My daughter was a 3-month old infant the first time we took her camping. After that, we did many other family camping trips and even a few backpacking trips. In some ways, camping with a baby is easier than staying at home with a baby. But, of course, there are a lot of things which can make or break your trip.
If you are planning a tent camping trip with a baby, here’s what you need to know to make sure you and your baby have a great experience.
Planning a Camping Trip with a Baby
How Soon Can You Take a Baby Camping?
There aren’t any rules about when you can take a baby camping; even newborns can safely go on camping trips. So, the real question isn’t whether your baby is ready but rather when you feel ready.
Becoming a parent can be scary and overwhelming. I’d recommend waiting until you feel like you’d “gotten the hang of this parenting thing” before taking your baby camping.
You don’t want to have to figure out the ins-and-outs of bathing a baby, co-sleeping, diapering, etc. while on unfamiliar terrain. You’ll be stressed, worried, and won’t have a good time. Babies are very good at picking up on their parents’ mood: If you are calm and relaxed while camping, then your baby will handle the new environment well too.
Where to Go?
For your first camping trip with a baby, go somewhere easy. Now is not the time to tackle high mountains or cold weather. You’ll also want to avoid popular areas (like the Grand Canyon or Smokey Mountains) as it’s less likely you’ll get a quiet campsite there.
Ideally, you’ll go somewhere that you’ve already been so you know what the facilities look like. Stay close to home. In case you need to cut your camping trip short, you don’t want to be more than an hour or two away from home.
Choosing a Campground
- Make sure it has the right amenities: You’ll absolutely want potable water, decent bathrooms, and trash removal.
- Reserve campsites far from others: This way you won’t have to worry about bothering other campers.
- Call the campground: Always call the campground before making a reservation. Let them know that you are bringing a baby and ask if there’s anything you should know.
Read more about Choosing a Campground here
Camping with a Newborn Infant
In many ways, camping with a newborn infant is much easier than camping with an older baby. Newborns will sleep most of the day and are usually content to be in a carrier or stroller while you enjoy the outdoors. If you are breastfeeding, you don’t even have to worry about food or bottles.
Your main concern when camping with a newborn is actually to keep mom and dad comfortable. The more comfortable mom and dad are, the less exhausted you will be from nighttime feedings or awkward sleep setups. Don’t feel bad about using “luxury” items for yourself like a camping sink, comfortable chair just for inside the tent, pillows, or convenience foods.
Camping with Babies 6+ Months Old
With older babies (6+ months), camping gets more complicated. You have to worry about bringing baby food and dealing with grosser diapers. Once babies start crawling, then you have to constantly keep an eye on them so they don’t wander off.
You’ll also realize that all of nature is a choking hazard when your baby grabs things like acorns to put in her mouth. This doesn’t mean camping with an older baby is impossible, but you will probably need more gear to keep your baby safe.
Sleeping in a Tent with a Baby
Some babies are used to sleeping in their own crib and have trouble sleeping in a tent. When my daughter was an infant, she actually slept better in the tent than at home, probably because she got so tired out from being in nature all day. But, when she was one year old, she got overexcited and it took forever to get her to sleep in the tent. So, it really depends.
However, there are definitely things you can do to make sleeping in a tent with a baby easier.
- Make sure your baby has the right sleeping gear: Babies will need their own sleeping pad and a baby sleeping bag. You may also want a portable baby camping bed for your baby so you don’t worry about rolling over on her.
- Choose breathable pajamas: A good pair of pajamas will ensure your child stays warm but doesn’t get sweaty. Merino wool PJs are a good choice.
- Don’t share a sleeping bag: While some parents do have success with this, it’s generally not a good idea to co-sleep with your baby in the same sleeping bag.
- Plan for accidents: Lining the sleeping bag will prevent disasters if a diaper explosion occurs.
- Nighttime feedings: Consider how mom will breastfeed at night or how you’ll heat bottles for feedings.
For more, read how to sleep in a tent with a baby.
