Camping with a baby

Camping with a baby

My husband and I love camping!

We usually camp on our own or with family and friends a few times a year. We also usually camp twice a year with our church’s Pathfinder Club. When our little one arrived last August, we knew that he would start camping with us pretty quickly. We want him to grow up loving the outdoors, exploring, and learning a respect for God’s creation.

Horton Creek in Arizona. Photo by Bradley Van Sant.
Lower Cascades along Horton Creek in Arizona. Photo by Bradley Van Sant.

On a recent Friday afternoon, we loaded up our vehicle, put our little one in his carseat, and drove two hours away to one of our favorite camping spots northeast of Payson, Arizona, and below the picturesque Mogollon Rim for a three-day, two-night camping trip.

This particular campsite is what is call an “established campground”, meaning that it has toilet facilities (little buildings with a hole in the ground but no sinks or showers), has a spicket for non-potable water, designated camping areas with picnic tables and metal fire-rings, and is maintained/monitored by a camp host.

For our first camping trip with an eight month old infant, it made sense to go to an established campground. We had the peace of mind that we were only about 20 minutes away from Payson proper and we could pack up quickly should we have to leave early. We also were figuring out how to pack our vehicle with less available space (carseat!) and more items (baby things!). In the end, we had to leave our canopy behind as it just did not fit this time.

Camping with a baby is easier than we thought it would be, and we were fairly positive about the experience going in. If you have been thinking about camping with your baby, do not be afraid trying it. All babies are different, but if you know your baby well and prepare, you may find camping with your baby is quite fun.

Mommy and baby posing at campsite in pine forest.
My little peanut and I after his first night sleeping in a tent.

As with all aspects of life after a baby, you do have to make adjustments to your plans to accommodate a little one. Here are nine tips based off what we learned while camping with our eight month old.

1. Clothing: Be prepared for the weather

It is always a good idea to know the weather forecast of the location you will be camping at, whether you are taking a baby or not, but with a baby, you need to be even more aware of weather.

Remember, out in nature, night time temperatures can vary significantly from day time temperatures. Babies lose body heat faster than adults, so you need to take the proper clothing for day and night. You also do not want to over-dress the baby and have them overheat. So I highly recommend packing clothes that can be layered.

Pack a hat or cap that fits closely over the baby’s head and, if possible, covers the ears. Hoodies are too lose around the head to keep body heat in. Also consider a floppy or wide-brim hat and sunglasses to protect the baby from the sun. We live in the southwest where the sun, even in spring time, can be quite intense, so sun protection is very important.

Long sleeves and long pants are important to protect against bugs, especially mosquitoes. Depending on the weather, you may need to pack little mittens or a snowsuit or rain jacket. And don’t forget the socks and shoes! Especially if the baby is at the crawling stage or likes to “walk” with assistance from Mom or Dad, you want them to have proper shoes so their tender feet are not getting cut by rocks.

Also remember that babies tend to get their clothes dirty fast. You should pack an extra set or two of clothes just in case of an explosive diaper or excessive spit up, but don’t sweat the little things like good old dirt. It is good for their budding immune system!

2. Food

If you are exclusively breastfeeding via nursing, just be sure to pack extra water and snacks for Mom and a comfortable place to sit (a camp chair) for those nursing sessions that will happen every 3-4 hours. Back support is important to keep the sore muscles away. If your baby is six months or older, try side-lying nursing in the privacy of your tent. In this position, babies have to be a certain size and have some head control to be able to reach the breast and nipple in a way that is comfortable to both of you.

If you are formula feeding, be sure you pack enough formula and filtered/sterile water to cover the usual amount of meals that your little one has during an average day. You may also want to take along whatever is necessary for cleaning the bottles if you plan to reuse them.

Mommy using a heavy duty baby carrier.
Enjoying an easy Sabbath afternoon walk along Christopher Creek. Photo by Bradley Van Sant.

If your baby is old enough to eat solid food, pack some baby food and a spoon and try to keep on your regular schedule when it comes to how much or how frequently the baby gets the solid food.

For those Moms who, like me, breastfeed via pumping, I highly recommend you buy rechargeable batteries for your electric pump or a power converter that can plug into your vehicle. Our son currently eats a combination of breast milk (pumped and nursing), formula (supplemental to the breastmilk when he is especially hungry), and solid foods. He has been improving in nursing on his own, and I thought we would be fine for the three days with the breastmilk I had pumped previously, a few bottles of formula (for emergencies), and the baby food so I took only a hand pump.

I regretted it.

While we had plenty of food for our son, I was in pain and discomfort by the end of the trip. Our little one was so excited that he had a hard time staying focused long enough to nurse (except during the night when he sleep-nurses), and the hand pump was not draining the milk completely. By Sunday morning, I had hard lumps in my breasts and the hand pump had caused some minor bleeding. So, in hindsight, if you are a mom who pumps exclusively or regularly, it is worth the hassle of taking your familiar electric pump with you.

