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Oh, Baby!

Six tips for camping with infants or toddlers.

By Erica H. Brasseux

True to the old cliché, babies do change everything, including those spontaneous overnight excursions from your pre-parenting days. While camping with baby definitely takes more preparation, planning and attention to detail than an adults-only trip, snuggling up around a campfire under a starry sky with your little one will be well worth the extra time and effort.

1. Take baby steps.

There’s no right age for baby’s first camp-out. From a few months old to toddlerhood, most babies love the outdoors. When you’re ready to go, your baby will be, too. Avoid seasons of extreme heat or cold. Even the tiniest babies can adapt to almost any conditions, but you will have to work harder to keep them comfortable.

Camping can run the gamut from the simple tent to the elaborate motor home. Whatever your choice of refuge, the main focus is to keep it simple and have fun.

A one- or two-night stay at a campground close to home is a great way to get accustomed to camping with a baby. If you forget something dire, you can always go home and get it, and add it to the packing list for next time.

2. When packing, go overboard!

From diapers and wipes to formula and baby food, pack more than you think you’ll need for the first trip. Disposable diapers are easy, but you can certainly camp with cloth diapers. Ready-to-use formula and bottles with disposable plastic liners mean you won’t have to worry as much about keeping things sterile or keeping prepared formula cold. You can, however, boil bottles and nipples in a pot over the campfire, but don’t forget a bottle brush. In addition to your regular camping equipment, a first-aid kit and camera are must-haves.

3. Dress for success.

Even in the summer, nights can be very cool. Layered clothing is best, as it is far simpler to add or remove a layer than redress each time the temperature fluctuates. Remember to pack plenty of blankets and a warm hat for chilly nights.

Always consult your pediatrician before using any insect repellents or sunscreen on a young infant. Your best bet is to dress them in clothes that cover as much skin as possible (including a sun hat) and be mindful of the sun’s rays.

Crawlers and walkers will undoubtedly get dirty, so dress them accordingly. Pack old shoes and several changes of socks and play clothes, along with extra baby wipes, especially if bathing facilities are not available. Keep a laundry pretreating stick handy to treat the most horrendous stains at the campsite, then relax and have fun watching them explore the great outdoors.

4. Police your campsite.

Arrive well before dark and choose your campsite carefully. Steep slopes and drop-offs and bodies of water should be avoided, especially if your baby is mobile. Scour the area for poison ivy, sharp sticks or anything that appears dangerous to you. Let the little one play within a supervised area bordered by a quilt or blanket, lawn chairs or favorite toys. When camping with a toddler, it is best to have someone on “toddler duty” at all times, just to be sure your curious tike does not venture outside safe boundaries. Also, create a “no-kid zone” in a wide circle around the campfire. Since cell phone service may be spotty, make sure to locate the nearest pay phone in case of an emergency.

5. Corral your crawler.

Though not a necessity, an infant carrier, stroller, play pin or portable swing will offer your little one a safe place to perch on a picnic table or in the grass near your campsite, allowing you to set up camp, cook or tend to other chores. Front or back carriers and slings are also handy for hiking with a baby, offering them a different vantage point to enjoy the outdoors. Pack-and-plays also double as a crib, offering a safe place for baby to sleep.

6. Focus on fun!

Even before the big trip, you can set up a tent in the house, or better, in the backyard, and let your toddler explore or take a nap there. Once you arrive, give yourself and your little one a chance to adjust to the changes while sticking to your normal daily routine as much as possible. Camping with friends who also have young children can help, as parents get a break from camp chores and preparing meals, and there will be backup help if the baby gets cranky. Aside from safety issues, leave the “don’t touch” and “no” at home. Let them explore. Let them get dirty. Let them be little.

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