When our baby boy was born last summer, I was anxious to get back up in the mountains but equally terrified about how to go about doing it. I would lose sleep at night with questions haunting me like: "Where will he sleep?", "How do I ensure he's warm enough at night?", "What do I need to bring?"
When the weather warmed up enough, we finally bit the bullet, (over)packed as many things as our little SUV would hold, and headed up north. We have since gone camping several times with our baby through practically all the developmental stages of his first year: Sitting, crawling, scaling furniture, and early walking.
Like most things, real-life experience will bring you way more knowledge than just reading articles online or talking about it with friends. But it definitely doesn't hurt to utilize a good resource guide that will help you get started and set you up for success on your first trip. That's why below you will find some of my biggest tips from our experience camping with our baby over the past year...
camping with a baby, Must haves:
- Durable Blanket: For them to sit/play on. This is where they spend most of their time when they can't walk yet. We bought one of those JJ Cole outdoor blankets and I highly recommend it. Throw a few toys/sticks on the blanket and watch them be entertained for a while without getting too dirty.
- Pack-N-Play: This is probably one of the ultimate must-haves whether or not your baby is mobile. This is where they sleep and where they stay contained and safe when you have to take your eyes off of them for a few minutes while you set up camp, cook, start the fire, etc.
- White Noise Machine: Our baby definitely loves his sleep and if he doesn't get at least 12 hours a night with at least one 2-hour nap in the afternoon, he is not a very happy camper. Unfortunately, he's also a very light sleeper, so a constant buzz in the background is a must to keep him from waking up early and cranky. If your kid is the same, I highly recommend a battery-operated white noise machine. The forest is a very quiet place, and I don't care what kind of Mom-Ninja skills you think you have, it is nearly impossible to zip up a tent door after you've ever so carefully put your little one down for his afternoon nap without waking him up. I never knew the sound of footsteps on a branch/pinecone/pine needle would make me cringe the way they could until I witnessed it near the tent where my baby was trying to sleep. If you aren't sure what good options are out there, I recommend the machine we use. The battery life on it lasts a very long time (we're talking several days camping with it playing all night long and during naps), and our little guy loves drifting off to the sound of rain. Bring extra batteries just in case.
- Let's talk more about SLEEP: This was probably what worried me the most about camping with a baby. I wanted my baby to be warm enough at night and wasn't sure how to ensure that without sacrificing my own sleep (sharing a sleeping bag), or risking SIDS (especially when he was too young for his own sleeping bag/sleeping under blankets). When we camp, it's not unusual for the temperatures to drop down into the 40's or possibly even the 30's at night. So here is what we do that works great for us:
- We bought a tent heater. This gives me HUGE piece of mind on really cold nights and is a great investment. No matter how cold it gets outside, the tent will stay toasty warm which is perfect for younger babies when you can't pile on the blankets.
- Depending on how cold it is, our little guy usually wears socks, a long sleeve onesie, footie pajamas, and a fleece sleep sack like this one.
- Our son sleeps on top of a warm blanket in his pack-n-play. There were only a few times he still woke up in the early morning hours because of the cold (after the tent heater propane tank ran out - get a bigger tank!) and at that point I just took him out of his sleep sack and brought him into the sleeping bag with us to snuggle up and get a few more hours sleep.
- Sun Hat & Sun Block: To keep them protected from sunburn, obviously. It's easy to say you'll just keep them in the shade under a tree most of the time, but depending on what time of year you're camping, it might be too cold for them in the shade and you might want to let them play in the sun for the extra warmth - especially at night and in the morning. A bucket hat with a wide brim that goes all around their head is what I recommend (make sure you have a warm beanie for them too!). And this is my favorite sunblock for our little man. EWG gives it good ratings.
- Anti-bacterial/Baby Wipes: Babies get very dirty when they're camping, especially once they're mobile. I am the kind of mom that is OK with a little "salt of the Earth." I've let my boy chew on sticks while in the mountains (remove the bark first!). Have you ever heard the expression that babies who grow up on farms are generally healthier than city kids? The point is, a little dirt never killed anybody... But even still, you'll want lots of baby wipes to clean off their hands and faces throughout the day and before meal and bedtimes, etc. (and of course, diaper changes).
- Onesies vs. T-Shirts: Speaking of dirt, onesies keep dirt out of pants and diapers better than t-shirts do. So if your little one isn't walking yet, I highly recommend dressing them in onesies and pants vs. a t-shirt to help keep dirt and bugs from making their way into diapers.
- Baby Carrier: Leave the stroller at home. But if you don't have a nice baby carrier that you love and can wear for a long time without it hurting your back, it might be time to invest in one. If you plan on going on any kind of hike/walk, you'll need one. I love my Tula carrier, but I know the Ergo carriers also get great reviews by moms. When our son gets older and heavier we'll be investing in an official hiking carrier like this one.
- High Chair (Only if they're eating solids / 6+ months): Very convenient place to keep them contained while everyone eats and much easier than trying to feed them and yourself while sitting on your lap in a camping chair by the fire while your dinner gets cold. We have the IKEA Antilop high chair and absolutely love it. It cleans up so easy, it's cheap, and you can quickly remove the legs and reattach them for easy transport. I know there are specific camping high chairs out there, but why spend the extra money when you don't have to?
- Bouncer or Bumbo Seat (for babies that can't sit up yet): My son practically lived in his bouncer and Bumbo before he learned how to sit up on his own. If you're little one hasn't reached the sitting stage, you'll definitely need one of these to place him in while you're working around camp.
- Bug Spray: In the hotter summer months, the bugs can be rampant. And there is nothing sadder than watching your little one get eaten alive by pesky mosquitos. We use The Honest Company bug spray because it is organic and DEET-free; so I don't feel too bad spraying a little on my little guy when we are under attack.
- Extra Clothes: You never know what you're going to run into - a diaper blowout, mud from the rain, spit up, etc. I usually pack 2 outfits per day just to be safe. Sometimes I hardly need the extra clothes and feel silly bringing so much, and other times I was very grateful to have had the extras. Clothes, diapers, and wipes are things you just can't have too many of, in my opinion. Remember to bring layers. It can go from cold to hot depending on the time of day, so you'll want a variety of options to keep your baby comfortable as the temperatures change throughout the day.
As for toys, I hardly bring them. There are way too many exciting things in the forest for your little one to entertain themselves. Don't bother wasting your space on a bunch of toys they can play with at home. Other than a few books and maybe a toy car, most of our toys stay at home and our baby plays with nature's treasures while exploring the camp site.
That's my list! What about you? Are there any life-saving items you've brought with you camping with your little ones that you highly recommend? Leave them in the comments below! Questions? Just ask!
Now that you've got everything you need to know, put down the electronics and go enjoy some fresh air with the family. You seriously won't regret it.
~ Mrs. Daum