Hiking and Camping with Babies and Toddlers

Our outdoorsy members share what they like best and least about camping with babies—and share a few tips about making a camping trip a success. We've also added PSP member ideas about how to hike with little ones, what to cook, and how to simplify a camping routine!

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In this article:

General advice
Ages
Clothes
Sleeping
Hiking
Food
Campsite and hike recommendations for young children
Words of encouragement

 

If you're heading out in nature with older kids, also check out this comprehensive guide to Camping With Kids from OutsideHow!

 

GENERAL ADVICE:

Consider a bigger campsite:
We took [our daughter] camping and hiking in California last month and it was great! In terms of general advice the campsites were big which helped in terms of wandering space, fun wildlife to look at (bunnies, deer) and she just "helped" out with everything we did - cook, clean, get water, even the fire from a few feet back (the box that held the firewood entertained her all morning). We did let our neighbors know it was her first camping trip and we apologized in advance if she cried in the night. In the end it was the best night sleep she had in 10 days in CA! We did keep her up until she was absolutely exhausted though. In the morning she woke regular time(ish) and again we just kept busy or played in the tent."

Think about bug season - and what kind of bugs!:
"We were planning a Memorial Weekend trip with our two kids (our son is 8 months) to southern Vermont but switched to a cheap motel because we were concerned about black fly season. None of us fancied getting bitten by those vicious little blighters! Having said all that, I heartily recommend camping with kids. It's fun and, at around $20 per family per night at state-run campgrounds, one of the last great bargains in America."

Kids get to play it the dirt!
"We took our son when he was 20 months. He had a GREAT time - especially playing in the dirt. We all slept in one tent and he had no issues sleeping. Not sure if we're making it back this year since we have a newborn as well."

Kids get to play with other kids!
"I took my daughter camping when she was 4. We went to hither hills state park I'm Montauk. There were a lot of kids her age and she had playmates everyday. I do recall families camping with one year olds and infants."

 

ON AGES TO GO:

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"We went again last summer when she was 2 1/2 and with a 3 month old. I think the newborn age is really easy - he was happy sleeping between us and wasn't mobile [...] I think the toddler stage is much harder for camping than newborn. But my daughter talks about the trip all the time and is definitely expecting that we'll go again so we may give it a try."

"We took our son when he was 14 months and it was not the easiest, but I'm glad we tried. Last summer, when he was just over 2, we had a much better time, and even did a 9-day camping trip. We had friends who brought their newborns camping as well. In some ways, the newborn is easier because they are light enough to be in the baby carrier almost all day and if you are nursing, you don't need to pack anything, but there are the issues of sunscreen, etc."

"We camped on the Yukon River with our son when he was 3 months old. So much easier to camp when they can't walk/run."

"Also, when they're two, they stop eating the dirt as much. But, on the other hand, they are super mobile, so you need to be very good about setting boundaries with the camp fire, etc. It can be done, though, and my son is amazingly active, but even he got the stay away from fire thing."

 

CLOTHES:

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When camping, be sure to layer it up!
"Bring lots of layers!"


"The only thing was that it was cool at night when we went and since he couldn't be in the sleeping bad or under blankets, I was worried he'd be cold."

Recommended gear:
"As for hiking we used the Ergo on the back (although are in the market for a proper backpack carrier as that is not ideal) and kept it short. We have hiked with her before and always keep it shorter than we would normally. Basically mile up and mile down. Bring snacks and water and so on. Good hikes should have so much to point out and talk aboutl!"

"I'm of the start 'em early school. My one piece of advice and you're probably covered is to get a Kelty carrier or similar--so useful. Other than that pick an easy, short hike or series of hikes so the kids can walk some of the way. Also before the big, longer trip, maybe consider just going on a daytrip upstate if you haven't done that already to see how your kid(s) does. Enjoy!"

"We have a Kelty carrier that I purchased off the listserve and I loved it with my 2year old this summer and fall."

"We have the Osprey Poco carrier and we love it!  I think it's worth it to buy a better carrier because you'll be comfortable and then you can sell it after."

"We have a Osprey Poco Child Carrier and love it!"

