Pro tips for camping with your newborn with Juna
When my husband and I told people we were taking our seven-month-old camping we usually got one of two responses. For those who told us how “interesting” that sounded, while backing away slowly with looks of pure terror on their faces, I get it. Truth be told, I was a bit terrified as well. As a relatively new mom, terror, or at least mild anxiety, seems to be my default response when faced with most new baby-related activities.
Responses from the other camp, so to speak, were filled with so much enthusiasm that it countered my fears and kicked me into planning mode. If you’re reading this, either you fall in the first category and are here to gloat at stories of mayhem and disaster, or, more likely, you’re a fellow parent who loves to get outside and doesn’t want to stop just because you’ve added a tiny member to your expedition team.
We decided to start off with a car camping trip in California’s Anza Borrego State Park and Joshua Tree National Park as sort of a shakedown trip to work out what made kiddo happy and what could be improved on. I’m happy to report that our first camping trip included a lot of dirt and a few less-than-restful nights, but no mayhem or disaster.
These notes and packing suggestions are what worked for us; I would love to hear from others about what’s worked for them and what we could try next time.
Location, Location, Location
If you can, consider spending your first few nights away from other campers. That beautiful (and packed) National Park campground may look like a great option, until the 2am (and 3am, and 5am) crying session(s) start. You’ll never be more aware of how sounds carries, and if you’re anything like me, you won’t relish the thought of your campground neighbors judging your rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The first two nights out we went for dispersed desert camping, and I didn’t stress when our kiddo cried periodically.
When choosing a tent site, consider the sun. Many infants are very attuned to daylight, and may have a hard time sleeping with early morning or late evening sun pouring in. If the baby will be taking a midday nap, think about how hot it may get inside the tent.
Perhaps because it’s my job to make sure people are warm and comfortable when sleeping, I spent an inordinate amount of time working out sleeping arrangements. I took a nice thick double-wide sleeping pad and double sleeping bag system, thinking the baby would cuddle up with me and we’d have a magical night of the co-sleeping I was too afraid to try at home. Nope. Baby wasn’t having it. He kept rolling off the pad onto my husband’s much thinner pad, so after a few nights of restless sleep we layered the baby up in fleece jammies, a down suit, and a warm hat, and he slept on his own little sleeping pad (the pad from my chair) between us. In the early morning, when it was the chilliest, he would roll over and cuddle up with one of us in our big sleeping bag. He slept much better like that. Lesson – bring options. If you want to go all out, maybe have a trial run at home and see what baby seems to like.
I’ve heard of some people bringing along a travel crib for the tent. If your tent is big enough, you’re not backpacking, and a travel crib is what will get everyone through the night, go for it. Camping with an infant is all about what works for you and baby, minimalists be damned.
In addition to your regular camping gear, I would suggest bringing along:
Wipes. Lots and lots of wipes. Sticky hands, dirty faces, smelly bum; there’s not much a baby wipe won’t clean up. The baby will probably need extra wipes too
Diapers and Extra Clothes. Bring way more than you think you’ll need. Inevitably, this will be the weekend your baby has a big blowout. Don’t get caught miles from anywhere with no extras.
Baby Containment Unit. If your baby is mobile, pack the largest tent you can find (or if you’re backpacking, the largest tent you can carry). Our baby started crawling right before our trip (great timing), and I was thankful to have a large tent he could crawl and roll around in without careening into cacti or campfire. A pack n’ play or travel crib can also work to keep the baby contained, especially while trying to set up or breakdown camp.
Sun protection. Sunscreen, sun hat, sun shirt, lightweight gloves – all essential for sunny locales and high altitudes.
Layers. The temperature will likely swing wildly, and little bodies will need a variety of clothes as the day and night progress.
Camp chair. If you’re nursing, you’ll want a seat with some back support. I used a Thermarest Trekker Chair with a ¾ length pad; a Crazy Creek-style camping chair would work as well.
Baby Food. If your baby is eating solid foods, remember to bring baby food, spoon, bib, etc., or simplify life by springing for pouches. I’m normally hesitant to use the single-use pouches of baby food, but after cleaning up a rainbow of pureed vegetables and crusty baby oatmeal from a very messy eater, I wish we had just gone with the pouches. If your baby is drinking from a bottle or sippy cup, think about the available water sources ahead of time and have a plan for washing the bottles well.
If you’ve been thinking about taking your infant camping, just do it, now, before summer slips away. It will be a different experience than pre-child trips, and it will be different for every family, but if you’re yearning for some nights out in the open and your little one is up to it, get out there! Just don’t forget the wipes.