My “How To” on Tent Camping with Littles
by Andrea Prettyman at Pretty Little Adventures
Summer is right around the corner, which means CAMPING!
My husband and I love camping; it’s an activity that frequented our lives prior to having kids. So, it never occurred to us that we wouldn’t take our babies with us after they were born. Our first camping adventure with our oldest daughter, Aspen, happened just after she turned 2-months-old. Sad to say, we have yet to take our second daughter, Summer, because she was born just before the brisk winds of fall swept through Reno/Tahoe. Yet, the excitement of being able to take both my girls once the thermometer creeps into the 70-degree range has me daydreaming and scouting all the forests and deserts I want to venture to this year.
I was mid daydream with a friend and fellow mom, flashing picture after picture of a tiny lake hidden high in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, when she asked me how I possibly take a toddler, let alone a baby, tent camping for days (sometimes weeks) at a time?
It was then that I realized she may not be the only parent out there who has no idea where to start when it comes to camping with littles. So, here’s my short(ish) guide on how I do it and what I bring from baby to toddlerhood.
NOTE: Please, keep in mind that my family and I are avid campers and, thus, buy quality products that will last because we use them repeatedly. If you are not planning on camping a decent amount, you probably don’t need to buy as quality of gear.
The Basic Necessities:
Tent – Typically, I don’t use tents when I camp; I prefer sleeping under the stars in remote areas. However, with babies, I do sleep in a tent because it’s warmer and makes things (like changing diapers) easier. It also ensures no mosquitoes bite them while sleeping. I chose the REI Co-op Base Camp 6 Tent because it’s dome-shaped and has 4 main poles rather than 2, which means it will stand up to wind better. It also comes with an excellent rain fly that reaches the ground with a bonus “porch area” of covered dirt at the entrance of the tent. The spaciousness of a 6 person tent is also great with babies because they require a lot of crap and enjoy playing in their cool new fort. If you’re only planning on having one child, I would opt for a 4 person tent, which the REI Co-op Base Camp Tent comes in as well.
Kitchen Box – This is not a necessity for babies, per se, but it’s what keeps us parents grooving on the daily. Mine is a mishmash of (usually) food-related items neatly shoved into a Rubbermaid storage bin that I bought from Walmart. Everything in it, stays in it year-round and is re-stocked accordingly. I can’t imagine having to pack and unpack this box every time I want to go camping. I’d forget things, seriously. Here’s what’s in mine:
- Cutting knife
- Eating Utensils
- Pot & Pan
- Cutting board
- Mugs (if you want coffee, hot chocolate, tea, etc.)
- Skewers (because I do Shish Kabobs a lot when I camp)
- Tin foil
- Crank and solar charging flashlight (Goal Zero Torch 250 Flashlight is the one I have and love). Some people wouldn’t call this a necessity; I do, because batteries die and emergencies happen. You don’t have to buy as nice of one, or one with solar, but I do recommend at least having a crank charging flashlight.
- Matches (because lighters aren’t a guarantee)
- Trash bags (please, respect the environment and don’t leave your garbage behind)
- Paper towels
- Toilet paper (because you just never know and I camp in remote areas that require a portable toilet, or as we call it, a “porta-john”)
- Propane for camp stove
- Bug spray (don’t skip this if you’re going anywhere besides the hot desert)
- Jet Boil (we’ll get to this later)
Camp Stove – There are many options out there. I have a Primus Profile 2-Burner Stove and really like it. I grew up with a Coleman stove–worked great, too.
Water – I have a 5 gallon Igloo Beverage Cooler that keeps everyone hydrated and happy.
Ice Chest – There are different sizes available for every length of trip. Plan out your meals for each day so you don’t bring unnecessary food. Freeze all meats so they stay cold longer. Buy ice blocks to keep the ice chest cold if you’re going on a longer trip.
Folding Chairs – Any brand or type will do the trick. I have a variety.
I’ll be honest, I was a bit nervous about nights when I took Aspen as a baby. I had many of the common concerns that moms have talked to me about. What if she doesn’t stay warm enough? How am I going to change her diaper when it’s cold? What about mosquitoes? She normally sleeps with white noise…? The list can go on and on, but if you’re reading this, you’re obviously trying to be prepared, so go for it! And remember, you always have the option to pack up and leave.
I try my best to maintain a regular bedtime routine while camping. Aspen normally slept in a crib, so I used a Graco Pack-n-play as her bed when we camped. If you don’t use this as a bed, keep in mind that the ground iscold and will suck out the baby’s warmth, so you must have some sort of sleeping pad beneath him/her (a sleeping bag alone is not going to do the job).
