Hiking and camping with a newborn or toddler

I can count on one hand the number of times I went camping growing up. I grew up in a small, dusty city in West Texas. When people went on vacation it usually meant you were going to Six Flags. Even so, I’ve always loved camping. Admittedly I hate being dirty, but there’s something so relaxing about sleeping under the stars cuddled up under your sleeping bag and waking up to the smell of a morning campfire.

Plus s’mores.

We took Cat on her first camping trip shortly after her first birthday. She wasn’t walking yet, so that created some challenges, but I think we learned a lot about what to expect when camping with a baby/toddler. I am anti-stress, especially on vacation, so I tried to make sure all my bases were covered when it came to camping with a one-year-old. Here are five tips to consider when camping with a little one.

Cat loves being outside. This is her digging in the sand at the beach in Fort Worden.

1. Embrace the dirt.

If you have a baby that crawls or toddler that walks they’re going to get dirty. There’s nothing you can do about it. Don’t freak out, just embrace it. We had plenty of baby wipes on hand to give her a quick clean when needed, but for the most part Cat was covered in dirt. Every night we heated up some water and bathed her in a plastic bin so she went into our tent squeaky clean. If there are showers at your campsite and your baby/toddler doesn’t mind bathing that way then go for it. When we took Cat camping the first time she could barely stand on her own without holding something and hated having water poured over her head. Taking her to the showers with me would have been stressful! So remember what I said about stress? Stress is bad, get rid of it. Make things easier on both of you if you can. So I took the time to bathe my girl every night before bed. It also helps them sleep soundly through the night!

Rub-a-dub-dub! Getting Cat cleaned up in our camping bin at Lake Easton State Park.

2. Hats and sunglasses.

We’ve always been very fortunate that Cat will actually wear a hat. When we first started taking her outdoors she didn’t have a hat and she refused to wear sunglasses. At one point we realized our hiking carrier wasn’t providing enough shade. She had sunblock on, but we knew she needed something more. For that short trip she wore my New York Yankees cap. Go ahead and laugh. Before taking her on her first camping trip we bought her a big sun cap that has Velcro straps to keep it secured to her head.

Catarina rocking her Yankees hat while we go look at a bald eagle’s nest next to the freeway in Richland.

3. Hiking carriers.

If you’re going to be doing a lot of hiking with your kid you have to invest in a good hiking carrier. Or you can get lucky like us and your awesome boss will just give you hers. (Thanks Mel!) We have friends who found theirs at a garage sale for like $20. Cat used hers once she was able to sit up on her own. Before that I carried her in a baby carrier that adjusted from newborn to baby.

Cat does really well in her carrier. This was taken at Horsetail Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

4. Baby sunblock.

OK, here comes the crunchy mom in me. I refused to put sunblock on my newborn. But since I am also a lazy mom I also refused to make my own. It is not recommended to put sunscreen on babies  under six months. I’ve seen some products that say they are OK for infants, but I never used them. I also read on mommy message boards about mothers who made sunblock for their kid. Yeah, I didn’t do that. Instead, I made sure to keep her covered at all times and limit the amount of sun exposure she gets. When Cat went camping with us I brought THIS sunblock along since she was old enough to use it. It worked great and her hat added extra protection.

Now isn’t that the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? She found a balloon at Wright Park in Tacoma.

5. Naps.

Brace yourself. It’s probably not going to happen the way you want it. Chances are your little one isn’t going to nap at their normal time and you have to be OK with that. The result of Cat not napping was that when we took off on a big family hike she passed out in her carrier and slept through most of it. That was fine by me. She got some rest and I got to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors without worrying about her trying to crawl out of my arms. If you are dead set on getting your baby to nap at their normal schedule then I’d suggest bringing your pack-n-play and keeping it under a shaded area away from the campfire. The campfire is where people tend to congregate and is where there is the most noise. Plus, the smoke moves around a lot depending on the shifting of the wind and you don’t want your baby to inhale smoke while sleeping. We had trouble with Cat’s pack-n-play getting full of dirt so be sure to give your child a wipe down before putting them down.


Camping with a baby can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. Embrace the craziness and enjoy being with your family! I love watching Cat explore new places. I know she  might not remember it all, but it is creating awesome memories for Craig and I as her parents.

Do you have any tips and tricks that you use when camping with a baby? I’d love to hear them!


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