Not draining the breast completely tells your body that demand for the milk has decreased so milk production will start to decrease. For nursing mothers, you can simply add a few extra nursing sessions in when you get home. But for those of us who rely on pumping, it can be a challenge to get our supply back. It is over a week since we returned, and I am only just getting my milk supply back up to pre-camping levels.

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3. Diapers! Wipes!

When it comes to diapers, I recommend packing a few more than you think you will need. Our little one ate a little less on our trip and, therefore, had fewer messy diapers. However, it is better to be prepared then to find yourself needing one more diaper and not having one.

If you are cloth diapering, you will have to bring enough water to rinse the diapers and a wet storage bag for soiled diapers until you return home. If you are brave enough and have enough water, you can take soap, wash the diapers there, and let them dry in the sun.

If you are using disposable diapers, please dispose of them properly.

I also recommend bringing a baby wash cloth just in case you need to give the little one a sponge bath after a particular messy diaper or if they end up really dirty playing in the dirt. A plastic bin can double as a small bathtub if need be.

4. Somewhere safe to sleep.

Camping is a perfect example of co-sleeping. Co-sleeping basically means sleeping in close proximity to your child, but most people associate the term with bed-sharing.

Bed-sharing, where the child sleeps in the same bed as the parent(s), is actually only one type of co-sleeping. If you plan to bed-sharing while camping, you will need to be extra vigilant. Sleeping bags can be tight for one or two adults, and adding a little one can pose additional challenges. Sleeping bags can also be heavy so you need to be sure that the baby is not too restricted and can breathe.

However, if done correctly, bed-sharing while camping can be a wonderful experience for you and your baby.

To be honest, bed-sharing makes me a little nervous. Perhaps it is because I am a first-time mom. I don’t bed-share at home very often, and I did not plan to bed-share while camping. When it comes to co-sleeping, I prefer him to be in his own safe bed within arms reach.

Daddy posing with baby in nature.
A little bit of daddy and son time Sunday morning. Photo by Jacquelyn Van Sant.

So we brought the Moses basket from the bassinet we used when he was newborn to 5 months old. It is large, has sturdy sides, and good mattress to keep him off the ground. It also collapses flat! We put the Moses basket right next to my side of the air mattress in our tent.

It was cold at night so even with his super warm pajamas, I did have to swaddle him loosely with a blanket (arms free). He was very comfortable in the basket. I could see him every time I opened my eyes and I could easily pick him up for cuddles and night-time nursing. In the early morning hours, I did end up bringing him into the sleeping bag with me, but I kept him cradled in my arm and only lightly dozed.

If you do not have a suitable place for baby to sleep and do not want to bed-share, research travel bassinets, co-sleeper beds, etc. to find one that will fit your needs.

Just as at home, you need to create a safe sleeping environment and be vigilant with not allowing anything to obstruct your baby’s breathing. Ideally, dress baby in warm layers and avoid soft or heavy blankets, especially if your baby is unable to lift and turn their head on their own yet. Always put the baby on their back and on a firm surface without loose pillows, stuffed animals, or blankets near the face.

5. Somewhere to sit and play.

We were camping in a pine forest so the ground was littered with pine needles, pine cones, and rocks. W planned on stretching out an extra tarp, putting an old duvet cover down, and letting our son play on that with adult supervision. When we reached the campsite, we let our friends borrow the extra tarp and I did not want to put the duvet cover down directly on the dirt. We ended up holding our son the majority of the time. Fortunately, there were plenty of adults around to hand him to.

Before our next camping trip (hopefully next month!), we decided to buy a camping chair for babies. We bought Summer Infant Pop ‘N Sit Portable Highchair, because we wanted a chair that had a security belt for when he is very little, a real tray (not cloth), and that folds up. We will test this out the next time we camp, and I will update with whether or not it worked for us.

A tarp and blanket can work for a play area for younger babies. Our little one has mastered crawling, and he is extremely fast! Even with supervision, he is like a little bullet and he loves getting into everything. (I can just see him trying to eat pine needles and dirt…) So we also decided to invest in a North States Superyard with an easy access door. This “playard” can be used both indoor and outdoor, and we needed something for our living room anyway to keep him from getting himself into trouble while we are doing chores. The nice thing about this particular one is that it folds up and has a carrying strap, so it should be easy to take on our next camping trip.

As for playing, you do not need to bring a lot of toys to occupy the baby. Just being outdoors, somewhere new, and the regular hustle of camp activity will keep them occupied. Also, do not be too worried about the little one getting a little dirty. There is so much to see and touch!

6. If teething, bring whatever usually soothes baby with you.

If your baby is currently teething, you need to bring whatever it is that you usually use to soothe the pain. If it is teething toys, pacifier, clove gel, extra cuddles with Mom, or even baby medicine — baby will need relief from the pain in some way.

Squirrel sneaking seeds we left out for it.
One of the many squirrels that entertained us around camp. Photo by Bradley Van Sant.

