Top tactics for taking a tiny tot on your camping trip
Expect some bemused and maybe even horrified looks when you tell your friends and family that you’re going camping … with your baby. But it’s not as crazy as it sounds. Babies have few expectations other than having their basic creature comforts met and tended to, and odds are that your baby will pick up on your vibes if you’re happy, relaxed and having a good time.
Preparation is key
You wouldn’t run a marathon without training first, and you and your baby shouldn’t blindly head out for the great unknown without testing his comfort level. Try hiking over a short distance first to find out how your baby feels about riding along on your back, particularly if you’ve never carried him this way before. Pitch your tent in the backyard and do a test run to familiarize him with his new, temporary accommodations. It’s not a good idea to spring new things on a baby for the first time when you're in the wilderness miles from home.
Keep your camping trip relatively close to home the first time as well. There’s no shame in pulling the plug and trying again later if things go badly, and babies can get stressed out with a super-long car ride just to reach the destination.
Do some advance research if you’re planning to stay at a campground. What “amenities” are offered? Will there be running water, and is it drinkable? Are fresh diapers within driving distance in a pinch?
Dress your baby appropriately
Plan for sweat, and not just your own. If you’re hiking any distance with baby in a backpack or front carrier, know that he’s going to get toasty in there. This is especially true in summer, but it can happen even in the cooler months as the sun shines down on him.
Babies’ bodies aren’t very good at regulating their own temperatures, so make sure his daytime clothing is loose-fitting. Avoid cotton, which tends to transfer heat away from the body but also holds moisture, so it will get damp and stay damp if he perspires. Synthetics are better. It’s a good idea to dress him in layers when practical so you can shed items of clothing as the day warms up.
Make it a point to regularly check his temperature to see how he’s faring, and pay close attention to the air temperature, too. Stop and make adjustments if it’s a good deal warmer or colder than it was when you started out. He’s probably going to need a clothing change immediately when you reach your campsite. He should be warm and dry as evening settles in and the temperature begins to drop.
Practice the sleeping arrangements
If you haven’t already practiced sleeping with baby in a tent, this part may be trial and error. Is your baby accustomed to co-sleeping? If not, you might want to settle her in a “bed space” between two adults. Taking her into your sleeping bag for the first time can bring unpredictable results, especially when everything else is different, too. She might hate it – or she might love it so much that she fights sleep, so you won’t get any either.
Her sleepwear will depend to some extent on which sleeping method you choose. If she’s sharing your sleeping bag, she could become too warm if she's overdressed. But if she has her own sleep space, consider placing a knit hat on her head. A light- to mid-weight sleeper under a light snowsuit might be necessary if it gets cold overnight. It’s best to start out with too much clothing, then check baby periodically to make sure she’s not overheating. If she is, start shedding layers, just like you did on the trail.
Bring something comforting from home
Make sure baby has something familiar with him as he’s experiencing all this change from his home environment. Pack his favorite cuddly or blanket, something to tell him that all is right with the world even if the new surroundings are a little strange. If he’s used to a playpen, bring it along if you can. It will provide a great break for you. Pop him in there for moments when you need your hands or attention free to see to something else. He’ll be safe, not crawling into the campfire.
There will be poop
It goes without saying that you don’t want to change your baby’s diet while you’re camping. This can increase the poop quotient a lot. It may not be a factor if you’re still nursing, but you’ll still need a good diaper plan.
Even if you don’t normally use disposable diapers, you’ll probably want to do so on your camping trip. Pack more of them than you think you’ll ever need. They’re light and won’t weigh you down. Secure them in a resealable plastic bag along with several more bags. The diapers will be dry and usable when needed, and the bags can hold soiled diapers later.
And yes, you might have to take those bags back home with you if the campsite doesn’t offer a sanitary dump site for trash. But you’re a parent. You’re used to gross things.