As part of my Traveling With Small Children series, I am going to talk about camping with little ones.
When we had our first born, I was hesitant to take her camping as a newborn. I was worried about a crying baby waking up everyone else in the campground, and I felt like I needed to figure out the whole mom thing first. Understandable concerns. I had a late June baby. If I had had a spring baby I’m sure I would have felt like I had things figured out enough to go, but with a June baby there wasn’t much time. I’d barely figured out breast feeding by the time camping season was over.
But my second child was a different story. My first day with Little Sis was totally different than the first month with Big Sis. I already felt like an old pro. I think Big Sis’s first camping trip was her second summer, when she was turning one. Little Sis’s first camping trip was when she was three weeks old.
No matter what the age of your child(ren), it is going to be trickier than camping without kids. And it’s different every time. Even if we went all the time last summer, this summer is going to be different. A toddler brings different challenges than a baby. It is a constant learning experience. But I do think it gets easier and easier the more you go.
I thought I’d share some things that we’ve learned over the years. Here’s my Camping With Small Children TIPS:
- Make sure everyone is warm. It might be summer, but you’ll need to dig out some coats and hats and bring plenty of warm blankets for when the sun goes down.
- For babies, I make sure to bring a little hat, some warm pajamas that cover their feet, some socks, a nice warm blanket good for swaddling. If they are swaddled, they’ll probably sleep better anyway, but they’re also sure to stay warm and you don’t have to worry about a loose blanket creeping up over their face…and mom can rest easy.
- For toddlers, I bring a hat, warm pajamas that cover their feet, socks too, their special blankie, and a sweatshirt (my toddlers don’t keep blankets on so usually need socks and sweatshirt for sleeping.) I worry the most about my toddlers staying warm, but at least they are old enough to move or snuggle up to me if they get cold.
- For preschoolers, I bring warm sweat pants, a long sleeve t-shirt for sleeping in, plenty of socks, a zip up sweatshirt with a hood for when they get up in the morning…don’t usually sleep in it but good to have just in case they need to, and warm blankets.
- Have a plan for bedtime
- My family sleeps all together snuggled under the same blankets. We all sleep on a big air mattress that takes up pretty much all the space in our tent. If there is a nursing baby, the baby sleeps right next to me and the older kids sleep on Dad’s side. If the baby wakes up, I am right there to nurse and I don’t think we’ve ever woken anyone else up. It goes pretty smoothly. And if our older kids wake up with a bad dream or something, being right there to comfort them makes that go pretty smoothly too. The only thing that really disrupts sleep is when someone needs to go potty.
- Sometimes we’ll stay up by the campfire with friends and snuggle the kids, nurse the baby to sleep. But we’ve discovered that there isn’t much point in trying to get a toddler to go to sleep in a tent when the adults are still up talking, so usually we all go to bed at the same time. Bed time when we do it this way usually goes pretty smoothly. Toddlers are the hardest, they like to climb around the tent…on everyone of course 🙂 It’s hard sometimes to get them to lay still and go to sleep. But swaddled babies are a piece of cake and my preschooler is easy too.
- Understand that some sacrifices might have to be made.
- For example, we always used to stay up late around the campfire and now that doesn’t always happen.
- We might not be able to do a longer hike.
- We might have to plan an activity around nap time.
- But this is not a surprise…that’s how parenting is!
- Nap time can be tough.
- If we’re hiking, our kids will sleep in the baby carrier.
- If we are driving, our kids will sleep in the car.
- Otherwise, we attempt laying them down in the tent and see how that goes. On a camping trip last summer we put our one year old in the tent and told her it was bedtime. She crawled around and yelled a bit but was really tired and ended up laying down for a nap. I was a little surprised how well it worked. If that doesn’t work, sometimes it works to go in and lay down and take a nap with them.
- Having small children does not need to stop you from camping, and neither does PREGNANCY. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they are afraid to tent camp so they consider spending WAY more money renting a cabin or forgo their family camping adventures all together. Just get a good air mattress. And if you had a rough night, sleep in while Dad gets breakfast for the kids. Can’t hike too far? That’s ok, just go on short walks and hang out by a lake.
- Some things we like to bring:
- The obvious things: tent, sleeping bags, camping food, etc.
- Extra blankets and an air mattress. Before we had kids we liked to rough it. Now it’s really important to stay warm and comfortable if we want a good night’s sleep.
- Extra tarp or an outdoor blanket for kids to play on/picnic on, lay on. They don’t usually stay on it, but it’s nice to have. And I do try harder to keep them on it if they are in the stage of putting everything they touch into their mouths.
- Bumbo and tray- this is such a great thing for camping. If they are just learning to sit, they like to be able to sit in it and see what’s going on while you’re making dinner or whatever and can’t hold them. If they are older it’s a great way to keep them still when you don’t want them crawling into the fire or eating dirt. But mostly I like it because ours has a tray and it works as a great on-the-go high chair.
- Giant umbrella. We just love this thing. If there ever isn’t enough shade, this is a life saver. We don’t want the kids over heating, especially the tiny ones.
- On that note, don’t forget hats, sunscreen and lots of water to drink!
- Ergo baby carrier. I think Ergos are just fantastic anyway, but they are so handy when you want to hold a baby and still have your hand free to do other things. Plus when they are really little, this is the best way to take them hiking.
- Kelty or some other hiking carrier. I like kelty’s for the older kids. When they are big enough to sit up really well, a Kelty is great because it rides high on your back so the child can see everything as you walk and it’s far enough away from your body so that you don’t end up with a giant soaking wet spot on your shirt and a sweaty baby.
- Some toys and books. Not a lot but just a few they can really enjoy. My preschooler will sometimes go sit in the tent with the door open and read books and play. But I mostly, encourage them to play in the dirt and with sticks and stuff 😉
- Camping chairs. My kids just love sitting in their own little chairs.
- Pack’n’play? We don’t ever bring this, but I can definitely see how it would be helpful. Sometimes when I’m gardening and I have a baby who has just started crawling and puts everything in her mouth I’ll set up the pack’n’play for them to play in so I can get things done while they play. But when we’re camping, we’re usually just all hanging out and can hold them and watch them and keep them from choking on rocks.
- Healthy snacks. Check out my eating on road trips/camping post.
- Swimming stuff. We love to camp by creeks and lakes so we can play in the water. If you are going to just be playing in a creek, swimsuits, towels, hats and sunscreen are probably all you need. But if you are going to be at a lake, I find that a baby floaty toy is pretty important. Something that the baby can sit in is so helpful. And life jackets that fit your kids properly if you plan on being in any boats.
- Don’t forget baby bowls, silverware, snack cups, sippy cups, etc…anything you will need for the meals you have planned.
- If your baby is used to listening to music when she sleeps, it might be good to put her favorite music on your phone or ipod or put new batteries in your cd player and turn it on at nap time to help them sleep. I don’t know that we’ve done this camping but we do it a lot when we lay our babies down for naps at other people’s houses.
I am SO EXCITED for this summer. I can’t wait to camp with my family. If you are hesitant to take your kids camping for the first time and have specific questions, feel free to ask. I’m not expert but I sure love to camp and would love to help. And if I don’t have experience with your particular question, maybe somebody else who is reading this blog has some good advice!
*Update* Read about our first (rainy) camping trip of the year here.