Camping with Infants and Toddlers
There are a lot of people who love to go camping, but then when a new family member comes along, they think they can’t go camping until the kids are a few years old. I can speak from experience that this isn’t true. Sure, there is a lot more trepidation about taking a young one camping, especially when they are still a little unstable walking. I started taking my son Kyle camping when he was 10 months old, and yes, it was a challenge.
But I kept taking him, and not only did he adapt to it, so did I. When Kyle was 23 months old I took him on an elk scouting trip in the mountains, and we had a blast! I had a back pack that I carried him around in, and we hiked through the same terrain that I would when hunting elk. Carrying him around was good conditioning for elk hunting too, and we would stop a couple of times throughout the day to let him take a nap on a blanket on the ground. The fact is that if you like to go camping, you should start going with your kids even when they are under two years old.
That was a long time ago that I carried Kyle around on my back, I think now he is big enough and strong enough to carry me around on his back. But since then there are more products available that make taking a young child camping even easier. Having a mobile phone is one simple thing that eases some of the stress of being away from civilization, as long as you have good coverage. There are all kinds of portable play pens that you can use to keep your child in one place while you attend camp chores, and back packs like I mentioned are great for getting around with little baby on your back.
Not only is the right gear important for a successful camping experience, but more important is the preparation of the child. Children don’t adapt as quickly to changes in their environment as adults do, so you need to start with a form of habituation for your child before their camping trip, and this is very easy to do. You can start by setting up a tent in the back yard and letting the child play in and around it while you have a bar-b-q, a very similar situation to camping. After a few backyard outings, take the child with you on day hikes to an area that is somewhat wild, not a city park that looks too much like your back yard. This will be as good for you as it will for your child; you will learn what things to bring (which I’ll talk more about in a minute), you’ll learn how your child reacts to things like bugs, or rain, or strong wind.
One of the main things to remember is that your child will react to your reactions. You can test this yourself at home if you don’t already know it, just pretend to get upset about something and watch your baby’s reaction to your actions. It is extremely important that you show enthusiasm and excitement on your excursions, from the minute you are packing the car to the time the trip is over. That is a challenge at times, especially when your child does something that is dangerous or gets hurt. I remember how challenging that was with my kids when it came to a fire in the fire ring, I was sure one of them was going to take a swan dive into the fire pit, but it never happened. In fact with Kyle I let him start building his own fires right next to the fire pit at a very young age, and he never got hurt once. He got filthy dirty, but never hurt.
As far as what to pack for a camping trip, it is important for the first few times to bring way more of what you think you will need. You know what things to bring for your baby; you’ll just want to bring more of it than you would on an evening at a friend’s house. Spend some time visualizing how your day will be spent, and then imagine it lasting twice as long, because it may seem like that at times. I mentioned the portable crib/playpen, which is essential, and so is a seat that clamps on to a picnic table. I also mentioned a backpack, and make sure you get one that can buckle your child in; you don’t want to dump the baby out when you bend over.
For your first camping trip, pick a place that isn’t a long drive from home, which is not a good way to start out a baby’s first camping trip. You know your child better than anyone else, so you know what they can tolerate in a car ride, but this is an important factor of the trip. If you can find a campground with some basic amenities (like flush toilets and running water) this can help the child ease into a camping atmosphere. Of course pay attention to the weather forecast; you don’t want the camping trip to be cold or rainy.
Taking young ones camping is really not as challenging as you might think, as long as it is planned and executed well. And the sooner you start taking your infants and toddlers camping, the easier it will be as they grow older. My son Kyle was fly fishing at 6 years old, and splitting wood with an axe when he was 7. By the time he turned 10, he only started a fire with flint and steel, and he’s very good at it. Those early times of taking him out paid off in the long run, and we created a lot of great memories along the way.