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Getting babies and toddlers to sleep while camping can be a bit of a struggle. It’s probably the thing that most parents worry the most about when taking their kids out on a camping trip.
Trust me, I’ve been there. I’ve been the new mom, who was totally sleep deprived, desperately trying everything to get a fussy baby to sleep. I’ve been the mom, who at midnight, buckles my infant into his car seat, to take a drive in hopes that he will finally fall fast asleep.
But on the other hand, I’ve had some pretty amazing camping experiences with my babies as well. We’ve had two of our babies sleep through the night for the first time on camping trips (8 & 12 hours!!), finally allowing me a chance to catch my breath in the fog of raising an infant.
For me, camping with a baby was a way for me to hold onto my previously adventurous life, and to mesh it with my new life as a mom. Camping with a baby grounds me, and helps me recenter – every single time I give birth, planning our first family campout with baby is high on my list (yes, even after 5 kids we still do this after birth).
And while not all new parents may feel the strong pull to get out and go camping with a newborn like I did, I think that most new parents have the same big fear about infant camping.
“Will baby be able to sleep while camping???”
The truth is that sleep for a camping baby can be tricky, but it can be just as hard at home. EIther way, you’re going to have to deal with the difficulties of parenthood, so you might as well be doing it somewhere you love!
The Secret to Getting Baby To Sleep While Camping
To date, we’ve spent the last 13 years of our camping lives with a baby or toddler. We’ve got 5 kids, and they’re just perfectly spaced out, so at any given moment we’ve always got a little one (or two) in tow. Through the years, we’ve learned our share of tricks that have taken us from being constantly nervous when we camp with our kids, to knowing with confidence that they’ll sleep well while camping.
However, the biggest secret to getting an infant to sleep while camping is for the parents.
Camping with a baby can be a bit scary, especially the first time. There are a lot of unknowns to consider, but I promise you, camping with a baby is so much easier when they’re younger and aren’t getting into messes, or trying to eat pine cones all day long.
By camping with your baby when they’re not getting into anything, this can allow parents the space they need to adjust to camping with an extra little person. Remember, our kids pick up on our feelings, so if you’re relaxed while camping with your kids, they will be too…and that means better camping sleep for the whole family. It will likely take a few trips of camping with a baby before you can relax, but that’s okay! Take your time and allow yourself the space you need to grow into your role as a camping parent.
Tips for getting a baby to sleep well while camping:
As with most things, there is no one size fits all formula for getting a baby to sleep while camping. Some babies will sleep like champions while camping and others will find it more difficult. Here are are our top tips for things that you can try both in advance and at the campsite to help your baby sleep better while camping.
1. Practice Before You Leave Home
If your baby is going to be sleeping in a new bed while camping practice using it at home. We like to have our infants practice sleeping in their camping bed at nap time at home, so they can gradually adjust to the new sleeping space in the comfort of our own home.
2. Stick To A Routine
Many babies rely on their bedtime routine to let them know when they need to start settling down for sleep. Stick to that same routine when you’re camping. Bringing a few familiar books from home, and singing the same songs will help your infant settle down better while camping.
3. Choose Your Campsite Wisely
Finding a campsite with a little bit of seclusion can be a lifesaver when camping with a baby. We try to pick a campsite that’s not only away from the road, but that also isn’t too close to other campsites, just in case we have neighbors who are loud late into the night. It’s also helpful to have a little bit of space from other campers in case baby wakes up crying during the night.
4. Use White Noise
Our portable white noise machine is a lifesaver when we go camping. Not only does the white noise help to drown out noises outside, but we’ve found it invaluable for helping baby sleep with noises inside the tent. In our family, we always put the camping babies and toddlers to sleep first. In the hours after that, we have older kids settling down for the night, in addition to mom and dad. Even when everyone tries to be quiet, all that rustling of camping equipment can create quite a commotion, but white noise solves all that. We love this white noise machine because it’s small and really affordable.
5. Keep Baby Warm While Camping At Night
Keeping your baby warm while camping is the best thing that you can do to help your baby sleep well at night. With temperatures often dropping into the 40’s at night when we go camping with kids, we plan really well for how to keep them warm at night.
To keep our babies warm at night, we always have them sleep in Merino Wool base layers. These do a fantastic job of not only insulating them, but also of wicking sweat away if they get too hot. These are our go to set.
