I have been camping with kids since my oldest was 5 months (one camping trip was 2.5 month long one with a 1 month old and 2 year old) and have learned many helpful tips, and many lessons the hard way so now that summer is underway and camping season is upon us, I thought I would save you the headache and pass on some lessons learned. These are worst case scenarios. Your child may not experience or struggle with these things but it’s best to be prepared
My worst camping trips are when I expect too much from my kids. That all will go smoothly, everything will be like it is at home. My best advice: throw that mentality out the window!!! Camping is more a go with the flow type experience. Rules get bent, schedules get lost, and it is much more relaxing than trying to fit a square into a circle…which is what trying to expect perfection while camping.
Also helpful: If you are going with other families, communicate your expectations for camping and especially sleeping. Some parents want to keep the same schedule at home and others are okay to throw it out, some will go to be with their kids and some will have an evening after they go to bed. Its much easier to communicate this from the get-go.
This one is a bit of a challenge in a couple different ways. Although the fresh air is amazing and makes them wiped at the end of the day, the obstacle you face is the sun doesn’t like to go down when you want to put your toddler down. So this creates a tough scenario because if your in a tent, it doesn’t exactly keep it dark. I have tried it all; putting them to bed and letting them cry it out, keeping them up and then they get overtired. I think it’s situation by situation and kid by kid. Sometimes they will eventually fall asleep and sometimes they wanna party until the sun goes down, literally. I would say: pick your battle. If you are determined they sleep but are struggling, prepare to sacrifice your campfire time to do this. If you wanna let them stay up, be prepared for an overtired and possibly up early little one.
The next sleeping obstacle is where to put them to sleep! When my little ones were infants, I used a Summer Co sleeper little bassinet. It was perfect; it folded up great for travelling, it could be right beside me in the tent and easy for middle of the night nursing, and it was small and cozy for their comfort. I find the closer you are to the ground the colder it can be, so I put a blanket or actually used my car seat cozy cover underneath them to keep it warm underneath them.
For toddlers: we have a big tent so I put a pack’n’play up. I do this because I don’t go to bed when they do, and my kids are escape artists so if I put them on a thermarest they would be at the next campsite eating smores with their nice new family who lets them stay up and eat chocolate.
Next sleeping obstacle: what to wear? When we camped we were in the Canadian Rockies so that meant cold at night (no matter what month of the year!) [if your camping where it’s warm overnight OR have a proper sleeping bag for them: disregard this part and just use a base layer or comfy Jammie’s]
*We just camped for the first time in Ontario, it was HOT HOT HOT! We hardly even slept in sleeping bags and just one layer of clothes. So this is totally dependant on where you are!
This is my magic sleeping wear for little ones in COLD NIGHT area’s: A base Layer, A fleece layer and a snowsuit (one piece), gloves, hat and possibly a blanket overtop depending on weather. So the other obstacle is its warmer when you put them down, and gets colder as the night goes on. I usually dress them up to the fleece layer, as it gets colder (when I come into tent to bed) I add layer if need be. If baby is nursing, when they wake for a feed, I would *first* change them, add layer and then nurse and back to bed.
Last obstacle: If it is cold, or kids aren’t used to camping, expect some nighttime wakes! I don’t get great night sleeps when I’m cold and either do kids! So expect some restlessness if that’s the case. Sometimes when the kids were bigger we let them come in our sleeping bags with us if its really cold and it warms us both up quickly...meaning more sleep!
If your nursing while camping, you may be warm and cozy once you’re in your sleeping bag, but it gets cold when you get your upper half out to nurse. Keep the baby close, like beside you close so you just have to weasel your arms out. Wear a shirt and/or sweater that zips so you can unzip it and nurse, keeping the most amount of warm in you. If you have to change their diaper, I highly recommend doing it before you nurse. The cold will be very offensive to your baby, and some milk may be the only way they will forgive you for such a horrendous thing you’ve just done to them.
If you’ve got the space bring your Bumbo and as my kiddos got bigger we got a Go-Pod (camping exersaucer) and then as they get bigger but not big enough for a picnic table, we used a kids camping chair and the table as the seat of the picnic table. It was perfect!
Camping food is great, keep it simple though. You don’t have your kitchen from home with all the gadgets, so keep it simple but fun! There are some AMAZING Pintrest camping meal ideals. I highly recommend waffle cone smores over the fire-look it up. Your welcome.
Some campsites have decent showers, but it’s complicated. We bathed our babies in our dish bucket, as they got bigger a Rubbermaid we had that carries camping stuff. It’s perfect, quick and as pain free as possible. (If your dying for a clean shower, we have gone to community pools and rec centres and Swam and then showered there)
Im sure you have fun things to do during the day; the beach, adventures etc. but when your back at the campsite with a baby, it’s hard to find places to put them. We had a Go-Pod, a Camping Chair and a baby Camping Chair....or baby carrier if that’s easier but sometimes you wanna put them down! (No judgement here ) Also keep in mind, the crawling stage is a tough one. They will be covered in dirt 24/7. You may put them down in a nice clean place but they will crawl away from that to the dirtiest place they can find, and proceed to eat dirt and pinecones.
Please read: Your kids will be a disgusting MESS by the end of your camping experience. Don’t bring nice clothes, don’t expect anything but dirt and sand all over your children, your car and then your floor when you get home.
Also when hanging at campsite and trying to make dinner, understand that your child’s 6th sense will go off to the dog thats 18 campsites away. And decide they are independent enough to go without you. Or climb on top of the car, or eat marshmallows in the car, this list can go on and on. If you have heard of the ‘crazy hour’ while your trying to get dinner ready at home, it applies for camping too expect the boundaries of the house walls are not there.
The worst thing to do to stress yourself out is assume you know what you will run into. It’s much better to bring what you need to be prepared. For rain or shine, mud and puddles, heat and cold and everything in between! There is nothing worse than being out of your element and not having what you need! Look up camping lists online and read things like this blog and more to learn what you may need!
Lastly, My advise is all based on Tent camping. If you have a trailer or RV, you suck haha just kidding I am jealous, please invite me camping.