"We just started using the Deuter - highly recommend (coming from backpackers and avid hikers). we have a 26lb little and it fits me and my husband (with almost a one foot height difference) comfortably.

we tried the MiniMeis. returned it. do not recommend for long hikes. the weight is pretty uncomfortable and in the city, it's just a bit too tall for doors and everything else."

"Hi! I had the MiniMeis but would have gotten a backpack carrier instead. The MiniMeis was light, portable, packable but it got uncomfortable after 2miles or so with my 1 year old at the time. More strain around the shoulders versus the waist. My daughter loved being on my shoulders but I’m breaking it out on smaller outings like the zoo or something versus a longer hikes. I’ve heard good things about Deuter kid backpacks too."

"We have a Deuter and have been pleased with it. Not cheap but we found it used."

"I’m a fan of our Thule Sapling Elite. My son at 2.5 years old is also a fan. Expensive ($349) and worth it!"

"We had the Lillet carrier until he graduated to a hiking back pack. It has a little back support pad that really helped as he got bigger."

"I have a Becco, it works for my husband, but it is so uncomfortable for me (I am 5’2”)."

"We started with the Ergo carrier and thenBput him in the Deuter backpack when he was around 6 months. The hiking carrier will be more comfortable for both parent and child, but you probably need to wait until baby is around 6 months or has good head/neck/upper body control."

 

SLEEPING:

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When camping, try a variety of sleeping styles:
"I've camped with my daughter in cabins, and we've alternated her sleeping arrangements with a pack and play one time, co-sleeping another, placing a mattress on the floor, etc. This time at almost 2, we're tent camping."

Consider your child's sleeping schedule:
"The big difference in years for us was the sleep. My son didn't get the self-soothe back-to-sleep aka "sleep through the night" thing until 18 months, so camping before that was rough, because I don't sleep all that well camping in the first place (unless backpacking, and I'm so exhausted I could sleep through anything). Another issue is the naps--until they are on one nap, it is a bit more work."
and
"We took our first child camping in the Catskills when she was 13 months old and have been regular campers since. We co-slept at home anyway so it was fine sharing an air mattress with her. One thing I'd say is that, if your baby is a light-sleeper and wakes early and howls, the sound travels like crazy across the campsite. Our neighbors seemed cool about it - well, at least they never complained! - but worrying about the potential for noise put me on edge a bit."

Make sure you know where the closest motel is:
"We did make sure we knew where a motel was nearby just in case and started with one night."

 

Recommended gear

Peapod Tent for sleeping:
"We went camping a few times when my daughter was about 18 months. The first time the sleep was really tough. The next time we ended up getting a peapod pop up bed which we set up in the big tent so that she had her own space and couldn't really see us. It made a huge difference."

AeroBed Air Mattress for Kids:

"We've been using this one for years. It has its own fleece bottom sheet which helps with warmth. We always take fleece pjs camping--that way even if they kick off the blanket, they still stay warm(if you're going to be somewhere that cools down at night."

 

 HIKING:

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Let little ones sleep while walking:"

"Babe always seemed to sleep well while walking - even if it took a little time to get used to (turned into a solid walk sleeper just a few times in). i think it’s different for them walking in the city vs in the wild; the cadence and air and sounds. when he woke, i would feed. just mentally prepare to adjust to her needs and maybe start small - three or four miles - relatively flat or with a nice destination like a lake where you can stop and rest/soak/breathe.

plan a hike that you feel comfortable with and feed once you have a break (if a three hour hike, stop in the middle for a feed/change on the trail). definitely changed and fed in the car on both ends.

we liked driving during naps and loosely planned around that. babe also slept when he was that young pretty much the entire ride. as their wake windows stretch, and their needs for stimulation grow, i found it easier to do road trips and days out."

 

Carriers are key:

"Never too early, so long as you are willing to sometimes have it all fall apart.

My wife and I have been hiking with our little one since 6mo, now almost 4yo.

We made sure to have a carrier that could be used a few different ways (front facing in, facing out and on back), so that we could flex depending on the day."

