We took Juniper on her first camping trip last weekend. She’s 7.5 months old. We thought this was pretty adventurous until I posted a photo to the So Many Places Facebook Page and you guys responded with your own tales of camping with tiny babies (for example, I learned that Brian first went camping at only 6 weeks old). After that, I felt like a wuss (7.5 months old! What took us so long? She’s practically full-grown!)
Well, what took us so long is the fact that she was born in September and we had to wait for spring to roll around. Still, when our first camping weekend arrived the weather was unseasonably cold (lows around 39 C/ 4 F) and the forecast called for rain. But we were too excited to cancel the trip and so we packed up the car (with WAY TOO MUCH STUFF) and headed out.
Our first evening was beautiful but temperatures dropped overnight and then it began to rain. We got one good night of camping in (and a great hike) before we packed up our wet gear and headed home. I know that one night of sleeping under the stars with an infant does not an expert make, but we are learning. Here are a few tips I gathered and I’d love to hear your own tips in the comments below.
Tips for Camping With a Baby
Check the weather
Obviously. We knew it was going to rain and we knew it would be cold. What I didn’t consider was that it had already been raining for a few days before our trip. This meant our campsite was already slightly muddy (and turned into a mud pit after a night of rain) and the ground was saturated so that when I put a blanket down for Juniper to play on, it got wet and she got wet. Not a big deal, but something I wish I had considered beforehand. Next time I’ll bring a waterproof tarp.
Keeping warm on an unseasonably cold day at an already wet campsite (hence the hay).
Bring a big tent
A 4-person tent might be the camping equivalent of driving a minivan to hardcore backpacking elitists, but I’m cool with that. Even before we had a baby, I liked using a tent I could stand up in. Now, it’s important to me to have a tent big enough to put an air mattress in (see below). I love our Big Agnes Big House tent but any 4 or 6-person tent will do. Make sure to use a tarp or a tent footprint if the weather is predicted to be cold or rainy.
Use an air mattress
Before we had a baby we slept on camp cots or ground pads but now that there are three of us I wanted to have a single flat surface to sleep on, especially because I knew that snuggling would be a primary source of heat for us. We put Juniper to sleep between us on this Coleman air mattress and she actually slept better than she does at home (!!) with only one late night cry for food. Two notes about camping with an air mattress: 1) You’ll need electricity to use the pump so make sure you have an electric campsite or a solar generator (we have the Yeti by Goal Zero which is pricy but has come in handy more times than I can count) and 2) On a cold night the air in the air mattress can get very cold so lay down a sheet to act as a barrier to help you stay warm.
Zip sleeping bags together
In order to stay warm we zipped two sleeping bags together to create one family-sized sleeping bag. Brian and I have half a dozen fancy, high-end mummy bags, but mummy bags are a pain to zip together (it can be done as long as one is a right zip and one a left zip bag) so instead we borrowed two old-school rectangular sleeping bags from my in-laws. These rectangular bags zipped together perfectly and we had a wonderful and cozy night of sleep (again, make sure you have a right and left zip bag).
Do a test run close to home
Juniper is a really flexible baby but I know this isn’t true of all babies. If you’re worried about how your baby might do overnight, take a camping trip close to home. This way, if the baby becomes inconsolable you can always hop in the car and go home.
Stick to a schedule
Although she has outgrown it, Juniper still loves to nap in her Rock ‘N Play. We wanted to keep her on her normal nap and sleeping schedule, so we brought the rock ‘n play and put her down during her normal sleep times. At bedtime, she slept in the rock ‘n play until we were ready to go to bed, then we transferred her to the air mattress. I’ve talked with others who bring a Pack ‘n Play and do the same thing.
Juniper napping in her rock n play at our campsite.
Play with nature
It is incredibly important to us that Juniper is comfortable in the outdoors and so we made a decision to pack a few basic toys but otherwise encourage her to play with nature. She gnawed on a stick. She shoved grass and dirt into her mouth. All was right with the world.
She was also thrilled by this waterfall. It’s so fun to see the world through her eyes.
You might have to dial things back a notch or two
I really hated (still do!) when people used to tell me my life would have to change because of a baby. Here’s the thing. It doesn’t have to change; you’ll probably just want it to. For example, before baby Brian and I would have simply camped and hiked in the rain and cold. We would have been shivering and muddy and shrugged it off as an adventure. Now that Juniper is here, comfort is a little more important to us. And that’s okay. She has a lifetime of outdoor adventures ahead of her, but for the moment she’s a fair-weather outdoorsbaby.
Me and Juniper hiding out in the car while Brian breaks down camp in the rain.