It’s certainly feasible to go camping with a baby. I’ve done it myself. Here are some good tips on how to ensure your camping baby has a safe sleeping and playing environment.
Many people write in to CampingMum asking how old their kids have to be before they take them camping. The answer is that it depends on you, but certainly many people go camping with their babies.
The reason it depends on you is because you’re the one that has to do the extra planning, carry the extra equipment and continue to be fully on deck to attend to the needs of your little one, just like at home.
If you feel comfortable in a camping environment you’ll probably feel capable of looking after your baby quite well at a campsite. If you’re completely new to camping then you’ll probably be worried about the unexpected and feel unsure about what you’ll need.
Tips for Camping with a Baby
This article will give you several strategies for managing camping with a baby. My daughter’s first camping trip was at four months old, so I am speaking from a place of experience.
It’s always helpful to hear about the brilliant ideas other mothers have for managing camping with kids, so if you’ve been camping with a baby please add your suggestions and comments. It really helps other people out and what seems obvious to you may not be obvious to me. Sometimes you don’t realize how much you know!
The main thing to remember is that you will need to be constantly vigilant in watching over your baby. Check often that your baby isn’t too hot or cold and isn’t being bothered by any insect or reptile pests. Older babies who have started crawling and grabbing things to put in their mouths will need your eyes on them constantly. Older babies can start learning that mugs, billies, kettles and fires etc are off limits, but of course they can’t be relied on to obey these rules.
Best Sites for Camping with a Baby
Choose your campsite carefully. My experience is that as a new Mum I really appreciated the comforts of a flushing toilet and a warm shower. Caravan parks are a safe bet but check if any national park campsites you’re headed for have the amenities you desire. After all, the toilet block may be the only place you get a break!
Baby Camping Supplies
What extra equipment do you need to take when you’re camping with a baby?
Short trips are reasonably easy with a portacot, a firmly secured mozzie net, a picnic blanket, a bucket stroller and a nappy bag that opens up into change table (or an extra old towel).
A portacot is a portable, fold-up cot that weighs about 10kg (22lbs). Practice putting up and packing down your portacot at home before you try to perform this feat in your tent or camper. Some can be really awkward to erect, especially if you get them second hand without instructions. Portacots are the kind of baby equipment item that you can get easily second-hand because by their nature they’re infrequently used. Ours has sheltered five babies and is about to head on to its fourth home.
When you’re using a portacot, follow the same safe sleeping instructions to avoid SIDS risk as you do at home. Don’t be tempted to layer the base with blankets and sheepskins to soften the surface for your baby as the bottom needs to remain firm. If you add extra padding your baby can baby get trapped face down in gaps created between the mattress and the cot wall. Make sure your portacot is in good repair and meets the Australian safety standards. It should have a label marked AS 2195.
Dressing your baby in a safe sleeping bag means that you don’t need to use any bedding other than a fitted bottom sheet with a portacot. UrbanBaby.com.au produce a fitted sheet specifically designed to fit portacots snugly. Regular fitted cot sheets are usually slightly too big and can come loose from the mattress base. If you use a regular fitted cot sheet make sure that the elastic is firm and holds it tightly around the portacot mattress.
As stated by SIDS and Kids , a safe sleeping bag is “constructed in such a way that the baby cannot slip inside the bag and become completely covered. The sleeping bag should be the perfect size for the baby with a contoured neck, sleeves and no hood.” You then dress your baby in the appropriate number of layers within the sleeping bag. You can purchase Grobags (a line of safe sleeping bags) online at the SIDS & Kids website. (Please note that this is NOT an affiliate link, profits from your purchase go to SIDS & Kids. It’s worth checking out because they offer Grobags at 10% off the recommended retail price.)
The portacot can also double as a playpen when you’re camping with a baby. Move it outside and into a shady position as a safe, secure playspace for your baby during the day. Again, monitor for insects pests and ensure your baby’s temperature is okay at all times.
The beauty of using a portacot as a playpen is that your baby is slightly off the ground, giving greater protection from snakes and spiders. For this reason a portacot that has sides made of fine netting or transparent fabric helps block out cot invaders.
An alternative to using the portacot as an enclosed, insect-proof playspace is a pop-up “baby room” that is kind of like a beach tent but enclosed in mosquito netting.
In some camping locations you will need to use a mosquito net to protect your baby from bites and stings. You will need a firmly secured mosquito net that can’t be pulled into the cot and cause a SIDS risk. The mosquito net should tuck around the sides of the portacot as mozzies can fit through the fine mesh walls.
Insect-repellent clothing is an option, but I would hesitate to use treated materials like this on younger babies. Permethrin, a synthetic version of the pyrethrum found in chrysanthemum flowers, is woven through the fabric to knock-out insects. If you need to use insect repellent, apply it to your baby’s clothing rather than their skin.
