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First Timer’s Guide: Camping with Babies in Cold Weather

baby's first camping trip in cold weather

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The following camping with baby article was submitted by Jemma Beedie.

Camping can be magical. Freedom to linger, the taste of food cooked on an open fire, fresh air reviving work-weary bodies: it’s no wonder we take to the outdoors.

Camping with an infant may seem foolhardy, but it can result in moments of pure joy. Experiencing the world through our children’s eyes is part of what makes parenting so rewarding, and seeing how they react to a night under canvas is very special. 

When to Take Baby Camping: At What Age?

festival camping with baby

My daughter’s first camping trip was at eight weeks old, at a music festival ten minutes from our house. After our first attempt, I now recommend waiting until your baby is around six months old.

All the ‘stuff’ and cool camping gadgets in the world couldn’t make that first night go smoothly. We took two carloads of stuff including our huge bell tent, blow up mattress, pillows, cool boxes full of food, the baby’s bassinet, bath and a week’s worth of clothes. 

She was cold, I worried about everything, and she was still feeding every hour. It was the worst night we’d had since her arrival.

We vowed we would go home the next morning and just leave the festival… then the sun shone. Up early, we lay around in the warmth of the morning, listening to the birds in the woodland surrounding the site. The lovely morning made the night worth it, but we still went home that evening.

Of course there are going to be adventurous parents, or moms who are less anxious than I was, or even those who are on their third or fifth babies who are complete masters. But for first-timers? Just hold off until they’re a bit older. 

When the time comes, I can’t stress enough how valuable it is to test your approach while you are close to home. We learned what was important and what wasn’t. These days we know exactly what we need and what we don’t

Baby Camping Sleep Tips

Make yourselves a cozy family nest. Sleeping mats, one each; all-weather sleeping bags; a favorite lovey, unwashed so it smells of home; and a snowsuit. 

The snowsuit is my top tip, my flash of genius. Sleeping bags are slippery and may slide off a wriggly baby or toddler. Having her in a fitted, padded snowsuit means it’s unlikely she’ll shuffle out into the cold. 

You can put a hat on your baby. We know not to do this in our homes, but it’s different outdoors. An uncovered head is a quick way to lose body heat. If you are wearing a hat to bed, your baby should be too. 

Mom’s Sleeping Attire for Campsite

And finally if, like me, you are still breastfeeding, don’t be complacent when it comes to your own sleeping attire. I wear yoga pants, a nursing tank, a sweater over the top, and then a fleece onesie over that.

It sounds like overkill until you find yourself shivering in a dark tent at 4 am, trying desperately to cover your exposed belly while your baby impatiently pushes away all the blankets.

Bottle-Feeding Your Baby While Camping

camping in the woods with baby

As I’ve only ever breastfed, I turned to another mom for advice on bottle feeding. When Joanna took her baby camping at nine months old she used a cold water sterilizer for washing bottles and pre-mixed formula. 

She recommended using cool boxes with ice packs to keep open, unused formula fresh, and writing the date on with Sharpie. “You need to make sure there is somewhere on site to refreeze the ice blocks so that the opened bottle stays cold enough,” she said.

While Joanna’s baby was happy to have formula cold, hot water kept in a Thermos flask and poured into a bowl can warm milk to the desired temperature for those middle-of-the-night feeds. 

It may take a little more effort than for a breastfed baby, but Joanna is still enthusiastic about camping with little ones: “Camping with young children is brilliant. Watching how they interact with nature reopens your eyes to wonders that you previously took for granted.”

Baby Food for Camping

Camping is no time to try to force your child to eat new and unusual foods. Let her try whatever you are having but if she will only eat cucumber sticks and yogurt at home, why would she suddenly accept spare ribs out in the woods? Think about what your little one loves, and pack that. 

As an FYI, do be wary of s’mores as marshmallows, even toasted, are a choking hazard to children under three. 

Encouraging Natural Baby Play Outdoors

Don’t worry too much about bringing lots of toys, as there is so much to see and do while trying this new activity. Keep it simple with a book, some stacking cups, and a stick.

Babies are generally just happy to be with their parent(s), and camping is a fantastic sensory experience in its own right. Fresh air, birds to spot, other campers to chat to, the sound of trees whispering in a gentle breeze… it’s all new and exciting. 

If your baby is crawling, think about where you will put her while you set up the tent. If you are car camping you might bring a stroller or keep her in the car seat. Otherwise, consider wearing her. She’ll feel like she’s involved, which babies love! 

We have a puddle suit (rainsuit) for S, which wipes clean easily. On one of our trips last spring she crawled all over the forest floor while dressed as a frog, giggling with wild abandon. 

Camping with a Baby Top Tips

festival camping with baby
Festival camping with baby. Don’t mind the creepy baby face blur 🙂

There are articles out there that will tell you to bring a travel crib, a basin to wash the baby in, a high chair – for goodness sake! It is overwhelming. If I need all this to have a good time, it’s not worth it. 

I’ll keep my essential tips to a minimum:

  • Take headlamps, one for each of you including the baby. She’ll think it’s hilarious to crawl around with a light on her head. 
  • Pack glow sticks and have a family dance party. 
  • Set up your campsite well away from any rivers and lakes.
  • Keep everyone smothered in factor 50 sunblock
  • Plan on using disposable diapers instead of cloth while camping.
  • Wet wipes are invaluable.

The Last Word

Camping is as fun as you make it, and it’s meant to be a holiday. As long as you have shelter, warm clothes, sleeping bags, and a couple of snacks, you can improvise the rest. Throw schedules out the window, relax with your favorite people in the world, and enjoy getting back to nature.

About the author: Jemma Beedie is a writer, sometimes for passion and sometimes for pay. She loves it when the two overlap. She grew up in Bahrain, where her pale Pictish skin was often frazzled by the intense Arabian sun. She has travelled with family, friends, and alone, though most often with her husband. She lived for a year in a 24-year-old van with her adventure cat, though he much prefers the old Scottish cottage they currently inhabit.

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