Thursday, May 03, 2012

Family Camping Made Easy - Baby Adventures

Continuing with my series on Family Camping Made Easy, we move on from the night time hours where I discussed warm sleepers are happy sleepers, to the daylight hours where I'll discuss everything from naps to entertainment, safety, packing, hygiene and backcountry travel.

Today I'm going to start with the youngest member of your family - your infant or baby - possibly out for his or her first camping trip. How do you plan for that epic return to camping (it sure feels epic anyway) - this time with a baby on board?

Special items to bring for your youngest camper

The Pack 'N Play

We didn't actually take our son camping until he was six months old but I've talked to other families who've been out with their infants and we agree that the number one thing you need to bring camping with you for the youngest camper in your family is the play pen, the Pack 'N Play or the play yard - whatever you call it.  (they're all the same thing)  You'll want to bring some kind of enclosure with four walls that you can put your babe in to sleep, nap, or play.  It keeps the child safe while you are cooking, chopping wood, or otherwise busy with camp chores.  It gives the child a comforting place to sleep that reminds them of their crib back home.  It also gives your child a place to take naps mid day when the tent is too hot under the sun's warmth - Just put the play pen under a shaded tree with some mosquito netting over top and you're good to go.  It gives your child a bit of variety too rather than sitting in their stroller the whole time.

For a great story on the importance of the Pack 'N Play for many families, check out Tiffany's blog at A little Campy.  They forgot their play pen once - and only once.

For something a little different but along the same lines, check out the Kidco website where you can see pictures of their PeaPods.  We used one for our son when we traveled to Hawaii on vacation because he had outgrown his playpen but wasn't ready to graduate to a big bed yet.  A PeaPod is like a little tent that babies and toddlers can sleep or nap in when on the go.  My friend brings hers to the beach and puts her youngest in it to nap while her older daughter plays.  Amelia at Tales of a Mountain Mama did a review on the PeaPod so you can visit her website at the above link if you'd like to read the review.

Note, the PeaPod has been completely redesigned!  If you had heard previous reports of them being unsafe, worry no longer,  Check out their website or Tales of a Mountain Mama's review above to find out what modifications have been made. 

Using a play pen outdoors

Using a peapod for a daytime nap (photo: G. Duncan)

The Jolly Jumper

This isn't an essential item but Alyssa from the Kid Project brought it to my attention in one of her recent posts.  Follow the link above to her website to see some extremely cool photos of a very happy child jumping to his heart's content while their jolly jumper hangs from a tree in their campsite.  They even use it when they go rock climbing to entertain their youngest child.  What a fabulous idea!

If you have lots of room in your truck you could also bring an exersaucer.  Though the base will take up more room in your vehicle than a simple jolly jumper, you won't need to search for a campsite with a big sturdy tree - always a plus.

The exersaucer goes camping (photo:  G. Duncan)

The Bumbo Chair

This is the best invention for babies ever!!  They're expensive (so try to find one used) but invaluable.  You can put Junior in his little Bumbo chair and just let him watch the action around the campsite for hours.  My son loved his and they even come with little trays for feeding snacks.

Please note that a voluntary recall has been issued on older models of the Bumbo Chair to install safety straps should you fear your baby may fall out while sitting on the ground.  ??  Anyway, to read the warning, and to return your Bumbo for repair, please visit this link to visit the Bumbo Canada website.

The Bumbo (Photo: G. Duncan)

The Baby Gym or Bouncy Seat

Again, these are items you likely have at home so just pack them in the truck and set them up at the campsite.  I'd throw a tarp or big blanket under the gym to keep the material clean but otherwise - good to go.  They don't take up much room and can seriously entertain a baby for hours (at least mine loved them).  Both toys are manufactured by many different companies so you can buy your preferred brand.

Using a bouncy seat outside for a nap

The Front Carrier, Snuglie or baby sling
 This barely needs mentioning because if you are a baby wearing mama, there's no way you'd leave home without your carrier or sling.  There's far too many models to mention here so I'm merely adding it to this post so that you remember to put it on your packing list.  While we didn't use carriers much with our son, I believe they could be extremely useful in camp.  Imagine you're trying to do chores around camp (not chopping wood presumably) for example and have a fussy baby on your hands  or you need to accompany older kids to the playground.  Moms and dads in support of baby wearing know that it's often the easiest way to keep your baby feeling secure, safe, and happy - important when your baby is in a strange environment camping for the first time.

This mom knows how to travel with kids!

