I went camping before having a baby, so there was no way I was going to stop camping once I had my baby. Even though I consider myself an “expert”, not all aspects of our camping trips always went smoothly. It took some trial and error to figure things out.
Here are some of the tips for camping with a baby that I’ve picked up over my family’s trips (so you can learn from our experience and mistakes!), plus a lot of other tips I’ve compiled from other parents who went camping with a baby.
1. Start Somewhere Easy
For your first camping trip with your baby, go somewhere easy. By “easy,” I mean a campsite which:
- Is near home
- Isn’t crowded
- Has amenities like potable water, bathrooms, and electricity hookups.
- Is on easy terrain (i.e. not the top of a mountain or in the desert)
- Doesn’t have safety hazards (like nearby water features or RVs tearing through camp)
- Isn’t in bear country
- Has some stores nearby
Do this even if you are used to serious backcountry camping. If all goes well with baby on the first camping trip, you can work your way up to more adventurous, backcountry trips.
2. Don’t Over Plan
Over-planning just means you get stressed when things don’t go according to plan. And they probably won’t when camping with a baby. Like when your baby is still napping when you planned on starting a hike. Do you really want to wake a baby and then deal with her crankiness while you attempt to trek???
I personally didn’t plan any activities on camping trips with our baby. We did go on hikes but took it on a moment-by-moment basis depending on our moods/level of exhaustion.
3. Play Pens Keep Baby Out of Danger
Once your baby starts crawling, camping can get tricky. You’ve got to worry about your baby wandering off while you do camp chores. Or that she might put a stick in her mouth and choke…
The easiest solution to keep your baby safe (without having to watch her literally every second) is to bring a portable play pen. They can even double as baby sleeping beds if your tent is big enough.
4. Nighttime Crying and Neighbors
One of the things that stressed me out most when I first started camping with my baby was whether we’d disturb the neighbors. This is a legitimate concern because no one wants to wake up to a baby screaming in the middle of the night.
To minimize crying disturbances:
- Ask for a remote campsite. If you let the campground know you have a baby, they might even put you near other parents.
- Actually talk to the neighbors. Apologize in advance for any crying and say you will do your best to keep your baby quiet at night.
- Consider wild camping. Once you get the hang of campsite camping with a baby, you could go wild camping or even backpacking. If there aren’t any neighbors around, then you don’t have to worry about bothering anyone. 🙂
5. Bring a Chair for Mom
If you are still breastfeeding, then bring a very comfortable chair to sit in. You might even want an additional one for inside the tent if you feed in sitting position.
6. And a Chair for Your Baby
It’s very helpful to have somewhere to put older babies to sit off the ground. A chair also makes feeding time much easier for babies on solids. We sometimes use our stroller as a chair, but it ends up covered in baby food so a feeding chair makes cleanup simpler. See the best baby camping chairs.
7. Don’t Try to Stick to Your At-Home Schedule
Forget what many say about trying to keep your normal schedule while traveling with a baby. Your baby probably won’t nap at the same time as at home. And that means bedtime will likely change.
Also skip any sleep training you are doing at home. No one is going to be happy if your baby needs to “cry it out” at night or is getting weaned off a pacifier.
8. Stroller or Baby Carrier – Know Which Makes More Sense
Carriers are the only option for hiking on non-accessible trails. But strollers are better for longer hikes on accessible trails. You’ll spare your back and, if your baby falls asleep in the stroller, you get to take a break.
My family actually brings both a baby carrier and a stroller on some camping trips. This gives us more flexibility.
For more, read:
9. It’s Okay to Use a Baby Leash
I used to scorn parents who put their babies on leashes. Now I’m one of them (sorry to all the parents I gave dirty looks to!).
The harness leash means we could let our 1-year-old daughter walk on hikes by herself safely. I can actually zone out a bit and enjoy the nature without worrying that she will wander off or fall into a patch of stinging nettles because I looked away for a second.
10. Be Prepared for Rain and Mud
Rain doesn’t have to ruin your camping trip. Your baby can still go outside in the rain – but only if you have proper rain gear.
