Monday, April 30, 2012

Family camping made easy - Warm sleepers are happy sleepers

I occasionally get questions from readers about camping and how to make it more fun for kids.  If you're a seasoned camper or have that RV all set up to keep everybody toasty warm and as comfortable as they would be in the city, you may not need the tips I'm going to share below.  For the rest of us though, camping with kids - especially babies and toddlers - can be incredibly intimidating!  This will be our third season camping with our son and it still terrifies me.  Therefore, I can hardly call myself an expert in the area and my husband will be the first to broadcast that I'm a bit of a camping princess.  I'll plan the trip, make the bookings, find the group, pack and unpack but when I'm in camp the work falls on my beloved camping savvy husband.

Honestly, there is no "right" time to introduce the family to camping.  Many would argue that it's best to start early and that kids are easiest to camp with as babies.  I would highly agree with this personally but then again, I don't have twins.  I don't have a child that will disappear or try to escape out of the tent while sleeping.  I don't have a child that is terrified of using an outhouse or needs a fixed routine every day.  Only you will know when it's the right time to try camping with your family.

Here are a few things I have learned though in our last few years that may make that first, second, or fifth trip a little more comfortable and enjoyable.

Warm sleepers are happy sleepers

Buy a small three season tent

If you are planning on tenting (which you can continue to do even with a baby) buy a small tent.  Don't buy that gigantic tent with three rooms from Canadian Tire or your will freeze your butt off.  I guarantee it.  Body heat keeps everybody warm and that will only happen if you are sleeping close enough together to actually tell there is another body near by.  It's my personal opinion that nobody needs their own bedroom when camping.  The whole joy of tenting is that it brings the family closer together.  You sleep together, side by side, and listen to each other breathing.  You can put your arm around your child, cuddle them to sleep, and even snuggle under the same blanket.  Otherwise, you might as well go buy that tent trailer or RV if you want personal space.

Bring blankets

You aren't backpacking so there's no reason you can't bring blankets along.  We each have our own down filled sleeping bag but no toddler is going to stay inside his or her sleeping bag all night.  They move around too much.  I don't even like to be wrapped tight inside mine.  I need room to sprawl.  We bring an old comforter and throw it across my son and I.  I can sleep with my arms outside my sleeping bag and wrap an arm around my son for comfort.  He on the other hand will toss and turn all night, warm and snug under the blanket I ensure stays over both of us.

Use snowsuits, bunting suits or sleep sacks for babies

When my son was a baby we would layer him for sleep much like you would layer a child to play in the snow.  Below are the layers that my son wore his first two years camping and backpacking:
  • Fleece blanket sleeper with feet
  • Fleece bunting suit or snow suit (the link is to the one we used)
  • Quilted sleep sack (the link is to my favourite brand of sleep sack)or a second larger bunting suit/snow suit
  • Tuque, winter hat, or something to cover the head
  • Mittens if the bunting suit doesn't have hand covers

This baby was definitely toasty warm in the tent (Photo: G. Duncan)

Bring a down jacket

I like to sleep in a down jacket.  That way I can keep my upper body out of my sleeping bag and have more freedom to move around.  If you don't sleep in your jacket you will still want it for that 2am feeding, the 6am wake-up call when your toddler insists he is all done sleep, or for general camp use.  It's cold in the Rockies in the evenings and mornings.  If you are going to stay up long enough to enjoy the campfire after the kids go to bed or get up and make breakfast in the morning before the sun reaches your campsite, you'll need that warm jacket.  Note that it can take until 10:00am for the sun to get over the mountains and reach your tent.  Most kids aren't going to stay in the tent that long so you will have to brave the cold morning air.

More stories to follow in this series on family camping made easy.  To read the next one, follow this link to Family Camping Made Easy - Baby Adventures.

 Also, visit The Kid Project  for another post on the topic of how to stay warm on those cold summer nights.  Alyssa has been doing lots of research so you'll want to check out what she has to say.


  1. Great post. Just wanted to second the recommendations here. This is exactly what we have done to keep our daughter happy and warm while sleeping in a tent.

    When she was 2 months we used a kidco peapod for her to sleep in. Of course, we were camping in the mountains of Arizona, so the cold, while cold to us, was not too bad. The peapod and layers did the trick.