A good outdoor stroller

If your child is anything like my son, they'll wake up at 5am and it doesn't matter that it's cold outside, you're still tired, or that you don't feel like making breakfast yet - you're up!  Bring the stroller and you can at least push your child around the quiet campground.  I once took my coffee with me and pushed my son down to the lake where we spent some quiet time watching the sun come up.  That might be my only good memory of the early wake-up calls.  Most of the time I made my husband get up and walk our son around, good camping princess that I am.

Our jogging stroller was great for camping as was the screen house in the background

I seriously wouldn't expect you to bring all of the items above but pick your child's favourite item or two for some comfort at camp - it's all about comfort and security. 

Final items we've found useful with small children

A large tarp or blanket

Bring a large tarp or  blanket to spread on the ground with some of your child's favourite toys.  It keeps your child clean (if that's important to you) and lets them actually move around out of their restraining devices, carriers and strollers.

A screen house 

We used our screen house last summer as a dry warm place in which to change our son's diaper, store clothes and gear we didn't want to get wet, to eat or play under when it was raining, and to store our lawn chairs, stove, and other camp items when we were out on a day trip.  I can't imagine camping more than a night without it.

A large umbrella

You'd  be surprised at the amount of shade an umbrella can provide for small children.  When my son was smaller, we'd set one up on a blanket (see the photo below) when we were outside in a park having lunch, watching a concert, or chilling on the grass.  Instant protection from the sun.  - and much cheaper than an actual beach tent.

Big lawn chairs

The photo says it all.  Great place to let the little ones chill while you make dinner or tend to the fire.

Final Notes

Don't  feel bad if you aren't ready to try sleeping in a tent with your baby yet.  I don't plan on covering the whole topic of  trailers, campers, and RVs in my camping series but my son and I slept in the back of our truck on all of our first camping trips.  We built a simple wood platform for the back of the truck, bought a topper, and voila - easy trailer with zero set up.  We put a large air mattress in the back of the truck and my son and I would sleep side by side there together.  We were toasty warm and blissfully happy while Dad had to sleep outside in the cold tent.

For more information on keeping small children warm at night, see my last post in this series, Warm sleepers are happy sleepers.

Follow the link below for the next post in this series on camping with toddlers and preschoolers.


  1. Very nice and cute! We didn't have a screen house for our camping trips last year, and I think that was probably a mistake. We'll definitely be investing in one this year! We did use a PeaPod extensively at the crag and for afternoon naps as well. I did a little write up at our blog here:

    1. Just checked out your blog Kate. Great job. Love the Peapod photos too. E-mail me at - would love to chat more.

  2. We took our daughter camping at 2 months and brought only a peapod and the Ergo carrier (sorry, I never got around to sending you a pic). The peapod was great for in the tent (has it's own thermarest, essentially) and outside. I believe it also has a UV protection rating when closed, which was nice for non-shaded areas. I was a baby wearer anyway, but I was totally freaked out to be more than 4 feet from her while camping at that age so it got a lot of use.

    When she got older the pack-n-play was a must, as you said. I like the idea of a screen house. We will have to look into getting one.

    1. Glad so many people are using peapods. They really are great. By the time we got one for my son he was too big for the one we had bought. We should have bought the plus model.

  3. I just read this about the peapod, unfortunately... There has been a recall of the peapod...

    1. Thanks for the reminder. I am aware of the safety precaution/advisory with pea pods with children under the age of One. I already had a warning in another post but forgot about the mention of the pea pod in this post.

      I have placed the following warning in the post: *Please note that there has been a safety advisory issued for the Kidco Peapod by Health Canada. If you plan to use it for a child under one year of age, please read the warning before purchasing one of these products.

      I am choosing not to remove all mention of the pea pod in my former posts since the safety concerns seem to primarily involve infants. Parents of toddlers can choose for themselves what they feel comfortable with. I know I felt very safe using one with my son when he was a toddler.

      Thanks again.

  4. This is very cool. We have a toddler and love to camp but figured it would be several years before it was feasible. We will definitely look into some of these items.

    Chris Hall
    The Adventures of jaydon and Daddy

  5. As an auntie who loves to camp, this is awesome. I found your blog through Pinterest and now I need to read all of your posts!

  6. So strange, I thought I posted so if there is a double please delete this one! I found your blog via pinterest as I am pretty sure I wish they made the little mini tent in my size. However, given that I'm a grownup I think I just need a better camping mattress as our current tent is way awesome. But as a camping auntie...

