My husband and I started tent camping for the first time at campgrounds together on a 4th of July holiday (many years ago). Both of us were brand new to camping but were excited to try it out. After our first experience we were hooked. Even when kids entered our lives, we were determined to keep camping. There is no question that our first camping trip with our baby was quite an adventure even though we decided to camp just an hour from home. As with most things as a new parent, we had to relearn how to camp with a little one in tow, but we got into a new rhythm. Even with our baby, we camp year round: spring, summer, fall, and winter (yes, even in the snow!).
If you’re contemplating your first camping trip with baby, you probably have many of the same questions that I had myself, so here are some road-tested tips to smooth out the bumps for your first camping trip.
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Best Age to Go Camping for the First Time With Baby
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Whether you have a baby, a toddler, or a preschooler, the sooner you start camping with them, the better. Our son had his first tent camping experience at six months of age. It is never too early to get your children outdoors. Of course, each age will have its challenges and rewards. The best advice I can give you is to tailor your camping trip to your youngest child.
Tips for camping with pre-crawlers
Pre-crawling babies are very easy to camp with. You know they won’t be crawling around in dirt. The main challenge is keeping baby warm or cool, so pick a time of year when temperatures are moderate or a choose a campsite with shady spots if the weather is very hot. However, as far as ease of camping with a baby, this is a great age to embark on your first camping trip.
Tips for camping with crawlers & toddlers
This is probably the most challenging age to camp with because it’s hard to control whether your child eats fistfuls of dirt. There is no reasoning with a crawling baby. Their instinct is to crawl and nothing is going to stop them. Nonetheless, you can minimize your frustration level by trying to find a campsite located on a grassy meadow or by bringing along a playpen or a dedicated play tent you can set up nearby where everyone is hanging out.
Tips for camping with preschoolers
This is the age when camping starts to become really enjoyable with kids. One caveat is that you must be mentally prepared that your child will likely be covered from head to toe in dirt the entire trip. If you really can’t bear it, find a campsite with hot showers. Your major considerations with preschoolers will be teaching your child how to stay safe. You might not want a campsite right next to a creek or lake so you don’t have to worry about your child wandering to the water’s edge by themselves all the time.
How To Help Baby Sleep While Camping
Sleep. There’s little that frightens a first-time camper more than whether or not your baby will sleep. It’s such a big issue, we’ve got a whole article devoted to helping your little ones (and you!) get some rest on your camping trip.
Keep Kids From Getting Too Cold or Too Hot While Camping
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When you’re camping, you’re exposed to the elements. While that can make for fun experiences, if your kids gets too cold, they could be waking up all night long. If they get too hot during the day, you could be dealing with dehydration or heat stroke….or simply very grumpy whinny kids. Stopping short of packing up and heading home, here are some useful tips to make sure that your kids stay happy and healthy in the elements.
Tips to keep warm at night
- Bring lots of layers for everyone so that you are prepared for temperatures that may be high during the day and drop very low at night.
- Make sure that you keep yourself warm and dry in chilly weather and consume enough calories. Your body will need them to keep your body warm.
- Plan ahead to shower when you still have a few hours of daylight.
- Go to the bathroom – don’t hold it in no matter the time. Get up and go; trust me here.
Dealing with super hot weather
- Be sure keep everyone well hydrated. Keep a clean bag of ice in the cooler than you can pull out and have kids suck on.
- Bring along squirt toys if you aren’t already camping near a lake, river, or beach.
- Save all heavy physical activity for early in the morning and later in the evening when the sun isn’t so high in the sky. During the heat of the afternoon, you might take a nap on a hammock or play a game under a camping canopy or shady tree.
- If you have a baby with you, the heat may cause a loss of appetite, so feed more often and in smaller quantities. If you’re breastfeeding, make sure that mom is staying doubly hydrated so that your milk supply doesn’t go down. One easy trick for cooling baby’s body is to place a wet towel or hat on his head.
- If your cooler is struggling to keep the food cold, you might consider getting a block of dry ice and bury it in the middle of the regular ice. Make sure you are constantly monitoring the temperature of the food.
Feeding Baby While Camping
If you’re still breastfeeding baby, you’ll have no problem feeding your baby while camping. However, if you’re bottle feeding baby or if your baby just started solids, you’ll have to give your child’s meals a little more thought. However, by doing some prep work ahead of time and keeping meals simple for babies on solids, feeding baby while camping isn’t as tough as one might imagine.
