My husband and I love camping, and have been looking forward to sharing our favorite hobby with our son ever since we found out we were expecting. This past weekend we went on our first family camping trip, and I thought I would share what worked and what we would do differently next time. So here are our tips for successful camping with a toddler. Note: our son is 13 months old and just started walking.
When choosing a camping location (especially if camping with kids for the first time), don't venture too far from home. We are lucky that we have lots of beautiful campgrounds close to home, and chose one that was just 45 minutes away.
If the weather changes unexpectedly, there is an emergency, or just to avoid a car meltdown before you even arrive, try to stay closer to home.
While our son spent most of the time walking and crawling around the campsite playing with rocks and sticks, we brought a few pieces of gear that were lifesavers.
Pop n Play: I cannot recommend the Summer Infant Pop n Play enough. We have only had this portable play yard for 6 weeks, but have already gotten our money's worth. We use it at the house, in the backyard, at the lake, and it was very useful camping. It's larger than a pack n play which give kids more room to play, and SO easy to pack and move. At a few points during our trip, a 1, 3, and 4-year-old were all playing together in the Pop n Play.
It was nice to have a place the baby could safely play while we were setting up and breaking down camp, cooking, or in case any of the kids were getting to interested in the campfire.
Pack n Play: Still the best sleeping option when traveling. Note: the play yard mentioned above is not good for sleeping in. The bottom is thin, and not supportive. Plus, it would take up a lot more room in a tent than a pack n play.
Hiking Pack or Carrier: Our hiking backpack came in handy for hikes, but an Ergo or similar carrier would work well, too. Even if your toddler is walking, there may be certain trails that aren't safe for them, or they may decide they don't feel like walking halfway through a hike.
Clip-on Highchair: It was so convenient to have a clip-on highchair so the baby could eat with us safely. They also make folding camp highchairs, but I prefer the sturdiness of the clip-on highchair. When we arrived, Baby O enjoyed lunch lakeside while mom and dad set up camp.
A good (big) tent. We use an "8-person" tent for the three of us. It's tall enough that even my 6'3" husband can stand up, which is so helpful.
A tall air mattress: When I was pregnant, we upgraded to a double high air mattress. OMG, the difference is huge! Especially if you need to feed, rock, change, or dress a baby, it's so nice to be a couple feet off the ground rather than a few inches. And ours really doesn't take up much more room than a standard air mattress when rolled up.
All the fresh air and playing made O hungry! I prepped and brought lots of easy to grab, no-cook foods for him so he could eat any time of day, whether we were cooking or not. I roasted sweet potatoes, steamed green beans, made applesauce, and brought lots of string cheese, fruit, and plenty of pre-filled reusable pouches.
I filled some Really Little Green Pouches with a Zucchini, Peach and Cherry puree, and made a big batch of smoothies with banana, coconut milk, berries, chia seeds and yogurt and filled several 7 ounce pouches. That way he could snack throughout the day.
I wanted to bring food that I knew O would eat. Camping isn't the time to find out if your baby likes a new food. You may end up with wasted food and a hungry baby. Plus, you don't want to risk an allergic reaction when away from home. Bring familiar, nutritious, filling foods.
While climbing on rocks and playing with sticks were O's favorite camping activities, it was nice to have a few of his favorite toys and books from home. Just be sure to bring easy-to-wash toys.
Unless we're traveling, all of O's naps and nighttime sleeping happens in his crib. I knew going into camping that sleeping might be rough. And I was right. The cold nights, and unfamiliar sleeping arrangements meant we wound up with a toddler in bed with us both nights. On the bright side, it meant we got a few extra snuggles.
Dressing the baby in layers, both during the day and at night, was very helpful. It was warm in the sun, but cool in the shade and when there was a breeze. At night, we layered under and over his PJs, and added extra blankets throughout the night. You don't want to overdress a baby at night. If they start out too hot, they will sweat and then be wet and cold later.
Seeing our son so at home in the great outdoors, and loving camping as much as mom dad, was amazing. We're already looking forward to our next camping trip.
I had read some tips about practicing sleeping in a tent before you go. This felt like too much work to me, but may be a good idea if you have the time.
If you are formula feeding or need to heat bottles, I definitely recommend some sort of jet boil to quickly heat water. We didn't need to worry about that this trip as I am still breastfeeding, but would also mean your coffee would be ready quicker, as well.
Don't forget the coffee! :) You'll need it after those sleepless nights and getting up with the sunrise.
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