Enjoy Camping with Babies and Toddlers (Yes, It’s Possible)

Last Updated on April 17, 2024 by foxintheforest

If you’re like me and you had a summer baby you might be thinking, what’s it like to go camping with a baby? When can I feasibly take my infant camping? How do I provide a safe sleep environment? And the dreaded, how do I deal when things go wrong?

Always check with your pediatrician first, but you can camp with your baby as soon as you feel comfortable enough to try. Any age is a great age to get outdoors. Even infants and newborns can enjoy camping.

As a first-time mom, I took baby M on her first camping trip at 7 weeks. Before she turned 3 months old we had been on 4 separate camping trips.

My daughter is almost 2 now and we’ve done alllll kinds of camping with her. Backpacking. Huts. Tents. International trips. Campers. Even glamping. You name it we’ve done it!

This post is a total labor of love (years in the making my friends) and is meant to be a resource you come back to again and again as your crotch dumpling grows into one happy camper.

Looking back on the journey

My daughter is almost 2 years old now. Things have changed A LOT since her first trip at 7 weeks old. But there’s one thing that has remained the same. I’ll call it the golden rule of camping.

Be flexible.

Everything you’ll see in this post has worked (or not) for us, but that may not be the case for you.

That’s 100% okay!

But if you’re flexible to try new things and roll with the (inevitable) punches of camping with your baby, you’ll find a system that works for you.

camping with a baby

Where should my baby sleep when camping?

This is the NUMBER ONE question that I see get asked when it comes to sleeping under the stars with your little.

And the truth is, the answer is going to be different for everyone. Not to mention it’s going to change as your child ages.

But in general, you want your child in a safe sleep environment such as a travel crib or pack-n-play that touches the ground.

Having an air gap wherever your baby sleeps is a recipe for a cold kiddo. You want plenty of insulation where they sleep. For that reason alone, using a bassinet isn’t a great idea.

Pro Tip: Air gap under your pack-n-play? Use a Thermarest Z-lite pad combined with foam floor tiles to provide extra insulation from the ground.

We love our Guava Lotus Travel Crib and our daughter has been using that to sleep in while camping since she was 4 months old. We put our Z-lite underneath for added insulation from the cold ground if we are tent camping.

With our pop-up camper, we run the heat on low during the night.

Pro Tip: We put a Snooze Shade over the crib at night for extra darkness and a little extra insulation. This is a life-saver for nap times too!

We’ve been using a Snooze Shade in various forms since Baby M was born. Now that she’s almost 2, we keep the top open, but we do find that the darkened sides still provide a calming space for nap time!

Camping with a guava lotus travel crib covered with a snoozey shade in the desert under a juniper tree.
Just taking a little nap in the shade of a juniper tree. The Snooze Shade works well to keep out the daylight.

Co-sleeping while camping

Prior to using our travel crib, my anxiety was just a little crazy, so we co-slept. That’s not for everyone, but it worked well for us. It made the midnight routine easier, warmer, and less disturbing for everyone involved.

We never co-slept at home. Cosleeping while we camped had zero impact on her sleep at home. Also, once she was rolling over, it was easy to move her to her travel crib, since we didn’t want to get kicked all night.

Pro Tip: If you use a sleeping quilt or have a big sleeping pad like an Exped Megamat, co-sleeping is a breeze!

What Should My Baby Wear at Nighttime?

Baby layering is a bit tough – it’s not like they make tons of technical layers for infants! Plus it’s expensive to kit them out only to grow out of it 3 months later.

We layered up M in a zippy fleece onesie, followed by a swaddle or sleep sack, then put her in a puffy baby sleeping bag (see the recommendations below) until she was big enough for a Little Mo (around 5 months)

We choose not to have her sleep in a hat because babies regulate their temperatures with their heads. However, if the temperatures dipped below 45 at night, we let her wear a lightweight cotton beanie.

What to Wear when Camping with a Baby After 6 Months

Our baby used her Morrison Little Mo Sleeping Bag for almost 2 years. She’s in the 85th percentile for her age and the Little Mo fit for longer than we expected. It runs just large enough to get the life you need out of it.

We have the 40-degree bag. It works great with the camper. If I had to do it all over again, I would have just purchased the 20-degree one from the get-go.

We’ve now got the Big Mo 20 degree bag, and she’ll transition to that shortly.

Pro Tip: The price tag definitely hurts here, but these bags go really fast second-hand. So you can recoup a lot of your cost. This is also a great registry item for active families!

