Camping with kids is possible (and can certainly be great fun!) There is no “magic” age where camping as a family is easier – every stage has its own challenges. It’s much easier to begin habits early and continue to evolve them over the years than suddenly try to talk older kids into doing something that is completely foreign to them.
While we have yet to attempt a long backpacking trip with babies (though we know it is certainly possible), car camping is a great way to work out some kinks in planning and get everyone excited about future adventures.
Our two boys were camping at 8 weeks and 5 weeks old. We chose areas closer to home in case we had to totally bail because of weather, used dispersed campgrounds to avoid crying kids bothering neighbors, and went with the flow. In some ways, camping with young babies is much easier than toddlers. They spend a lot of time sleeping throughout the day and are happy being anywhere you are. AND, since getting much sleep at night isn’t happening anyway, you don’t miss much.
The idea is getting away from distractions, spending time as a family, building memories, and working on skills with kids to help camping later in life.
While this list certainly isn’t exhaustive, here are some of our best Camping-With-Babies-and-Toddlers-Tips:
– Do a “test” run trip close to home. Find a trail up the road, a campground with in a few miles or just use your back yard.
– Avoid super busy holiday weekends in crowded campgrounds until you know your children (not that they would EVER do this) aren’t going to wake up everyone with crying/screaming later at night.
– If your child IS disturbing other campers, put them in the car and go for a drive – save yourself (and everyone else) the headache of trying to ride it out.
– Better yet – dispersed camping is available all over the country in state and national parks and is a great way to feel like you are more in the backcountry without having to lug in kids + gear.
– Resign yourself to the fact that you are just going to have more gear. Diapers, extra blankets, extra clothing and a few toys quickly become necessities. We put a bouncy chair in the tent for our 4-week-old to sleep in. It was the only way we could get him to sleep at home (thanks to some reflux) and we could easily bundle him up and buckle him in to keep him safe. We dealt with the fact that it took up more room in the tent. Another perk – we knew we weren’t going to roll over on him throughout the night. That being said, putting your kid in your sleeping bag with you to keep warm always works too – we have done it more than once on super cold nights!
– Kid-sized sleeping tents (Kid-Co makes some great ones) are another option for a semi-separate sleeping area without dealing with a Pack N’ Play. They still take up more room in a tent, but not as much as another adult would.
– Invest in baby/kid long underwear and use layers (we love fleece and wool). Tent camping means progressively dropping temperatures throughout the night. Plan on adding on layers as needed (you will most likely be up checking anyway).
– Don’t forget there are a lot of hours throughout the day that DON’T include eating and sleeping (what we tend to spend most of our time planning for). Toddlers are easily entertained by rocks, dirt and sticks, but a couple other ideas make life easier. For preschoolers, bring supplies for a nature journal; for babies, bring one or two favorite toys to keep them occupied in the tent. Bring small games to ward off a passing storm.
– Use your experiences camping as teaching moments. The outdoors is the best classroom for learning about life. Show children about water ways using leaves and sticks in rivers; point our poisonous plants to help them avoid encounters; let them help around the campfire; teach about animal tracks and scat.
– Relax and have fun – some of the most disastrous trips (despite your best planning) are some of the best-remembered moments. And despite our worrying as parents, kids are pretty resilient and they LOVE adventures!