Having a kiddo changes almost everything. My social life revolves around nap schedules and a 7:30 bedtime, and it generally includes multiple individuals under age two. The books in my living room mostly max out at ten pages and are made of cardboard. ‘Kid’ has taken priority in my fiercely prioritized life over everything else. (If you’ve read my other posts or know me well, you know that ‘ everything else’ includes at the top: 8 hours of sleep, work, working out, eating well, husband, and friends, usually in that order.) Getting outside (that is, getting away from civilization) always fell somewhere on my list of priorities, albeit below all those other things, which is why it only happened a few times a year. And while having a kid has changed my priorities in unexpected ways (for example, it didn’t occur to me before having a kid that I would want to prioritize time with him over other things like working out or sleep, even though I knew I would often need to), it didn’t change that I still want to do all the things I used to do. Like travel. Like trying new restaurants. Like going camping and getting outside.
Those are still priorities, so we’re figuring out how to make them work! As my husband put it, camping with a baby is harder than camping without a baby, but being at home with a baby is also harder than being at home without a baby, and the difference is about the same.
So far, we’ve taken three camping trips, when Gabriel was 7.5 weeks, 5 months, and 12.5 months. Here’s how we did it:
- Car camping. So far, we’ve only camped in campgrounds with baby. We used to backpack and backcountry camp, and we are looking forward to getting back to that someday. People do it with young kids, but not us, yet. Car camping, especially if you can find a good campground with reasonably quiet and secluded spots, scratches the itch of being outside, getting dirty, and enjoying nature. It also allows you to be reasonably well prepared for most eventualities. You can bring extra diapers, extra warm clothes, extra food, whatever, in the event that you might need it (but probably won’t). You can leave if you absolutely have to if disaster (or just extreme unhappiness) strikes. You can still rough it… but with a safety blanket.
- Length: Just one night. So far, we’ve only camped for one night at a time. We’ve got our confidence now and are considering a two-night trip in the fall. But this has felt manageable and not too intimidating.
Here’s more info about each trip – sleeping arrangements, food, etc.
Trip 1: 7.5 weeks, Cunningham Falls State Park
We went on our first camping adventure with baby in July, which is not normally a time of year in Maryland that I like to go camping. But it was lovely. We stayed in Cunningham Falls State Park.
We arrived in the afternoon, set up camp, and then hiked down to the Hunting Creek Lake and back. The lake was part of the park and had a beach and amenities. I wore Gabriel facing me in the ergo. We put him in a long-sleeve footed onesie outfit, I think because we were worried about bugs and sunshine, but it was a bad idea. Too hot. It was like 90 something degrees out. He was sweating. I was worried about him being dehydrated. But of course, everything ended up fine.
- Food: I was breastfeeding at the time, so we didn’t have to worry about food for him. He was still up several times over night (I think at least 3 that night). I brought my boppy breastfeeding pillow to use as my sleeping pillow, and then just used it sitting in the tent to breastfeed when the occasion arose.
- Tent: We only had our two-person backpacking tent that we’d used for years. Clio, our dog, always slept with us as well. So… it was a tight fit.
- Sleeping place: This one has caused the most consternation. People want to know if we co-slept, but don’t ask directly because they’re worried about sounding judgy or permissive. We did not co-sleep. We brought the Uppababy bassinet attachment, which we’d also been using a lot for naps around the house, and set it at the foot of my sleeping bag. (Note, this picture was taken several months after the camping trip, and no, there was no blanket in the bassinet when G was sleeping in there.)
- Crying/fussing/noise: There was a family at a campsite nearby, whom I spoke to upon arrival and told we had a 7.5 week old. I apologized in advance for any noise. They were very impressed we were camping, had kids of their own, and were totally understanding. Gabriel was mostly fine during waking hours. He did have a bit of an extended fit at one point overnight when we had to change his diaper. Well, so. He did. Maybe the neighbors woke up. Maybe they didn’t. I don’t know. I would obviously prefer not to bother them at 3am, but if I did, I’m sure we’re all over it by now. He was a bit fussy the next day, too, but it was during the day, and so what.
- Diapering: We used our diaper changing pad either on the picnic table or in the tent. We put used diapers in wet bags. We threw them out (we used disposable) when we were at a trash can.
I don’t think Gabriel had a ‘bedtime’ yet then, but we put him to sleep at some point before I went to bed. I wasn’t doing that that often then – staying up past when he went to bed. But I did that night, and I sat in a camp chair and enjoyed the fire and the stars and just thought it was totally worth it. And that’s what I remember, not being tired.
I also remember sneaking out of the tent at 5am, hoping to get some me time. This is a feature of my past camping experiences that I really hope to retain. I’m often the first one up, and I have time to make myself coffee, sit by the fire pit, and just enjoy – alone. I was hoping to get to do that on this camping trip. I think I got far enough to have made coffee before Gabriel woke up. Alas.
We went for another hike from the campground. Gabriel mostly slept, if I recall (again in the ergo, facing me).
Then we drove home, feeling very accomplished. If I remember correctly, though, Gabriel screamed for almost all of the 1.5 hour drive from the backseat. Sigh.
Trip 2: 5 months, Kearneysville, WV
Our second camping trip was at the end of October, when Gabriel was five months old. We stayed at this historic nature preserve that Dan found on airbnb. It was actually totally bizarre. You can rent this whole, huge… space. Overlooking this water-filled quarry. So we did. It wasn’t a traditional campsite near hiking, but we were able to take a 1-2 mile walk around the quarry, which was nice.