Bottle feeding baby when camping
- Make your life easy. Pre-package everything and resolve to wash all items when you return home. It will be much easier for a one or two night outing.
- If you’re able to use disposable bags, please do so to minimize washing of bottles and nipples.
- To pre-package formula: With the help of a small funnel, measure out formula into small, leak-proof travel containers, per bottle. For example, I will place 3 scoops of formula into one travel container for one 6-ounce bottle. This way I do not have to be concerned with contaminating a canister of formula.
- If your baby needs a warm bottle, bring along a thermos which you can fill with water at the right temperature. This will enable you to keep water warm for long periods of time so that you don’t have to turn on the stove every time you need to prepare a bottle for baby.
Baby just started eating solids, here’s the best way to feed baby while camping
- If your child is happy eating packaged baby food, that will be your easiest option.
- If you baby is used to home-cooked baby food, you might consider feeding baby some easy to mash foods like sweet potato, carrots, avocado, banana, and oatmeal.
- Most importantly, you’ll find that bringing along a portable high chair that can be strapped to the picnic table or a stroller that you can feed baby in is absolutely essential.
- Antibacterial wipes can also be mom’s best friend when camping. Use it on baby’s hands, your hands, dishes, and utensils.
Good Toys to Bring Camping
First things first, do you even need to bring toys along when camping?
Truly, one of the best things about camping is that kids of all ages re-learn how to amuse themselves with the simplest things. You might think of bringing a few toys, but my recommendation is to bring just a few simple toys for your youngsters. Perhaps a few animals they can integrate in play with sticks and rocks. Keep it open-ended and tactile. The fresh air, new sights, sounds, and new textures provide plenty of stimulation once kids learn to unplug from their regular amusements.
When left to be imaginative with their play, you’ll discover how resourceful kids are. But if you just can’t resist, you might consider bringing some of these toys.
- Sand toys
- Beach balls
- Plastic animals
- Spray toys
- Bug vacuum
- Magnifying glass
- Deck of cards
- Go fish
- Bicycle & helmet
- Side walk chalk or paint
Important Safety Rules to Teach Children about Camping
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Especially for young children, keep the rules simple to understand and repeat yourself often. When it comes to safety, you can’t be too “naggy”. When you first arrive at the campsite, do a quick survey of the campsite and surrounding areas to identify danger zones – sharp drop offs, poison oak, sharp objects, campsite boundaries, or the road. If you have preschoolers or older children, take a few minutes to set rules they need to follow.
- Teach your youngsters from the beginning that the fire ring is dangerous. I teach my young son that the fire ring is always hot (even when cold). The fire ring is always ‘No Touch’ and ‘Dangerous.’
- Some campgrounds have many cars and large RVs driving around. Remind your child that they should not cross the road without an adult even if they are just going to get water at the water faucet.
- Explain where the boundaries of your campsite are. It may seem apparent to you, but may not be so clear to your kids.
- Explain and show pictures of poison oak or other plants to steer clear of.
Read our Camping Etiquette guide to learn how to teach your kids the ins and outs of respectful camping.
Now that you’re equipped with this arsenal of practical tips on how to ensure your first camping trip with kids is a smashing success, what do you need to pack? Read our Camping Packing List and Gear Recommendations for Families to help plan what to pack.
And how do you begin planning a kid-friendly camping menu beyond s’mores? Find out what to we suggest cooking with our Kid-friendly Camping Recipes.
Finally, as with any type of travel, to have a good time camping, every parent has to have the right attitude and stay flexible because the unpredictable will happen and it can either be aggravating or exciting. So, here are some words to the wise from some camping savvy parents:
- Start small and work your way up
- Keep things simple
- Remain flexible
- Keep a positive attitude
- Know when to throw in the towel
- Don’t suffer needlessly
- Don’t get discouraged – keep trying
- Keep your expectations in check: if you previously camped without kids realize your camping experience with kids will be very different
- Teamwork between adults is a must
- Make friends with dirt: you must accept kids will get dirty, perhaps the dirtiest they’ve ever been. If it really bothers you, envision the giant bubble bath they’ll be soaking in as soon as you get home. They will get clean again
Jessica Nugent helped contribute to this article.