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.
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.
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).
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.