On Monday, we packed up our tent for the season. Swept it out carefully, flipped it over on its ceiling so its underside could dry, and rolled it up tight with its poles for another winter of storage in the shed. We love camping; we’ve gone on at least one camping trip every year we’ve known each other. Since Isabel’s birth we’ve gone on three camping trips: once with my parents, on a bitterly cold Thanksgiving weekend; once with a group of friends in mosquito infested Bon Echo Provincial Park; and once, just this past weekend, with Mark’s family.
Let me pause for a moment and be perfectly clear about what we consider camping. Luxuriating in a trailer, complete with running water, hydro, air conditioning, a television with satellite, and readily available wifi is not camping, not even close. When we camp, we use a tent, a little two burner, propane stove, a charcoal barbecue, and coolers filled with ice to keep all our food cold.* We rarely have hydro and even when it is accessible to us, we may not use it. We rough it. We love it.**
Isabel loves it too. We have found that camping with a baby is really not difficult at all, though we have learned a few things during our three separate trips.
- Skip the playpen unless your little one is used to it and plan to co-sleep. I know, co-sleeping isn’t for everyone, and since every baby and every couple is different, this bit of advice might not work for you either. But, I found our pack’n’play took up a lot of room in our tiny little car, but Isabel refused to sleep in it both camping trips we attempted it. It gets cold at night while camping, and being all by herself in her little bed wasn’t warm enough. We ended up co-sleeping instead so we could keep her warm, and feeling safe and secure with our body heat. It also made it easy to quickly sooth and nurse when she woke up in the middle of the night, so we mostly managed to avoid waking up our camping buddies.
- Related: pack warmer clothes than you think she’ll need. Those fleece sleepers that you’ve packed up because it’s summer? This is the time for them. It gets cold at night while camping, especially in August. If you’re camping in the fall, like we did last year, you’ll want to think about even warmer clothes. I packed Isabel a big chunky knit sweater for cool evenings and even cooler mornings and I was so glad I did.
- Relax on hygiene. I mean, a lot. Isabel had the best time while we were camping when we let her roam free a bit, which meant crawling around on the dirt, finding sticks, maybe ended up with those sticks in her mouth, and dirt all over her face. Her clothes got messy and it felt like we were scrubbing dirt out of her hair for a week after, but she was the happiest, most easy-going baby during those hours we just let her go. Of course, not every kid is going to love being grubby. For those kids, bring a big tarp or picnic blanket to play on out of the dirt instead, and, no matter what your kid is like, bring a good stock of wipes to get at least a little cleaned up before dinner and bed.
- Stick to your schedule. This one might be tough, especially if you’re camping with people who don’t also have babies. Isabel naps twice a day, once at 9 and again at 1 or so. She eats lunch around 11:30 and dinner around 6:30, and promptly goes to bed right after. Her need to nap and eat didn’t change just because we were camping. One of the days we were gone this past weekend, she fought her afternoon nap, so we gave up – a little too easily – and simply skipped it. By 4, she was almost unbearable and when food wasn’t quite ready in time, we were in melt-down mode.
- Bring a baby monitor. This wouldn’t have worked for us this time around, but in the future, we’ll definitely be adding this to our camping gear. This past weekend, our group included another couple with a baby. It was great to have the girls together, and we love that Isabel has a cousin who is very close to her age. But, our site was well out of ear-shot from their site, which meant that after bed time, it was impossible to have all four parents settled around a campfire at once. Someone always had to miss out. A baby monitor wouldn’t have helped much, since I think the sites were too far apart for it to have worked, and since our site didn’t actually have the appropriate hydro hook-up, but if we had been just one or two sites away, I could have put Isabel to bed and rejoined the party, knowing I could hear her on a monitor if she needed me. Keep this in mind if you’re planning a trip with another family with young children.
I’m actually kind of sad that we’re done camping for the season. Maybe we’ll tag along with my parents on their annual fall trip again. Maybe we’ll take a couple day trips to the beach before the summer is over. Either way, itself definitely time to start planning for next year already!
*I know, lots of you might protest that even this isn’t camping. Air mattress instead of a sleeping bag on the ground? Camp stove instead of boiling water for coffee slowly over an open flame? A car to get to your site? Such luxury!
**We will readily acknowledge that if/when we can afford to purchase a trailer and store it somewhere on our property, we will both be ready and willing to make the change. The idea of a real bed is just too attractive. I won’t call it camping though. I don’t know what I’d call it. Just, not camping.