I have to camp. At least a few times every year or my brain and body ache. You know how some people get hangry when they haven’t eaten? I get like that when I haven’t camped. Campangry? Cangry? Having a baby and ending my school and work lives for the foreseeable future a few months before tent camping season meant come spring I extra HAD to camp.
Plus, who doesn’t want bragging rights that they took their husband who barely likes to camp and their completely undecided on camping infant to the North Shore? Call me weird, but I love getting the “you’re nuts” reaction when I divulge what constitutes as fun for me. It’s also an opportunity to teach my daughter about the importance of talking yourself up. “I’ve been camping since I was 4-months old,” is a gift only I can give her. How else am I going to teach her to take credit for things she had no part in achieving?
These personality traits resulted in one successful and one complete flop tent camping trips during our baby’s first summer. Here are my takeaways in Do’s and Don’ts form. Obviously, everything that applies to one unique family with unique members in a time and place that can never be recreated again is totally going to work for you. Our first trip was perfect, so that makes me the expert. It’s not like I did all the same things for our second trip and had to completely abandon that poop show after one night. (Except, yes, that is exactly what happened.)
Do: Like to camp.
Please don’t read this and think, “I hate camping. Maybe if I bring an infant I’ll like it! Let’s spend a thousand dollars gearing up and backpack and canoe into a site that may or may not be taken when we get there.” I do not need the fiery death energy you will be spewing in my direction. You have to love what you get out of the preparation, the packing, the remembering/forgetting, the annoying set-up, the even more annoying take down, the bugs, the completely unpredictable weather, PLUS everything that comes with taking your baby out of the home/cave space you’ve spent however long molding to their unpredictable needs. It’s gotta all be worth it. If you’re lucky (or nutty) like me, then it is.
Don’t: Have expectations!
You know those things that define camping for you? Building a big fire that lasts into the night. Making a huge skillet breakfast spread for 15 people from scratch. Taking a 10-mile hike, a 2-hour swim, and then a 3-hour nap. I’m going to need you to do a little trimming of that list. Like, put it in a shredder and choose one sliver of paper with a few letters on it kind of trimming.
For our first trip I defined camping as:
- Getting to the campground.
- Setting up the tent.
- Sleeping in said tent.
Only when those goals were met did I allow myself a new little goal, one at a time. That way there were no disappointments. Each time we did anything that was beyond my original three goals I celebrated like a sorority girl after rush. I’ve never been so proud of myself for taking a 1.5-mile hike and eating bunless hot dogs we cooked on a fire. Under promise and over deliver folks, it’s powerful.
Do: Take your baby.
Yes, that’s required for baby camping, but what I mean is take YOUR baby. The baby you know. I read at least twenty different articles, lists, and guides to camping with a baby prior to making my packing list. I’d say about 0.4% of it applied to my baby. Did anyone say bring the changing pad? No, but I knew that my 4-month-old oddly loved her changing pad and that it would be the perfect thing to put her on when we needed to. It was totally worth reducing our rear window visibility to throw it on the pile of crap. Would I do it now that she’s over a year? Hell fricken no, she hates that thing now. If you want to follow someone else’s guide you’d be better off seeing if they’ll also just let you take their baby instead.
Don’t: Plan meals you have to cook or just squirrel food.
I may get cangry, but my dude gets straight up hangry. I also get pissy when I’m outside working up a mad appetite and he hands me a granola bar or tortilla chips. (I seriously felt my face get hot just writing that.) Our first trip it rained and stormed for most of the time. Our second trip turned out to have 90+ degree Fahrenheit weather in September in Minnesota. Neither really made three fires a day or sitting near a camp stove appealing.
Things like all the fixings for huge deli sandwiches, grocery deli pasta salads, hummus for veggies and chips, mini-danishes for breakfast, and fancy bars of chocolate for in-tent dessert were perfect for us. Can you imagine if the only dessert option we brought was s’mores? I can’t and I won’t.
Usually, I make a delicious broccoli salad, some homemade biscuits, and other overachiever things to take and have all our gear ready to go when my husband gets home on Friday. With a 4-month old at home alone I was lucky if I could put a frozen muffin in the microwave and come back for it in 30 seconds to an hour. Don’t👏cook👏buy👏that👏crap👏.
Other random do’s and don’ts that are too specific to concern you, but you should fret over them just in case:
Do: Book a site that fills up years in advance, so when the weather calls for rain you have to go anyway and find out what it’s like to hold your partner’s arms shaking in fear around your infant who is sleeping through lightning and thunder better than they have ever slept and ever will. It will be the best camping trip you’ve ever had.
Don’t: Feel like you can’t say, “Fuck it, I’m out” when after one sweaty night your tiny portable fan dies, leaving the scorching tent means getting eaten alive, and the phone reception is working really well so you’re able to see all the updates from your friends who are swimming and drinking cold things back home.
Follow up don’t: Reschedule for two weeks later because it so happens that two weeks after record breaking heat is the first frost of the year.
Do: Hike in the rain because your baby giggles constantly at the umbrella. Shoot, carry an umbrella even if it isn’t raining.
Don’t: Let your partner talk you out of stopping at the waterfalls on the way home, the rain made them bigger than you’ve ever seen them. Who is always right? You are.
Do: Take pictures of your baby smiling while you are miserable. It’ll make a great shot for your blog so people think you had this amazingly perfect experience and listen to all of your instructions. (See image at top.)
Don’t: Skimp on an air mattress or bedding. You’re taking a baby tent camping for crying out loud. You deserve to be three feet up from the ground on sheets soft enough to wipe the Pope’s butt (I assume he has delicate skin).
Do: Hit up those local bars and breweries. Babies love late 80’s/early 90’s karaoke it turns out. Breweries have air conditioning.
Don’t: Forget to stuff the glove compartment with diapers. Months down the road and 45 min from anywhere you’ll be glad you have them, no matter how many sizes too small they are.
Don’t: Worry about it!
Have you camped with a baby? Only thought about it just now, but are sure you know exactly how it should be done? Comment with your overly specific tips for the rest of us to concern ourselves with!