A – ACCEPT that there is a lot of work involved in camping with littles. Acquiesce to the fact that, unlike the carefree trips of your youth, it will be a bit exhausting (because now you get to do all the work your parents did, and your kids are the carefree ones!). The adventure is still out there, it’s just a different kind.
B – BE PREPARED for every eventuality. Over-pack because nothing spells misery for you like a miserable kid in the woods.
C – CHECKLIST check. Make a list and shop ahead of time to avoid stress. Methodically check off items on your list.
The first time my husband and I took my daughter camping, she was seven months old. We were anxious to go because my third-trimester pregnancy the previous summer had more or less precluded camping while I was feeling so uncomfortable. That first camping trip with an infant was a major feat. It took a lot of prep to ensure her happiness and safety while we ventured off the grid. We had to bring an incredible amount of water – enough to clean bottles and breast pump parts. The entire spring was unbelievably cold, so we toted along a propane heater to make sure our baby would be warm. My husband built a mini-crib to prevent her from rolling anywhere unsafe. I had to accept that each night, after putting the baby to bed, I wouldn’t get to relax under starlight right away – instead I had to sit in the car with my breast pump while my husband and friends hung out by the fire. It was exhausting. But not even a month later, we turned around and went camping again. And then again. Now this year we have been able to go camping with her as a toddler. Her needs are different, but the amount of work hasn’t changed, and we still had to operate around her schedule to maintain a happy, balanced toddler attitude.
I wouldn’t give up a second of any of those trips. Watching my daughter interact with the natural world, spending quality bonding time, making art out of pinecones, snuggling in sleeping bags, splashing in streams, playing in the rain… all moments made possible by camping. But my absolute favorite? Feeling like a supermom hiking her around to so many different places. My crowning moment was when she got hungry during a hike back from Delicate Arch. I nursed her while she was strapped to my body as I hiked down that giant slab in approaching twilight. I had a feeling like I was capable of anything, and I was joyously reliving her megawatt smiles that I witnessed against the backdrop of one of my favorite places. These are precious moments that I will never forget, that give me the conviction to say, I’m going to continue giving myself and my daughter these experiences as she grows up.
This brings me back to the ABC’s of camping, which can set you up for success while adventuring with your littles.
A) If you ACCEPT beforehand the amount of work involved in camping with little kids, and that things probably won’t go exactly as planned (because kids, the weather, swarms of bugs, diaper blowouts, and many other things are unpredictable), then you will set your expectations in the right place. Having realistic expectations is important for feeling like you had a fun, successful trip. Acquiescing to the fact that it is tiring (because it takes more effort to put excited kids down for a nap, to make meals out of messy camping bins, or to pack up a bag for a day hike with prepped bottles and a mountain of items for diapering) and that things may not go according to plan will help you roll with the punches a little easier.
B) I cannot emphasize enough that BEING PREPARED is a key to unlocking the best kind of experience when camping with littles. Gone are the days of “Let’s go camping tomorrow!” and voila, you’re packed and ready in less than an hour without caring about what you forgot as long as you have extra socks. Planning ahead will greatly increase your chances of successfully pulling off a camping trip that you and your little one(s) enjoy. This means grocery shopping ahead of time, prepping meals beforehand to make life infinitely easier while you are camping (you have a million duties when it comes to little kids – being able to throw something on your campfire or portable grill will expedite everyone’s happiness). Chop vegetables ahead of time, make breakfast burritos and freeze them to keep other items in your cooler chilled, pre-boil any noodles, bake easy banana muffins, etc. Dedicate one night on the weekend before your trip to do meal prep, and you will thank yourself 1000x over while you are camping. Go shopping (whether in-store or online) the week before to make sure you have everything you need instead of having to stop on your way to your destination, thereby adding additional car time and grumpiness to your child’s attitude. Fill your propane, get your biodegradable soaps and toilet paper, and knock out all your errands ahead of time. Which brings me to the final point.
C) Make a CHECKLIST. On my first trip out with my daughter, I forgot an important item. My friends camping with us asked, “Well, was it on the list?” Nope, it wasn’t. Their response: “Well if it’s not on the list, how are you supposed to remember to bring it?” I now have a living document (meaning a dynamic document that is constantly edited and updated) on Google Sheets that is called “Packing Lists”. The baby has a list. My husband and I have a list. The dog has a list. On each person’s (or dog’s!) list are a categorical breakdown of other lists for different types of trips (e.g., my daughter has categorical lists for clothing, sleeping, playing, diapering, feeding, camping, and flying). Every time someone remembers something else to add, it immediately is put onto our living list so whatever it isn’t forgotten next time. Every trip we take, we only have to refer to the lists already made and don’t need to put much thought into it because the work has already been done! This is one of my absolute favorite things, and it takes a lot of the stress out of camping. To help get you jump-started, see the printable Baby and Toddler Camping Checklist on this post.
Camping with little kids isn’t for the faint of heart. You must be committed to the fun you know you can have while you’re out adventuring in the wild, whether it’s immediate or retroactive (yes, there is more than one type of fun). You must be committed to the all the preparations beforehand and the work that goes into it while you’re out there so your little ones can be comfortable and everyone can be happy campers.