It’s August, which means 4 ½ months have passed since I gave birth to my giant baby. Normally August means I would be camping and backpacking in some beautiful, secluded mountains – away from the disgusting heat of the city. But summer is nearly over and I had yet to enjoy any real nature.
In a flurry, I decided to find some place to go camping. A baby isn’t going to stop me from getting outdoors! On the contrary, I thought, I’m going to teach the baby how to love nature from early on! Here’s how it actually went.
A Little Background
For a long time, I was a single mom to my inquisitive, energetic daughter Isabel. I took her wild camping for the first time when she was 3. That trip was one of the best adventures of my life, and we were hooked. So, I wasn’t worried about getting into nature with Isabel. She even once critiqued the way a Swiss backpacker built his fire! (and she was right – the thick tinder he used wasn’t going to light).
Last year though, I got remarried. My new husband has a physical disability. While we have done some hiking together, he is NOT going to be carrying lots of gear (his macho side has reckoned with the fact that his wife is carrying a bigger bag than he is). He is also not going to be going on any trail which is remotely steep or difficult.
The Challenge of Finding a Baby-Friendly Camping Spot
If we were a “normal” family, we’d probably just drive into a campground and do some day hikes from there. Or, if we were a hardcore family, then we would have distributed the gear and backpacked up to a remote campground.
But my family has some unique challenges:
- My husband’s physical disability
- The fact that I would be carrying the baby plus lots of the gear
- I end up carrying most of my older daughter’s gear too
- Our baby weighs nearly 20lbs!
- We don’t have a car
- I recently gave birth by C-section, and am not nearly as strong as I used to be.
The Mosquito Problem
The thing that I was most concerned about with camping with a baby was mosquitoes. Normally my daughter and I go camping in the mountains. At that elevation, there aren’t many mosquitoes to worry about.
Since we obviously weren’t getting to higher ground with a heavy baby and disabled husband, mosquitoes were going to be a problem. And I didn’t feel like slathering the baby with toxic bug spray!
What We Decided
We also decided to camp in front of a planinarski dom (mountain home). In Serbia where we live, mountaineering groups each have these rustic homes. They use them as bases for hikes, and sleep over in them during longer hikes.
My reasoning was this:
- If something didn’t go well, we could just go into the home.
- When the mosquitoes got bad at dusk, we could go inside the home.
We found a mountain home which was accessible by car. That meant taking a 2-hour bus ride to a small town. From there we took a taxi to the mountain home and set up camp outside.
Gear for Camping with a Baby
I basically brought the exact same stuff I would normally bring camping. Since I knew that the weather would be nice and we could go into the mountain home if it started raining, I even skipped on the rain jackets to save weight.
During this trip, I also carefully counted the calories of all the food. Normally I just ‘eyeball’ the meals, but end up bringing more. To keep weight down, I didn’t want to have any extra food.
However, there were a few extra things that we brought for camping with the baby (get a complete baby camping gear checklist here):
Waterproof diaper changing mat:
This was useful for changing the baby on the trail. I could lay her on it instead of the cold, damp ground.
I debated a long time as whether to bring this or not. In the end, I’m glad I did. Since my husband can’t safely carry the baby due to his disability, it was nice to be able to put her down somewhere off the ground (where no snakes or other creatures could crawl over her).
The stroller also worked on the trails, so I had my hands free to catch frogs with my older daughter (not something that I could do with baby in the carrier).
If we hadn’t been camping in front of the mountain home though, the stroller wouldn’t have been practical. It obviously won’t fit in the tent, and would have been wet with dew in the morning.
Instead of a stroller, I’d recommend getting a camp chair for baby (something like this). That way you at least can put her down off the ground while she is sleeping or playing.
Mei Tai Baby Carrier:
There are lots of hiking baby carriers. I didn’t feel like investing in one (the ErgoBaby is the only one that seems like it positions the baby’s hips properly). Instead, I got a Mei Tai carrier. It worked great on the trip and I use it at home too.