In order to keep Aspen warm as an infant, I layered her clothes. Her base layer was a t-shirt onesie, then a fleece footie, followed by Carter’s Bundle Up Cozy Pram Ears, and a beanie.
Here’s where things can get tricky and will vary parent to parent. I happened to have an extra adult-size mummy sleeping bag, so that’s what I used with her because I knew it would keep her warm enough. I also knew that she wasn’t able to roll over yet and could hardly move because of her clothing layers. Lastly, I’m an extremely light sleeper and would hear any shuffling of her sleeping bag and would wake to check on her. Thus, I felt safe as her parent that SIDS would not be an issue (and it never was).
However, there are other options that I would’ve taken advantage of, had known about them back then. This year, I have a Baby Deedee Winter Sleep Sack that I will put on Summer (in addition to her clothing layers) rather than using a sleeping bag.
Once Aspen started rolling around and wouldn’t stay in a sleeping bag even if I wanted her to, I switched things up and bought a Columbia Frosty Freeze Bunting that I put over her layers. This is one of the best things I’ve ever bought for her–we use it all the time. It does run a bit large; I bought an 18-month for Aspen because she’s always been big (90th percentiles for both height and weight) and she’s just now growing out of it at 22-months.
My last tip for sleep is to download the White Noise Lite App onto your phone. This is huge if your baby sleeps with white noise like mine do; it gave me peace of mind in regards to Aspen sleeping well. The app provides sounds ranging from rain, to birds, to fans. My personal favorites are Brown Noise (most soothing) and Pink Noise (loudest). The only downside is it will drain your phone battery before the night is up. So, I bought an external power bank in order to keep it charged. I use and love the Anker PowerCore 26800 Portable Charger because it holds over 6 phone charges and is fairly compact.
What do you do when you go camping with a baby? The answer to that question greatly varies by place and person, but there are items that I consider camping staples when it comes to babies and toddlers.
If you have a baby, I’m going to recommend a Pack-n-play again, because it’s a clean, safe space for your baby to play without constant supervision. A handy accessory for that is the Pack-n-Play Mosquito Net to keep any and all bugs off your baby during the day as well.
After Aspen outgrew playing in the Pack-n-Play and wouldn’t stay on our large waterproof picnic blanket, I bought her some hardy buckets and shovels and embraced the dirt. You’re going to exhaust yourself if you try to keep a toddler clean while camping; just let them be little and get dirty. I do recommend buying a pair of Carhartt Overalls though, because the material comes clean even when it looks black from the amount of dirt that’s on them.
For a nice nature walk or hike, I used a carrier. When Aspen was tiny, I loved the Ergobaby 360 Carrier. Once she was holding her head and chest up strong, I switched over to the Osprey Poco Child Carrier, and have been using it ever since.
My next recommendation also varies parent to parent, but I wouldn’t be doing anyone justice without at least mentioning it. Sunscreen. Yes, I know that the bottle says to ask a doctor if the baby is under 6-months, which is exactly what I’m going to advise you to do. I spoke to Aspens’ pediatrician right after she was born about sunscreen because I knew she would likely have exposure to sun since she was born right before summer. Her pediatrician told us we absolutely should put sunscreen on a her if she’s going to be exposed to any kind of sunlight for longer than 5 minutes. So, please, be sure to speak to your child’s pediatrician about it.
Unfortunately, I had breastmilk supply issues while nursing Aspen and ended up having to supplement with formula and, eventually, rely on it solely as her food source. Thus, I have both experience with breastfeeding and with formula feeding while camping. I wouldn’t worry about breastfeeding because you have an endless supply of warm milk that’s ready at all times. However, formula feeding isn’t quite that simple.
I didn’t want to have to heat up a pot of water on the stove every time Aspen needed a bottle. Not to mention that we wouldn’t exactly have that option when we were out on a long hike or boating excursion. So, I brought along my compact backpacking cooking system, which ended up being the perfect tool.
The Jet Boil Flash Cooking System is so easy to set-up and literally takes only seconds to heat up water. You honestly have to be careful about it heating the water up too much because it does it so fast. My biggest reason for recommending this is because you can take it on the go with you and also (carefully) use it inside of the tent, which is a lifesaver for middle-of-the-night feeds.
Time to Camp
I hope that was helpful and gets you swiftly on your way to an awesome family excursion. Don’t forget to have fun!
Let me know what tips were helpful and how it goes!