Last summer we spent a good amount of time sleeping in tents between a handful of trips to the mountains with friends and one awesome road trip where we camped our way through National Parks and Forests on our way to California and back. We have two little boys, Dylan (2.5) and Chase (6 months), and it has been so fun to bring them camping with us.
We started camping with Dylan when he was almost a year old, but Chase got his first taste of sleeping outdoors just three months after he was born (if you don't count when he was in my belly!) It's actually a lot easier than it sounds to camp with kids, and it is so great to see their faces lit by campfire light rather than the glow of the iPad screen that my two year old loves so much (I know, I know. . .)
There are a few different ways to camp, depending on your wants, needs, and experience. Whether you camp in an RV, at a campground with facilities, or need 4WD to get to your favorite spot to pitch a tent, I promise you that it is possible - and enjoyable - to bring the kids!
Our experience is mainly with car camping, where we drive out to a spot with no facilities, no trash bins, and no electricity, so that is what I will address in this post. People thought we were absolutely nuts when we took two weeks to drive and camp our way down to San Diego and back when Dylan was almost 2 and I was about 5 months pregnant, but it was without a doubt the best trip we have ever gone on, and we can't wait to do it again!
Some of the main concerns about camping with kids are the following:
Both of our kids are used to co-sleeping with us, so whether we are at home or in a tent, it doesn't make much difference. We have sleeping bags that zip together to make one large bed set up, so we just make sure to keep pillows and covers away from them, and have them on the outside of us. They are usually bundled up enough to not need the covers anyways. We have camped with friends who have brought a Pack 'N Play as well, and this was a great option for kids who are used to sleeping in a crib. There are also cots that you can buy that fit into most tents. Something to keep in mind, though, is that if you are breastfeeding and will need to throughout the night, try to wear clothes that make this easier for you! I have made the mistake of going to bed with lots of difficult layers to deal with, and when you're cold in the middle of the night, the last thing you want to have to do is peal off all of your layers or expose a bare shoulder or torso! Nursing tanks or bras and button down or zip up outer layers are a smart choice.
We try to bring as little extra as possible, so one of the things we decided we could live without was a high chair. This season, we may consider bringing our Bumbo with a tray seat so Chase can explore his food and we can have our hands free, but when it was just Dylan, one of us would hold him and feed him, or just give him something he can eat with his hands without needed a tray, like quesadillas, sandwiches, and pancakes.
Breastfeeding definitely makes life in the woods much easier, but it can absolutely be done with bottles and formula as well! As long as you make sure to bring plenty of water to not only drink and cook with, but also to use for boiling and cleaning, you can use bottles just as you would at home. You can heat a bottle by placing it in some water thats been heated on the camp stove or Jetboil, and be sure to bring plenty of paper towels, wipes, plastic bags, and anything else to keep things as clean and sanitary as possible.
We do tend to create much more trash when we have kids to wipe down and more things to keep clean, but we want to make sure to never leave any sign of camping left behind. There is nothing worse than finding a beautiful spot to camp, only to find the area littered with trash. Our set up includes having small plastic grocery bags in our tent for trash, and a big kitchen trash bag attached to our cooking table. All trash gets put in the trailer or in our vehicle when we turn in for the night, to keep animals away. When we leave, our trash comes with us. I suggest double bagging dirty diapers, and burning paper towels in the fire after they have been used.
The most important part of keeping kids safe in the woods is to keep an eye on them. Especially when camping near water, always make sure you know where they are at all times. We have put glow-in-the-dark bracelets or headlamps on the kids at night to keep track of them (around the fire, not when they go to bed), and always keep our bear spray nearby. Animals will keep their distance from a noisy crowd, which isn't a problem when you're camping with kids, however, you should have conversations with your children about respecting animals in the wild. We have also come across dead animals on our trips, which can actually be more dangerous than live ones. Be sure to check around the entire site, especially if you have pets camping with you. Don't forget to pack a fully-equipped first aid kit, so you could treat anything from cuts, bites, burns, breaks, or fevers. We were lucky enough to have a Special Forces-trained Army medic camping buddy, so we always knew we were in good hands! It wouldn't hurt to brush up on some basic first aid skills before heading out into the wilderness where the nearest hospital could be hours away. Other items that could help with keeping kids safe is having a Pack 'N Play or a portable play yard to help contain the kiddos.
I remember seeing something on Pinterest about camping with kids, and it showed a picture of a baby taking a bath in a big plastic storage bin. It was so cute, and I pinned it for future use, but I have never actually done it. Dirty kids are not the end of the world! I horrified my sister in law when I sent her a picture of my husband cleaning Dylan's feet with a baby wipe because we were absolutely filthy after 3 days on the road in 3 different (sandy) camping spots. But a little dirt doesn't hurt! However, if you are concerned about cleanliness or if you're kid is like mine and is a magnet for dirt, puddles, sticky foods, etc., you can do what is called a "field shower", which is what they do in the military when they are training or down range without access to showers, where you just wipe yourself down with a baby wipe. Have I mentioned to be sure to bring plenty of wipes? Hand sanitizer is always good to have on hand and kept by the food table to use after going to the bathroom or before eating/cooking.