Diapers, Wipes, and Lots of Plastic Bags:
Since we were camping so close to civilization, there were actually trash cans nearby. This was great since we didn’t have to carry out dirty diapers.
Sleeping Arrangements for Baby in the Tent
Since I have a 3-person tent (and we couldn’t physically carry two tents), my husband slept in the mountain home. We three girls slept in the tent. 🙂
For the baby, I used this arrangement:
- Took my cheap foam mattress and folded it into thirds. Baby slept on top of this.
- She wore a onesie with fleece pants, socks, and a hoodie. I also had a long-sleeve shirt to go under the hoodie if it got very cold.
- She was in a winter baby sleeping bag which zipped down the side. Early in the night, I left the sleeping bag unzipped since it was so warm. Once it got colder, I zipped her up.
This sleeping setup worked really well. Actually, she slept better than she did at home. If it had been colder, I would have brought a hat and mittens for her. I also had my hoodie that she could be wrapped up in as a second sleeping bag.
There are some other ways we could have done this. Check out my post on baby sleeping bags to see the options.
***Catching Diaper Leaks***
We almost had a disaster. On the last day, she woke up with a full diaper. I saw that she was starting to poop and decided to wait until she finished to change the diaper. Well, full diapers don’t absorb poop! Tons of baby poop ended up leaking out of the back of the diaper and getting all over her sleeping bag. Luckily it was the last day, otherwise she would have been sleeping in a stinky sleeping bag.
What I should have done is put an open diaper underneath her, horizontally inside the sleeping bag. That diaper would have caught any leaks. Or, I could have put a quick-drying microfiber towel.
Facing My New Reality
The first day of camping with the baby went great. There was a small stream next to our campsite. The sound was beautiful for sleeping. I think that baby Lydia liked watching the campfire too.
The second day of camping almost didn’t go so well though. A lot of picnickers were at the campsite during the day. This didn’t bother us because we just went for a walk. However, there was still a group there in the evening.
Then I noticed that they had two cases of beer cooling in the stream.
Me: “Um, excuse me… Are you going to be here all night?”
Them: “Not all night. Maybe like five hours. Don’t worry – you won’t bother us.”
Me: “Yeah, but you will bother us!”
It was already dusk so I had to rush and move camp very quickly. Luckily, I’m a pro at taking down/putting up the tent. I got help hauling over all the firewood we’d gathered.
But we could still here the people’s loud, obnoxious music until past midnight. I was even considering sneaking over and stealing their beer so the party would end sooner.
There was also trash all over the trails. And, if you went on a smaller trail, you’d see lots of toilet paper since no one understands that you need to dig a hole when going to the bathroom outdoors.
Unfortunately, that’s the reality of camping in an area which is accessible and popular for weekend outings.
I still enjoyed the trip (and almost cried when it was time to go back home). I loved watching my baby try eating a leaf, counting animals with my older daughter, and seeing the girls fall asleep around the campfire.
Next year, I will probably leave the baby (who won’t be a baby anymore) at home and just go with my older daughter. Until we get a car, that’s the only way I will be able to experience the seclusion and peace that I crave from camping.
Tips for Camping with a Baby
- Choose somewhere with a bathroom: It would have been difficult to dig a hole while holding the baby. I’m really glad that we could go #2 in the mountain home!
- Bring UNSCENTED wipes: The wipes I brought had chamomile scent. I gave myself a “bath” with them. Suddenly, there were a bunch of bees around me! Oops – forgot the rule of camping to bring no scented things.
- Antibacterial hand sanitizer would be nice: I didn’t bring this but wish I would. Yes, I ended up eating with dirty hands after changing diapers.
- Bring a seat for baby: I mentioned this before. It’s really helpful to have somewhere off the ground to put the baby while she is sleeping or playing. You won’t be able to relax if she’s on the ground where snakes could slither over her.
- Start somewhere easy: I’m glad we camped in front of the mountain home. It made it less stressful knowing that we could just go there if necessary. No reason to go hardcore on your first trip!
Have you gone camping with a baby? What tips would you add?