Saturday, April 19, 2014

Camping with a Baby: Things We Did Well & Lessons Learned

After our first camping trip as a family of 3 we are tired, sore, wizened, and already thinking about our next camping trip.

While we had a great time making memories as a new family, we learned a lot. Hopefully our experiences will encourage you to have fun in
the great outdoors with your little ones too!

First, here are some of the things that we did well:

  • We just went for it. It's easy to be intimidated by camping with kids, especially babies. But we loved camping before kids, and want to raise our kids enjoying one of our favorite past times.
  • We kept baby warm. Between long sleeves, hats, double layered pants, and jackets, baby stayed very warm. At night we wrapped him in a blanket by the campfire. Then, he slept between us which was good for him... but not for us.
  • Screened-in awning to keep bugs away from baby and meal time. Brandon found a huge 11'x9' screened-in awning with magnetic closing doors at Costco for $90. That thing was amazing! Looking forward to using this in the summertime when there are lots of mosquitoes. (This one is a similar magnetic door screened cover)
  •  Pack n Play area. We put our Pack n Play in the screened-in area to create a safe, clean play space for Aaron. We would put a few select toys in with him and he played independently 10-30 minutes at a time.
  • We brought lots of toys and favorite things. Even though space was tight, we brought a full bag of his toys and the familiar lambskin he sleeps on in his crib at home. Those items made independent play time and sleeping go smoothly.
  • Clip on seat. This clip on seat hooked right onto the picnic table for our meal times. Bonus: it is compact for travel.
  • We planned some low maintenance meals. Cooking meals that are as good or better than meals we make at home is one of our favorite parts of camping. We love Dutch oven cooking, but it is fairly time intensive and better for groups than it is for only 2 adults. So foil packet meals were great for the short prep and almost no clean up. Now, I understand why those boxes of Costco ready to eat cereal bowls were so popular with my family when we were little. (Remember those?!)
  • Astroturf! We got a large piece of Astroturf for free recently and I'm so glad we picked it up! The turf was wonderful as a mat outside the tent to cut down on tracked in dirt and it was a great place to allow Aaron to do some supervised scooting. On our next trip, I don't think he'll stay on the turf as easily though unless we put up some temporary fencing; which, isn't a bad idea!
  • Prepped meals at home. We spent about 2 hours at home prepping ingredients for meals so they were ready to go. We chopped onions, cooked bacon, fajita chicken, rice, and prepped an apple crisp topping and base. This prep made it so easy to reach into the cooler for the appropriate Ziplock and throw a meal together.
  • Ready to go meals for baby. We love those Plum organic squeezeable meal packets! (He loves them too!)
  • We planned a short stay. For our first trip, 2 nights was just right! Since we weren't sure how things would go, it was nice that we found a first come, first served site so we could pay one night at a time. 
  • We did research. Campgrounds vary quite a bit. Some are wonderful for families, while some are more for crowds of college kids. Read Yelp, Tripadvisor, reservation details, and look for campground photos. We camped at Butano State Park which was perfect for families!
Ok, so before it sounds like I'm bragging about how great we are, here are some of the lessons we learned from our first campout:
  • Everything takes longer. Everyone tells you how much longer things take with a baby, but sometimes you don't believe it until you experience it. Before baby, it would take us 1-1.5 hours to pack up the car and the same to break camp. With baby, it took us 3 hours to do both tasks. Knowing that it would take us that long would have saved me some anxiety.
  • More easy meals!!!! We had a few meals that were a bit ambitious. The stuffed fajita peppers and paleo apple crisp were delicious, but could have been skipped or modified to be foil packet meals. This is one I want to focus on and start making a special family camp recipe binder.
  • More blankets and warm clothes for mom and dad. Self-explanatory one. Baby was warm, but we were a bit chilly. We were so focused on keeping him warm that we didn't think about ourselves for every situation.
  • Bathtime bucket. This time we were able to keep Aaron relatively clean since he is not very mobile yet, but next time we will definitely need to have a bath bucket and supplies under the screened awning for nightly scrub-downs.
  • Bigger tent with a designated sleeping space for baby. We took our 4-person tent with a queen size mattress and it was very tight. Brandon and I were almost falling off the mattress with our son sleeping starfish style between us. It was also a bummer that Brandon and I couldn't cuddle in the cold, but rather had to sleep in odd contorted positions to make sure Aaron had enough space. At least he slept amazing! (Sidenote: we had a large tent given to us that we were planning to bring, but we discovered last minute that it was missing all the tent poles!)
  • Try to keep your baby's nap schedule. Aaron's main nap of the day happens after lunch time from about 1-3, which is pretty typical. We made the mistake of taking an excursion into town during that time hoping that he would be flexible... this was a recipe that led to no afternoon nap and an overtired baby that evening. In my opinion, I think the optimal times for an outing would be in the morning after breakfast or late afternoon (post-nap).
 These last two lessons are the most important things you can take away from this post, and were big ones we debriefed about after some frustrated conversations.
  • Make the choice between utility/resourcefulness and quality time. I can get pretty ambitious about trying to reduce waste, using non-disposable items, and maximizing baby-free moments to clean, prep, etc. All those things are well and good but if you try to do all those things 100%, you are choosing that over quality time together. I'm not saying use only Styrofoam and a new cup for every drink. Next time, I'll bring some paper or compostable dishes and create a soapy bowl or bucket to toss utensils and dishware into to create one dishwashing time. I'll also put quality time or relaxing first!
  • Quality family time ≠ Quality couple time. We made wonderful memories as a family, but between all the work camping takes and wrangling a 7 month old, Brandon and I barely interacted as a couple, let alone had any physical contact! 3 things that we will do differently next time:
    1. When (or if) baby takes a nap, take those first 15-30 minutes to connect in some way or relax together enjoying your surroundings.
    2. If there's a time that baby is content with some independent playtime, again, take those first few minutes to connect even if it's just to hug and share a laugh over something that happened that morning before you start tackling clean-up duties.
    3. Separate sleeping space for baby. So many reasons for that one! 
Camping with a baby and seeing their wonder as they look at the trees and touch the dirt is really amazing. It is also a rare time of being completely unplugged together. It takes work, but it is so worth it!

