The very idea of taking kids camping is often enough to steer families far far away from the outdoors or campsites in any form. But the realty is that with a little preparation, camping with babies (including newborns) and kids can quickly become some of your very favorite family vacations.
Camping with a baby or kids – what are you scared of?
Common fears include:
- Wild animals!
- It gets dark at night, right?!
- Not having running water!
- Where will they (I!!!) pee, etc. (that “etc.” part is the scariest…)
- How will I get everyone to sleep?
- Won’t we all freeze and be miserable?
- What it my baby cries all night?
- I have to cook on what?
- But they’re so LOUD – won’t we get kicked out?
What have I missed? Something happens when you become a parent that makes us a 100x less brave than we used to be before we were called “Mom” or “Dad”. It’s enough to bring us to our knees….and why in the world would we want to then drag those knees though the dirt and sticks and mud that is camping and then sleep outside too?!?!
I get it.
I grew up camping and was still nervous taking our kids camping for the first time. But, I promise it gets easier. Kids are so much more resilient than we think. And I am pretty sure if they could speak, they’d be laughing at our over-worried selves.
The key is planning and then being totally ok with rolling with the punches. Because life outside is unpredictable and so are kids. But, we can at least make an honest effort to stay sane.
Before I start sharing our tips, know that I am no expert. And nothing is guaranteed. We all just do our best and that’s ok! It’s the beauty of it all, really. Just remember that kids of all ages (babies included) have been sleeping outside since the beginning of time….
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Our Top Ten Tips:
- Know where you’re going and what to expect. Start on a not-so-busy weekend (read: NOT Memorial day or 4th of July if you can avoid it at first). If you’re more comfortable in a campsite that has what to expect (toilets, a place to wash dishes, etc.) laid out for you, go with that!
- Bring lights. Lots and lots of lights. Half the fun of camping is getting to wear a headlamp! We also like little stings of lights to hang in the tent for a “night light”. We recommend this headlamp for kids, this one for adults and this solar-powered, super light and cheap camp light.
- Have a sleeping plan. If you know your kid ends up in bed with you at home half way through the night, assume they may do it camping too. Note: a mummy bag doesn’t fit two very easily (even if they’re young kids!)
- Dog beds make really good kid beds…
- Couples sleeping bags or bags like the Kelty Tru.Comfort Zip make nursing babies while camping much, much more comfortable and warmer.
- Snow suits or buntings are all the “sleeping bag” that a baby needs. We use and love this one (boys and girls), and this one is on sale right now for 40% off.
- When our kids were babies and sleeping in a Rock N’ Play or Bouncy chair at home, that’s what they slept in camping too.
- Cover your head. Nights in the mountains (where many people love to camp) are usually significantly cooler. Hats make all the difference. We love this Patagonia hat for kids (and they’re on sale right now!) It works great for keeping hats on during sleeping/camping and works under helmets for skiing/sledding/biking in the winter.
- We use white noise even when camping. Especially if you’re in a campground, the noise from other campers while you try to get yours down can be really distracting. There are lots of free apps for white noise. We just let it run until things quiet down.
- If all else fails, bring a kid carrier. It seems like our kids can’t settle down on their own for camping until they were almost 3. We don’t fight it and just throw them on our back in a Boba or Onya and go on a little walk. Eventually we always win.
- Make food as simple as possible. Sandwiches, pre-made breakfast burritos, oatmeal, pizza you picked up on the way…..whatever works! Just don’t forget the S’mores…
- Bring Action Wipes. Yep, they’re much, much better than baby wipes and we use them constantly while camping.
- While I’m a pretty big proponent of just letting kids play with nature and no need to entertain more than that, sometimes a truck, a shovel and a bucket go a long way….
- Chill. If they go to bed late, you’ll survive. If you don’t sleep at all, you’ll survive then too. If they eat too much sugar or get “too dirty” or just will NOT settle down in the tent, you’re still making memories and getting out as a family. Start young, do it often, and make it your family’s normal!
What tips would you add?!?! Your comments and suggestions help us all!
The camping gear we’re using this summer:
- M (age 5 months): Rock N’ Play or KidCo DreamPod
- The Rock N’ Play is like the best thing ever for babies until about 4 or so months…maybe 5. If you are having a baby, buy one, even if you don’t plan to camp!
- The DreamPod is just a mini pack and play. It’s a little trickier for set-up, but is small…takes up just a little room and is the perfect bassinet for camping or home.
- L (age 2.5): Kelty Woobie Sleeping Bag (and a pad under her)
- The Woobie is the smallest sleeping bag I know of. Like mentioned above, our kids sleep in their snow suits for the first year at least. But, this one rocks for toddlers. Zippers on both sides, comfortable and small enough to let a small body heat it up adequately (opposed to a bigger bag).
- P (age 5): Big Agnes Little Red + Pad
- The Big Agnes sleeping system (bag with pad sleeve + pad) is our favorite. The kids stay warm, don’t roll off, and are protected truly for fall camping too. You’ll notice many of our sleeping bags are Big Agnes. There’s a reason for that…. Fits up to 4′ 5″.
- J (age 7): Big Agnes Wolverine + Pad
- Just a little bigger and, again, a big favorite. Synthetic, but super war, and fits up to 5′.
- Us! Big Agnes King Solomon Couples bag + Pads. See our full review here!
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