Fortunately, if your baby is at the stage where he or she is alert, they will probably be easily distracted by the camping experience. Our little one was fascinated by everything. He watched the squirrels try to sneak snacks, the birds flittering here and there, the branches and leaves rustling in the wind, and other campers walking their dogs. (He loves animals.) So we only had to give him medicine once, and the rest of the time, he was fine with chewing on his pacifier and teething toys and the occasional clove gel on his gums.

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If baby gets fussy, nurse, cuddle, or go for a little walk around the campgrounds to distract them.

7. A baby/toddler carrier

We took two different baby carriers along with us.

I used our BabyBjörn Original for keeping our son close while doing things around camp, for walks in the immediate area, and for a longer hike. He is getting close to outgrowing it, though.

We also tried out heavy-duty baby carrier for hiking. This carrier has a collapsible stand so you can load baby in the carrier before hoisting it to your back. There is a wide waist belt and a strip that goes over the chest to more evenly distribute the weight. It was very useful on one of the longer hikes along the creek, but I did find it was a challenge to hoist this carrier from the ground to my back by myself.

It was also useful as a chair when we were breaking down camp and loading the vehicle, since we did not have anywhere else to put our son when we were doing the tasks that required two people: getting the air out of the air mattress, shoving our double sleeping bag back into its carrying bag, and putting up our tent.

Our son, though, did not like this carrier as much. It could be because he was a tad small for it so he could not see well, or it could be because it was on my back and he has only ever been carried on my chest before this. Either way, this heavy-duty hiking carrier will take a few more times to get used to.

8. Adjust your schedule and activities.

We found that having our son with us meant that everything was done at a slower pace. Someone had to hold or wear the baby at all times and certain activities, like breaking down the tent and packing up the car, took twice as long as before because we had to take turns watching the baby. This slow pace was actually a blessing in disguise because I was able to really relax and enjoy the quiet serenity of the woods. There was no rush to go anywhere or do anything, but at the same time, I had to be a little more aware of the time in regards to how long it takes to prepare food.

Mommy hiking with a baby in a carrier on her back.
We love visiting the pine forests up near Payson, Arizona. Photo by Bradley Van Sant.

When we went for a walk by the creek, we had to make sure he was wearing socks and shoes and protected from the sun with a hat. It is logical, but if you have never had a baby with you on a trip before, you will find that your schedule needs more flexibility. I found myself going to bed and waking earlier than I usually do, even for camping trips.

Also remember that your little one has a routine and try to keep to that familiar schedule. Babies are quite adaptable, but familiarity does help them adjust to being outdoors. So if your baby naps at a regular time, eats at certain times, etc., plan your activities around the baby’s schedule.

9. Important odds and ends

If you are camping, you should always have a first aid kit. With a baby, you should add a few more items such as a nasal aspirator, a medicine dispenser/syringe, infant Tylenol or the equivalent medicine, and a baby thermometer.

Bring plenty of cleaning wipes for hands, faces, and bums — for you too! Mosquito netting may also be useful to bring to keep the pesky bugs away.

Have fun!

Most importantly, relax and have fun. Enjoy this special time out in nature with your little one. Sing! Sing! Sing! Babies love singing anyway, and singing and camping go hand in hand. Do not be shy. Sing away.

The Van Sant baby went camping at only 8 months old.
Our little one’s first time wear sneakers! Photo by Jacquelyn Van Sant.

If you do not sing, hum or tell silly stories. Narrate your activities to the baby. Describe what they are seeing around them, what is making that curious new sound. Tickle and play “peek-a-boo”. Let the baby fall asleep in your arms while you relax in the camping chair or in the tent.

Camping with a baby can be a little challenging but it's also very rewarding. Click To Tweet

Camping with a baby can be a little challenging, but it is very rewarding. At eight months old, our son was at the crawling, standing, and trying to walk stage and that was the perfect time to take him on his first camping trip. He recognized that we were somewhere new and was fascinated by everything: the squirrels eating the seeds we threw out to them, our camping neighbors’ walking their dogs, the rustling of the winds through the tall pines, the crowing of the large ravens, the rushing of the creek over rocks, and so much more!

Was I a bit sleep deprived by the end of the trip? Yes, but it was worth every moment to see his smiling little face as he woke up in my arms, played hide and seek with the camping bag, and then crawled/climbed on his daddy. It made my heart swell with joy when he giggled hysterically. Sunday morning, I set him briefly down in one of the camping chairs, and he threw his head back and howled like a coyote!

Happy baby sitting on the ground in a pine forest.
Our little peanut looking quite dashing on his first camping adventure. Photo by Jacquelyn Van Sant.

We want our son to grow up with a love for nature. He has already gone on a night hike (during the super moon at just three months old), a couple of hikes, and now his first weekend camping trip. We are planning another camping trip next month. It is never too early to teach him to take only pictures and leave only footprints.

Happy trails!

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