Tips for camping with children

Guest post by Sarah Franklin
Camp babies

Previously, Hunny asked Sarah this: “I am a big time camper, and we have some big trips planned this summer. I’m a little apprehensive about being hours away from a hospital if something goes wrong, like a snake bite or a bad fall. My daughter will be 1 at the time of these trips — and this is tent camping, not RV-ing. What tips do you have for us?”

As we creep towards the official start of summer, I’m sure you’re not alone in planning those outdoors trips with your wee one. Forget going to gigs or lazy Sunday brunches; the true test of how much you’re still your old self can relatively often boil down to: can we sling on the backpack and still get out there with baby in tow?

The good news is: absolutely. You don’t say here whether you’re hiking a trail over several days and just setting up camp where you find yourselves, or whether you’ll be staying put for a few days. If your big trips are over several days, I’d suggest the following. Firstly: why not do a ‘trial run’ of a small overnight camp nearby, just to get the drill down? You’ll both feel a lot more confident out in the wilds if you know that you’ve already figured out the basics such as: who puts up the tent and who entertains the wee one? What do you do with those dirty diapers, especially if you’re doing a ‘pack it in, pack it out’ trip? (my advice here: a VERY secure ‘wet pack’, which lives in a different compartment from any perishables you’re bringing along). Secondly: go prepared to pack a little more ‘heavily’ than you maybe did in the past. A full first-aid kit is a must, as are a decent number of clothing changes for your daughter, extra layers for her at bed, and a few easy toys – cloth books, a favorite teddy, that kind of thing. Of course, the main attraction for her will be the Great Outdoors, but having a few familiar playthings around will also be useful.

Bear in mind, too, that for chunks of your trip, one of you will likely be carrying your daughter (a good, sturdy, toddler backpack is great for this), and the other, your camping supplies. This is worth bearing in mind too, in terms of sheer quantity of items you can bring and how far you might want to go the first few times you’re out.

With specific regard to the concerns about snake bites/bad falls: If possible, it would be worth going someplace where either your cells work, or you have GPS (so if you needed to put out an alarm call, you could be as swift and accurate about it as possible). Decide amongst yourselves before you head out how you’d handle an emergency. Would one of you go for help whilst the other stayed with your daughter? What if one of you was hurt? – what are the absolute basics you’d each need to keep with you until you gained support? I know these aren’t the cheeriest of conversations to be happy, but I think it’d possibly ease your apprehension to know that Plans A, B and C were all in place should they be needed.

In terms of minimizing the risks, and assuming that your daughter’s mobile at this stage, I would advise against camping anywhere too obviously risky. Those clifftop sunsets and creekside campfires will take on a whole new aspect if you have to spend your entire time guarding against imminent danger!

At a year old, your daughter may still take the occasional bottle, in which case it would be wise to either take some sterilizing tablets (you may well already do this) or a bottle with disposable innards (Playtex do a popular version of this). Again, at a year old, she’s probably eating most solids, but I wouldn’t imagine she’s quite developed the palate for vac-packed meals, so a few easy staples would be good.

In all our travels with our two boys, my husband and I have discovered that the kids are incredibly unphased by the big changes (sleeping in a tent! Hanging out under the stars!) as long as their day-to-day routine stays relatively similar. Who cares which country we’re in, or what our bed is, as long as Daddy’s still reading the bedtime story.

If you have a question for Sarah, go ahead and email her. She’ll be selecting a few questions to answer here in coming months.

Comments on Tips for camping with children

  1. Thanks Sarah
    We went car camping for one overnight a few weeks ago, and it went well. I ended up holding her for a lot of the time, she was super clingy and when I did put her down, she headed for stuff she shouldnt be in, like creeks and poison oak. So I wish I would have brought the Moby and not the Ergo, so I could face her Outwards. She slept great, I didnt. Long sleeves and pants and baby legs under pants were a better bug deterrent than bug spray. She doesnt do bottles, but breast feeding is way easier than packing bottles anyhow.

    We did, however pass up on going to a 3 day trip in the middle of Bumfuck nowhere for the very reasons you mentioned. No cell service, a 3 hour drive to a hospital, and treacherous terrain that has gotten the better of some grownups in the past. I got a hard time for not going, but I think it was a good parenting choice. It ended up that a bunch of people got stuck in the mud.

    Next weekend, cabin in the woods of Mendocino for 3 days, with a wood stove and outdoor potties! Wish us luck!

  2. My husband and I were just talking about this, this week. We have a toddler and a newborn, so we’ve decided upon near-ish campsite that has cabins, for our first time out, partly for convienence and partly because we don’t have a famiy-size tent yet.
    Which brings me to this question: I’ve heard that some families will bring along a pack&play for car camping. I don’t know how I feel about this… it sounds kind of impractical but also sounds like it could be a lifesaver/sanitysaver?

    • When we were on our roadtrip, we spent a night in the Redwoods camped next to a family with an 8-month-old. They’d brought her pack&play, and reported that it wasn’t working well for them … the theory was that, out in a tent, their daughter felt too exposed sleeping in a separate bed, and even though they didn’t cosleep at home, she ended up in their sleeping bag with them.

      Our solution was to bring Tavi’s contoured changing pad and use it as a little cosleeper next to our bed. He was within arm’s reach, but I didn’t get kicked all night.

    • we brought our pack n play for playing, but not for sleeping. She doesnt get put in baby jail much so she was never in it for more than 10 minutes at a time. Still, I was glad I brought it, as I couldnt just set her down in the mud.

      But we coslept, as we always do. Sans pack n play.

      • I’m going to Maine next month and stay in a cabin for 2 weeks. i’m debating on if i want to bring our pack and play. see we spend a lot of time on our deck that over looks the lake and well a walking/crawling 11 month old wont be so great on an old style painted red deck

        but i doubt the pack and play will really work because well he’s so mobile @ home and feel like he’s in jail so i’m still trying to figure out what i’m going to do since it’s a 50 foot crawl to the lake and tons of ways to get a splinter

  3. My friends are supergranola outdoors parents — their youngest went camping in New Mexico at 6 weeks! — and we have been on many a camping expedition with them. Their kids are 9 and 7 now, and are the best little outdoor caver/minibiologist kidlets ever, because their folks taught them and exposed them from a very young age.

    What I saw was that (a) it’s a lot of work (b) the responsibility needs to be equally divided between both parents when on trips (c) when camping with other adults, there needs to be a good balance between the other adults being also conscious of kid-safety, and the parents taking primary safety point and (d) knowing that the kiddos WILL, no matter how conscientious you are, get splinters or a little sunburn or chiggers, and that’s NORMAL. Just plan ahead for it.

    It’s wonderful to see how capable their kiddos are, and how much joy they take in the outdoors, and geckos and mud and bugs! LOVE.

  4. I arranged a family camping trip including my two little kids for the first time this summer and it was wonderful. I was so worried at first because I thought it will be a total disaster but they are paying attention the whole time. Video games helped me a lot in making them behave and quite along the way.

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