Backpacking and Camping with Babies and Toddlers

For parents adjusting to life with babies and toddlers, it can feel intimidating to spend time outdoors as you did before.

baby sits on the ground next to his mom

Don’t be discouraged! You don’t have to give up these hobbies because your family is entering a new developmental stage.

It’s still possible! Having a baby doesn’t mean you need to give up your time in the woods! 

My friend Linnea and I went backpacking in a nearby state park and took her infant son, “J”. Here are some things we noticed along the way.

This isn’t a comprehensive list. But it may help you get started if you’re looking for ways to camp and backpack with new family members in tow! 

Young mom with her baby, asleep in the backpack, ready to hike in the woods
Packing out on the morning after our trip, with coffee in hand! 

Start with Shorter Trips

It was good to remember there are different needs when learning to backpack with babies and toddlers.

When we planned this trip we looked at shorter routes than we would otherwise consider. And made space for schedule and plan changes.

If an overnight trip sounds like a bit too much, start with a longer day hike. See how you and your littles do!

Some things to think about include nap time, temperature-appropriate clothes, snacks and diaper changes.

You can incrementally increase the level to which your trip is “remote.” We started by backpacking in a small state park with trails where we could hike out quickly or go get the car quickly if necessary.

And we discussed a plan should we need to leave our gear and have someone come back for it later. 

Think about Sleeping Arrangements and Naps

We planned to be around camp for nap time. That’s a great way to create natural rhythms of rest during the day and maintain some routines your kids are used to.

We noticed J had some trouble falling asleep with the sunlight through the tent. So we put one of our sleeping bags over the tent to make it darker inside. We also did that in the evening when it was bedtime for J, but we adults wanted to sit around the campfire a little longer. 

young woman showing a baby an acorn at their campsite, tent in the background
Me and J playing with acorn caps at the campsite. Peek the background—sleeping bag over the tent for nap time. 

Something else we noticed that we didn’t think about was the ambient noise of the woods.

When I’m camping with just adults, the woods feel so quiet compared to my normal urban living. But the woods never sounded so loud to me as when a croaking frog kept waking J up just as he was falling into deeper sleep!

I wanted to go find that frog and suggest it find a new place to sing for the evening.

A portable rechargeable or battery-operated sound machine can be extremely helpful in addressing this. It creates consistent ambient noise to help a baby or toddler fall asleep.

After J fell asleep he did great the rest of the night. He woke when he would normally get up to nurse, but Linnea was able to do that right in her sleeping bag and J fell right back to sleep again. 

TIP: If you plan to camp with babies or toddlers, set up the tent in your living room or yard. Practice having your kids nap or sleep in the tent before your trip. It’ll help them adapt to the new arrangements. 

It’s also very important to think about safe sleep practices while in the woods. Every parent will have their own thoughts on what safe sleep means for their family. We recommend doing some research and making the decision that’s right for your family.

Linnea and I talked about this beforehand and made sure the sleeping arrangements were safe and appropriate for a child of J’s age.

young mom with her baby sitting on a boardwalk at a lake
It was so fun to see nature as brand new through J’s eyes. We slowed down to take time to explore textures of leaves, watch bugs and animals, and play in places where we wouldn’t have otherwise thought to linger

Check the weather

Night-time temperatures usually dip lower than daytime temps. Make sure there are enough layers both with clothes and with sleeping coverings. 

Plan for Restful Activities

We integrated downtime into our plans to make sure both the adults and J would feel well-rested after this trip.

We had no major expectations for what this trip would look like. Our goal was to rest and be outside. We can grow in this skill of being outdoors with kids and challenge ourselves in incremental ways. 

young woman holding an older baby looking at a shallow lake
J and I finding new nature to explore at the edge of our campsite! 

Hands-Free was Worth the Extra Weight

Linnea brought a lightweight portable seat for J that can attach to pretty much any table. That made it possible for him to have a safe, clean and contained place to sit that wasn’t someone’s arms.

This allowed meals to be much more restful for everyone. And it gave J a place to play when one of us couldn’t carry him or sit with him. 

Invite a friend

I love camping and love camping with my friends who have kids. I’m more than happy to help carry supplies or babies!

Do you want to camp with your kids but aren’t sure you can handle the tasks at camp or carry the gear? Invite a friend to join you!

It was so fun to create memories with J and to see him discover the outdoors! And having two adults made it much easier for us to spread out the extra weight of the supplies needed to camp with a baby.

One of us had J on our back and a smaller backpack on the front. The other carried a large backpack and the firewood.

(If you plan to cook over a lightweight stove with fuel, the wood wouldn’t be necessary. But we wanted a campfire that night!)

On short hikes, I was able to walk next to J in his carrier. I could entertain him, hand him water, snacks or toys, and pick up things he dropped. 

young mom with her baby at a campsite picnic table
It was so fun to see J explore nature and enjoy it!

Leave no Trace

Backpacking with a baby means additional waste—diapers and wipes. It’s relatively common for backpacking areas to have pack-in-pack-out policies.

We had considered this and made sure to bring an extra bag for trash. We made sure it was resealable to keep the smell to a minimum. 

getting ready to change baby's diaper, while he's laying on the ground
Diaper changes on the trail needed a little more strategy but were totally easy! 

Expect the Unexpected

Not everything will go as planned, and that’s okay.

Our camping trip was originally planned for two nights. But as the trip approached we needed to keep it to one night.

It was still worth getting out into nature, even though the itinerary was shortened!

Keep a flexible approach and the mindset that a change in plans is not failure. The opportunity for a new adventure is important in keeping the right perspective for a trip. 

Overall J had an amazing time and so did we!

I checked in with Linnea while writing this. These were the thoughts she had to share: “I was really anxious and worried about everything. I wish I would’ve had more confidence that it was going to go well—because it really did!” 

Science shows that spending time in nature is so good for people of all ages! Any time you can spend connecting to nature with your littles is good for you and for them!

Does this sound like something you want to do? I encourage you to start small, set a goal, invite a friend and go for it! 

campfire in the fire circle overlooking the lake at sunset
The view from our campsite. Worth it! 

Want to see more content on this topic? Let us know! We want to write about the topics that help our readers get outside!

All photos courtesy of Emilie O’Connor and Linnea Massoglia 

Emilie O'Connor
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