Keeping Kids Entertained:
Don't! When we went camping with another family whose son is the same age as ours, we learned that if you bring toys, they will just fight over them. They are perfectly happy just playing with sticks and dirt and exploring. They run around, collect sticks for the fire, and best of all, they can just. . . be. Honestly! At home our son goes from toy to toy, or from electronic device to electronic device, but in the woods he can just sit by the fire and relax. It's amazing. Maybe when they get older we will start bringing card games, books, and a ball to play with, but at this age, they are so curious and will be plenty happy to just explore and eat s'mores. We have brought kites and frisbees, but I'm not sure who enjoyed those things more - the kids or the parents!
This may sound like a lot to think about but really, less is more when camping with the kids. Camping is all about sneaking away to a simple way of life for a couple of nights to de-stress, so try to be as easy going as possible when things don't go as smoothly as planned. We have had poor weather, set up camp in the dark, had diaper disasters, cuts, bruises, and forgot important things like OUR TENT and maple syrup for pancakes, but those are the trips where the best memories are made! Pick a camping style that will work for your family and let the kids get dirty and eat s'mores for breakfast, because kids in nature are happy kids!
My 2 year old daughter had always been a pretty good eater. She was fairly fearless and willing to try anything at least once. She liked Indian, Thai, and Mexican cuisine, and fruits and veggies were her favorite. We had some tough times between 8 months and 1 year because I was doing the whole, puree/mash everything method and really, who wants to eat that? (With our second kid, we are planning on doing baby-led weaning and I will be taking Michelle’s class on that at Enso for sure). So, everything was going great until all of a sudden, it wasn’t. Suddenly, meals were these difficult ordeals: things she’s always loved, she would no longer eat; foods she loved one day became cry-worthy the next, there were tears, huge messes, and lots of stress. My daughter has been pretty tall and thin from the get-go, but her food-difficulties were starting to show. At her 2 year wellness check-up, the doctor was concerned at how prominent her rib-cage was and to be honest, so was I. I think it was a combination of toddler-itis and her coping with a new baby in the house and all of the big changes that come along with it.
During this time, she had also become obsessed with rainbows. I’m talking, constant color-talk. I only want to draw rainbows and watch you draw rainbows over and over. Organizing her toys, books, and puzzle pieces by color. OCD. Rainbow. Obsessed. One night at dinner, I noticed her deconstructing her salad and putting the veggies in rainbow order. She then gleefully ate them after shouting out the corresponding colors. The next day at lunch I wanted to do something special for her. Other than the food issues, she really was handling these big life-changes very well and was very understanding when my 3 month old was still eating almost hourly during the day. I decided to blow her mind and make her a “Rainbow lunch”. I tried to give her at least 2 choices for every color because I wasn’t sure how it was going to go over. Red tomatoes, orange carrots, apricot jam on toast, and cheese, yellow romaine lettuce, green kiwi and broccoli, blueberries, purple cauliflower and pink salami.
She loved it and practically cleaned her plate! So for the past 2 months, whenever possible, we do rainbow lunch and sometimes even rainbow dinner. Mealtimes have become pleasant and fun, she’s eating so much better and she’s gaining weight, has filled out a bit and is out of the scary-skinny-zone.
When making these meals, you have to keep in mind the big picture, what did they have for breakfast? What will they be having for snacks and dinner? It’s so much easier to feel ok about just grilled cheese or pasta for dinner when they’ve eaten a rainbow of fruits, veggies, and protein at lunch. Toddlers love having options and making decisions so I try to give her choices like, “what red do you want? Tomato, apple, or strawberry? What about orange?” She loves having a say and she’s way more likely to eat everything if she gets to have some input. I definitely have to steer her in the right direction so that she ends up with a fairly balanced meal, and not just a plate of fruit each time. Truth be told, I’m having just as much fun with this as she is. When I have a little extra time, it’s fun to make mandalas or other fun food-art, but simple little piles of each color on the plate is easy and effective. I’ve been eating better since starting this as well, which means that the kiddo I’m nursing is eating better too!
Some food suggestions for each color:
Red- tomatoes, beets, peppers, radishes, apples, strawberries, cherries, watermelon, raspberries,
Orange- carrots, peppers, goldfish crackers, oranges, cantalope, papaya, nectarines, apricots, cheese
Yellow- corn, peppers, beets, tomatoes, carrots, squash, lettuce, bananas, pineapple, cheese, pears, apples, starfruit,
Green- snap/snow/green peas, beans, avocado, celery, lettuce, peppers, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cucumbers, pickles, apples, grapes, kiwi, pears
Blue- blueberries, blackberries, grapes, blue corn tortilla chips, purple potatoes
Purple- cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, grapes, plums, lettuce, potatoes, eggplant, raisins/craisins
Meats, beans, grains, crackers & toast are good for pink and brown. Yogurt mixed with fresh fruit or jams can be used for just about any color as well as jelly/jam on toast. There are also quite a few natural pre-packaged foods that use fruit and plant based dyes that can be found (Annie's animal cookies and cheese crackers for example).
To make life easier and lunch prep faster, I try to wash/peel/cut up any fruits and veggies that keep well ahead of time, in one big prep session after grocery shopping. I have even given up my kid-free shower time to do this on occasion because it’s worth it to have lunch and snack prep fast and easy for the rest of the week/s. I’m not sure if this is just a phase she's going through, or if we will continue with this for years, but as long as it’s fun, effective and healthy, I’ll keep at it.
Beth Cecere is an Enso Mama and at-home mom, living in Colorado Springs, CO.
Enso offers Mom & Tots Yoga, Tots Morning, & Baby Led Weaning!
This blog is not intended to be a source of medical information or advice. Please discuss all of your concerns with your care provider.