Mom Chronicles: Hints from the road

How Young Can Babies Go Camping? Tips, Advice & Hints

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"What age can babies go camping?"

"What toys do you bring?"

"Is 3 months too young?"

"What if my baby cries while camping?"

"How do you dress babies or toddlers for camping?"

Before Chloe came along, Mark and I promised ourselves that having a child would not mean giving up on our love of the outdoors.  Our friends, many of whom had started their families, probably rolled their eyes and smirked, "they'll see..."

After several weekend trips with infant Chloe, and then a 3-week multi-state road trip with her as an eleven-month-old, what we see is that outdoor recreation, including camping and off-highway traveling, is appropriate (and fun!  Don't forget FUN) for children of any age.  If they can come to the store with you, Mom, they can handle the outdoors just as well as you.

Now, you do have to ask yourself: how much did you like to camp before you were a parent?**  Babies are great detectors of your emotion, and if you go into it thinking it's going to be too miserable for him, you will fulfill that prophecy in the first 20 minutes.  If you enjoy it, so will your baby.

There are some considerations that you must make for traveling with young babies.  Of course, any driving whether on or off the highway must be done with an appropriately installed and certified 5-point harness infant seat.  Also, if your son was born prematurely or with any lung development problems, get a doctor's approval before heading into the back-country for any recreational trips.  Finally, you have to balance the needs of your baby to everyone else in the group when choosing destinations, length of driving days, and difficulty of your off-highway roads.

Speaking practically, gone are the days when you will be able to travel with a convoy of 15 trucks who are able to break camp and be on the road at 7:30 a.m. for a 10-hour day of driving to the next panoramic camp.  You are taking baby steps here (literally) getting used to traveling again, and the key is going to be: smaller groups, slower pace, shorter travel days.

And really, we like that much better anyway.

If you still don't believe me that children should be going on outdoor camping trips, then check back to future blog posts where I plan to answer common questions that moms often have about camping or off-highway travel.  After reading the Stephens' stories, you might become a believer.  If you are with me and want to see more specifics about taking your age of infant or toddler on an outdoor trip, let's talk about the different ages:

The Cutest of Them All: Newborn to 8 months, Beginning observer

This cooing, wide-eyed age group is harder on us moms mentally than in reality.  Before you discount taking these little newbies into the outdoors, don't forget that some of the most published old wives cures for colic and fussiness include going for a car ride, taking baby outside, and bouncing/rocking.  You can get all of these with a nice weekend of camping.  One significant pro is these tiniest infants are easy to port around and easy to entertain.  There are no worries about them tottering toward the campfire or arguing about what toys to bring.  Also, while you will bring twice as many clothes, toys, and diapers as you will really need for them, their clothes at least are small and easy to pack.  Once you get over the initial fear that they are too cold, too bored, or any of the other "toos," they are pretty capable of letting you tend to the normal camping and traveling business at hand.

Okay, there are some downsides to this bunch of babies on trips.  First, the sleep issue.  If you have achieved the heavenly manna of a long night's sleep at home, sorry to say, it will probably not continue in your tent during this stage.  If you never had a sleep-through-the-nighter, well you are used to the pain, but you are going to be feeling it worse out on a trip with new chores and the thinking necessary for off-highway travel.  Fatigue is not your friend here!  Next challenge is that temperature extremes affect this age group more than the others.  The youngest babies do not have the mechanisms we have to regulate our temperature.  If it is cold, the baby will need one more layer than you do to keep warm enough.  And you will fret about her cold hands and nose the whole night.  If it is too hot, it's just as miserable.  Target temperature for our family's camping preference is 65- 90 degrees in the day, and no colder than 45 degrees at night.  I know, we're wimps, but we are from the desert. Last is that just like at home, you will seem to always be feeding, cleaning, and diapering your baby.  Stops every 2 hours on the road will be a must.  Whether you are washing bottles or breastfeeding (we did a combo), it will seem like it never ends.

