I love to camp. Though it’s not something I grew up doing, Papa Bear and I have enjoyed several camping trips during our time together and knew that we wanted to introduce it to our kid as soon as possible.
What I love most about camping is that it allows me to disconnect from everyday stressors and reconnect with nature and, more importantly, myself. Camping reminds me to appreciate the serenity of nature in a way that I simply cannot do from the comfort of my home. Sure, sleeping on the ground isn’t exactly like spending a night at the Ritz, but it sure as hell is a lot cheaper and literally keeps me grounded (and I don’t use the term “literally” lightly).
I love that camping lends itself to physical activity; being able to hike all day is my idea of a great time, though I certainly appreciate that others may prefer to lounge around the campfire with hot dog skewers and fully reserve the right to elect this option any time I wish. Plus, who doesn’t love roasting marshmallows? I’m not crazy about them in real life, but I’ll go down swinging if anyone says my crispy black ones aren’t the very definition of perfection.
Long story short, Papa Bear and I knew that the lessons learned at a campsite were ones we wanted to teach our children: self-sufficiency, resilience, and the need to be able to go with the flow. Which is why we booked Baby Bear’s first camping trip when he was 11 months old. It is also why we brushed it off when the first attempt blew up in our faces by way of massive storms and 95-degree weather.
Now, at 15 months, Baby Bear can proudly say he’s successfully camped twice. While I don’t want to put words in his mouth–though, who am I kidding? I do this on the reg–I will say that if the amount of dirt under his fingernails and all over his body were any indication, Baby Bear friggin’ loves the outdoors.
That said, here are the lessons I had to learn when taking him camping.
The Dos & Don’ts of Camping with a Baby
- Do be flexible. This is so cliché, but it’s worth repeating because nothing will go precisely as you plan or anticipate. Try to see the positive and not sweat the small stuff.
- Do go car camping. I would love to say we hiked to our campsite with all our baby gear, but until he can carry it himself we will have to settle for parking at our site. That easy access is extremely valuable.
- Do choose somewhere within easy driving distance from home (at least initially). Just in case the camping trip blows up in your face as our first did to us, it’s nice to be somewhat close to home. Many of the pictures below were taken at Kettle Moraine Pike Lake Unit in Wisconsin, about two hours north of Chicago. It was the perfect distance away and provided us with stellar, dog-friendly hiking trails and private, family friendly campsites. Plus, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail goes through the park, so we were able to hike part of that as well.
- Do unplug. Try turning off your phone and leaving it in the car. Yes, the sheer number of pictures in this post is evidence that I did have my phone around, but I promise it was also off for a large portion of the time. And it felt really good.
- Do pack simple and easy-to-eat foods. You don’t have to sacrifice flavor when you go camping. The following suggestions can be made with the help of a cooler, your hands, tin foil, the campfire, and/or a propane camping grill. They all received the Baby Brown Bear Stamp of Approval, too.
- Eggs. Plain and simple.
- Shake ‘n pour pancakes (I know they are not healthy, but they are tasty and easy).
- Simple sandwich materials like bread, lunch meat, cheese, and mustard (other toppings optional).
- Snacks and supplements
- A large water jug with a spigot. While not necessary, it’s really nice to have a small stash of water already at your site when you have a baby.
- Fruit such as oranges, bananas, and apples.
- Pre-chopped veggies like cucumbers, celery, and carrots.
- Organic baby pouches (for the babe or you, in a pinch).
- Junky snacks like chips and cookies (per Papa Bear’s recommendation, of course).
- Foil packs, like the (delicious) ones we did below:
- Locally grown green beans with butter, salt, pepper, and a touch of garlic powder.
- Ground beef with pre-chopped onions, celery, butter, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
- Potatoes with butter, salt, and pepper.
- Foil packs, like the (delicious) ones we did below:
- Do bring the following baby stuff:
- A carrier for hikes (Ergo 360 pictured, but Deuter Kid Comfort II Child Carrier even more highly recommended).
- A stroller for when you need to strap your kid in so you can set up the campsite.
- A kid’s camping chair for when you want to take adorable pictures and relax together around the campfire (Melissa and Doug Giddy Buggy Chair pictured).
- An easy-to-use pack ‘n play (I am obsessed with the 4moms Breeze). Co-sleeping would likely be easier for the babe, but having him in this meant I was able to put him to bed at his normal time and return to the campfire without worrying about him rolling all over the tent. While he ended up coming to sleep with us in the middle of the night on some of the nights we camped, at least I had a few hours of good sleep before he was jammed in my armpit. Our tent is an older version of the REI Base Camp and comfortably fits the Breeze, two adults, an overnight bag, and a dog.
- Sunscreen and bug spray (Badger Anti-Bug Sunscreen SPF 34 highly recommended).
- A mix of clothing options, including shorts, t-shirts, pants, long-sleeved shirts, short/t-shirt jammies, full-length sleepers, socks, a hoodie, and shoes. Temperatures fluctuate quite a bit from the heat of the day to overnight, so layers really come in handy.
- A sunhat (i play. Baby & Toddler Flap Sun Protection Swim Hat recommended).
- Refillable water bottles for you and baby (Baby Bear loves this CamelBak Kid one).
- Diapers, wipes, and hand sanitizer. Oh, and a couple big garbage bags. Enough said.
- Don’t go camping with your baby when the weather is out of control. We learned this lesson when we stubbornly insisted on driving for two hours to the site, setting up camp, and trying to put Baby Bear down before admitting that it’s probably not a good idea to leave a baby in a tent that’s a stifling 90-plus degrees. Especially when a massive storm is headed your way. Just don’t even bother; you can always go back.
- Don’t waste your time bringing a picnic blanket. Unless your baby isn’t moving much yet, this will be completely useless.
- Don’t be afraid to let your little one roll around, dig, and/or lather himself in dirt. Part of the appeal is getting closer to nature! Let him learn about bugs and rocks. Have a (one-sided) conversation about how plants grow. You can wash up when you get back home. Speaking of which…
- Don’t shower. Most car campsites have working showers, but I suggest you try to resist. Let yourself get dirty, too. Enjoy living simply for a weekend. But, do brush your teeth. Bad breath and gingivitis are hard and fast don’ts.
- Don’t forget to hike and explore. Like I said, I absolutely love to hike and be active when I camp. Get out there and get (safely) lost on a trail. Leave your phone and your worries behind.
Kettle Moraine Pike Lake Unit in Wisconsin.
Moral of the Story
At the end of the day, you’re going camping and it’s supposed to be relaxing. The above suggestions are just my opinion; you don’t need a lot of stuff, and even this is probably overkill. What matters is that you get outta Dodge and into Mother Nature. Take your baby, clear your mind, and you’ll figure it out as you go. If all else fails, you’ll add to your growing pile of parenting failure memories.
Let me hear from you. What are your suggestions for camping with kids?