 

"Our babe would sometimes get fussy in the carrier but as soon as he was big enough to be worn forward facing he calmed down. And he would even fall asleep doing forward facing in the carrier. (Incidentally, same thing happened with the car seat years later)."

 

"We are just starting to go out of the city with our 5mo (plus 3y who I would say is the most difficult to deal with).

So far not real hikes, mostly walks in parks, lake loops, arboretums (Saturday we went to bailey, really nice!) but I hope we'll be able to hit the trails soon when it gets warmer :).
Baby is 100% breastfed so super easy to feed whenever he needs it, open air or sitting in the car if its too cold.
I'm using a soft structured carrier (kind of meh dai) for now and we are both fine.
He mostly sleeps in it and if I see he's becoming fussy I take him out and put on the ground on a blanket. I'm also bringing a small toy to entertain him when he's down, if needed.
For this spring/summer we'll probably stick to short and flat hikes just to make things easier.
I also need to convince my husband to get a new carrier for big brother as he stops and go (after much begging) too often when we walk."

 

"We also started hiking with our now 3 year old when he was around 4 months old, and looking forward to starting soon with our second (who is also 4 months old!). Agree with the advice here -- he adapted to sleeping on the go, and we just stopped to change/feed him when needed. We started out easier with 1-2 hour hikes, but when we realized our son was able to sleep and eat on the trail, we were able to do half day hikes with him."

 

Bring supplies for unforeseen circumstances:

"I recommend bringing a change of clothing for baby and disposable bags like this. One time our son had a huge blowout about 30 minutes into a hike (yay!), and these items were very helpful to have!

Regarding breastfeeding and snacks, we always just had trail mix and/or granola bars and I thought that was fine. Also lots of water! And a breastfeeding cover helps as well -- helps baby to focus on eating, and can also act as wind protection too."

 

"Always bring a couple diapers, wipes, a wet bag (ziplock basically) for trash, snacks (once they start solids), and an extra bottle of water in case there was emergency washing or anything else. small first aid kit, especially as they get older and want to run around."

 

"Chomps jerky sticks are great breastfeeding snacks (if you eat meat) They sell them at Trader Joe’s, but there are a lot more flavors available from their site.

If you’re not into meat...I find a nut butter packet and apple help me through an active day."

 

Try out hikes in Brooklyn before heading out for the real deal:

"We first trialed little 'hikes' on the back trails of Prospect and Central Parks to get a sense of what worked, and have since spent a LOT of time around Silver Mine at Harriman, as we could generally time the drive up/back around naps, and hikes for in-between, often with a nap in the middle. On a good day, that was a feed and nap on the trail. On a bad day it was a screaming dash back to car.

Advantage of silver mine is a big car park, a toilet block and picnic area, and enough trail variation - a creek, different sized lakes, shorter and longer loops - that we could flex the walk based on how the day was going."

 

FOOD TO EAT:

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Dehydrated dinners:
The dehydrated dinners are super easy and delicious. We used them pre-baby for backpacking but adopted them for car camping bc of ease (just boil water over the fire or propane stove). Just watch the sodium content for kiddos. I believe they sell children size portions.   If we go for a few days, we also pre-make chili/casseroles and freeze them to act as ice in the cooler. By day 2-3 they are defrosted and much quicker to heat up on the fire. Requires cooking at home first but sometimes worth the effort and clean up is always a breeze with one pot meals.

Prep food ahead of time:
"One thing we do for short camping trips is pre grill marinated chicken breasts at home at bring it already cut up to the camp site. Either I do it the day before and freeze it or bring it on ice. We also pre cut veggies for grilling. We then grill the veggies, reheat the chicken, warm the tortillas, add cheese and lime and have tacos for dinner.  Using the same camping grill pan we make pancakes in the morning.  We pre mix the ingredients in a zip lock bag at home. On site we use  milk from small milk box that doesn't have to be refrigerated and add an egg to the bag of mix. Then after it is mixed cut a corner to squeeze the mix onto the buttered the grill pan. Clean up is then just the grill pan. My husband actually just got dehydrated egg and milk for us to use on longer trips. We've been trying it out at home and it works fine.  We cook on the fire or with a stove (backpacking or two burner car camping stove) depending on where we go.  Overall all the methods work out fine. Setting up one of those light weight hammocks on site is a great way to keep kids entertained and potentially contained. My kids (that are now 10 and 7) still love making up games in the hammock and playing with the stuffed animals or tiny toys in there.  Not sure if that is totally appropriate for a 2 year old but you know your kid."