Our best trip with this age: Camping on the Mogollon Rim East of Payson, AZ, Sep. '07 with 12 week Chloe

My biggest mom challenge with this age: Middle of the night feedings in the cold...BRRR

8 months- 16 months: Beginning walker

As creepers, crawlers, and beginning walkers, harnessing the mobility is the dominant issue of this age group when it comes to recreating outdoors.  No longer content to observe from the Bumbo Pod for long, adventure camping will require the maximum of baby gear and fore-planning.  However, our longest road trip to date occurred during this stage, and it was full of great moments as a family. 

There is a sweet spot during infancy that is the maximum ease of transportability.  You remember, it's no different than taking your infant into a restaurant.  It gets easier around 4 months, since her feedings are more spaced out and she's got more of a sleep schedule down.  Things become difficult again when the 8 month crawling phase arrives.  In the Stephens' experience, though, the difference with outdoor travel is that there aren't so many parental boundaries as with a restaurant or home.  You won't find yourself saying "No, honey, don't touch please" nearly as much if you get to the outdoors.  You will be saying, "Don't eat that rock; yucky," but that's for another story...

One of the pros of traveling with these older infants is that the camping tent becomes a great safe place for the little one to investigate.  Chloe loved our Eezi-Awn tent as a new crawler, because after playing on the dirt it gave her a soft place to practice her new crawling and pulling up tricks.  Just make sure there is constant supervision by the door if you have a roof-top tent on your truck.  Another pro is the food factor gets noticeably easier as baby begins to self-feed.  And, who doesn't love the transition from baby jar food and bottles to adult finger foods and sippy cups.  Your baby will still be easy to entertain by a stick, a tent, even a new chair; also, you should appreciate the last stage before he will be able to assert his own opinion.

For our family, one of the hardest things during this age was putting Chloe to sleep for the night.  While she loved the tent, as I mentioned, it was hard for her to settle into "sleep mode" without the usual routine of bath, her room, and her crib.  Bringing favorite blankies and stuffed friends is a must during this stage.  On that note, another con is how much baby gear comes with this stage.  This was the only baby stage where we needed to set up a pack-n-play in the wilderness.  Well, it does keep them from chewing on the rocks when you need to go prepare dinner or get something out of the truck.  Beware of the 'Mom cling' during this stage, as well, especially if you are traveling with a group of new friends or if your daughter is going through separation anxiety back home.

Our best trip with this age: Driving and camping on the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands, UT, Jun. '08 with 11 month Chloe

My biggest mom challenge with this age: Getting her to sleep in the tent- some nights it took an hour of lying beside her

16 months- 24 months- Beginning talker

Toddlers bring more joy, but also more trouble, to outdoor adventures than your younger babies.  First, walking has gotten more proficient in this stage, which means less trips and falls.  Another pro is that if your baby can talk or sign, meeting his needs will be less guesswork.  That equals more campfire time for you, Mom!  Also, at about 18 months to present, we got our plan down for Chloe's bedtime routine and sleeping in the tent.  A good night's rest is happiness for everyone.  Finally, Chloe is old enough to entertain herself with favorite toys in her toybag, or with older children.  This is the stage where I feel that Chloe actually enjoys going to the outdoors: she sees the difference between playtime at home and outside, and she is always excited about our next adventure.

Here is the trouble.  The driving part of the trip, which used to be the easiest part with your young infant, takes on a new level of challenge.  When your child is tired of the car seat, he knows how to tell you- loudly!  Also, watch out for toddler tantrums that can occur when your young one didn't get her usual length of nap or had a shorter than normal night of sleep.  You will have some tears on your trips.  But, that shouldn't stop you from trying them.  Toddlers and babies cry at home, too.  The stress of not being able to comfort your baby right away can be magnified when you are traveling (think of airplane trips with the bawling baby and how stressed the parents look), but it will pass as just a short memory.

