Exploration and being outdoors does not have to stop after having a baby. What may seem like a small adventure to you will be a big adventure for your child. In fact, learning to camp and hike with your baby is a journey within itself.
Although we did a lot of hiking throughout the first year of my son’s life, we didn’t experiment with camping until Quinn was 11-months-old. My husband and I were experienced backpackers and were minimalists when it came to car camping. We always slept in a two-person tent on our backpacking sleeping pads and with our lightweight sleeping bags. As we prepared to camp with a baby, we decided to amp up our car camping experience. We purchased a huge 8-person tent that could fit us, Quinn’s portable crib, as well as our two dogs. We also invested in a double sleeping pad and sleeping bag. Quinn was a light sleeper and had just started sleeping through the night, so we wanted to have his sleeping arrangements as familiar as possible.
Maximizing sleep and comfort for everyone was important, but investing in new gear can be expensive. Luckily, with a little research, there are many options for discounted gear. REI Outlet offers significant discounts, and they now have a used gear section as well. Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington has an extensive consignment area. Neighborhood online forums like Front Porch Forum can be another way to find discounted gear. If you are a first-time camper, Vermont State Parks has a First Time Happy Camper program that will provide gear as well as help planning your trip.
We also invested in a small camp chair with a tray for mealtimes. Highchairs that are light and compact can work as well. It was helpful to have a place for him to sit, so we could eat without juggling a baby.
Another piece of important gear was a rain suit. Our first trip was over Memorial Day weekend, also known as “the End of Mud Season.” The whole campsite was saturated with water. The rain suit allowed Quinn the freedom to crawl around without being wet the whole time. Even though the weather was nice, we couldn’t have predicted that the site would be wet, so I was glad I brought the suit.
We also found our stroller to be extremely important. Daytime naps in the bright tent were impossible, but he happily fell asleep in the stroller after a couple of laps around the campground. We used our hikes as nap opportunities too – the sway of our steps lulled him to sleep in the backpack.
One difficult aspect of camping with an infant is warmth while sleeping. Nights can be cold even in the height of summer, but sleeping bags aren’t recommended for babies under 12 months. We found a quilted sleep sack (at a children’s consignment store) that worked perfectly. The sleep sack with fleece pajamas kept him toasty.
Although we were prepared with all the necessary gear and sleeping arrangements, our first trip was not smooth sailing. Our daytime adventures were filled with hiking, lakeside lounging, and grilling. It was lovely, but Quinn woke up every 2-3 hours each night, when I would then nurse him back to sleep so we would not wake the rest of the campground. Little did I know that the lack of sleep was the least of our worries. On the final night, we woke to a puking baby with diarrhea – all over our sleeping bag and clothes. I wouldn’t call it a success, but we survived our first camping trip and knew it could only get better from there.
Our next trip showed some improvements. Again, we filled our days with hiking and beaches. We had a 50% success rate for sleep. Really anything is better than the 0% success rate of the first trip. Our tent enabled us to make two rooms; one for us and one for Quinn. We found that he slept better when he couldn’t see us. Unfortunately, night #2 had the longest fireworks show I had ever witnessed, so there was no peaceful sleep after that.
Our final trip of the summer was a complete success. It was a four-night trip with a 75% success rate for sleep. The weather was perfectly sunny and warm. We hiked, went swimming holes, and cooked over a fire for almost every meal. Everything seemed a little bit more enjoyable with the right amount of sleep!
Are you nervous about going camping with your baby? You don’t have to be! Just be open to slowing down, collecting some additional gear, and accepting things as they come (and maybe being a little sleep-deprived – just like at home!).
Here are my major takeaways and tips for parents wanting to camp with their babies:
- Bring more clothing for both you and your baby than you think you will need. There are endless ways for both of you to get dirty, whether it be in a mud puddle, a gravelly campsite, or an unfortunate puke incident, you will always need extra clothes.
- Camp with friends or family with other children. Not only do other children provide free entertainment, but parents can also support each other with kid wrangling (especially when setting up and breaking down the campsite).
- Go with the flow. Every child is different, and it is impossible to prepare for everything. Teething, growth spurts, sickness, fireworks… It can all lead to an irritable baby, but don’t let it stop you from enjoying and learning from the experience.
- Don’t give up. Just because the first trip wasn’t successful doesn’t mean the next one won’t be. It is fulfilling to reacquaint yourself with nature and camping through your child’s perspective.
Do you have any other tips to share with us?
Come learn about hiking with babies from Amy in person at the GMC Visitor Center with our monthly Baby/Toddler (0-5) Hikes on Second Wednesdays.