Underneath she wears regular PJs. We bring a set that suits the weather (fleece with footies if it’s cooler, 2-piece with open feet if it’s warm). This has been our go-to for years now and it works really well.

How do I get them to sleep or nap?

Okay, here’s where that hot tip about flexibility comes into play. Routines are important (especially for toddlers) but camping is an extreme sport for your tiny human.

And let’s face it – getting a good night’s rest in a tent is usually a big ask anyway. Add a baby into the mix andddd you’re just playing with the campfire – pun intended.

Go into your camping experience knowing that sleep will probably suck. Put your expectations on the ground and let yourself be surprised by the outcome.

Try the things that work at home and understand you may spend hours rocking your kiddo to sleep only to find the that single way they will snooze is if they are on your tummy. (Hello 7 pm bedtime). Ask me how I know!

The point is, you need to go into it knowing that you can have a crappy day parenting at home, or a crappy day parenting in a tent. You get to choose which one sounds better to you and if that risk is worth the reward. I think so, but if you don’t that’s fine.

Pro Tip: A portable sound machine is an incredible gadget that keeps on giving. This one has a night light, can go without a charge for a weekend, and charges with a USB.

A young toddler running on a dirt road in the desert while camping.
Too much to explore! Running around on a 20-minute nap. Not great, but she went out like a light that night!

How to Choose a Place to Camp

In short, choose a spot to camp where YOU are most comfortable. There’s no wrong answer here, but a few quick tips include:

  • Stay somewhere you’ve been before. That way you know where you are and what to expect
  • Camp close to home. Had enough at 2 am? You can just pack up and drive home.
  • The TYPE of camping doesn’t really matter, as long as you feel the most comfortable in that environment.

Dispersed Camping with a Baby

Our typical style of camping is via free, dispersed campsites found on public lands. These campsites require you to take everything in with you – such as drinking water and toilet needs. But you’ll also have to take everything out – especially trash.

Yummy. A trashcan full of diapers – just what we all wanted to deal with!

What makes dispersed camping with a baby great is the solitude and remote atmosphere. You don’t have to worry if your kiddo cries and wails at night because there aren’t as many people around. It feels a bit more like you’re out in nature, which is something we typically enjoy.

The downsides? Amenities aren’t nearby, you may have to gather firewood if you choose to have a fire, and you’ll have a bit more responsibility as a camper. Not to mention, all free camping is first-come-first-served so if your spot is full, you’ll have to keep searching.

camping with a baby

Campgrounds with a Baby

Typically, we don’t use this type of camping because it’s a bit too crowded for our taste, but we have stayed at a variety of campgrounds with our little.

Most people recommend camping at campgrounds with your baby because you’ll have simple amenities such as toilets, access to drinking water, and possibly trash disposal. Not to mention, if you book in advance, you’ll know exactly where you are going to stay, which can take some stress out of the equation.

The downside? These campgrounds can be crowded and sometimes noisy. If you get a noisy neighbor, precious sleep may be difficult.

Here’s a look at a few pluses and minuses to the different types of campgrounds you can stay at:

  • National Park Campgrounds: Usually a bit noisy, but there is typically more room than private campgrounds. Lacks amenities found at private campgrounds. Typically requires well-in-advance reservations.
  • Private Campgrounds: These are privately owned and also vary in quality. These have strict quiet hours, but not a ton of privacy. The trade-off is you might have a store, showers, pool, and more amenities to choose from. Takes reservations.
  • Reservable, public lands campgrounds: These usually have a little less than national parks (ie drop toilets and no water sources). They can vary with noise. Reservations mean you know where you will be staying.
  • Glamping: Not always kid-friendly, but a great option if you’re looking for something that’s partway between camping and a hotel room. Typically requires advanced reservations.
  • First-come-first-served campgrounds: A bit of a gamble because you might not get a spot during the busy seasons. Tend to have more amenities than dispersed camping or boondocking. Vary a lot in quality.

Hut Trips with a Baby

If you can swing a hut trip with your own room, it’s a great compromise to backpacking. You don’t need to bring quite as much stuff (and my god, you’ll be bringing plenty), but you’ll still feel like you’re deep in the wilderness.

This is a great option if you’re looking to do some adventurous camping, but you don’t want to commit to a full-out backpacking trip.

Just be wary of the mileage you’re walking – you’re going to carry quite a bit of stuff despite not needing a tent!

We took Baby M to the Granite Park Chalet in Glacier National Park – and it was a total blast!

