Camping with a baby: what to bring, what to do, and how to have a stress-free camping trip!
As a kid, my family and I spent a part of every summer camping. We were lucky to live in California, where there are TONS of camping sites and national park destinations. We have either lived or traveled almost all over the United States, and I know there are places to camp wherever you go. I cherish camping. Not only as a fond childhood memory but also as a family activity for years to come. There is something special about being in nature; listening to the sound of birds and trees and running water, having to work together to build your shelter and food, and cozying up around the campfire.
Now that we have little ones, it’s a bit harder to pack up and escape to the mountains for a couple of days. Babies have lots of needs, require constant attention and thrive on a consistent schedule. Camping is anything but consistent or predictable. Camping is full of unknowns, from the animals to the weather to the daily schedule. It can be 90 degrees and blistering hot during the day, then drop down to freezing and windy by night. Babies also require extra gear, which can be hard to fit all into one vehicle.
With all the above reasons not to leave the convenience and safety of your home, I’m telling you to get out there and go camping! With a little extra planning and preparation, it’s a fun learning and bonding experience for you and your kids. There is no substitute for getting dirty and exploring nature first-hand.
Here’s a few tips for how to make your family camping trip a little less stressful:
- Sunscreen – we love Babyganics. It’s easy to lather on, provides good coverage, without the extra chemicals (not for babies under 6 months, but then again I probably wouldn’t bring a baby tent camping younger than that age anyway).
- Bug spray – again, we use Babyganics. I was a little hesitant to use bug spray but this brand made me feel better about it; you can always try burning sage or using the mosquito repelling candles (my sister and her husband used the bracelets, but it was waste of money!) Once those mosquitoes starting hovering around the baby, I had no hesitation in lathering her in bug spray!
- Baby chair – we found the Summer Infant pop n’ sit booster chair incredibly handy. Folds up to the size of a firewood log, it’s super light, and comes with a food tray and carrier with a strap. Perfect for children under 2.
- Backpack carrier – since we have a 1 year old, simply holding her during any extended hike was not an option. She’s also pretty much grown out of her baby carriers. This was our first time using a backpack carrier but she absolutely loved it! She even took a couple snoozes during our hikes. This is a must!
- Plenty of snacks – pre-packaged are the easiest, especially if you only have one kid. We brought string cheese, cup of mandarin oranges, puffs, olives, bananas, cheerios, hard boiled eggs, blueberries, applesauce, an avocado… bring plenty of options, because we all know how picky kids can be. We also packed a couple of pouches, which are great on-the-go snacks. With more kids, buy in bulk and package into containers beforehand.
- Extra blankets – you can never have enough! Use them for more padding, or as an extra layer for when it gets cold at night. We threw down a big, old moving blanket for baby to crawl around on.
- Pillows – I always considered this a luxury, i.e. a component of “glamping”. But it’s hard enough to get good sleep when camping, let alone with a baby. You’ll be thankful you brought it!
- Tarp or canopy – no matter how vigilant you are with sunscreen, children and especially babies need shade. Don’t forget the rope to tie up the tarp!
- Snowsuit – we didn’t bother buying a sleeping bag that she’ll soon grow out of or get all wrapped up in. Instead we found it safer, cheaper, and easier to use a snowsuit over her PJs. Make sure you are aware of the low temps in the area where you’ll be camping. A cold baby is an unhappy baby!
- Washcloths – for cleaning up. I prefer these to wipes because they’re reusable, and better for the environment. They both do the trick and wipes definitely come in handy!
- Extra clothes – make sure to pack both shorts and pants, short and long sleeve shirts, multiple jackets, sun hat, hoodie, sunglasses, gloves, socks, and possibly a rain jacket. And per usual, extra diapers (don’t want to run out of these!) Be prepared for any and all weather changes.
Closed toed shoes – I purposefully separated this from the bullet above. For a baby/toddler who is starting to walk, it was hard for us to find shoes that fit her feet that are barely a size 2. We ended up finding jelly sandals, which did not do the trick. Her feet were covered in dirt after one pass around the campsite. Next time we will definitely find actual shoes that fit her… that are at least ankle high.
- Head lamp – makes it so much easier to have both hands free, to multitask with a baby. Flashlights just don’t do the trick.
- Fan/spray bottle – easy option for keeping the kids cool. Especially without a good body of water nearby; also keep in mind some lakes and rivers can be freezing – common in CO with our higher elevation and mountain runoff. Brr!
- Toys – you are in nature’s playground, with plenty of educational opportunities for older kids. For a 1 or 2 year old, it helps to have shovels, buckets, and the like to encourage playing in nature. Or really, whatever will keep them interested.
