Mom Goes Camping

How to Sleep in a Tent with a Baby

how to sleep in a tent with a baby

The most stressful part of camping with a baby is sleeping in a tent.  If you are worried about your baby getting cold in the tent, which sleeping bag to use, how to get your baby to sleep, or anything else related to sleeping in a tent with a baby, here’s what you need to know.

 

Tent Setup

The first thing to consider when sleeping in a tent with a baby is your tent setup.  The tent you used to camp as a couple might not be suitable now that you’ve got a baby with you.

 

Choose a Bigger Tent

It was a bit crowded in this 3-person tent!

Because of all the extra space your baby requires (so you don’t roll over on her and have room for all her extra stuff), you may want a bigger tent.  Two adults plus a baby will likely need a tent for 4 or 5 people – not just three.

Another benefit of a larger tent is that you will probably get more headroom.  This extra headroom is very useful when you’ve got to sit up to breastfeed in the middle of the night.  Or when you are trying to put a sleeping baby in the tent without waking her.

If you want to use a portable playpen or crib in the tent, you’ll probably need a cabin-type tent because they have vertical walls which give you much more interior space.

 

Got More than One Kid? Consider Using Two Tents

I have an older daughter and didn’t want her getting woken up by the baby at night.  So, our solution was to bring two tents.  I stayed in one tent with the baby and my daughter and husband stayed in the other tent.   Having an extra tent also helps keep things more organized.

 

Sleeping Gear for Camping with a Baby

I don’t recommend co-sleeping in the same sleeping bag with your baby (more on that later),  so your baby will need her own camping gear for sleeping.  This includes:

 

Baby Sleeping Bag

Most baby sleeping bags are designed for indoor use and not for camping.  They usually aren’t warm enough for camping in anything but the mildest summertime weather.   Luckily, there are some brands which make great baby sleeping bags specifically for camping.  My favorite brands are Morrison and BabyDeeDee.  Read my reviews of the best baby sleeping bags for camping here.

 

Sleeping Pad

You can have the best baby sleeping bag in the world, but your baby will still get cold if you don’t have a good sleeping pad.  Why? Because the ground will literally suck the heat out of your baby’s body. Sleeping pads have an R-value rating for how much insulation they provide. To keep your mind at ease, choose a sleeping pad with an R-value of 3 or more.

Note that R-value is accumulative. That means you can layer sleeping pads on top of each other to provide more insulation. For example, you could put an R-value 1 foam pad on top of an R-value 2 self-inflating pad for an accumulative value of 5. You can also fold foam pads to increase the R-value.

Here are some good sleeping pads for your baby:

  • Therm-A-Rest RidgeRest(closed-cell foam mat): It’s very affordable and has an R-value of 2.6.  Since it is foam, you can fold it to suit your baby’s length and get double the R-value.  Or, you can even cut it to size to save weight. 🙂
  • Therm-A-Rest BaseCamp(self inflating):  This pad has an R-value of 5 and is 2 inches thick, so is warm and comfortable for sleeping.
  • Therm-A-Rest LuxuryMap(self inflating): For a bit more money, you can get this pad. It is 3 inches thick and has an R-value of 6.8, so is very warm and comfy.

Note: Do NOT use an inflatable air mattress! Babies should sleep on a hard surface.  Plus, inflatable air mattresses are heat sinks and thus not warm. It is safer to use a foam or self-inflating mattress instead.

This closed-cell mat has an R-value of 2.6. Fold it in half to get an R-value of 5.2. It is insanely affordable. Buy it here

 

Pillow

When camping, the point of the pillow isn’t to keep your baby comfortable.  Rather, it’s to keep your baby’s head or face off the sleeping pad so it stays warm.

Of course, you can bring your normal baby’s pillow from home.  My baby never used a pillow though and now rolls around too much to stay on the pillow anyway.   So, I’ve used these improvised camping pillows instead:

  • Hat: When my baby was really small and only slept on her back, I’d just put a hat on her head. As she got older though, she didn’t tolerate the hat and could pull it off by herself so we switched to pillows.
  • Fleece over the top of the sleeping pad: Zip up a fleece jacket and slide it over the top of the sleeping pad (zipper side down). This creates a large, soft surface for your baby’s head.
  • Diapers covered by fleece: You can wrap a few diapers in a fleece (or other soft clothing). This makes a really good pillow for babies that don’t move around too much at night.

