If you enjoy camping and backpacking before you have kids, there is no reason to stop after a baby arrives. Teaching your children how to enjoy the outdoors, starting at early age, is one of the best gifts you can them. If your kids grow up backpacking and spending time outside, they will most certainly continue doing so as adults. And some day, they will most certainly pass on this gift to their kids.
Most babies’ needs are basic. They need food & fluids, warmth, shelter, company of a caring adult, diaper changes, and naps. With some planning, all of these needs can easily be met on a camping or backpacking trip.
I wouldn’t suggest taking a newborn camping or backpacking, but most 3-month olds do just fine.
Always remember to bring the 10 Baby Essentials when hiking, camping, and backpacking with your baby.
Select a campsite or trial that suits your needs. Do you prefer changing your baby’s diaper in a restroom? Then select a campsite near restrooms. Do your research before heading out; check campground website or call the facility with any question.
Plan your activities and determine what gear you will need; bike trailer, baby carrier, stroller, etc. Instead of a stroller, I bring a Folding Utility Wagon, large enough to hold gear, food, and baby. The wagon also doubles as crib for naps. While it’s not suitable for primitive trails, it works great on paved roads and bike trails.
Making plans is great, but always be ready to adjust your plans. Babies are unpredictable and not always good team-players. Always have a backup plan, or two. If this is your first time camping with baby, select a campground close to home. If weather turns bad or if baby is not doing well, a good backup plan may be to simply abort, pack up, and go home. If you are planning a backpacking trip, consider doing a shorter loop-trail close to home. That way you can easily abort the trip, or call for help, if disaster strikes.
When I’m camping with a baby, I prefer a secluded campsite where we won’t be disturbed by other campers or noise. I also want to be respectful to neighbor campers whom I presume don’t enjoy being awakened by a crying baby in the middle of the night.
Breastfeeding is extremely convenient when backpacking and camping, because it doesn’t require much preparation or clean-up. Finding privacy shouldn’t be an issue.
Formula requires more planning, preparation, and cleanup. If car-camping, bring bottled water and heat over stove. If backpacking, plan on both filtering and boiling water. Use biodegradable soap for cleanup.
Stick with baby’s usual eating routines. Baby usually eat every 3 hours at home? Then plan on feeding baby every 3 hours on the trail. Messing with your baby’s routines will likely result in a bad experience for everyone.
If you are car-camping and weight is not an issue, consider bringing a Pack-n-Play, assuming your tent is big enough. In colder temperatures, add a blanket under the Pan-n-Play mattress for extra insulation. An alternative to the Pack-n-Play: make a cot by putting a folded blanket in baby’s car seat.
For car-camping we always bring the Pack-n-Play, because we have a large, roomy 10ft*10ft canvas tent (weight is obviously not an issue). Mom and dad sleep on a queen size inflatable bed, baby sleep in Pack-n-play next to our bed. The older kids sleep in separate smaller tent next to ours.
If you are backpacking, or if your camping tent is small, bring a sleeping pad for baby.
Dress baby in a warm fleece pajamas and hat for bedtime. Swaddling your baby in a receiving blanket is usually sufficient in warm weather. In colder temperatures you should consider also covering your baby in a heavy-weight fleece or down blanket.
I wouldn’t recommend putting your baby in a sleeping bag until toddler age, because of the risk of suffocation.
Make sure your tent is well-ventilated and free from bugs. Check your baby for ticks before bedtime.
If you have any concerns or questions about how to provide safe sleeping arrangements for your baby, talk to your pediatrician or explore an online resources, such as: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/A-Parents-Guide-to-Safe-Sleep.aspx
Tips & Tricks
- Keep your baby out of the sun. Seek shade and use sunscreen and sun hat.
- Never put your baby down for a nap inside a tent during day. Tents can quickly get dangerously hot inside if exposed to sun.
- If camping in areas where bugs are bad, use insect repellant and consider bringing mesh/net covers for your baby. When car-camping with baby, we usually bring a 12’*12’ fold-up mesh gazeebo to make a bug-free zone where we eat and sit in evening if bugs become overwhelming.
- Don’t burn or dispose of diapers and baby wipes outside. Always dispose of garbage in trash cans. Store garbage in Ziploc bags until you find a trashcan.
- Avoid putting baby on ground, risking wet clothes, ticks, etc. Instead bring blankets and play-mat (car-camping).
- A hammock works great both for giving baby a nap and for breastfeeding. Hammocks are suitable for backpacking because set-up is quick and they weigh just over 1lb.
- Bring a lot more diapers and wipes than you think you’ll need. And bring plenty of extra clothes.
- Because babies require a lot of attention, a team of two adults usually makes the camping experience better for everyone. Having one adult available to focus 100% on the baby, while another adult does chores (cooking, pitching tent, etc.), makes things run a lot smoother.
Share your camping-with-baby experiences and Tips & Tricks!