Parenting a newborn (0-2 months old) is going to be tough no matter where you are, so you might as well be somewhere you find enjoyable. In this sense, taking a newborn baby camping is not at all crazy. However, it would be a lie to imply that camping with a newborn doesn’t come with challenges. And, yes, for some parents staying at home is the easier and smarter thing to do.
While writing these tips for camping with a newborn baby, I’ve tried to be conscious that every parent’s experience is completely different: what works for some parents might not work for you. Even things that worked with one child might not work with your next baby.
With this in mind, I’ve compiled tips from my own experiences as well as from many parents who took their newborn babies camping. For the purposes of this article, a newborn is 0 to 2 months age. If your baby is a bit older, then read this guide to camping with a baby.
1. Don’t Make Any Plans Until After You’ve Had Your Baby
You have no idea how long it will take your body to heal after having a baby. For some women it is just a matter of days. Other women have to deal with things like infected episiotomy incisions, C-section scars, blood loss, blocked milk ducts…
On top of that, you don’t know how long it will take you to adjust to your baby. If you are still struggling with getting your newborn to sleep on a crib, for example, adding the extra element of sleeping in a tent isn’t going to help.
If you make plans ahead of time, you might feel disappointed and like a failure if you cancel (though obviously you shouldn’t feel like this!). By contrast, if you wait until you feel ready to go camping with your new baby, you are more likely to actually enjoy the trip.
2. Have an Exit Plan
I don’t know too many parents who actually used their exit plans, but simply having one makes camping with a newborn less stressful. Here are some examples of exit plans:
- Camping near home: Then you can just drive home if you are having a miserable time.
- Hotel: Keep a list of hotels which are nearby and can go to.
- Campgrounds which also have rental cabins: In case sleeping in a tent isn’t going well, you can just switch to the cabin. Check the cabin availability before you go.
Leaky breasts. Throw up. Exploding diapers. Unexpected bleeding…. These things are all common when you are a new parent. Make your life easier by over-packing. You might want to bring:
- Lots of extra baby clothes
- Extra clothes for you
- Tons of diapers
- An extra sleeping bag and/or blankets
- Menstrual pads, even if you stopped bleeding
- Table, chairs, sit pads
- Diaper changing pad
- Portable crib, stroller, carrier
- Extra towels
- Kitchen tent or tarp (for shade or rain shelter)
- Lanterns and nightlight for the tent
4. Stay At Least Two Nights
All parents agree that the first night camping with a newborn is the hardest. By the second night, things are easier: everything is unpacked, you’ve figured out the sleeping situation, and are less stressed. So, ironically, if you try to do a “test run” by only camping one night, you might actually have a bad experience.
5. Prioritize Mom’s Comfort
When camping with a newborn, most of the attention goes to keeping the baby happy. But you should also be prioritizing mom’s comfort – especially if she is breastfeeding. Pregnancy and childbirth is exhausting and it can take months to recover. So make sure mom has everything she needs to stay comfy, like:
- Chair for nursing
- Breastfeeding clothes (so your upper body doesn’t freeze when breastfeeding outside in the cold)
- Comfortable sleeping pad
- Camp slippers
- Hot drinks
6. Bring LOTS of Extra Food
Breastfeeding moms need a lot of extra calories. Plus, the fresh air of camping increases appetite. So make sure you bring lots of extra food – especially snack foods and meals which don’t require much preparation. The last thing you want is to be sleep-deprived and hungry!
7. Invest in a Good Sleep Setup
If you want to take a newborn camping, then you probably plan on doing more camping as your child gets older. So, think about what new camping gear makes sense to get. At the very least, you will need a baby sleeping bag and sleeping pad. You might also want a portable bed and a larger tent.
For more info, read:
8. Don’t Co-Sleep in the Same Sleeping Bag
While some parents do co-sleep with their newborn when camping, it is generally a very bad idea. Even if your newborn sleeps well, you probably won’t since you’ll be too stressed about the sleeping bag suffocating her. For more on this, read this post on co-sleeping with a baby when camping.
9. Plan Where Your Newborn Will Sleep during the Day
Since newborn babies spend a lot of the day sleeping, it is imperative that you bring somewhere to put them down to sleep.
Ideally, the sleeping place is elevated off the ground. While you can put your newborn on a sleeping pad on the ground, it is generally not a good idea. There’s no way to keep insects off of her and you’ll have to worry about other campers tripping over your baby.
Good solutions are:
- Stroller: This is what worked for my family. We got a stroller that could handle rough terrain. Our daughter would fall asleep in it almost instantly.
- Portable crib with stable legs: Most portable cribs aren’t good for camping because they could easily topple over on uneven terrain. Some people use pack n’ plays, but I found it difficult to get sleeping newborn in/out.
Note: Carriers are NOT for sleeping!
Don’t make the mistake of thinking your newborn will sleep in the carrier for the entire camping trip. You will get exhausted from constantly having your baby strapped to your chest, not to mention find it difficult to do things like eat or go to the bathroom. Bring somewhere to put your baby down!
10. Test All Gear Before Your Trip
It is good practice to test out all gear before any camping trip. But this is even more important when camping with a baby. You’ll want to take your baby for a walk in the carrier, get her in the sleeping bag, and prepare formula using your camp stove.
Even test out new diapers you will be using. I learned this the hard way. My daughter used cloth diapers at home but we decided to use disposables when traveling. The brand of disposables we got ended up being terrible and immediately resulted in a poop explosion. This could have been avoided had I tested those diapers at home first.
11. Sun Protection
Newborns have very sensitive skin but are too young to wear sunscreen. Ideally you will get a shady campground. If not, then consider bringing a shade tarp or kitchen tent to hang out in. Also make sure you’ve got UV-protective clothing and a floppy hat for your newborn.
12. Mosquitoes and Ticks
Bug spray isn’t safe for newborns and most natural repellents don’t work that well. So, the only good way to keep bugs off your newborn is to use mosquito netting. Some strollers and portable cribs come with built-in bug screens. I just bought some cheap netting and used giant binder clips to hang it over the stroller.
13. Bottle Feeding a Newborn at Camp
Breastfeeding is a heck of a lot easier than bottle feeding while camping. Some tips that may make it easier are:
- Choose a campground with potable water. Then you won’t have to treat the water before making formula each time. If you are worried about the cleanliness of the water, then bring your own water for formula.
- Prepare water the night before. Boil a kettle of water before bed and put it in an insulated flask. By morning feeding time, it will be the perfect temperature.
- Use disposable bottle inserts. While I hate disposables, these do make camping with a newborn easier. You still have to clean the nipples but won’t have to clean bottles.
- Bring lots of nipples and bottles. Just rinse them after each feeding. Then you can clean them all at once.
14. Yes, Newborn Babies Will Bother the Neighbors
While most campers are sympathetic, there are campers who will be annoyed by your newborn’s crying. As one woman said,
“As a mum of twins I’m not unsympathetic to the demands of young children but don’t think everyone else should have to bear the noise during their relaxing break.”
There are ways to avoid annoying the neighbors, such as asking for a remote campground or going camping during the down-season. But, if you already know that your newborn is a screamer, you might want to consider primitive camping instead. This obviously come with its own set of challenges – like having to dig a hole each time you go to the bathroom and packing out dirty diapers – but at least you won’t have to worry about bothering anyone (or anyone bothering your baby).
Did you take a newborn camping? Let us know your tips in the comments section below.