The following items are in addition to the ones listed above:
- WATER (In my opinion, nothing is more essential. Water for drinking, coffee, cooking, cleaning, or putting out a fire. Remember to stay hydrated when active, in the sun, or if you go up in elevation). I love my Hydroflask water bottle, which keeps cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot. This time we froze a pack of plastic water bottles to use in place of ice, minimizing the water buildup inside the cooler. This only works if you’re going on a short trip (no more than 2 nights). Our family also had a couple of reusable water jugs with a spout. GREAT for cleaning dishes, refilling bottles, and washing hands. I’ll splurge on one of these for next time!
- Tent (bigger is better with kids, it’s amazing how much room their little bodies are capable of taking up!)
- Sleeping pads (with younger kids, it might be easier to have one big pad so they don’t fall through the cracks when rolling around)
- Sleeping bags
- Tarp (for under your tent)
- Camping chairs (not all sites have picnic tables or seats; also more comfortable than logs)
- Gas powered camping stove, with pots/pans, spatula (quicker, easier, cleaner, and safer than over the fire, but technically optional. With kids, I’d choose the stove every time and leave the fire for the s’mores). Don’t forget your oven mitt!
- French press (ESSENTIAL in our family of coffee drinkers, used with a water boiler makes it quick and easy).
- Plates/bowls/cups/silverware (we prefer reusable, which makes sense if you plan on camping more than once. It decreases the amount of trash and saves a little room when packing).
- Aluminum foil, and possibly a grate for cooking over the fire.
- Paper towels (for the grime and grease with stove and fire cooking that is better just to throw away).
- Toilet paper, unless your campsite offers facilities. But always good to have just in case.
- Firewood, lighter/matches (hopefully there is no fire ban where you’re going! Make sure to check ahead online prior).
- Bluetooth speaker, great for dance parties!
- Cooler, filled with yummy food and beverages 🙂
- Wine and/or bottle opener… cans of course are always a safer and preferable option with most sites anyway.
- Koozies, to keep your drink cold, your hand dry, and keep track of whose drink is whose.
- Trash bags! The amount of trash we collect adds up SO quickly, this is a must. Most designated campgrounds will have a dumpster towards the entrance/exit that you can drop off on your way out. Keep a separate bag for recyclables.
- Your clothes, including multiple layers. I like to bring hiking or running shoes, my Chacos, and flip flops. Travel sized toothbrush/paste, brush, headbands, face wipes… try to stick to the essentials or these will add up!
- Hatchet (optional – if you’re roughing it and chopping up your own firewood)
- Camera (or phone, but if you don’t have service put on airplane mode to save your battery from continually searching for service).
- Charger (if you can’t get away from technology, for whatever reason, be sure to bring a portable charger. I have one by Mophie, which hasn’t failed me yet.
- Fishing rods, bikes, kayaks, hammocks, slack line, cards, dice, or whatever else you plan on doing during the day!
Preparation is key. Cut up and package any food before you leave. It’s a lot harder to prepare AND cook food, over a stove/fire, with kids running around.
Pack all of your dry goods in one storage container. Utilize the top of the container as an extra table.
Pack your cooking supplies and eating-ware in another storage container. Organization is key here! Being able to find what you need, when you need it can save you a headache! Bring extra bags/tupperware if you anticipate having any leftovers.
Reserve a spot. As a couple, we didn’t mind driving up last minute with the hopes of finding an open spot. But with little ones in tow, we want to spend our time around a campfire and not driving around to find a campsite. Popular campgrounds fill up quickly! My little one will rarely sleep longer than 30 minutes in the car, so the shorter we can keep the drive, the better.
Get directions ahead of time. The whole point of camping is to be rural in nature, so don’t expect cell service. Make sure to screen shot or print out full directions, including where to park and pay if necessary. Have an atlas on hand, and use this as an opportunity to teach kids how to read a map! Go old school!
I once saw a meme about camping: “where you spend a small fortune to live like a homeless person”. First of all, this is hilarious and, unfortunately true in many cases. But really, be smart about what you get. Sometimes name brand is better, sometimes it’s not. My favorite option is to buy second hand, from stores like Sierra Trading Post or even Goodwill if you’re lucky. We used an app called Offerup to find our backpack carrier, and I know a few moms who’ve used buy-sell facebook groups. Look for sales, REI has a few garage sale events each year.
Stick to your kids’ normal schedules, as best as you can. My husband is a fan of letting the little one stay up a little later, but that doesn’t mean they will sleep in later! With long, summer days, it can be hard to put your child down when it’s still light out. Re-create their normal sleep environment by putting a tarp or blanket over the tent to block out light, bring a battery-powered fan, and don’t forget their favorite lovey!
HAVE FUN!! Put down your phone, view the scenery from a mountaintop, take a nap in the hammock, watch the sunset, and most of all, enjoy the time with your family & loved ones.
What else would you bring on your next camping trip?