Camping with a baby is not easy. There’s a lot of calculated risk in deciding to bring your little one away from his home, his routine, his sleeping arrangement…
As a couple of parents attempting to navigate our way through the dicey, and frankly unpleasant sea of sleep training, we were not immune to the possible horrors we might be facing: Our tiny, otherwise happy infant could decide that the time to feel his first twinge of teething pain was at 4:00 a.m. He could be inconsolable and one of us would end up walking in the woods with a head lamp trying to keep Little Bear asleep, keep enough distance between us and the campground to maintain the peace, and generally keep ourselves from getting eaten by a cougar.
We also had a limited supply of diapers (not that I wouldn’t jerry rig some diapers out of maple leaves and sap) and I had a sneaking suspicion that someone in that campground was a psychopath and was probably plotting to steal my baby. I told Big Radish that the single guy the next campsite over was clearly a homicidal murderer. My husband pointed out that the “homicidal murderer” had a wife and toddler who were currently out of sight.
Despite this potential dread, or perhaps, despite my internal dialogue of potential dread, we not only survived camping, we owned camping.
I am a firm believer that if something is important to you as a person and as a parent, it is paramount that you share it with your child. You want your kid to know you, right? Then take them where you want to be, let them see what you’re passionate about, teach them what makes their parents happy. You know what makes me happy? Being outside.
I’m a backpacker by upbringing, and car camping has never held much appeal for me. I prefer to be away from people so I can hear the birds, smell the fresh air, and soak in some well-earned solitude. However, Big Radish is an experienced car camper and has shown me how fun and convenient if can be. If you’re going to car camp, Big Radish is the man you want to car camp with. Marrying a chef has a lot of perks, and one of them is what we eat while camping; just scratching the surface includes duck, grilled peaches, aged balsamic, and char-dusted grilled corn.
No watery, limp hot dogs for us! I assume that’s what most people eat when car camping… and no judgements. When backpacking, you end up eating freeze-dried and rehydrated mushy concoctions that all generally taste like teriyaki slop. Though, when you’ve been hiking up a mountain all day with a huge pack on your back, teriyaki slop is delicious.
We arrived to our campsite in the early evening, having to leave after Big Radish got off work. By the time we got there, we were scrambling to put up the tent, build a fire, get dinner going, and put Little Bear to bed. While I nursed, and changed the baby, Big Radish started coaxing a bed of coals into existence and pulled out the cast iron. We wouldn’t be able to eat until after Little Bear went to bed (assuming he would) so we pulled out the aluminum foil to ensure if the food got done before the baby went down, we wouldn’t be eating cold meat.
Sleep training is all about putting your baby down ‘sleepy but awake’ in an effort to teach them how to soothe themselves to sleep. When you’re camping, may I suggest, you change that particular mantra to ‘nurse them into a drunken coma’. Don’t beat yourself up, you’re doing what you have to do and the rest of the campground will thank you. Every single time Little Bear woke up; my boob went straight into his mouth until he passed back out again.
It’s survival. And I’m going to be upfront about this, parents. You are not going to have restful nights. Between a dog laying on top of our legs, a baby wedged in my sleeping bag, and two adults trying to share a confined space… well… we weren’t exactly communing comfortably with nature.
But! In the time between putting Little Bear to sleep in the tent and the time we went to bed, Big Radish and I got some awesome alone time snacking on steak and watching the fire while we sipped some wine. I’m not going to pretend that one of us wasn’t checking on the baby every six minutes to make sure he hadn’t somehow rolled himself into a corner and smooshed his airways closed. Despite the new parent fears, we all made it through the night with copious nursing and a lot of awkward “sleeping” positions.
It can be done, parents! It can! At any age, really. It just depends on your willingness to go with the flow and know that things won’t always go according to plan. We managed a six-mile hike and two full nights in the tent with a seven-month-old. Was it easy? Not always. Was it fun? Hell yes. Would I recommend it? Absolutely!
You’re not really sleeping now anyway, right?
*I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but general parenthood got in the way. We were camping in June of 2017. Although most of what I wrote can be applied to any camping experience, November requires a lot more forethought about weather and warmth. You can camp whenever you like, just remember that preparation is key. Make sure you have the full measure of what fall camping is like, particularly in the Pacific Northwest where November can become an extremely snowy month in the mountains.