 

Portable Baby Bed or Cot

Once your baby starts crawling or walking, you’ve got to worry about them getting out of bed in the middle of the night.  One solution is to bring a portable baby bed for them. Or, if your tent is big enough, you can put a portable playpen in the tent.   See these best portable baby beds for camping.

Note that you still need to use a sleeping pad. Cold air will circulate underneath the playpen or portable crib, drawing heat away from your body. So, put a sleeping pad in the play pen under your baby.  Alternatively, use a few thick blankets to line the playpen.

Pack n Play for camping with a baby

Travel Mad Mum uses this awesome setup (shown above) when camping with her baby.  At night, the baby wore a vest, sleep suit, sleep sack, hat, mittens, and a light blanket on top. The Pack n Play is super-useful for baby to play in during the day too.

 

Pajamas

The key to keeping your baby warm and comfortable while sleeping is to put your baby in layers made from breathable materials.  Layering means that you can quickly remove/add layers as necessary. It also makes it easier to keep yoru baby clean, such as only having to change the outer layer if she spits up all over herself.

It’s really important that your baby wears breathable materials to sleep.  Otherwise, she will end up sweaty.  Sweat = wet = cold!  Merino wool is a great material.  If you are on a budget, fleece is a good alternative.

Here’s what layers your baby should be wearing to bed while camping:

  • Base layer –preferably wool, like these
  • Fleece or wool pajamas – see my picks for the best camping pajamas here
  • Sleeping bag – you can leave it partially unzipped at first.  When the temperature drops later at night, zip it completely.
  • Hats and mittens: If it’s only mildly cold, then choose a sleep suit which has a hood.

Baby DeeDee makes these cute fleece jammies which are great for camping (available in sizes from 3 to 24 months)

 

Diaper Leak Catcher

I learned this the hard way. 🙂  After a gross diaper explosion, my baby ended up sharing my sleeping bag, which was not at all comfortable for me.  Now, I make sure to include a diaper leak catcher in our supplies.

Put a waterproof pad inside the sleeping bag under your baby.  This will catch most leaks. The PJs will still need to be changed but at least the sleeping bag stays clean.  Alternatively, you can spread out several diapers underneath your baby to catch any leaks.

Also be sure to bring backup PJs in case of leaks.  An adult down jacket can be used as a backup infant sleeping bag in a pinch!

 

What about Co-Sleeping in the Tent?

There are some benefits to co-sleeping with your baby while camping instead of using separate sleeping bags.  It will be easier to regulate your baby’s temperature, you won’t have to carry extra gear, and it’s great for bonding.

However, in my opinion, co-sleeping with a baby while camping is a terrible idea.  Even if you normally co-sleep at home, it’s completely different when you are in a tent.  I only tried it once before saying “Never again!

For me, the main issue was breastfeeding.  To get my boobs level with my baby’s mouth, I had to wriggle up out of the sleeping bag.  That meant my entire torso was cold.  It was also really uncomfortable.

I didn’t have to do any nighttime diaper changes on that trip.  But, if I had, both me and my baby would have had to get completely out of the sleeping bag (meaning we’d both be cold). It’s much easier to change a diaper when your baby is in her own sleeping bag with a bottom-opening zipper.

If you do decide to co-sleep with your baby, use a double-wide sleeping bag and a double-wide sleeping pad.

For more on this topic, read these tips for co-sleeping with a baby in a sleeping bag.

 

Keeping Your Baby Warm at Night

It can get REALLY cold at night in the wilderness, especially if you are at a high elevation.  Even if your baby is warm, you might end up worrying that your baby is too cold.  Speaking from experience, it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep when you are constantly sticking your hand in the baby’s sleeping bag to see if her skin is cold.

However, it is possible to go camping at cold temperatures. Here’s what to do:

 

Check real nighttime temperature of where you are going.

The weather forecast may be for the nearest town, which could be at a lower elevation. Calculate that you’ll  lose approximately 3.5 degrees F for each 1000 feet of elevation gain.  More on that here.

 

Invest in good base layers for your baby.