For more tips, check out Roadtripping & Camping with a Baby Part 2!

Thank you for allowing me to include some affiliate links in this post.

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At March 20, 2015 at 7:08 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

We did it with four kids all the time. I had two rules! Every child capable of blowing a whistle, did so and maintained a rwo man rule even going to the showers or privy! They get in trouble or separated they stay put and keep blowing that .75 cent whistle! I sould purchase little clip on copper cow bells from any fishing or sporting goods store. When they zipped up for bed at nite they knew the rule! Lip the bell to the inside zipper handle of the tent and I would clip a second bell to the exterior zipper handle of the tent. If they try coming out at nite, we would hear those bells! It will wake you up because its your kids security on both your minds!! I worked with search parties along the big sir in California. Each time we found anywhere between two and six year olds dead! A whistle would have saved them!

At June 16, 2015 at 4:33 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome and thank you...all of you!

At July 6, 2015 at 8:16 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great idea with the whistle and bells anonymous. I might even use at home on their bedroom doors. Always afraid as a Nanny (Grandma) that I won't hear our 2 1/2 year old open her door if she were to get up at night.

At July 15, 2015 at 2:05 PM , Blogger Lisa Jackson said...

I have been a mom 13 yrs. and I am still afraid to camp with kids.

At July 29, 2015 at 2:56 PM , Blogger Jenny said...

It can be daunting, especially if you didn't go as a kid. Try to find a family or group who has all the necessary gear and experience and camp with them. :) Our church puts together a massive Yosemite camping trip, which would be a great option if I knew someone who hadn't been camping before. As our kids get older I'm looking forward to unplugged time as a family.

At July 29, 2015 at 2:57 PM , Blogger Jenny said...

That is an excellent idea! Our son is almost 2 so a bell or whistle would be important for him.

At September 24, 2015 at 6:51 PM , Blogger Victoria Carter said...

Just recently went camping with an 8 month old and four dogs, not as difficult as we thought, different for sure, but not difficult.

Getting a comfortable baby carrier to wear makes a HUGE difference!


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