Dan’s sister came with us. She slept in our backpacking tent, and we slept in a borrowed four-person tent. The weather was pretty cold and windy. We had to stay pretty bundled up the whole time. In general, I did not enjoy this trip as much. Gabriel was pretty fussy the whole time and was not ever content to not be held. This was generally true at that point in his life, and I also think he may have been cold. I did most of the holding of the fussy baby and didn’t get to do much else.
- Food: Still breastfeeding. I have no recollection of how many times he woke up over night, though I do know he’d only slept through the night once in his life by that point, so I know that didn’t happen.
- Tent: We borrowed a four-person Kelty tent-mansion from friends for the occasion. It worked great! Much more space than our previous tent.
- Sleeping place and clothes: We brought our Guava Lotus travel crib, which fit perfectly well in the tent-mansion. But it was pretty cold. We bundled Gabriel into a onesie, footed pajamas, a footed fleece thing (the orange one in the pictures below), and then another footed and hooded fleece thing (the blue one in the pictures below). Plus a hat. He seemed okay, and slept. I can’t remember if we had to change his diaper overnight. I think we did! Oof, that must have been a task (though I don’t have a clear memory of it, obviously). You can see I left his right hand uncovered, though, since he likes to suck his fingers. Seemed to be the best choice, though I did perseverate over it.
- Other items: The plastic-y picnic blanket you see in the pictures below is nice to have for floor time.
- Crying/fussing/noise: No one was around, so nothing to worry about here.
- Diapering: Same as before. We use disposable diapers and threw them away when we could.
Trip 3: 12.5 months, Wolf Gap Recreation Area
Our final trip with a baby (he hadn’t started toddling yet, so I think ‘baby’ is still appropriate) was to Wolf Gap in the George Washington and Jefferson Forests. It is in West Virginia, but right on the Virginia state line. It was about 2.5 hours driving time for us, and I was nervous about that. At the time, that would be the longest car trip we’d taken with Gabriel to date, and he’d been increasingly mobile and discontent to sit still (still true). But it actually went fine. We timed it well with naps, and he mostly slept. Our trip there took a total of about four hours, which included a detour into Shenandoah because we were there and also lunch in… Woodstock, VA, I think. Wolf Gap only has 9 sites, and I was a little worried about getting one, but there were a couple left when we arrived. We stayed in #8, I think.
A friend we’ve often camped with (both since being in Maryland and when we lived in Atlanta) drove up from Knoxville to join us. He brought his small dog, so Clio had a friend as well.
Before this trip, we purchased our own tent mansion, and this was our first use. It worked great. We also brought what I lovingly call ‘the cage’ – one of those six-sided plastic gate play pen things. We didn’t use it a ton, but Gabriel was occasionally content to be in there for a few minutes at a time when we all needed our eyes and hands to put up the tent, wrangle the dogs, or whatever else. The dogs got more use out of it, though.
After setting up camp, we went for a hike from the campground up to Big Schloss peak. I think it was two miles each way. I wore Gabriel in the ergo on my back. It was my second time doing so, and it works okay, but it definitely convinced me that I want a real child carrier for hiking (just ordered, arriving this week, hooray!). He tolerated it okay, but couldn’t really see over my shoulder. He was pretty fussy by the end and wanted to get out.
- Food and accessories: First, we bring a structured silicone bib with the pouch that catches things whenever we eat out with Gabriel. One lives in the diaper bag. Brought that. We also bring one of his silicone placemats with attached compartments or bowl. Brought one of those. Gabriel mostly eats what we eat, so he had a (cut up) hot dog and bun for dinner like we did. For breakfast, he had packaged oatmeal like we did. We also had lots of snacks. String cheese, apple wheels (these Gerber teething things), pouches (at least to get in some fruits and veggies!), bananas. I think we were still feeding G pouches with a spoon then, but we have since moved on to letting him feed himself pouches. We had just transitioned to cow’s milk, so we brought milk in the cooler and his sippy cup. And we brought one of his 360 cups that he drinks water out of.
- Tent: We used our newly-purchased REI Base Camp 4. Perfect. Plenty of space, easy to set up, nice vestibule, good windows.
- Sleeping place and clothes: Again, the Guava Lotus. I think I had footed pajamas and a sleep sack for him. It was pretty warm but cooled off a bit at night. Nothing crazy, though. OH. We also have a portable white noise machine. I turned it on when G went to bed (before us, at 7:30), but turned it off when we came to bed because my husband (rightly so) wanted to hear the nature. I can’t remember if we used this for the earlier camping trips. But it always comes on other trips with us.
- Other items: The same plastic picnic blanket was useful, especially in the cage thing.
- Crying/fussing/noise: Gabriel was sleeping through the night by this point and doesn’t have major meltdowns during the day, though I’m sure he cried at points.
- Diapering: Same as before. We use disposable diapers and threw them away when we could.
So. That’s how we’ve made camping work, so far.
I also still want to do the things I used to want to do, but never made time for. Like… kayaking. Like… a lot of mountain biking. Like… a daily yoga practice. But if I never (or rarely) made time for them before, I’m definitely not making time for them now. But I will keep finding a way to do the things at the top of my priority list. Next camping adventure: October.