Your baby will need most of the same gear as you to go camping, like: a sleeping bag, pad, clothing which can be worn in layers, and rain gear. You really don’t need much more than these basics. However, there is some gear which can make camping with a baby much easier.
- Bigger Tent: Now might be a good time to upgrade your tent to one with more space and headroom. This makes nighttime feedings, diaper changes, and staying organized much easier.
- Portable playpen: This is especially useful for crawling babies so you don’t have to worry about them crawling away while you do camp chores. It’s also a good place for naps.
- Baby camping chair: Also useful for older babies, a chair means you’ll be able to feed your baby easier and have somewhere for her to sit and play. See these best baby camping chairs.
- Trail-friendly stroller or carrier: I personally bring both. I’d use the carrier on hikes not suitable for strollers. I’d use the stroller on long walks on accessible trails. Strollers are also a good place for your baby to take naps if you aren’t bringing a portable playpen. Read more about baby carriers.
Formula and Baby Food
I was lucky and breastfed my baby, so I didn’t have to worry about formula on our first camping trips.
If you formula feed your baby, then you’ll need to bring lots of bottles. Bring enough for at least one day. This way, you can just rinse out the bottles after each feeding and thoroughly wash/sterilize them all at the end of the day. There are also disposable bottle inserts you can get, but I really dislike single-use products because they are so expensive and wasteful.
Once your baby starts eating solid foods, things can get a bit more complicated. It’s hard to make your own baby food while at camp. If you have electricity at the campsite, you can get a plug-in cooler for storing homemade baby food. Otherwise, the easiest solution is to just bring pre-made baby food. Try to choose baby food which comes in pouches instead of jars as it’s easier to transport and makes less trash.
Ideally, you should use the same diapering system that you use at home when camping with a baby. However, if you use cloth diapers and are going on a camping trip longer than 3 days, it’s probably better to switch to disposables. Otherwise, you’ll have store stinky diapers at camp.
Bear in mind that dirty diapers can attract insects or even animals to your campsite. It’s nice to bring a small trash can with a lid (or bucket with a lid) to use as a diaper pail. Then you will only need to dump this trash can once per day instead of trekking to the campground trash bins after each diaper bin.
If you are used to doing activities like intense hikes, canoeing or mountain biking while camping, you’ll have to change things significantly now that you have a baby with you.
Yes, a lot of these activities are still possible even with a baby (like taking turns with your partner on the canoe). But, if you are too ambitious with your plans, you will probably end up tired, frustrated and disappointed.
At least for the first few camping trips with your baby, take things easy. Only go on short hikes and plan to spend a lot of time “doing nothing” in nature. Don’t worry. Your baby will grow up and soon you’ll be able to do all the adventurous things you used to again.
Keeping your baby safe while camping requires some planning. The main things you’ll need to plan for are:
- Bugs: You’ll need to bring a baby-safe bug spray. Also make sure you check for ticks every day and have a tick removal tool in your first aid kit.
- Sunburn: Babies’ skin is more sensitive to sunlight than adults’ skin. Ask for a campground with shade or set up a shady area using a tarp. Keep your baby’s skin covered in UV-blocking clothing and use a wide hat.
- Animals: Avoid using any scented baby items which may attract animals to camp. In bear country, you may need to immediately throw away dirty diapers. If snakes are a concern, an elevated baby bed or playpen will keep them from getting to your napping baby.
- Getting lost: Once your baby starts crawling or walking, they could wander off. Someone needs to be constantly watching the baby or you can get a playpen. My family also used a child harness leash on hikes so we could relax and look around instead of constantly watching our walking baby would wander off-trail.
- Choking hazards: Anytime your baby is within reach of the ground (laying on a blanket, sitting in a low chair…), she might grab items from the ground and put them in her mouth. Either keep your baby high enough off the ground that she can’t reach items or be sure to sweep away any choking hazards before putting her down.
Need more advice? Read these tips for camping with a baby.