Pro Tip: Be prepared to pack out dirty diapers! Your pack usually weighs less at the end of a backpacking trip because you eat the food you bring, but you’ll be packing out all the pee and poop!

On a hut trip with a toddler in the mountains a young girl and a dad are practicing walking.

Feeding your baby

The key to successfully feeding your baby (and you) while camping is to keep it simple.

If you’ve got a baby still on breastmilk or formula think about how you can expedite your mealtime. We did the following:

  • Brought pre-cooked meals that just needed to be heated up. Think leftovers.
  • Used paper plates/bowls to save on cleaning time (I’m looking at you, pile of bottles).

Pro Tip: For bottles, bring a pot and simply boil them to sterilize and clean them. This takes a lot less effort than washing them with a bottle brush. Rinse them out, pop them in the pot, wait 5 minutes and you’re finished! A set of tongs helps you fish out bottle parts without burning your fingers. Leave the pump at home.

Meal time for littles on solids

Things get a little more interesting once solids are in play. For the tiny ones just getting those teeth, we found pouches, canned foods, fruit cups, and non-messy snacks.

If you’re doing Baby Led Weaning, you’ll want to make sure you pack a smock, splat mat, and extra wipes to clean everything.

Pro Tip: Stash your splat mat in an odor-proof container to avoid attracting unwanted wildlife such as bears, mice, and raccoons.

Toddler meals

Once you graduate to eating meals and you’re not playing the “try this mush” game anymore, things get a lot easier.

Now you should aim to cook foods everyone can eat. Let’s be honest, camping food is mostly glorified toddler food anyway, so this process is pretty fun! A few of our favorites include:

  • Mac n Cheese: loaded with veggies and extra goodies for the adults.
  • Heatable leftovers
  • Pasta
  • Camp nachos: beans and veggies sauteed in taco seasoning poured over a pile of tortilla chips and a small fixin’s bar

Pro Tip: We still use our splat mat – just place it over wherever your kiddo is sitting and let it drape on the floor. We also bring a hand-held vacuum now for longer trips.

camping with a baby

Protection from the elements

Keeping your baby protected from the elements is really dependent on where you are camping. But layers are always the way to go.

As a rule of thumb pack 1.5 times the amount of clothing you think you need to account for dirt, grime, tumbles, and play! This INCLUDES you (hello blowouts and pouring mud onto your pants for fun).

Fleece, wool, and synthetic layers will always be preferred, but let’s face it, not everyone has money for that. Bringing tons of cotton clothing with a few key layers will keep your kid warm enough. Change any wet clothing and layer up your baby before you need it.

Pro Tip: Your baby needs one more layer of clothing than whatever you are wearing.

Protection from the sun

The key here is to wear lightweight, long-sleeve layers. Keeping sunglasses or a hat on hand is helpful if they will keep it on. If not, lean into mineral sunscreen. Mineral sunscreen lasts longer than standard sunscreen so it helps when you inevitably forget to reapply.

Seek shade when you can!

Protection from the cold

Layers, layers, and more layers. We are from Colorado and extreme temperature swings are common. Here’s a look at what we pack for each camping trip – yes even in summer:

  • sun hat
  • beanie
  • mittens or thick socks for hands
  • shorts
  • thick pants
  • long sleeve shirts
  • short sleeve shirts
  • fleece layer with a hood
  • puffy layer with a hood
  • thick socks
  • rain layer
  • snowsuit (18 months and under)
  • warm PJs
A young baby sitting on the steps of a camper while camping in the desert
We picked up this Patagonia Puffy used from Mercari (use code VMMZXV for up to $30 off). She’s worn it since she was 4 months old and at nearly 2 we will squeeze a few more trips out of it.

Protection from bugs

Mosquitos can be quite a pain. The best way to prevent bites is to wear long sleeves. Some babies will tolerate a bug net, but mine won’t. If it’s really bad, we use baby-safe bug spray but avoid putting it on her hands.

The soft skills of camping with a baby

These are the things we’ve learned that no one else is mentioning on the internet. It’s different to take your kiddo out camping. And that’s okay. Different can be good. Here are a few things we’ve done to mentally prepare.

camping with a newborn

Set expectations

Just set the bar low. Be happy to get out and camp. Don’t try to pack in too many activities or have a super rigid itinerary, your baby might just want to rest and contact nap all day. If you’re bringing friends, be sure to set their expectations too.

Remember that set up/take down takes twice as long, especially if your baby loves to be held. Moving from place to place can be a slow endeavor. And your sleep could be disrupted at camp even more than it is at home.