Our best trip with this age: Camping next to the Sea of Cortez in Puerto Lobos, Sonora, Mexico, Jan. '09 with 18 month Chloe

My biggest mom challenge with this age: Bathing her on multi-night trips

24 months+: Beginning explorer

We are approaching this stage, as Chloe turns 2 years old on July 13.  Come back to find out what our next stages bring.  Things to look out for in this phase are: potty training and camping potty solutions, how to make vehicle travel and mealtime bearable with a 2-year-old, and taking your toddler hiking or paddling.  Beginning explorers and preschool age children will make the outdoors their best classroom.  What a great way to be your child's first teacher than to take him somewhere away from your neighborhood to show them a sunset, a stream, or the snow.

**For more tips on how to get your wife or partner interested in outdoor backcountry camping, see our Article about the Eezi-Awn Roof Top Tent and other comfort-oriented truck modifications


Bryan Burley
+2 / 0
# Bryan Burley 2012-08-02 14:13
How do you handle the worry about being distant from any help? IN the event something does happen we will be a bit remote. I am trying to make my wife, (and surprisingly myself) a bit more comfortable with that part of it.
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Mark Stephens
+2 / 0
# Mark Stephens 2012-08-14 21:29
Well, I'd think that for your first time out you'd want to test the waters and not go too far away. You'll learn a lot.

And for an emergency? Frankly, there's a greater chance of something happening to an adult, like a burn or a cut. Get training on CPR and first aid for sure. You'll be much more prepared (and feel much better).
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+2 / 0
# Sadie 2014-01-12 15:41
Speaking of waters, when can a child drink iodized water? Does it affect breastmilk?
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Rachel Glass
+4 / 0
# Rachel Glass 2012-08-17 21:03
Love this! I want to take my now 6 week old camping with us probably before her 12 weeks and had a small fear especially of the heat but me breastfeeding i know takes care of that and a little pedialyte* will help if she does get a little dehydrated! Its good to see im not the only one wanting to take a baby that small out camping!
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Amber E
+1 / -3
# Amber E 2012-11-08 14:45
Hello! November 30th my husband and I and a few of his family members are wanting to go camping for 2 nights. Do you have any tips for us? Our baby will be 5 months old when we go. I am considering buying a Baby Deedee Sleep Nest; it looks warm and cozy. I'm also considering getting a KidCO Peapod, its like a mini portable bed that kind of looks like a tent and it has an inflatable mattress inside. Take a look online at those. Anyway, any tips? Thanks!
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+1 / 0
# Sondra 2013-01-03 16:23
What a GREAT article! I don't have kids but I loved this just the same!
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+1 / 0
# Carissa 2013-09-03 08:53
Awesome article... I've saved it and emailed it to other...I have a 6 year old son we've been taking on camping trips since he was 4 years old... which is the age my dad started to take me along... but now I'm about to have a daughter this December and we have a family camping trip to Yosemite for May 2014 planned before she was conceived... I was considering canceling but this article puts me at ease that she'll be OK... Thanks
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0 / 0
# Caly 2013-09-09 00:18
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Lightweight Backpack
0 / -1
# Lightweight Backpack 2013-09-09 04:38
The blog carries great tips and ideas that help parents in traveling and camping with newborn babies, I like my stay here.
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0 / 0
# Marty 2015-01-20 20:29
Nice tips.
We were planning a car-camping trip with our 3 month old daughter... and were concerned she'd cry and keep up the other campers.. so we picked what we thought would be an easy circuit bush walk with a campsite in the middle... turned out far more planning and carrying heaps of stuff (lots of it unnecessary) than a car camping trip!
However - it was a great weekend and she is now a seasoned camper.
To answer some of the above enquiries, we were well over 2 hours walk from the nearest road/amenities - it was fine! Some times jumping in at the deep end can be great for everyone.

We now go camping every second weekend. My daughter has just done her first full rock climb at 2 1/2 and our second girl loves the outdoors.
- Marty from Sydney.
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