Tips for Camping with a Baby

How to Camp with a Baby

The first thing to know about camping with babies is that not only is it possible, it’s fun! From splashing together in a creek to bedtime stories by the campfire to snuggling in the tent, there’s nothing like sharing your love of the outdoors with your little one. There will be people who’ll tell you you’re crazy to take your baby camping. Ignore them. With a bit of preparation, everyone will be safe and comfortable. 

The second thing to know about camping with babies is that it’s nothing like camping without babies. You’ll probably worry about minor threats, like mosquitoes and scraped knees, and big ones, like your kid accidentally toddling into the campfire or river. Your baby might scream loudly enough to get you dirty looks from campsite neighbors. Nobody is likely to get their best night’s sleep ever. These are all valid concerns, but they can be managed. Set your expectations accordingly, and we bet you’ll decide it’s worthwhile every time anyway. 

Follow our guide to sleeping, eating, pooping, and more for a successful camping trip with your baby—the first time and every time.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • How to plan a trip with a baby
  • Tips for tent sleeping
  • How to feed a baby in camp
  • How to deal with diapers
  • Dressing a baby for camping
  • Tips for keeping baby comfortable

Set Yourself Up for Success

Location: Looking for the perfect spot for your first family campout? Developed campgrounds have the advantage of running water, bathrooms, and other amenities, but there will likely be other campers around—not ideal if your baby throws a fit at 2 a.m., but don’t let that dissuade you if you’re more comfortable with a developed site. Small, primitive campgrounds and drive-up dispersed campsites offer more privacy, but you’ll need to be more self-sufficient. 

Weather: Now is the time to be a fairweather camper. Don’t head out if the forecast looks particularly hot, cold, or wet (added challenges you just don’t need with a baby). Beginners should stick to overnight lows no lower than the 30s. Also make sure your baby is primed for a good time. Pull the plug on your plans if she’s sick, teething, or going through a sleep regression. Planning your first trip close to home makes it easy to bail if the weather turns.  

Sleep like a Baby

The biggest question most new camping parents have is where to lay their baby down to sleep. This is easy if your tent is big enough to fit a travel crib or bassinet inside. If not, your choices depend on how old your baby is, and how comfortable you are with cosleeping. If you want to keep your baby in her own, separate space, consider a compact cosleeper, or a bassinet that can be detached from its legs. Or pack a roomy sleeping bag and bring an older baby inside with you—but do place another light sleeping pad next to yours, as sharing one pad can get tight. (The American Academy of Pediatrics says the safest choice is not to share a bed with a baby to minimize the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.)

Some babies snooze well no matter where they are (lucky you!). But many others have trouble sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings. Stick to your regular bedtime routine as much as possible, but expect some disruptions and don’t worry if he gets to bed a little late. 

Feeding Time

Mealtimes are simple for babies still on the liquid diet. Breastfeeding is easy because it doesn’t require any equipment or cleanup; consider packing a nursing pillow if you use one regularly at home. For bottle-fed infants, mix up formula with potable or purified water and boil bottles on your camp stove to sterilize them. 

If your baby has started solids, good news: Many camp classics are baby friendly. Oatmeal, polenta, rice, and soft-cooked pasta work well, and pureed pouches are a (relatively) mess-free way to serve fruits and veggies. Caution: Campfire classics like hot dogs and marshmallows are choking hazards for little ones. 

Woman feeding her baby at a campsite in Joshua Tree

Diapers 101

Rule number one: Make sure you have extras. Figure out how many diapers your baby will likely go through, then add another handful, just in case. Cloth diapers will work for car camping, too, though disposables are lighter and easier to manage and don’t always have to be hauled home. A portable changing pad is useful for keeping your baby clean and dry during changes (you can also use a jacket, sleeping pad, or anything else that gets her off the dirt). 

If there’s no garbage collection at your campsite, double-bag used diapers and store them in your car, bear locker, or bear canister/bag. 

All Dressed Up

The general rule for babies is to dress them in one more layer than you’re comfortable wearing, and this holds true in camp, too. Start with pants or shorts and a long-sleeved shirt; pack a fleece or light puffer jacket to layer over it. Don’t forget rain gear (an infant rain jacket or one-piece waterproof suit) and cozy socks, and add a warmer coat, hat, and mittens if conditions require. Pack at least one full change of clothes. 

Many parents worry about keeping their baby warm at night, but your tent with everyone in it will be warmer than you might expect. Your little one’s regular PJs will work fine as baselayers; use fleece ones in cooler weather. That might be enough if he’s sleeping in your bag with you. If he’s in his own sleeper on a cool night, add a hat and at least one more layer: Footed jammies in one size up or a warm sleep sack both work well. You can also buy an insulated, wearable sleeping bag for infants for the coldest nights (30s and below). 

Camp Comfort

Sun: You’ll also have to protect against sunburn. It’s not recommended to use sunscreen on babies under six months: Instead, dress your baby in a sun hat and lightweight, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt (UPF shirts or swimming rash guards are great). Try to keep her in the shade (pack a tarp if there’s no cover in your campsite). 

Mosquitoes: For bugs, DEET-based repellents are effective and safe for infants two months and up; stick to 30 percent and lower formulas for kids. Picaridin bug sprays are also considered safe. Bug netting that drapes over a baby carrier is also useful. 

Playthings: Finally, pack a few comforts from home, such as toys, books, and a favorite blanket or stuffed animal. A picnic blanket is also handy: Spread it out in the shade and plop baby down with a few toys. Just don’t be surprised if he finds rocks, sticks, and beetles infinitely more fascinating.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.