and:

"One of my favorite meals is to marinate kebab meat and veggies (peppers, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, summer squash) in ziplock bags, and then put on skewers and grill at the site. A fairly small child might help put things on sticks, perhaps. Foil packets of chicken or meat chunks and veggies and potato chunks can be prepared ahead (frozen, even) and cooked in a campfire or on a grill. They can be customized to each person's preferences. Double wrap the foil."

Invest in a cast iron pie iron:
"If you're cooking with a campfire, my family always loved making "pies" with the cast iron pie irons (http://amzn.to/2s5I2jg). The campers' hot pocket, you can put together a bunch of ingredients ahead of time in your preferred portions, lay it all out and have the kids help you with the pie prep at dinner time. It lets them be involved and there so many different types of pies that you can make. There's minimal mess and clean-up required on-site. We would also make foil packets with pre-cut potatoes and vegetables, and when ready to cook, would drizzle with olive oil and put the packs in the coals which frees you up a bit to entertain the kids."

Prepared meals:
"Annie's pasta stars in a can and hot dogs!  Pre-made muffins or zucchini bread, cut fruit, hard boiled eggs!  Pre-made made corn/bean salad with veggies."

Bring a propane stove:
"I have to say that while it is not as fun as cooking on the fire a propane stove is definitely one way to make things a lot quicker and easier. I sometimes make a pasta sauce or curry which can then easily be reheated and served with pasta or rice. This is especially handy if arriving late on a Friday and then the more gourmet campfire specials can wait until camp is all set up."

 

 CAMPSITE AND HIKE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN:

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Little Pond Campground (Catskills, NY)

 

Fire Island (Long Island, NY)

What parents are saying: "My family loves Fire Island and Little Pond. Best camping experience."

 

Fahnestock State Park Campground (Hudson Valley, NY)

What parents are saying: "This group did a big outing about 5 years ago to Fahenstock just north of the city - it was really great and close by."

 

Burlingame State Park (Charlestown, RI)

 

Rocky Neck State Park (East Lyme, CT)

 

WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT:

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Go!:
"My friend Emily took her son camping a lot the summer he turned two years old. I don't think one is too young - it's good to build flexibility into these kids. I always meant to camp with my daughter, but didn't get around to it till last year - she was five. We had so much fun, I went and bought a cheap tent at Target and we proceeded to camp out as much as we possibly could for the rest of the summer. I can't wait to drag some of her little friends along with us this summer. I had no problem setting up the tent myself, we cooked and read books in the tent by flashlight. We hiked, and once we camped at the beach and swam all day. It's fun, and it's cheap. Go!"

You never know until you try:
"We have an annual camping trip planned in July and my daughter will be 13 months by then. We are just going for it. I wonder/worry about the sleeping arrangements since she's not a "cuddler" and don't know how she will be sleeping in a tent with me and my husband. But we are going for it anyway! You never know until you try."

You will make memories to cherish:
"I'll start out by saying that I hate camping - my idea of roughing it is staying in a hotel without room service. But my husband and children adore camping, and we (yes, I often do go along even though I'm not a fan) started taking each of our 3 children camping when they were young babies, all of them under a year. My children (who are now 17, 12 and 10) all loved it. The baby would sleep on an air mattress with me or my husband and they all slept great - better than they did at home. As toddlers and young children they loved playing in the dirt and going for short hikes......I cherish those pics of me holding a baby in my arms while we sit in a camping chair in front of a sunset over a lake. So take them! "

And in sum? Your camping experience will vary kid to kid, parent to parent, family to family:
"I've taken my daughter camping every year since she was 6 months old and she's been fine. My friend has taken her son since 1 year and he's been fine. On the other hand, that same friend took her 10 month old camping with us last year and it was so bad that they went home early. I think it all depends on the child, the parents, and the price of the closest motel."