    1. Thanks for your comments Melanie. I had to change my comments to preview them first because I was getting too much spam every day.
      Glad you are a camping auntie and loving it.
      And yes, unfortunately the little tent is a tad small for us adults. :)

  7. Loved reading your blog! However, I am NOT a camper. You are a brave Momma!

    1. Thanks. I don't know about brave, but we do like camping.

  8. We've taken our boys camping since they were infants (3 months our& 1 month) and they both love it. We have a standard campground here and an older cousin that usually helps guide them but they're seasoned campers at 5 & 2! We camped in Colorado last summer & we all had a great time!

    1. Thanks. Glad you are getting your kids outside.

  9. Btw I have taken many a stroller walk around a campground in the wee hours. When the grass is still covered in dew & there's little noise but chirping birds. If people don't have a screen room I'd recommend at least a canopy. It works good for hiding under during rain showers & for keeping acorns from falling on your kids! We took my oldest camping labor day when he was only six months and wasn't crawling or walking. We put him down on the big blanket under the canopy so he was in the shade but wouldn't get bonked on the head or face. You can get decent ones at Walmart starting at 50 bucks. Happy camping this summer!

    1. Thanks for your comment. Happy camping to you this summer as well.

  10. I tried camping without a baby carrier once and ended up fashioning one out of a bed sheet! Please though, do not use critch danglers!

  11. Check those bumbo seats they were recalled a while back and you need the straps that you can get from the company. Just want to keep those babies safe.

    1. Thanks Holly. Not having an infant anymore, I don't keep up with all the recall information anymore. Personally, I never found how a child could get hurt if they were sitting in their Bumbo on the floor and happened to crawl out, but I respect the company's safety warnings and will make sure I put a note in this blog post to the warnings.

  12. Hi Tanya,
    One thing that I cannot wrap my head around when it comes to camping with a baby/toddler is where do you put all of that STUFF? I mean, how do you physically transport kid(s), carseat(s), the usual camping necessities plus a big stroller, pack n' play, toys, kid seats/highchair, screen tent, diapers etc... We drive a station wagon that is packed full when we go camping just the two of us. We'll probably invest in a roof rack this year for some extra space but no way will we be able to fit ALL that stuff! Any tips for minimizing?

    1. We've always taken a truck camping and filled it to the max. No idea how to do it in a smaller vehicle. Roof racks and Thules are awesome though!
      And otherwise, yeah, ya gotta choose what is most important to you because you can't take it all.
      One idea is to camp with friends and try to split up some of the communal stuff like screen tent, stove, etc. Also, try to bring items that have more than one purpose. Example, a stroller can be used for sitting in around the campfire instead of a lawn chair, it can be used to eat in maybe instead of a high chair, etc. And we've used kiddie lawn chairs with the kids eating off of the picnic benches instead of bringing booster seats.

    2. We're getting a roof rack asap, and then the highchair is the next big challenge. Thanks for the suggestions!

  13. What a thoughtful post! Just a quick word to all of you considering camping with a little one.. we just got back from bringing our 4-month baby along -- I was nervous about it, but it went really great! We didn't have a lot of room in our car to bring tons of gear, but babies just seem to be mesmerized by nature alone with a few of the basics. I wrote a little blogspot about it:

    Hope that helps for anyone on the fence about it!


    1. Thanks Maria. I'll check out your blog.

  14. Great post! We have three kids and have taken then camping multiple times a year starting at 2 months. A few things we've used that you didn't cover are:
    1. Carseat to sleep in for infants. This is controversial, so each parent needs to decide for themselves, but it's a great way to keep them snuggled, warm, and the bug netting securely in place (we live and camp in an area of the Rockies that has had a lot of cases of West Nile).
    2. Hammocks work great for getting infants off the ground, but out of arms. We always used the netted, hanging ones that cocooned the baby, so there was no way for the baby to roll out or suffocate.
    3. Really little ones should not be covered in deet, so if you frequent somewhere with a lot of mosquitos, a non-deet bug repellent is a must as is mosquito netting.
    4. BABY WIPES. Especially for toddlers who can and will explore in the dirt. They get filthy!

    1. Thanks for your comments. I've heard of several families using a carseat so I'm sure you aren't alone there.
      Had never thought of using a hammock with a baby. Great idea too.
      Agree, we never used bug spray on our son when he was a baby. Mosquito netting over strollers is a popular choice for families. I've seen families put it over play yards too.

      And yes, we still carry giant Costco size packages of baby wipes with us when we go camping. Probably will for the rest of our lives now. Such an awesome product.

      I'll keep these ideas in mind when I do more Family Camping Made Easy posts next summer. I plan to do a giant post with general tips. Some of these would be great.