How To Camp With A Baby
A Lack of Information
Recently my wife and I added a daughter to our family. We have long been campers and have a Canada Day tradition of back country camping at Kejimkujik National Park (more on this amazing spot here).
When we began to plan our camping trip we were disappointed to find that Google let us down. We could not find any solid online resources with tips on back country camping with an infant (perhaps some would have taken this as a warning sign).
Role Models are Important
I have always been camping. I mean that sincerely. I grew up next door to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park (more on it here) and do not remember a time in my life when we were not camping or using the park in some other way. In 1986 my parents put my sister and I in a station wagon and we stayed in a tent the entire summer – driving from Cape Breton to Vancouver and back. I remember my grandparents (already retired at at the time) doing something similar and my sister had her twins in a tent their first summer.
If she could do it with twins, surely a single baby would be half as much work…? Here goes:
Breastfeeders Have It Easier
If you breastfeed your baby, your trip gets a lot easier and a lot lighter. No worrying about keeping milk/formula fresh, prepping it, carrying extra fuel to boil water etc etc.
Planning is Important
All back country camping (a place you hike to instead of driving to) requires planning. You cannot simply throw everything in the car and drag it out as you need. You plan exactly how many clothes you need, each meal has to be planned, so does water – everything you need to take has to be added to a list and checked off as packed. Then you take stock of what you have and cut it in half. Historically we’ve shot for packs that weigh under 50 lbs – and that requires making tough concessions.
Don’t Go Overboard
For our first trip, we chose a site that was only a about a one kilometre hike in. That meant we could pack multiple days of clothes and leave them in bags (one bag for each day) in the car. Overall, a single baby added enough clothing and extra gear to warrant an extra 75 litre pack over what we would have normally taken. An impressive haul.
Additionally, a site that close meant cell reception and the piece of mind that if anything went wrong, we could call for help and get to a vehicle quickly.
What To Sleep In
One of our biggest worries was what would the baby sleep in (in terms of shelter and bed). We are back country campers, so our current tents were too small to accommodate another body. We’d been really pleased in the past with a smaller Eureka tent, so after trying several options, we decided on a Eureka Scenic Pass 4XTN (pictured above). There are bigger tents, there are pricier tents and there are lighter tents. But this tent was the perfect size, the weight was reasonable (given the square footage) and the price was low.
In choosing the tent, we had the store assemble them and laid down, with the baby, in each of our top three options. You need to know that you will have enough room everyone and their gear. We also use drysacks. Room in a tent is tight and these things are unbelievably waterproof. You pack them up at night and throw them outside. They keep things much dryer than a tent (which may not leak, but dampness is inevitable). With all the diapers and extra clothes – you are going to be glad to have extra space. Retailers like Mountain Equipment Coop sell these drysacks in many sizes, I’d recommend getting one with backpack straps. Easier to carry (or portage with), and hoisting them in the air at night, to keep pesky raccoons and bears away, is much faster.
We also struggled with what our baby would sleep in. We needed something light that folded up small, but had sides that would keep the baby from rolling out and us from rolling in. After considering a number of options, we found the Summer Infant Travel Bed online. It folded up into a small pack (with a strap), it was light and the baby loved it. You can check it out here. We placed this between us, on top of our smallest Thermarest (to keep it off the damp tent floor).
What To Pack
Packing was the most important pre-trip consideration. A baby can create an impressive amount of laundry in just 24 hours and we were going to be gone 3 days. A few things were simple: 3 boxes of diaper wipes. A sleeve of diapers.
We went on a road trip to PEI the weekend prior to camping, which acted as a trial packing-run. We were gone just one night and packed 4 of everything: sleepers, onesies etc. But fewer long sleeve outfits (which we ended up not having enough of).
Armed with our PEI experience, as we stood looking at our daughter’s wardrobe, wondering “How many sleepers should I pack?” The answer was “all of them.” How many bibs? All. How many socks? All. Hats: a lot. We packed in 3 bags. The first bag had the most clothes and came in with us the first night. The second and third stayed in the car and we hiked out to replace items we were low on each day.
Bag number one had all of her bibs, socks and hats. It also contained: four light and four fleece sleepers, six onesie and pant outfits, two long sleeve onesies and two baby hoodies. We use sleep sacks and brought 2 light ones – both in bag number one and three fleece ones- two in bag number one and one in the car. Bag #2 and #3 had four of each light sleepers, fleece sleepers, and onesie/pant outfits.
Baby barfing volume and frequency is unpredictable. On day 2, we needed to restock our light sleepers. We never got into bag number 3.
How To Keep Your Baby Warm
Keeping the baby warm at night caused the most pre-trip worry. As avid campers, we have often woken up seeing our breath. Fleece clothes and sleep sacks came along with us. Our back up plan was to take the baby into the sleeping bag with mom, if it got really chilly.
As it turned out, the weekend was a scorcher and we ended up trying to keep her cool, while covered, to keep bugs off. It was still 25 celsius at bedtime and we put her to bed in a light cotton sleeper. For the first time in camping memory, Mom and Dad went to bed on top of sleeping bags. Even at 3am, it was still about 18 degrees. As the night went on, we worried she was cold and put her in a light sleep sack and added a hat. Later we added a fleece, mostly for our piece of mind.
It was equally warm on night two, so we laid her on an unzipped sleep sack. Around midnight, she was zipped in and a hat was added.
Our daughter is an incredibly enjoyable little girl – especially at this so-called honeymoon-baby age, where she loves to play. She is bursting with smiles and there is lots of cooing. We’d call her an easy baby. We’ve put some thought into her “easiness” and have come up with an equation. We figure it’s 33% baby personality, 33% parent personality and 33% parent expectation.
Expectations were really important in the success of our camping trip. Overall, we expected that we could make this trip a success. And we expected that our daughter would act like a baby. She was 10 weeks old and 10 week old babies cry. We expected that she would cry while camping and knew that crying alone would not be the measure of camping success.
Our camping baby cried when hungry (like normal), cried a few times when she got bored (just like at home). As in regular baby life, our girl’s fussiness was no match for a sleep-inducing walk.
We both believe that a passion for outdoors should be started young. Our daughter loved camping. There were new smells, sounds, colours – everything was exciting. Her parents were with her the whole day, every day. No competing with jobs, email, chores and all the other things that come up when you are at home.
This baby and post are co-productions with my wife Erin Poirier. You can read her blog here.