The first time I took my oldest camping was when he was just a three week old baby. Seriously! Camping with babies and toddlers has been one of the joys of my early motherhood experience.
Reading that first paragraph you probably think I am nuts. Camping with a three-week-old baby? A joy of motherhood has been camping with babies and toddlers? Now that’s crazy-town!
So, before you click away, let me tell you a little about pre-baby me. Then, I hope I can share my top ten tips for camping with babies and toddlers.
I love the outdoors and I love camping. My family camped often as I was growing up. I attended a week-long summer camp starting at twelve-years-old. (Like a real camp where we backpacked, paddled, swam, camp fired, rock climbed, ziplined, rappeled… you get the idea!)
As an adult, I have climbed big mountains, backpacked for multiple weeks, and camped more times than I can count. I have paddled, climbed, bicycled, rappelled, and even hang-glided once! If it is outside, I love it.
I even went to Nepal twice to backpack, sight-see, and work in the rural school system.
When I had kids, I wanted to pass on the love of the outdoors to my children. I felt like if they started young, they would “train-up” without any tough transitions to tent sleeping or camp cooking or nature peeing.
And, overall this has been true. Like with most things in parenting, the teaching is very intense in the early years and builds to more independence over time.
As my children have grown, I have learned a few things that make teaching these basic outdoor skills a bit easier. Here are my top tips!
Top Ten Tips For Camping with Babies and Toddlers
1) It’s going to be different.
Just go in with the attitude that this is not an adult or teen or even kid camping trip. Camping with babies and toddlers is much different. Things go slower. Hikes are shorter. Your priority is your child. Remember, you are now raising up and teaching the next generation of great outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen. These are tomorrow’s adventurers. It is different and that is okay.
2) Warm kids are happy kids.
I have had a couple of really cold nights with my littles. One those nights, I have held my young ones in my sleeping bag all night long to make sure they stay warm. After those sleepless nights, I have learned some good lessons during those nights.
Warm kids are happy kids. Also, warm kids sleep better. Invest in high-quality base layers and mid-layers, especially. (Have no idea what I am talking about, click here.)
Layer kids up for sleeping and cold evenings. Babies and toddlers do a horrible job of staying in sleeping bags. I highly recommend a sleep sack. Here are some excellent examples. Here and here. (Both of these come in infant and toddler sizes.)
3) Keep to your normal sleeping and eating routine.
Speaking of sleep: keep to your normal routine as much as you can. Lighter nights in the summer often lead to staying up a little later and that’s okay! But, overall, stick to your normal routine.
If you always have a snack around ten a.m., then have a snack around that same time when you are camping. Does your young one has an afternoon nap at home, try to get an afternoon nap in when you are camping.
But, if you are really loosey-goosey at home and have no routine, camping would be a great time to start a routine. Little ones thrive on routine and having a predictable order of events will help them become awesome campers!
You might be saying, you just dropped naptime in there like it wasn’t even a thing. Heck, naptime can be a struggle at home with a regular crib for containment.
Yep, naptime can be a THING! Here are a few tips that might help nap time happen:
- If your little will sleep in a carrier, GREAT! Do that. Strap that kid on and go for a hike! Done and done.
- Lay down with your kiddo. Sing some songs, tell a story, and make naptime a special time.
- Bring a safe place for baby to sleep. If you are car camping in a large tent you can bring a pack-n-play. If that doesn’t work consider a co-sleeper or baby pod. Here is a great review of some options.
4) Take things slow and in small pieces.
Back in your outdoors prime you may have been knocking off 14’ers before lunch and pounding out 20 miles days on the trail. But, that time may be gone for a while.
Don’t worry, you’re training up the next generation of peak baggers and trail speedsters. They will get there and will be outpacing you in no time.
But for now, go slow and think small. For example: before kids, I stood on top of the Grand Teton. Last summer when I was there with three little ones (and preggo with my fourth!) we took the ferry across the lake and hiked a mile, round trip to a waterfall. Then we took the ferry back.
I once would have thought that was a pretty tame (even lame) day! But with my kids in tow, it was epic! My kids saw amazing mountains, huge waterfalls, and rode on a pretty cool boat.
5) Make great food and involve the kids.
