Camping with babies and toddlers can be the highlight of your summer, as long as you plan ahead and are ready for adventure. Nothing is better than the great outdoors, tons of fresh air and bonding with your family in nature. We have been camping with our son for the past 3 summers, since he was 6 months old, and in that time we’ve come to learn some do’s and don’ts as well as essentials to make things a lot easier. I should add that we’ve “camped” in a tent trailer and/or 1980’s trailer that I grew up spending my childhood summers in. Those who choose to tent with children are amazing & fearless in my opinion! Here are some of my tips for a stress free camping experience with your little one(s).
1) Bring clothes for ALL seasons, even though it is July/August.
Assuming you are staying in Alberta the potential for a 20 degree temperature change over 24 hours is more than possible. The prairies and mountains are famous for hot sunny days and cool clear nights. We usually bring fleece footed sleepers (like the ones worn at home in January) for sleeping. If you don’t end up using them, at least you have them! As for changes of clothes- let them get dirty- or else you will be changing them every hour.
Extra bedding is crucial. After last summer when our son went through a “tummy bug” of sorts on one trip I have realized that a complete change of bedding (or two) will make everything ok in the end.
3) Something to bathe your baby in
There is nothing worse than a slippery wet baby in a public campground shower stall. We used a blow up bathtub that we bought at WalMart for under $15. It sat on the picnic table and both my husband and I could easily clean the baby at the end of the day. Plus, it’s fun to bathe a baby at a picnic table! (Note- do NOT put boiling water in the plastic blow up tub, always mix with cool water before adding your hot!)
4) Easy to eat food
Confession time, I know that a campfire is a staple of camping….BUT for the first 2 years of camping with our son we waited to start the fire until he went to bed. Some will disagree, but for us it was just less terrifying to not have our wobbly, explorative 1.5 year old anywhere near a hot fire. Also, planning foods that require a roaring fire to cook when your kid is hungry = disaster. Save yourself the hassle and bring things that your child is used to eating and that you do not need a ton of time/dishes/fire to prepare. Once he’s older we will try the yummy looking campfire recipes, but for now those are saved for adult fire time!
4) A bottle warmer will warm up baby food perfectly (If you have the ability to plug things in)
In our first year of camping with baby we were feeding him homemade purees that were frozen in ice cube trays. These easily popped out and could be heated in a bowl on top of the bottle warmer. A small pot and camp stove will do too- this is how we currently heat his bedtime milk.
5) Bring the play pen
Never underestimate the usefulness of a play pen when camping! At some point you will need to put the child down and not worry that they are crawling in rocks, checking out last night’s fire ashes, eating rocks and dirt, etc. The play pen creates a safe area for them to be one with nature, yet not get into trouble with nature. This also makes a perfect outdoor afternoon nap location. TIP- the UV stroller tents/sheilds that you can buy for shade protection usually fit over the top of a standard play pen, perfect for napping in the sun.
Most campgrounds have really great trails in and around the sites where you can explore the area on short little walks. Be prepared with a stroller that works well on gravel or a carrier. If they are a bit older a wagon or bike/trike will do. I recently forgot these items on a trip and carried my not so eager to walk back to the site 32 pound toddler, good workout but ouch! We can’t wait to try camping next week with our son’s balance bike (no training wheels = no getting stuck on the gravel road)!
Happy kid campers are usually busy campers. We like to bring dump trucks, a pail and shovel, bubbles and other easy to pack outdoor toys. I also pack a small container with “rainy day” activities such as some clay or Play Dough, paints, paper, crayons, stickers, small dollar store toys, etc. Last trip we brought a sensory bin with us and it was a hit!
8) Something for baby to eat in
This does not have to mean lugging around your dining room high chair. A Bumbo type chair works well or your can get high chairs that attach to the end of a picnic table and fold up conveniently for easy packing. We got ours for $10 on a buy & sell site and I have seen them at local garage sales. If all else fails, a parent’s lap works too! When they are old enough to sit in a small kids camp chair but not quite big enough to sit at the big picnic table you can use the picnic table bench as the table and pull the camp chair up to it.
9) Don’t freak out about them sleeping
Our first trip I was terrified that baby wouldn’t sleep, luckily MOST, not all but most, kids will sleep like a log after an entire day spent outdoors. We usually push bedtime back a bit because putting a baby to bed in full sunlight at 7pm in Alberta is almost always a fail, so try to be flexible. Also, keep in mind that kids tend to wake up earlier without those black out curtains that they have in their room. We have used towels and even tin foil on the windows to try and keep the light out- desperate times! Other tips- bring a familiar item from home like their fav blanket, stuffy or a sleep machine that makes a familiar sound.
Always keep a clean campsite, put the axe away in a secure spot, pay attention to where you leave those matches and lighters, have some form of bug protection, bring the first aid kit and set physical boundaries for your child.
If it’s your first trip it might be a good idea to stay somewhat close to home. We have found lots of great little spots within an hour of Edmonton. What other tips do you suggest for camping with babies & toddlers? I’d love to hear them!