I came from a camping family. Every summer, my parents would pack up the minivan to explore the natural beauty of our country by way of campgrounds. These adventures made me love and appreciate a meal cooked on an open flame, a warm sleeping bag on a cold night, and the magnificence of wild places. Now as a parent myself, I suddenly appreciate the intense prep work it took to plan and execute those adventures. Thanks Mom and Dad! I started taking my kids tent camping when they were just three months old and gathered secrets for successful tent camping with babies and toddlers.
Almost every tent camping momma has a story where they had to bail half way through their camp trip. I’ve heard stories of unexpected equipment fail, babies waking the campground with screaming nights, and clouds of mosquitoes that make the trip unbearable. It is way easier to leave camp if you’re within an hour from home. Two years ago, my husband and I had booked a long weekend camping with our one year old. When torrential wind and rain hit the second night, we arose to find everything soaked. Since we were only 35 minutes from home, we packed up our wet gear and drove home. Why tough it out with a toddler? If we had been five hours from home, that would have been a tougher decision – and much longer soggy drive. Stay local until the kids are older! For suggestions on local campgrounds, check out my previous post on the top three campgrounds for tent camping in New Hampshire.
Comfort Is Key
I used to pride myself in being a minimalist camper. I would scoff at these families who looked like recreated their entire house in a campsite. Now, I get it. When it comes to camping with babies and toddlers, bring it all. When my kids are out of toddler-dom, I’ll coach them into a more minimalist style of camping, but life in camp is easier for everyone if your toddler is happy and comfortable.
Here are some “essentials” I pack for my baby and toddler:
Large “Cabin” tent – mine can fit a queen air mattress, toddler travel bed, and a pack n play. Plus, I can stand up in it!
- Pack n Play – keep baby off the ground and away from moisture when sleeping.
- Booster Seat or Travel High Chair – have a place you can strap your kid in when it’s meal time that’s away from dirt and a hot stove/fire.
- Potty Chair – this is especially helpful for late night potty needs! I bring my recommended BabyBjorn potty chair from a previous post about active toddler essentials.
- Outdoor Patio Mat – a perfect place for a baby to play without being in dirt/dust. Be sure to leave dirty items outside the tent before entering.
- Active Play Toys – nature itself will provide unique imaginative “toys” but I also bring sand toys for water, dirt, and the beach. I also watched my son’s balance bike skills rise exponentially as I escorted him through the campground. They are great for active toddlers!
- Lots of Layered Clothing – even if you expect it to be hot and humid, pack your baby a snow suit. I’m not kidding! Some nights might turn to 40 degrees or lower.
Plan Ahead and Be Prepared
When camping with a baby, it’s never a good idea to “wing it”. Test your equipment before you bring it. My first baby camping trip, I set up the tent ahead of time only to realize there were no tent steaks in the bag. Whoops! The following year, I set it up to discover a tent pole had broken. These discoveries are monumental headaches in the wilderness, but merely annoying in your backyard. I also like to have contingency plans in case something does break. On a camp trip this summer, our camp stove stopped working the first morning. No worries, we had firewood to cook breakfast on an open fire as well as cereal in case that didn’t work either. By planning ahead and being prepared for a variety of circumstances, you will avoid stress. And for goodness sake, make a campsite reservation!
So why camp with baby?
Does it seem like too much work? Studies have shown that nature and outdoor play is beneficial to child’s development and health. Taking your baby and toddler on a camping trip sparks this development that will continue into childhood and beyond. My children are now one and three. Through trial and error, I’ve discovered these “secrets” help our family build our favorite memories of the year, just like my parents did for me.