A base layer is what wicks moisture away from the body.  It is incredibly important for preventing sweatiness (sweat = wet = cold). You can get by using cheap fleece pajamas on top but it’s really worth investing in some nice Merino wool base layers for your baby to sleep in.

 

Make sure your baby stays on the sleeping pad.

The ground will quickly suck heat out, no matter how warm the sleeping bag is.  I keep a full backpack alongside my baby so she can’t roll off the pad at night.

 

Use an adult down jacket as a backup sleeping bag.

As AniaLife talks about in her great post about traveling with babies, adult down jackets can be used as a baby sleeping bag for really cold nights.

This is a great solution if you have a diaper explosion and the baby’s sleeping bag becomes unusable.

Just dress your baby in layers and then put him/her in a sleeping sack.  Then you put the baby in the down jacket.  For really small babies, you can tie the sleeves to keep the baby snuggled tightly in the jacket.

 

Resist the urge to over-bundle your baby because you are worried she’s cold.

This will cause your baby to SWEAT.  Then your baby will be WET.  And then you will really worry that she is cold and won’t know whether to remove layers to stop the sweating or put on more layers to protect against evaporative cooling (again, speaking from experience).

 

Breastfeeding in the Tent

The main issue with breastfeeding in a tent is that mom has to get at least her torso out of the sleeping bag.  This means that her upper body can get very cold.

A good solution from Tanya of Rockies Family Adventures is to wear a down jacket while sleeping.  Then you can keep your upper body out of the sleeping bag without it getting cold. Just unzip the jacket when it’s time to feed.

Here’s a picture (below) of Tanya and her baby all bundled up and ready for bed!

Tanya Koob, Rockies Family Advventures

 

Getting a Baby to Sleep in a Tent

When my daughter was a newborn, she actually slept better in the tent than at home in her crib.  I guess all the fresh air tired her out.  But, as she got older, getting her to fall asleep became harder.  She was too excited to nap and wanted to “escape” the tent at night to play some more.   I did learn some tricks to make sleep time easier with a baby while camping. Here they are.

 

Put On PJs Early

You don’t want to wake a sleeping baby to put pajamas on.  So make sure you put PJs on before bedtime.  Then your baby will already be dressed for bed if she crashes early.

I even take things a step further and make my daughter get in her sleeping bag before bedtime.  When she falls asleep in my arms in front of the campfire, all I have to do is transfer her to the tent.

 

Make sure your baby has plenty of time to crawl/run

Try not to keep your baby in the carrier or stroller too much during the day. Then they will get tired out and (hopefully) sleep better.  Bring a rain suit or gigantic picnic blanket so she can be on the ground without getting wet or dirty.

 

Reserve the most isolated campsite

I get very stressed about annoying neighbors while camping. So, when making reservations with a campground, I always tell them that we are coming with a baby and ask for the most remote campsite. Then it isn’t such a big deal if my baby cries in the middle of the night.

 

Don’t stress too much about bedtime schedules

While it’s nice to maintain your normal schedule as much as possible, don’t obsess over it.  Naps are bound to happen at different times, which in turn means your child might end up going to sleep at night at a different time.

Personally, I don’t enforce any bedtime but do insist that the kids are ready for bed (PJs on, teeth brushed, went potty…). They will eventually drift off on their own or even ask to go to bed!

 

Worried about Baby Escaping the Tent at Night?

A very legit concern about camping with crawling or walking babies is whether they will wander off in the middle of the night.   Here are some solutions that I’ve gotten from other parents.

  • Do the zips up high where your baby can’t reach them.
  • Consider using a portable playpen or crib in the tent; one which is too high for them to crawl out of on their own.
  • Sleep across the doorway. Then your baby will have to crawl over you to get out at night.

*Do NOT lock the tent door in anyway.  If you need to escape quickly, you won’t be able to get out.

Want more advice? See these 21 Tips for Camping with a Baby

Have you gone camping with a baby? Let us know your sleep advice in the comments below.

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About the author /


Diane Vukovic grew up camping and backpacking in upstate New York. Now, she takes her own daughters on wilderness adventures so they can connect with nature and learn resiliency. With dozens of trips under her belt, Diane is an expert in minimalist camping, going lightweight, planning, and keeping her kids entertained without screens.

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