Camping with babies and toddlers: gear up!

The first time my family and I took our eldest son out camping, it was a three-day backpacking trek into Oregon’s Columbia Gorge near Multnomah Falls, and he was 13-months old. Were we crazy? Well, yes, but we had a great time introducing baby Nate to the outdoors we loved, and I believe the experience (and others that followed) helped him acclimate at a young age to the idea of roughing it.

Is your young one ready to camp or backpack once the snows melt and the sun shines? To make the trip easier on the adults in the group), I offer the following well-earned tips:

1. Bring a backpack baby or toddler carrier. We loved our sturdy REI backpack carrier, but that was, ahem, over a decade ago. If you’re looking for more updated equipment, I recommend Kelty’s line of carriers, and look for my review of their newest at Practical Travel Gear soon. (By the way, at the Campfire live chat, we’ll be giving one away.) Not only is a backpack carrier useful for its intended purpose of carrying the baby while hiking, it serves as an excellent mountain high chair. With a squirmy toddler and a rustic camp, the only other place you might find to serve him or her dinner is on the ground. Bear in mind: if one adult is ‘packing’ the baby, the other(s) are overly burdened with necessary supplies. Either pack light (good luck with a kid in tow) or invite friends (good luck with that, too, come to think of it).

2. If you’re car camping instead of backpacking, utilize a portable bed such as Regalo My Cot Portable Bed It’s more to pack than a traditional backpacking pad, but little children and babies slip and slide all night long on the regular ones. Dress babies warmly at night, and play by the same rules at home (no extra bedding around faces, etc). Obviously, you’ll want to camp in a warm climate while kids are very small.

3. If your child is walking, put bells on his or her shoes. Yes, they get annoying, but this wasn’t going to be the trip in which you waited patiently for hours for a glimpse of wildlife, anyway. Bells keep kids within close proximity and provide peace of mind. Bright colored clothing is a must, too!

4. Stick as much as possible to your child’s normal foods. Yes, changes will have to be made to accommodate for packs and weight, but in general, pack your child’s familiar foods. Great backpacking fare includes fruit leather, trail mix (for older kids), organic pouched baby food (like these from Ella’s Kitchen), and instant soup.

5. Don’t slack on sun protection, bring basic medications, and pack a big first aid kit. Give up on keeping the kid clean, however. Just really…give up. Now. Preferrably before you even leave. In all seriousness, a little dirt won’t hurt, and you can’t avoid it. Just bring wet wipes and antiseptic wipes in case of cuts (and to wipe down hands before meals), and plan on a soapy, long bath upon return to civilization.

Lastly, don’t be afraid! Just get out there and go! Your camping or backpacking trip will be more work than most, but the rewards will take your breath away (even more than a steep climb with 40 pounds of toddler on your back)!