article for parents who enjoy their time on camping.

  47. We camp a lot as a family and purchased a pop-up camper a few years ago, which gives us some more creature comforts. However, with our first child, we used a 4-person tent and placed a pack-and-play inside. It worked well, but was a bit of overkill in hind-sight. We just had a newborn (our 3rd) and are planning to take him camping in a few weeks at 2-months old. Even though we have a camper that could accommodate a travel crib, we opted to buy a simple folding travel bassinet. The model we got is called the Brica Fold N Go Travel Bassinet (currently $34 on Amazon). It’s extremely light, easy to pack, and can be placed almost anywhere. If you’re tent camping and want a little extra protection (I always worried about accidentally smothering the baby), this would be a great, cost-effective option.

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