Fun food can make any trip an epic trip. Because camping is really all about the food, right!?! Camping is not the time to “try new foods because they might taste gooooood!” (Thanks, Daniel Tiger!)
Camping is the time for crowd pleasers! The simple stuff. The stuff you know your kids will like. Roast marshmallows and hot dogs. Make some mac and cheese out of the box! Shoot, you can even roast chicken nuggets over the fire if that is all your kid will eat!
To keep things simple, I like to prep lots of food ahead of time. Here are some of my go-to camp meals:
- Sloppy Joe’s (make this at home before and freeze it solid. It will stay cold in your cooler for at least a week!)
- Tinfoil dinners (Make these extra delicious by adding some “special sauce”, i.e. cream of mushroom soup. Bring ketchup for the kids… the more reluctant children!)
- Tater tot casserole (Click on the link if you don’t have a tried and true family recipe for this one. When we do this camping treat, I brown the beef at home ahead of time and freeze it. Then on casserole night, I defrost it and we make individual casseroles in tin foil dinner-like packs. Just through them on the coals, until everything is hot!)
6) Invest in a great tent.
I should probably make this item number one, but it will stay here at number six for the really cool parents to find. Buy a Kodiak tent. Don’t argue with me. Hands down, nothing more needs to be said, this is the best family camping tent on the market.
It will last, it will keep you dry, and you can even stand up in this bad boy. You will not regret this purchase. (I get nothing from this glowing endorsement.) Trust me, this is the one you want. Period.
Side note: some say these tents are hard to put up. Hogwash, I say! I did the eight-man tent, BY MYSELF, five months pregnant with my fourth child. Set it up at home a few times to get the feel, but once you get it, you won’t have a problem.
7) Sleep comfy.
I think this is the third time I have mentioned sleep in this post. I think it is the most feared part of camping. WILL MY KID SLEEP? I can’t guarantee anything. I have had some crazy nights trying to get some sleep with my littles.
But, shoot, I have had some crazy night trying to sleep at HOME with my littles! Remember the above advice given in tips two and three. But also, make sure you have nice sleeping pads for you and the kids. When we car camp, I tear up the foam tiles from our playroom floor and I line our entire tent in those. The kids sleep fine just on those foam tiles. With this trick, they never squirm off their sleeping pad! (Check out this short video to see what I mean.)
Also, last summer when I was doing a lot of camping preggo, I bought one of these bad boys from REI. Best purchase (outside of the tent mentioned above) I have ever made. I love my camping cot!
8) Get dirty.
You are going to get dirty and so are your kids. This is part of the joy of camping. I like to bring along some sand toys, a new big truck, and some nature toys to make the dirt and rocks a bit more fun.
Embrace the dirt. Bring a few sets of extra close and LOTS of baby wipes.
9) Bedtime can be a magical time.
Yep, I am here talking about sleep for the fourth time. It is truly the area of camping I get the most questions about. Bedtime is not like it is at home. You can’t tuck in your little ones and then veg-out in front of your favorite show.
But, bedtime can be a magical part of camping. Embrace it! Snuggle up with your little ones. Tell stories and sing them off to sleep. Gaze up at the stars. Yes, bedtime will take longer than at home. Yes, you will most likely give up your “me” time in the evenings. But that is okay.
You are camping to be together. AND…. the more often they sleep in a tent, the better they get at sleeping in a tent! “Keep trying…. they’ll get better!” (Thanks again, Daniel Tiger!)
On the less magical side: don’t forget routine and boundaries. We do our bedtime routine and then we lay down in our sleep bags. We don’t get up, we don’t chatter. Mom sings and Dad tells stories. That is what we do. You do you. But keep to your routines and boundaries.
Now as I get ready to camp next week, I know that my almost six-year-old, four-and-a-half-year-old, and almost three-year-old will sleep without too many issues in the tent. They have been taught how it works! I know my seven-month-old might have a hard time. But, that’s okay, we will keep trying and she will get better!
10) Start young and go often.
Finally, the more you camp, the better your kids will get at camping. Start close to home and then get more adventurous. Going with other families can be fun so you can share the cooking and cleaning responsibilities. But, the more you go the better camper your kids will become! Camping with babies and toddlers can be amazing and you can do it!