How to Tent Camp with a Baby

For those of you who are just getting to know me through this blog let me tell you a little secret…I was a teenage Girl Scout.  Yes, it’s true.  I was still wearing a uniform and camping when I was 17.  My very first trip without my parents was when I went to sleep-over camp when I was 6.  Our family camped a lot.  Even my Dad, not the most ‘outdoorsy’ type, went tent camping on a couple of occasions.  My brother, the least fond of nature in our family, was a Boy Scout for a summer, until a bee stung him on a camping trip (he’s allergic).  So it would have been a deal-breaker if Michael wasn’t into camping.  Thankfully he is and shares my desire for our children to grow up outside, enjoying nature and celebrating the calm and peace that camping brings.   

Now I know it may seem crazy to take a not-quite-6-month-old tent camping.  I don’t think we would have attempted our trip if Cedella wasn’t such a good baby.  Every year we spend a weekend with our close friends Tim and Amie at a different campsite.  All four of us really look forward to it.  Last summer I was pregnant so we stayed close to Traverse City in northern Michigan and took it easy.  This summer since we knew Cedella would be with us, so we chose to stay close to home and near Lake Michigan.  
Here’s my top 10 tips on how to tent camp with a baby and survive:
1. Pick a family-friendly campground within a short distance to town.  We went to Hoffmaster State Park near Muskegon.  We were about 4 miles from civilization and a hospital.  Just in case.  I’m not one to worry a lot about what if’s, but it did comfort me to know that if something did happen we weren’t that far from care.  Ella was never in danger of needing an ER but the guys on the other hand burned themselves with such frequency that I’m glad we were close.    
2. Don’t schedule too much and go with your baby’s flow.  This is a good rule of thumb for parenting in general, and is how I manage most of our days anyways (which I’m convinced is why Ella is such a chill baby) but it seems to be extra important on vacation.  In previous years we have canoed, kayaked, hiked and swam, but this time we just relaxed, cooked something, took an occasional walk to the beach, cooked some more, hung out around the camp fire, ate some marshmallows, read a book and cooked something else.    
3. Forget the Pack N Play it’s all about the PeaPod.  Perhaps this should have been #1 on this list.  This thing is genius.  A Mama from my birthing class told me about this and I rushed right out and picked one up at Babies R Us.  The best $40 on baby stuff I’ve ever spent (that’s with the 20% off coupon and a $5 off coupon I’ve been saving up).  It’s a pop-up tent for a baby that is primarily mesh sides (protecting them from bugs), a solid top (to provide some shade), and a little air mattress (to be super comfy).  It sets up in seconds, can be moved around the campsite easily and fits right at the end of our air mattress in our tent.  It folds up into a really small bag, so instead of lugging around a huge Pack N Play from now on the PeaPod is coming with us.  
4.  Don’t forget to put a tarp over your tent in case it rains.  It’s summer in Michigan.  You know it’s only a matter of time before it rains.  If you don’t want to wake up in a pond, after you set up your tent, throw a tarp over it and stake it down.  Thankfully we did.  There was a massive thunderstorm our second night in.  Thunderstorm is too gentle a word to describe what we experienced.  Both Michael and I were shocked awake by the lightning that appeared to be striking every tree around our site, and the thunder that crashed around us like a Mack truck had just jack knifed into the 9 Mile bridge on I-75.  The battle of the gods occuring in the sky was so scary that we both sat there and whispered as to whether or not we should make a run for it and hop in the car.  Cedella slept through the whole damn thing her PeaPod. When she finally did wake up, we put her in between us and she went right back to sleep.  That thing is amazing.  But thanks to the lovely tarps above and below our tent we stayed dry (if terrified).
5. Bring plenty of extra keg cups.  There’s no alcoholic beverages ‘allowed’ at Michigan state campgrounds.  That of course doesn’t mean that everyone doesn’t indulge.  That’s what the good people in the plastics industry invented keg cups for.  You can put anything in there and it looks like you’re drinking, well, anything.  We only had a dozen, and since they don’t wash well, we kind of had a couple of greasy drinks.  Next time we will bring a few more sleeves of these.  And did I mention that they make a great teething toy in a pinch?   
6. Don’t bother with the Hooter Hider.  You’re outside dammit!  I don’t think this needs much elaboration.  It’s natural to breastfeed your baby and you’re outside enjoying nature.  Now I’m not saying one should go topless at the campground (apparently it’s frowned upon) but nothing wrong with getting out in the open and going au natural and uncovered for a change.
7.  Sunscreens and hats are your friend.  Babies under 6 months aren’t supposed to have sunscreen, but you know what?  They only tell parents that so they will dress and cover their infants more accordingly.  Sunscreen and a sunhat are the best way to protect your baby on a shadeless beach (well an umbrella would probably work wonders too but that’s too much shit to carry to the beach).  I say bring the PeaPod along.  And for crying out loud…whether you’re 5 months or 32 years old…put on some sunscreen, wear a hat and put on more sunscreen every half hour or so…or you will get burned.   
8.  Keep in mind this is a family vacation and not a single dude’s trip.  This one is for the fathers.  Please remember that this is a vacation for both you and your wife.  By splitting the parenting 50/50 you both get to relax half of the time as opposed to one of you getting to relax 90% of the time.  Everyone will enjoy themselves and have more fun.  And the Mom voice won’t have to be used.  The Mom voice has a way of ruining the fun times.  I’m just sayin’…
9.  Sit back and enjoy yourself.  Let someone else hold your child (or ::gasp:: put her to sleep).  Take a walk while caring your baby and watch her as she discovers amazing things like pine trees, song birds and sand.  Read almost 100 pages in your book club book (I haven’t read that much that quickly in months).   Laugh with your spouse about ways to avoid having to run to the bathrooms in the thunderstorm.  Pretend your underage by pouring all of your beer and Jack into keg cups.  Know that you are helping your child to know our landscape and give her a sense of wonder for the world.  
10.  Never sing “I Love Jesus” to the tune of “La Bamba” so all your camping neighbors can hear you.  This is tent camping not vacation bible school.  And a double whammy if you’re a really shitty acoustic guitar player.  Which this lady was.  It was almost enough to drive us all completely insane.  All but Cedella.  She rarely stopped smiling, even when she was asleep.  She’s just a good baby.
We had a really fabulous trip.  The weather was beautiful, the lake was almost warm and my little Monk is a natural camper.  Can’t wait for our next adventure…  
P.S.  Give me some comment love if you would like to hear more about packing, cloth diapering in the woods and whatnot.  Let me know and perhaps I’ll write about that in the future.  


  1. Anonymous says:

    love the pea pod!
    ….and not having to use the mom voice :)

  2. Sabrina says:

    Sounds like a blast!!! Totally going to have to get a pea pod when the time comes!! So cute!

  3. Anonymous says:

    "i considered peeing in the empty bottle" Hilarious!

  4. Teresha@Marlie and Me says:

    now I want a pea pod! I loved reading about your camping trip and I learned a few tricks to use on our visit to Austin next week. We're staying at a B&B, but still…

  5. Kids Outback Club says:

    10 years ago, the PeaPod was not around yet. We had to lug the Pack N Play around and used that in our tent with the babies many times. Glad to hear we're not the only crazy ones that bring our babies camping!

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