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Camp Baby! Tips and Gear to Take Your Newborn Outdoors

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Getting outdoors with a baby can seem daunting. GearJunkie contributor (and new mom) Chelsey Magness offers tips and advice to camp with a baby and enjoy the outdoors with your kids all year.

As much as baby books tell parents that babies need routine, they are also natural-born explorers. We’ve seen it firsthand with our baby Max. He just turned 8 months old, and my husband and I have found that (like us!) Max is more aware and alive in the forest, beach, or even on a hike near home.

dad hiking with baby
Dad (Jason Magness) and Max getting in sync with some morning yoga

Here are a few things we’ve learned hiking, backpacking, and spending as much time outdoors as possible with our baby boy. Father of four and GearJunkie founder Stephen Regenold even added a few expert pointers for good measure.

Baby ‘Gear’

Diapers, wipes, washcloths, salves — babies require a lot of care. To avoid overpacking, here’s an easy tip: Take note of how many diapers and wipes you use in one day at home, and then take that many with you for a day hike or camping trip. Pack up a few wipes in a Ziploc bag and leave the dispenser box at home.

Baby Food Outdoors

Most energy bars are a no-go. But otherwise, we’ve found it easy to feed our kid from a backpack or at a campsite. On a hike, we always have an extra avocado or an applesauce pouch on hand. While camping, Max has shared freeze-dried meals with us.

If your baby eats solid food, some camping meals are fine. A caveat: Babies don’t digest salt very well, so choose meals that are lower in sodium. Max’s favorite is Good to Go. It’s made in Maine and is nutritious and not too spicy.

mom hiking with young baby
The author hiking with baby Max

Let Nature Do the Entertaining

It’s wonderful to hike outdoors and watch your baby explore the world. Every time we take Max into the woods, he is much more at ease because there are so many new textures, smells, and things to look at.

Babies love it when you let them reach, scoot, and crawl around to discover their world. So don’t be afraid to sit down outside with your baby and play on the ground.

A Little Dirt Won’t Hurt

Outside is not the time or place to worry about dirt. If you do, you will spend the whole time trying to keep tabs on smudged cheeks, dirty fingernails, and tiny debris getting into your baby’s mouth.

Obviously, watch them closely and make sure nothing dangerous or choke-able is in the picture. But as one GearJunkie editor’s own mother pointed out, a little dirt won’t hurt.

Beware of Critters

Despite the “let him crawl” policy (see above), be sure to look around before setting your baby down on the ground. Things to look for are ant colonies, beehives, long grass where ticks could live, and standing water where there may be lots of mosquitos. Babies’ soft skin is more susceptible to bug bites and irritation from rough ground and plant life.

Camping With Your Kid

A first tip: Test out the kinks close to home. Figuring out how to camp with a baby can feel overwhelming, so keep it simple. For the first year of life, babies don’t care where they go. They don’t know the difference between a beautiful lake vista or a beach. Pick somewhere where you want to camp, make it as easy as you can, and know that you don’t have to go far to have an adventure.

mom sleeping with young baby camping

Trust us: No matter where you choose will be an adventure for all of those involved!

When our son was 3 months old, we camped a few miles away from home, both for the simplicity and to have the option of going home in case it turned into a disaster. It was one of the best decisions we made and a fun memory we’ll always treasure.

So, throw your camping gear and baby essentials in the car, and head out for a single night under the stars. Think of it as a test run for bigger trips!

Baby Outdoor Gear (A Few Favorite Picks)

We love our Sea to Summit X Seal and Go cups and bowls because they pack down small, and are fun and bright for a toy that will entertain for hours. For pots and pans, we use MSR Ceramic Pots. They are light and very durable.

A cut in half Z lite Thermarest pad. We use this as his bed and it also doubles as a butt pad when we’re all sitting around making dinner.

A favorite cozy lightweight blanket and a puffy jacket. We bring Max’s favorite blanky to signal bedtime. We also use one of our puffy jackets to keep him extra toasty. This is only for when he goes to bed, because by the time we go to bed he is usually in one of our sleeping bags snuggling.

Osprey Poco Plus Kid Carrier backpack. If we are hiking somewhere or planning on hiking from our site, this is our favorite way to carry Max — and he loves it, too! Our favorite feature is that the bottom compartment fits an entire sleep kit for one person.

An Alpacka Packraft or a small pop-up tent. Both of these are light and can be used as a safe spot to let Max sit and play while we are cooking or setting up camp. Very often, we camp near water, so bringing a packraft serves double duty. If we don’t bring packrafts, we bring a little pop-up tent to give Max a bug-free space to play.

Gear ties. These things double as baby toys. We undoubtedly need a few every time we leave the house. Whether it be for tying something up at camp or inside the tent, gear ties are always useful. We even have a few stashed in his diaper bag.

Tarp/ground cover. A lightweight tarp or our tent footprint is something we never brought when it was just the two of us. But now with Max, we love laying him down with some pots, plates, and gear ties while we lie next to him and play or stretch!

Lightweight hammock. We love rocking our little man to sleep and he can be entertained for at least an hour playing what we call the super baby game. Our favorite family hammock is the Eno Double Nest, as we can all fit in it comfortably.

Sunhat. Keeping the sun off Max is a hard thing to do. Keeping a hat on him is even harder. Then we found Sunday Afternoons Kids Play hats. Max keeps his on all day without any fuss.

A few cloth diapers. Even if your baby is not using cloth diapers, these things are the most absorbent pieces of cloth ever. We always have a few in his backpack, in the car, and around the house for spills, fast diaper changes, and more!

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