In addition to merino wool base layers for camping, we also have our kids sleep in a pair or warm socks and a thin knit hat to prevent them from losing heat out their extremities. On extra cold nights, we also have them wear a pair of fleece footie pajamas. On top of all of that.
Babies shouldn’t sleep in a traditional sleeping bag, because of the suffocation risk. Read our full review of the best sleeping bags for babies and toddlers to see our top recommendations for safe sleeping bags for babies.
6. Plan Your Nighttime Feedings In Advance
Nighttime feedings and diaper changes are the most challenging aspect of infant camping trips. Before you leave home, make sure that you have a plan for nighttime feedings and diaper changes. We always found it the most helpful to have a double sleeping bag for my husband and I that we could bring baby into for feedings and changes (many people also use these for cosleeping while camping).
If you’re planning on breastfeeding while camping, you’ll love that a double sleeping bag will give you space to feed your baby (a side laying feeding position is ideal), and not make you freeze with an exposed chest or stomach.
While we found breastfeeding during a camping trip to be the easiest, if your baby is bottle fed, grab a portable bottle warmer to bring with you. This will simplify making a baby bottle while camping, since no one wants to get up during the night to heat up water for a bottle. Leave your bottle warmer close to you in the tent so you can easily grab it for feeding time.
7. Camp More Than One Night In A Row With Baby
If often takes babies a while to adjust to the routine of camping, especially as they get older. Plan on staying at least 2 nights so that your baby can adjust to their new environment. While the first night of camping with a baby can be difficult, the second night is usually much easier for them, and for mom and dad. The more often you take your baby camping, the easier it is for them to adjust to the change in routine, so plan on putting a few different dates on the calendar.
8. Start Camping With Baby When They’re Really Young
Parents, this tip is really for you, not your baby. Camping with a baby can be a bit scary. There are a lot of unknowns to consider, but I promise you, camping with a baby is so much easier when they’re younger. Most of our kids have been camping within the first 6-8 weeks of being born.
We don’t necessarily do this for the baby, but rather for my sanity. When babies are really young, they don’t do much beyond eat, sleep, and poop. By taking an infant camping, you give yourself a chance to learn how to take care of a baby in a different environment. If you have a couple of nights of camping with an infant under your belt, it’s a whole lot easier to camp with them once they become a toddler and are getting into EVERYTHING.
By camping with your baby when they’re not getting into anything, this can allow parents the space they need to adjust to camping with an extra little person. Remember, our kids pick up on our feelings, so if you’re relaxed while camping with your kids, they will be too…and that means better camping sleep for the whole family. It will likely take a few trips of camping with a baby before you can relax, but that’s okay!
9. Bring A Baby Carrier
Our favorite baby carrier has been invaluable when we’re camping with a baby. Not only does it allow us to get things done around camp, while holding the baby, they’re perfect for soothing a baby that is struggling to fall asleep. If your little one just can’t fall asleep in the tent, put them in the baby carrier and head out for a walk. We often put a light blanket over their head so they’re not distracted by all the new things they’re seeing, but the simple movement + being snuggled close to mom or dad can work wonders.
10. Bring A Baby Camping Bed
Giving your little one a place that they know will be all theirs while camping can really help them to sleep better. Check out our article all about the best baby and toddler camping beds.
11. Make Things Dark
In many areas, camping is the perfect summer pastime. The only downside to that is that the sun stays up later in the summer than the rest of the year, making it especially difficult for babies to go to sleep at the end of the day, especially when you’re camping in a tent with a baby. Our babies always seemed to be especially mesmerized by the roof of the tent and could happily stare up there for an hour.
To solve that, we often opt for artificial darkness. When we camp in our trailer, it’s simple to just pull the blinds down. However, in our tent it’s a bit trickier. When we put our baby in their camping bed, the best thing that we do is to drape a lightweight blanket over the top. We put our baby to sleep in the PeaPod which allows plenty of air circulation, so only do this if your baby camping bed has a higher top. Not only does this make their bed darker, but it also eliminates the distractions that they see in the tent, helping baby to calm down more easily while camping.
As with most things, camping with a baby in tow gets easier with practice. I can honestly say that since we started camping with our kids when they were babies, it was significantly easier to camp with them in the toddler phase, since the camping experience was familiar to them!