Have Shifts

One person taking care of the baby while the other has all the fun will not deliver a fun camping trip. Be sure to share the load. Switch up camp chores and be flexible. It’s easy to get stuck in routines, but while you’re camping, it’ll take two (or more) people to help out!

Level-up your setup

No one wants to spend more but here are a few things that have helped ease the burden of camping with our little.

Upgrade Your Tent

Simply put, it’s easier to have a tent that you can stand up in. Space is key when it comes to camping with a baby. Upgrade (or borrow) a tent that will easily sleep 4, but you can also stand up in so there’s plenty of room.

Alright, so we have a pop-up camper (total lifesaver). However, we’ve gone tent camping on the rim of the Grand Canyon with our kiddo and continue to overland with her in a tent.

Pro Tip: If it’s breezy but no rain is in the forecast, consider taking the rain fly off so the tent is quieter at night.

temt camping with a baby

Check your first-aid kit

Consider purchasing a Garmin InReach if you don’t already have one. This is an emergency device that enables you to contact emergency services when you don’t have cell service.

Pro Tip: Bring plenty of meds! Everything you’ll need. Fever reducer, teething stuff, pain relief, and nausea medicine. Don’t forget nail clippers, a first aid kit, and a thermometer too. That way if something happens, you can manage if you need to.

Pack a Baby-Friendly Camp Box

Update your camping box with a few baby-friendly items. Throw in a pack of diapers, extra trash bags, an odor-proof container for stinky diapers (we use an old dog food box), and any travel gear you’ll use for your baby. This makes packing – a daunting task for a new parent – super simple.

Pro Tip: Check your camp box every couple of months and re-up on supplies. Items you’ll need can and will change! We go through ours every couple of months.

camping with a baby

Quick tips for specific milestones

Listen, we’ve been out countless times camping. And there are a few milestones worth paying attention to. Here’s a lineup of a few quick tips for specific things we’ve encountered under the stars:

  • Sleep regressions: Nothing says “suck” more than a sleep regression mid-camping trip when you are literally a 24-hour drive from home (ask me how I know). Patience is key here. You’ll experience a regression on the road or at home. I found that staying in the area until Baby M finally went down for the night made surviving and unexpected regression easier.
  • Dirt roads: Simply put, dirt roads and car seats don’t mix. If you wanna venture down the dirt, it can be safer and more comfortable (for your baby) to just hold them. This isn’t for everyone. And it’s a quick way to get touched out, so have shifts.
  • Walking. New walkers are so much fun to camp with, but the uneven terrain is frustrating. Consider bringing a push toy to make this experience a little easier.
Activities for camping with a toddler

What to leave at home

You’re already packing the kitchen sink to go camping with a tiny human, so here’s what you should absolutely leave at home:

  • A high chair. We tried it and it was too clunky.
  • Pack-n-play for outside. Your kiddo isn’t going to be stoked to be in a cage once they are moving. This was a fast track to a meltdown from us. If we need her to stay in one place while we pack up, we let her play in the front seat of the car.
  • Toys. Aside from a couple of bedtime stories, a bucket with a shovel, and a lovey – we keep the rest at home. Anything is a toy – proof below.
a baby at a campground standing in a cooler box.
Sometimes you make the fun where you’d least expect it!

I’m nervous to go camping with my baby. Is this normal?

OMG YES! The first time we packed up all of Baby M’s things I looked at my spouse and said “Are we really doing this?” I felt like I had created a hellscape for myself by packing everything up. The thought of simply unpacking it was enough to exhaust me to tears.

The hardest part about camping with a baby is getting the guts to go in the first place. It can feel really intimidating as a new parent to get out there and try. You’re leaving the comforts of home, packing up what feels like half of your house, and hoping that you don’t encounter any epic meltdowns.

Now that Miss M is on her 3rd camping season, the nerves have finally subsided.

The point is, it took years and many trips to feel comfortable getting out there. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not ready until later in your child’s life – it’s totally okay.

Picture of Meg Atteberry
Meg Atteberry

Meg is a long-time Colorado local and outdoor industry professional. She's spent the last 15 years hiking, climbing, mountaineering, and canyoneering all over Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada in search of the best views. She's written for Outside Magazine, REI, Backpacker Magazine, and appeared on the Weather Channel.

Hi There!

Meg Atteberry standing on a mountain sticking her tongue out

Meg aka Fox is a 30-something who's born to explore. Toddler mom, queer, and neuro-spicy her favorite things to do are climb in the alpine and camp in the desert. Her mission is to get you out on your greatest adventure.