Once your baby starts crawling, you’ll probably want to bring a rain suit regardless of forecast. The rain suit keeps your baby clean when she inevitably crawls into a big pile of mud.
11. Use Disposable Diapers, and Bring a Pail
I’m all for using cloth diapers (both my kids were cloth diapered), but they are a pain to use when camping – especially on camping trips more than 2 or 3 days long. You have to keep all those dirty diapers somewhere and they can attract animals.
Do yourself a favor and use disposables instead. Bring a diaper pail to keep dirty diapers and wipes in so the smell doesn’t attract insects to your campsite.
12. Bring Something for Sitting on the Ground
Have a big picnic blanket or mat for at camp. Then your baby can sit on the ground even if it’s wet, rocky, or cold. This will help your baby get some exercise so she hopefully sleeps better.
I also bring a foam sleeping mat with me on hikes so we have somewhere to put the baby down when we stop for breaks. The mat also doubles as a changing pad.
When you stop for breaks, spread out the blanket and let your baby wriggle/crawl around. This will help her get some exercise so she sleeps better!
13. Plan Simple Meals
While I love cooking over a campfire and gourmet camping meals, your trip will go much smoother if you choose simple meals. Ideally, you choose easy meals which don’t require refrigeration and can be prepared with one pot.
Oh, and bring LOTS of snacks. You’ll be surprised how hungry you can get when you and your baby are outdoors all day.
14. Test Gear At Home
As with all camping gear, you should always test your baby gear before your trip. This will get your baby used to the gear. It also ensures you know how to use the gear so you aren’t fiddling with carrier straps at trail base or trying to figure out how to open your baby’s portable crib.
15. Understand What’s Essential
There are some items your baby absolutely needs for camping (sleeping items, breathable clothing…). Depending on your type of camping and baby’s age, you might consider some other items essential too – like a playpen to keep your baby away from venomous snakes.
16. Buckets Make Great Baby Baths
On short camping trips, you can probably skip bath time completely. Just be sure to use a big smock during mealtimes and put your baby in a rain suit if it’s muddy. You can always wipe your baby down with wet wipes if she gets really dirty.
If you do need to give your baby a bath, then buckets work (which can also serve as your camp sink). Be prepared to haul water from the camp spigot and maybe even have to heat some water on the camp stove. You’ll feel like you are in Little House on the Prairie.
17. Avoid Scented Items
A lot of baby items have perfumes in them. Heck, even many diapers are scented. These scents can attract insects and create a major nuisance. Only bring unscented baby items camping. And be sure to test any new items on your baby before your trip in case an allergic reaction occurs.
18. Use the Red Light Setting On Your Light
Good headlamps and lanterns have a red light setting. It allows you to get visibility without waking up anyone in your tent. Since you will likely need to move around inside the tent while your baby or other family members sleep, it comes in very handy.
19. Stay Organized
Keeping your campsite and tent organized is a matter of safety. You don’t want your baby pulling something from the messy tent over her head while she sleeps. Nor do you want your crawling baby to knock over the lit stove.
20. Set Up a Shelter
Tarps are relatively cheap and can be set up to make a shelter. The shelter will give you shade and create a dry place if it rains.
- Park your stroller under the shelter. It will keep the stroller dry and free of bird poop.
- Shade your tent too. If your tent doesn’t get shade in the morning, your baby may wake up at 5am when the first rays of sunlight blast through the tent.
21. Focus On YOUR Comfort
It’s easy to overthink everything your baby needs for the camping trip but forget about your needs. Bring things to make your life easier on the trip so you don’t end up exhausted from sleepless nights or breastfeeding in awkward positions. Some comfort items to consider are:
- Breastfeeding chair for inside and outside the tent
- Easy, instant meals and convenience foods
- A better sleeping mat and pillow
If you are having a good time on the trip, the baby will pick up on your good mood and probably have a good time too. So make sure to prioritize your needs too. And have fun!
Do you have any tips for camping with a baby? Let us know in the comments section below.