Before our son was born, my husband and I took to the woods several times a month, often backpacking to camp in places few others had ever seen. Since our baby has entered our lives, many outdoor excursions have become day trips, but we have managed several car camping trips to developed, environmental, and primitive campsites. Backpacking awaits, so we have been collecting advice from other families who have backpacked with babies.
Here are some things to consider when planning your camping trip with baby:
- Bugs: Even my son gets annoyed at flying bugs buzzing around his head. Call a park to get input about irritating bugs. Most have a season or rangers can tell you what repels them.
- Sun: Pediatricians often don’t recommend using sunscreen on infants until a certain age, and being outside all day, even in the shade, means a lot of sun exposure. Call a park to find out how shady camping areas are, and pack sunscreen and/or shades to help block the UV.
- Extreme temperatures: Check an almanac, weather service, or park to find out how warm or cold the weather can be. This information will help a lot in planning what you bring for baby’s wardrobe. You can also bring a low, wide water container baby can splash in, if it gets very hot.
- Diapers: The biggest issue related to camping with a baby when trash cans are not available, is what to do with diapers. They create a lot of bulk for hike-in or backpacking camping, even moreso when they’re dirty. The smell attracts wildlife, as well. Some backpackers lay each diaper out to dry, reducing the weight. I’ve also heard of people burning them, but imagine some of the fumes produced by ultra-absorbent particles may be unhealthy. To reduce volume and cost, some parents use Maxi Pads inside cloth or disposable diapers, changing the pad far more often than the diaper. Pack several high-quality Ziploc bags for storing used diapers (or pads), laying the bags within each other so you can have several bags sealed around the refuse. Hang your Ziploc with diapers in a stuff sac or put it in a bear box at night, like you would do with your food.
- Weather: High winds and rain, sleet, or snow don’t appeal to anyone, probably least of all a baby. Plan accordingly with a weather-proof cover on a stroller to make your baby a comfy cocoon if such weather hits.
- Poisonous plants: Be familiar with poisonous plants that are common to your area (like Magnolia, Oleander, and Poison Oak), and check with the park to get advice about any new species you might find at camp. Create a “kid corral” with clear boundaries that you will allow your baby to move within, and be consistent about restricting your baby from putting plants in his/her mouth. Bring Benadryl or another fast-acting general allergy medication that can be ground up and fed to baby if an allergic reaction arises.
- Sleeping in a foreign place: Some babies drift to sleep without a fuss, and others need props and routines from home. Bring a bed that will be safe for baby and items to indicate when it’s bedtime (see below).
- Living without walls: Camping with a baby can be stressful for people who are very conscious of camping neighbors. Anticipate some noise from your baby and break the ice with the neighbors by introducing yourself and your child. Baby should be allowed to make noise, but you can alter the environment or choose activities (like walks) that can keep the experience more positive for everyone.
- Distance to Travel: If baby is new to camping, start small, picking a place close to “civilization” or home. You might also want to pick a place that does not require reservations and will provide a campsite on a “first come” basis, so you can decide as the day unfolds if you’d like to make this outdoor excursion a day trip, one-night campout, or multi-day event.
- Dirt: Anticipate your child to get grimy. You can pack and apply wet wipes all day long, but dirtiness is inevitable. Accept it and plan a bath and laundry load upon your return home!
- Moving slower / working with a baby’s schedule: Don’t count on sacking away miles and miles each hour on a backpacking trip with a baby, if baby’s never been on one before. Carrying a baby adds weight, changing how you balance and move. Accomodating baby’s needs to eat, rest, exercise, and explore also adds events to the day, which you will need to be able to plan around.
- Burn Risks: Burns top the injury list for infants. Plan ahead before operating a stove, working with hot liquids or foods, or starting a campfire, to be sure there isn’t a way for baby to get too close and become burned.
Making the Decision to Camp
- There are several types of camping. See Camping Defined to understand your options.
Packing and Reservations
You’ve decided to camp, so now it’s time to put some gear together and pick your camping location.