    1. Thanks Canoeu. I plan to talk about peapods in another post in this series. Peapods, bumbo seats, and playpens - all coming. If you have photos of your daughter using her pea pod that you'd like to share on my blog, please send me one at

  2. Thanks! Will be heavily rethinking what we are packing this summer!

  3. I also live in Arizona. I want to get my daughter a warm bunting for when we camp, but that is basically the only time she'll be using it. She's 9 months now, and is average for her size. Do you have any recommendations on how big I should get a bunting so I can get my money's worth? I also plan on purchasing a larger sack bunting (like the pink one you have pictures above) to use as a "sleeping bag"

  4. I also live in Arizona. I plan on getting my daughter a footed bunting for camping. I also want to get her a sack bunting like the pink one pictured above to use as a sleeping bag. She is 9 months and average size. Since she'll only be using these when we camp, do you have any recommendations for sizes so I can get my money's worth? I know if the stuff is too big it won't do a good job at keeping her warm. Thanks!

    1. Size is a hard subject. Every child is different and every brand is different. My son has a rain suit that he's been wearing for two years now, going on three! Other outdoor things he grows out of in one season.
      All I can suggest is to hold the items up on your daughter in the store or try them on to see if they fit well.

  5. Great ideas here! My boys are too old for them now but I used many when they were younger. We took our first boy out when he was 3 months & our second when he was 1 month (you're always more comfortablewith the second). Sure wish I'd known about the peapod then!

  6. How wonderful! I always want to take my kids to camping but I fear that they will be uncomfortable and I thought it would be too complicated. But after seeing this, it made me reconsider. I guess it's time to look for camper van and schedule a trip. -Cadence

    1. Thanks Cadence. We are all scared to take our kids camping at first. I know I was. Hope you manage to get out this summer.

  7. Hi Tanya - I'm in the market for a tent (we have a 10 man for 5 people and we froze our butts off alright!) and need advice on the size. Should we buy a 6 man for 5 people or because they are little a 4 man? We have 3 boys and because they will grow I will be buying another tent in the future so I want it to keep us warm now when they are 5, 8 and 10.
    Thanks - Stacey

    1. Hi Stacey. I asked my husband and his suggestion was to get a 6 person tent. I think you'd feel pretty crowded in a 4 man tent. My idea would be to get two 3 man tents. Then, you could split up into smaller spaces and keep warmer. You could put your 5 year old with you and allow the two older boys to sleep together. They'd like the independence and they should be old enough to stay in their sleeping bags. This option is more expensive though because you'd have to buy two tents. So the 6 man tent is the cheapest option. Also, less rooms is best. Anything where you all sleep together in one big room will be warmest.

  8. oh! I didn't think of two tents. That's in interesting idea. The older two would totally dig that idea. Thank you so much. I was just reading your Bow Valley Provincial Park post and planning our next hike. Thanks for a great blog - I just discovered you and so pleased I did!

    1. Glad you like the idea of two tents. Let me know how it goes.

  9. Hello, just stumbled upon your blog. My husband and I are planning a camping trip in Jasper this summer with our son (who will be 11 months). I would love to ask you a few questions about tent camping with a little one!
    Did you do day hikes at all when your kids were Young? I'm a bit concerned with napping. Would you choose shorter hikes or would they sleep in a carrier? The only hiking we've done with our son was when he was 6 Weeks old and slept the whole time in a Bjorn.

    1. Hi Angela,
      We started doing day hikes with my son when he was a year old. Would have started much much sooner but I had a very "special" labor and wasn't mobile for a year after. Many of my friends have been hiking with their kids from birth.

      My son always slept in his carrier. Even when my son was 2, he'd fall asleep in the backpack. Kids love sleeping while hiking. Your 11 month should be no different. But, he will likely only sleep for an hour or two so I still wouldn't plan to have him sleep the whole time.

      Start small and build up I always say. Start with a one hour hike, and if it goes well, move up to 2 hours. If that goes well, move to 3 hours. And recognize that not every hike goes well. So if one fails, try again.

      Hope that helps.

    2. I just wanted to recommend getting a different carrier than a Bjorn for hiking (and baby's weight!), as it isn't the most supportive - most people I know stop liking it once their little one hits about 14lbs. You can often pick up a MEC babycarrier on Kijiji for around $50, or go into a baby store that specializes in carriers (if you are in Edmonton Two Mothers is great).

    3. Couldn't agree more. We rarely carried our son and maybe used the Bjorn that was given to us twice.
      Most of my friends have used other carriers that work much better!
      And yes, if you've looked around my blog, you will definitely see that we used a backpack. We had a Little Life one that we loved.