You’ve always loved camping: the sense of freedom, being at one with nature – what’s not to love? And you’re not alone; camping is rated the top three outdoor pursuits by people of all ages. But then you had a baby and camping seemed like a metaphoric mountain. No need to panic! You don’t need to give up on your outdoor pursuits – you need to lock down your family camping plan! Camping with a baby or toddler can be FUN!
We first took our youngest son camping when he was 8 months old – to a music festival! Not quite the great outdoors but fun nonetheless. To say we threw ourselves in at the deep end is an understatement, but despite the inevitable anxiety it went OK and with some careful planning and a shift in attitude and we refined our set-up for next time.
Having camped several times a year since then we’ve learned a thing or two about what makes a successful trip. Here are my top tips for camping with a baby or toddler.
Pack like a pro!
That doesn’t mean throwing in the kitchen sink. Think about what will be available to you at your destination and pack wisely – you probably need less than you think. The essentials should include your preferred sleep set up (more below), a favourite toy, a comforter from home, pain relief (treating a fever in the small hours is no fun if you have to go hunting), snacks, baby wipes and infant or toddler carriers for long walks.
“Freeze bottles of water to keep them cold for longer in hot weather. They also double up as ice packs for food until you need them.” Sarah, mama to Emma & Noah
Have a practice run close by
We didn’t do this – but I wish we had. We camped at a music festival several hours from home and while it was OK I do wish I’d had a trial run closer to home to iron out a few teething problems (if you’ll pardon the pun). Wherever you camp with your baby you’ll quickly figure out what works for you and what doesn’t for next time.
“For a trial camping trip why not pitch your tent at home with everything on hand?” Nicky, mother to Sam & Jacob (who learned the hard way!)
Set up camp during the day
This doesn’t need much explanation: fancy camping in the dark with fractious children? Me neither!
“Pitch your tent facing the rising sun and it will help you warm up in cold morning temperatures.” Jo, mother to Tom & Ellie and serial camper.
What should your baby or toddler sleep in?
I have always fussed about my kids’ temperature at night so usually take more than I need, but my advice is to take lots of layers for sleeping (I recommend baby suits, sleep sacks and on very cold nights fleece bodysuits). Hats are great for cool nights too. Remember, though, that layers work by trapping air between them, so don’t have your baby packed in too tight! Extra blankets are better than too many layers (depending on the age of your child). My youngest (now 6) prefers to sleep naked – even on chilly nights – so we snuggle up under a heap of warm covers.
“Take silver emergency blankets underneath and inside sleeping bags for low temperatures. They also double as sun shields for hot weather. Simply lay them over the tent to block those uV rays and deflect some heat.” Shauna, mama to toddlers Fox and Loli.
Where should baby sleep?
We’ve tried two ways: we started out using our travel cot/pack and play when our boys were very small which was great for hands free time too if your baby is crawling. Babies can lose heat very quickly (up to four times more quickly than adults!) so being raised off the cold ground is great for keeping them warm (blankets underneath sheets also help). Be warned though, if you’re going to be checking baby’s temperature several times a night it can be awkward and will take its strain on your back.
When my boys reached toddlerhood we all huddled together in sleeping bags. Both worked great but this way we were able to monitor their temperature much more easily. It really depends on your attitude to co-sleeping and how much of a fidget your child is! Again, don’t forget to insulate the floor – we use good quality camping mats and sleeping bags.
“Fill a flask of hot water for late night hot water bottle refills.” Stephanie, mama to Jasper (18 months)
Stick to routine or go with the flow?
There are a couple of approaches to routine when camping with a baby or toddler which will be influenced by your attitude and your child’s age and personality. With my first baby I stuck religiously to nap routines and it was fine. The second time around I was led more by my son and he would nap whenever he needed it, wherever we were – that was fine too! Just keep an eye on their tiredness cues so you don’t skip naps.
Daytime naps will guide your bed time but it can be helpful to put them to bed as close as you can to their usual bedtime.
In my experience babies and toddlers often sleep better in a tent than they do in the comfort of their own home (even at a noisy festival). Must be all that fresh air!
“Don’t be tempted to let your baby skip naps altogether or stay up too late – they’re likely to become over tired and fractious. Plus they will enjoy the predictability of a familiar bedtime routine.” Georgina, mother to three children under five (therefore a saint).
I know what you’re thinking, camping is about embracing the simple things in life and staying away from technology – but it doesn’t harm to have a tablet on hand for toddlers loaded up with Peppa Pig (there’s even a Peppa Pig camping episode!) for wet days when you want to hunker down.
Get kids involved!
For me, teamwork is all part of the camping experience and even young toddlers love helping out! Get them involved in doing the dishes or den building – it might slow things down a little but that’s what camping is about.
There are so many advantages to camping with a baby or toddler and it’s something they will never outgrow. Nurture your young adventurer early! Enjoy your trip, and let us know your top tips in the comments.
For general tips on travelling with babies or toddlers take a look at Baby Travel Checklist.