Like many new parents, after we had our firstborn, my husband and I thought our fun was over. For two people who suffer from wanderlust and need an escape every six months, it took four years before we were brave enough to go on a real vacation with a kid in tow. In the meantime, we adjusted with getaways on a much smaller scale. We took weekend trips to surrounding small towns to visit the countryside where my husband grew up, or we went on overnight camping trips that didn’t take too much time commitment.
The first time we took my daughter, Toccoa, camping, she was 20 months old. It was October and I was over-prepared with too many diapers, milk and toys. And with the colder temps, I packed A LOT of clothes, socks, fleece sleepers and every blanket in the house. Because, you know … just in case. And since we didn’t co-sleep, we brought a pack ‘n’ play for her to sleep in. Between the howling wind and hooting owl in the distance and being worried Toccoa would be cold, I got zero sleep that night. It felt like every 10 minutes I got up to make sure she was covered in her tiny blanket even though she was wearing two layers of fleece pajamas. Finally, right before sunrise and completely exhausted, I threw the largest blanket we had over the pack ‘n’ play to keep the cold air out.
Add two kids and a couple more camping trips and (real) vacations later, we feel a little more prepared – or maybe we’re more flexible and not as stressed out anymore. But that first camping trip could’ve been a better experience – and I would’ve gotten more sleep – had I known some useful shortcuts for camping with babies and young children.
Check out some suggestions from the Hike it Baby community to help make your next camping adventure smoother for everyone.
- WE use a changing pad (the kind with raised sides) as a sleeping pad for babies. It’s the perfect size, padded/insulated, and it keeps them from rolling around. – Christie Gerow
- Inexpensive pool rafts are great sleeping pads for preschoolers. In cooler weather, lay a thick fleece blanket on the floor of the tent under the sleeping area. – Denise Irvin Hirn
- If you’re with a group with lots of littles (or adults who stay up late chatting), I definitely recommend a battery powered sound machine and ear plugs! – Colette Clarke
- Sturdy milk cart for a few simple toys and board books. They double as toddler chairs. – Emma Worldpeace
- A kids’ tent to keep toys in and act as a “play area.” – Rachel Potts
- We bring a sun tent, travel pack ‘n’ play and bug net. We can put baby in that while getting the tent set up and be protected from sun and bugs as well as a good nap spot. – Keira Wickliffe Berger
- When packing, put things in a large plastic bin. It keeps things dry and doubles as a kid bath. – Rachel Potts
- We pack everything in those plastic 3-drawer sets (Rubbermaid/Sterilite). They keep things organized and easy to move around. – Lyndsey Vaillancourt
- Sand/beach toys work great in the dirt and keep preschoolers happy and occupied. Digging and construction trucks too. Bring glow bracelets and necklaces for nighttime. Kids think they’re fun to play with and wear, and it makes them more visible at night for parents. – Alexandra Tebow Wong
- Camp in groups with friends who also have young children. – Denise Irvin Hirn
- Chalk hopscotch in the road in front of your campsite. – Christine Lamphear
- Bubbles are a great way to keep the littles occupied while you’re setting up camp. Even better: bring along an inexpensive bubble machine for hands-free entertainment. – Kristin Hinnant
- We use the flameless candles for light! They put off the perfect amount of light for a late night diaper change or feeding, and you don’t have to fuss with aiming a flash light that’s too bright. My toddler loves it as a night light too. Some have timers that turn off automatically but are a little more pricey, or you can get a cheaper one at a dollar store. Either way, they are great! – Meghan Polson
- Go somewhere close by! Especially if it’s your first time going with kids and you’re nervous about it. It saves the stress/expense of a long car ride, and if the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can just go home. For kids, it’s all about the experience – not the journey. – Melissa Freeman
- I’ve used a pack ‘n’ play with a big net, but now that my baby is a walker, the tent is a better container if I need her out of the way. Babywearing (especially on my back) while I set up the tent. Booster high chair (the kind that straps onto the chair) can set on the ground for her to sit in and eat. Insect repellent wipes instead of spray are much easier to apply or permethrin-treated clothing. And for cooking, a jetboil and foods that can just have hot water added (or are in pouches that can be placed in the water to heat) are super fast and a lifesaver if you are camping solo. – Rita Diane
- A travel potty! Kids go a lot and walking to the bathrooms can be a journey. I made one using the Oxo travel potty seat and a mop bucket. I line the bucket with a heavy duty trash bag and add a good layer of kitty litter to absorb. We aim for #1 only but that doesn’t always happen. – Lyndsey Vaillancourt
What are some of your favorite camping hacks? Please share with us in the comments below!
- Things to know for your first camping trip
- The ultimate guide to camping with kids
- Nighttime activities for camping with kids
Photos courtesy of Kim Ives and Kristin Hinnant.