Camping with your baby can be fun and liberating, but it can also be intimidating. This is for good reason; infants are complicated creatures, and sometimes it feels hard enough to meet their needs with a house full of resources, let alone on the road. You may be thinking: Camping is for childless people who can fit all their needs into the car, and are not so desperately sleep deprived. If so, read on; the following tips and encouragement from baby-camping veterans might sway you. They have learned that no one needs or enjoys camping more than frazzled parents and their sensitive offspring.
Why should I bother?
Sarah Lambert is a seasoned family camper who knows the benefits. She started both her girls camping as infants, and even camped while she was pregnant. She says, “I think my life is easier when we are camping, and I have more time for fun and adventures with my girls.” Sarah captures the paradox; although it takes a lot of preparation, taking your baby into the wild can ultimately break you free. You leave behind the pressure to make everything perfect, and get to see how well your family and your brain thrive on simplicity.
Another mother of two, Belinda McManus adds, “The best part about camping with kids is that it forces your family to spend time together without TV or electronics.” Many parents report that their babies enjoy outdoor entertainment as much as they do. While parents get restored by laid-back hikes and starry skies, infants delight in watching the trees and birds. Older babies become endlessly enthralled exploring this new world of bugs, rocks and sticks. Fretful minds unwind away from the multitasking demands of home.
How do I survive to enjoy it?
Parents who have conquered camping with infants know it is all about having realistic expectations and packing wisely.
Those are the keys to unlock the top three challenges of baby camping:
1. Getting the baby to sleep. Yes, it will be hard, but after a period of adjustment, peace will come. Be ready to try different things, and give it time. It took our 10-month-old two nights of thinking that the apocalypse was nigh before she finally believed that tenting was okay, and she slept on the third blissful night. In addition to bringing a variety of familiar, soothing stimuli, most parents also find that keeping close to the usual schedule of bedtime and naps (even short ones on walks or drives) helps baby re-establish her rhythm. Starting a bit early with a relaxing bedtime routine in the tent also helps prime the pump for comfort and rest.
2. Coping with crying in a land without walls. Given that baby is experiencing some major adjustment, some meltdowns are inevitable. The great news is that many of the best baby-soothing strategies are intrinsic to camping, like riding in the car, stroller or baby carrier, or focusing on sights and sounds like a babbling stream or the wind in the trees. You will also have bottles, soothers and breastfeeding available. If all else fails, take your baby into the car for a little privacy, and just wait it out. It will pass, and your fellow campers will survive.
3. Regulating baby’s temperature. Pack clothes in multiple layers, quick-dry fabrics and with warm features that they can’t squirm out of (that is, hoods, footies and fold-over hand cuffs rather than blankets, hats and mittens). Expert infant campers Ryan and Verena Tarves have another elegant solution. They pack a few pairs of synthetic body suits (like UV-blocking water suits) and use them as a light outfit for splashing and roaming around in the midday heat, as well as a dry underlayer at night. For cool evenings and sleeping, they top the suit with a hooded and footed fleece suit with fold-over hand covers.
Another smart move: Plan the location and the season of your trip so it will not get too cold at night. Heather Lee Leap tells how she kept her daughter comfy in a manageable chill, “We camped in the mountains around freezing at night with a toddler. We bundled her in polypro longjohns, a fleece shirt and leggings, and her fleece snowsuit – with the hood up. She slept between us and we didn’t worry about her getting out from the covers!”|
Once you have conquered these three camping conundrums, you will be ready to find your family’s bliss in the woods. Pick up that baby, pack up that tent and go have a wonderful, relaxing time in the bush.
Packing for your little camper: Get the biggest bang for your trunk!
• Playpen (for sleep, play and when covered, an escape from bugs and sun)
• Stroller (for walks, naps, eating and a safe place to watch parents work)
• Baby carrier (for walks, naps and soothing)
Nighttime and sleep:
• Absolutely bring favorite bedtime loveys, blankets, music and books!
• A playpen or travel crib, or zip-together sleeping bags for co-sleeping
• A big (i.e. six- to 10-man) tent that can easily fit your mattress and a playpen
• A hands-free light (lantern/head lamp)
Clothes and diapers:
• Over pack diapers and wipes (do not run out!)
• For clothes, bring mix-and-match pieces in lots of layers and quick-dry fabrics
• At least three full outfits; baby can rewear dirty items, but needs to keep dry
• Try a sunsuit/fleece suit combo (see “Regulating Baby’s Temperature”)
• Lots of paper towels and cloths
• A bucket/dishtub to keep water handy
• Lots of Ziploc bags for diapers and wet clothes
• Use the dish tub for baths, if needed
• Precooked meats, washed and cut veggies and fruit, and breads
• For beginning eaters: mashable foods (like avocado and banana), squeeze tubes of purees and instant oatmeal
• For nursers: Heat up bottles in a cup of hot water or breastfeed
• An elasticized net to cover the playpen, stroller and backpack carrier
• Bug spray (DEET-free)
• Dryer sheets, Avon Skin-so-Soft or Listerine
• Long pants, long sleeves, and shoes or footie outfits to cover exposed skin
• Baby-safe sunscreen
• Shade covers for the baby carrier or stroller
• UV suits
• A bucket and shovel for digging and collecting
• Rubber boots
• Towels to enjoy a nearby lakeshore or stream
Health and safety:
• First-Aid kit (including everyday remedies for upset tummy and teething)
• Get yourself trained in Infant First-Aid and CPR
Laurie is the mother of 20-month-old Georgia. They survived their first camping trial by fire, and are thrilled to take their new confidence into the wild again this summer.
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