Camping is one of my favourite things to do. It’s where I feel connected to nature, live simply, breathe the fresh, and hear the birds and rustling of leaves in the wind.
But once we had a baby, lots of things changed.
Our lives (and sleep) changed significantly, and it took us months to find our groove. Going camping was the last thing on my mind. Our adventures were all about simple stroller walks in the beginning. Then I felt more comfortable going on day trips to the mountains. And before I knew it, I started craving that connection to nature again.
So we planned our first family camping trip. And it went better than I expected.
To help adventurous new moms, I’m sharing my six best tips for camping with babies so you can enjoy your time in nature together as a family. I hope these tips encourage you to give camping with your little one a go.
Find the right campground
We planned for our first camping trip for one night in a campground close to home. That way we didn’t have to worry about driving for hours and being exhausted before we even set the foot on the campground. Just to test the new waters.
Banff National Park is only an hour away from our home in Calgary and provides lots of options where campsites are not crammed one next to each other and still have amenities like washrooms.
We intentionally chose a campground we knew already. I knew we needed a campsite further from the washrooms so that the noisy hand drier doesn’t disturb our son’s sleep.
Plan around the weather forecast
Camping in the Canadian Rockies, or any mountains for that matter, comes with the challenge of booking the campground when the weather forecast is just right. While you can dress yourself and your baby in lots of layers, you might not be comfortable at night when you don’t know what to expect.
That’s why camping in summer is ideal.
Well, we missed it a bit and camped in autumn. The air was crisp, and we were wearing hats at night. But we made sure not to go camping when the temperature hits a freezing point.
Where to sleep
Your sleeping setup largely depends on the area where you’re going camping. If you go camping by the lake in summer, you can bring a big 4-person or even 6-person tent for your ultimate comfort. You can fit a playpen inside where your baby can sleep.
However, if you go to the mountains in autumn as we did, a 2-person tent is a better idea. The less space you have inside, the warmer it is at night.
I also left my camping air mattress home and brought an actual mattress from the Ikea couch. It rolls up and fits nicely in our car, and I could be sure to sleep comfortably without getting cold from the ground.
We used a regular duvet from our beds rather than sleeping bags so we could all snuggle, stay warm, and I could easily check if our son was hot or cold at night.
Clothing for the baby
While this is best learnt through trial and error, you also need to know what to bring for the first time.
I brought lots of clothes for our son. We were driving to the campground, so I didn’t have to worry about carrying it, and I also wanted to be prepared for cold or rain. And when you’re a new mom, you simply don’t know and learn as you go.
Because the mornings are chilly in the mountains, we all wore clothes at night that we would wear the next day, so no pyjamas. Our son wore a long sleeve onesie with tights, fleece pants, a fleece sweater and a hat.
Because we all slept under the same duvet, I could quickly tell at night whether I should layer up with warm socks or take off his sweater.
Keep it simple
You’re stepping into the unknown, and the goal for the first camping trip isn’t cramming lots of outdoor adventures in. The goal is to test out your camping setup, get your little one comfortable sleeping outside, and learn what works for your family.
I didn’t plan a single activity when we went camping for the first time. We were going to the mountains to spend a night outdoors, that’s it. I kept it simple on purpose. I didn’t know how or if our son would sleep in the tent. I didn’t know how much sleep I would get. I didn’t even know what kind of a day he’ll have and if it would be filled with smiles or cries.
So we just went with a flow. Upon arriving at the campground, my partner was setting up a tent, and our son went exploring the forest. I followed him around the campsite as he picked up rocks, tried chewing some grass, wave at other campers and curiously watched us make a fire.
In the morning, he pushed the stroller around, played with sticks, and watched squirrels. That’s it. It was truly beautiful to watch him get to know this new environment.
The topic of routine is the most divided between parents. Some parents swear by following a strict routine at home and everywhere else; some go with the flow and let the day unfold.
You know what works best for your family, and no online tips should tell you otherwise. I’m sharing what worked for us.
We went camping for the first time when our son was 13 months old. We had a bedtime routine at home, including reading in bed and lights out by a specific time.
But nature doesn’t work that way. Lights are out after sunset. In our case, we were glad we camped in autumn because the sun is up at 11 pm during summer.
Despite our efforts to get our son to sleep when bedtime came, we didn’t succeed. And I couldn’t blame him. Looking back now, I shouldn’t have relied so much on internet tips but rather find our own rhythm. He was in a new environment, wearing different clothes for the night, having a different sleeping setup and experienced lots of new things during the day. Of course, he couldn’t fall asleep right away. And neither could we.
From that night, we learnt that letting go of the routine when we are (technically) on vacation was good for all of us. We were more relaxed, enjoyed nature, and followed our son’s sleeping cues rather than time on the clock.
And it worked out perfectly. He’s over two years old and adaptable to different environments and sleeping arrangements.
So far, we have camped in a regular tent and a rooftop tent in cold and hot weather. He loves camping, and so do we, and most importantly, he’s very happy while we’re spending time outdoors. Babies really can adapt quickly once their parents let them.
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