Lounging around with your baby on a picnic blanket beneath a shady tree is one of the highlights of camping with a baby. Picnic blankets that are double-layered with a waterproof backing are the best choice. Lay out some toys for your baby to play with and enjoy yourselves.
Once your baby is rolling over or starting to crawl, be extra vigilant about watching what they put in their mouths. Small rocks are a favorite to watch out for. Kangaroo poo is probably pretty harmless but still a bit yuck, so watch out for that too. Slap my wrists for saying this, but a dummy works wonders when you’re camping. Just keep it clipped onto your baby’s chest with a short ribbon so it doesn’t drop in the dirt too often.
For a camping weekend, pack your fold-up bucket stroller rather than your high chair. A bucket stroller doubles as a restraint when you really need your baby safely out of the way. When you’re cooking, setting up and packing up camp you can watch over your baby yet still have your hands free.
With your baby strapped in, wearing a bib and spoon-fed a bucket stroller works well as a high chair. That’s one less piece of equipment you’ll have to take camping with a baby.
The best thing is bucket strollers are very cheap. You can pick them up for around $15 at most large toy or department stores and pay even less when you get one second-hand. This means you don’t have to feel precious about keeping them pristine. Our $10 second-hand bucket stroller has been to Japan and back as well as on numerous camping trips and is still going strong.
Food for Your Camping Baby
If you’re breastfeeding then it makes camping with babies even simpler, as the milk supply is portable. Just make sure you don’t get dehydrated so that your milk supply is steady and reliable.
Make sure that breastfeeding mamas have an excellent camping chair! I’m talking strongly stitched canvas with padded armrests and a cup-holder. These days some camping chairs come with fold-up side tables – mama, not only do you need it, you deserve it! A fold-up table gives you somewhere to rest your drink bottle and book so you don’t have to bend over and disturb your baby while you pick them up.
If your baby has begun with some solids then jars of food and baby-friendly fruits like bananas and avocados are eminently portable. If you need to make up formula for your baby make sure that you bring enough clean water and that you are able to boil it for mixing and sterilizing bottles.
Taking Your Camping Baby on Excursions
Smaller babies can be carried around in baby slings (Hug-a-Bub is a good one) or front baby carriers. Once your baby gets a bit bigger invest in a decent, framed baby carrier backpack so that you can still go exploring. I’m assuming that someone else will be carrying your bigger baby – your body may still be recovering from birth and you might not have as much puff as you think you do, so don’t overdo it.
Worrying About Sleeping
The number one thing parents worry about when they’re camping with a baby is how to manage night sleeping.
Even if your baby does cry several times during the night, it’s only for a night or two and your camping neighbors will live. Also, most people roll over and go back to sleep even if they are woken up by a crying baby. Knowing that they don’t have any responsibility for the baby is like a sedative – just ask your baby’s grandparents. If you have trouble with your baby crying constantly through the night then that’s a whole other issue. (Having endured that issue with my second baby I can recommend “Save Our Sleep” by Tizzie Hall.)
Crawling Babies and Camping
In my experience, between the rolling and walking stages is the hardest time to go camping with a baby. They’re always on the ground and want to put everything in their mouths. You can’t expect them to stay in one spot and sometimes they move fast! You need to constantly watch them.
At least when babies are clambering or toddling they’re less exposed to ground insects and they don’t get grubby as quickly. Older babies tend to be more interested in what you have than the kangaroo poo and rocks on the ground.
It is possible to take crawlers camping, but it takes a lot of hands-on parenting. Take double the amount of clothing changes you’d use at home. Make sure you take a portacot or something you can use as a secure, shaded playpen to give yourself short breaks. A pram with firmly secured straps works as a safety restraint when you have to pack up and set up camp and also doubles as a high chair.
Best Camping Baby Tip Ever
Recruit other pairs of hands. Camping with family or friends who love your baby and will happily entertain them for ten minutes is gold. Being able to have a peaceful shower can’t be over-rated. (Thank goodness aunties, uncles and grandparents love borrowing your kids, even if it’s only briefly before reality bites…)
Is Camping with a Baby a Crazy Idea?
After all these instructions you may be wondering whether it is worth the effort to take your baby camping at all. I’m not telling you it will be easy, but in my opinion yes, it’s worth it. There is so much for babies to look at, smell and hear that their little brains will be stuffed with stimulation and grow like crazy.
While it won’t feel exactly like the kind of holiday where you watch the tropical sunset while you relax in your hammock with a Mai Tai cocktail in your hand, it will be:
a change of scene for you.
a chance to recall an aspect of yourself that is Survival Bush Girl rather than Mother.
a chance to spend time with your baby without the distractions or pressures of household tasks you feel you should be doing. (You shouldn’t by the way, banning non-essential housework until babies are two years old is completely healthy.)
a chance for your baby to be stimulated and energized by Nature.