Some of my absolute earliest memories are of camping trips with my family. These also happen to be my fondest memories. With that in mind, my husband and I have made a point of taking Evie camping early and often. At just 13 months, she’s been well over 5 times: on trips ranging from warm August days and nights at Shaver Lake to a brisk October night at Big Basin in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We’ve done Big Sur, car camped on a farm, beach camped in Santa Barbara, and snuggled in a tent in someone’s yard in San Luis Obispo. And without fail, our Evie Wilder lights up, gets dirty, smiles big, and sleeps better every single time. She’s never happier than in nature, and every time we sleep under the stars, this becomes more apparent.
I’ve shared a lot of our experiences camping as a family on Instagram, and the response has been so positive. I’ve gotten tons of requests for a “how to” post, so here you have it. Please note that I am not necessarily an expert, and we are learning what works and what doesn’t as we go, but I can say that we’ve had overwhelmingly positive experiences so far, and I am glad to be able to share them with you!
If this post helps even just one family get outside, let their kids get dirty, and have under the stars, that’s a win. There’s an indescribable magic in camping, and I hope we all get to experience it in our own way. Cheers! ♡
*note: there are affiliate links throughout this post. I genuinely am only sharing things that worked great for us, so if you click my link it’s because I’ve tried and trued the thing you’re clicking. Your support means the world!
A Mama’s Guide to Camping
SETTING UP CAMP:
- Extra long 2-person backpacking tent: We went extra long as we have space at our feet for a bag with changes of clothes, diapers, wipes, etc. It has pockets everywhere for phones, headlamps, keys, etc. We LOVE it. For now, all three of us fit in the 2-person just fine (we’ve even had the dogs at our feet before!). *Note: we now sleep in the van, but will keep this on hand for backpacking from base camp next summer!
- Camping mat: We went for a while with two single mats, which meant mama ended up in the crack a lot. This one is a GAME CHANGER. Double wide, surprisingly comfortable. Packs up easy.
- Sleeping bags: The first few times we camped, we brought a comforter and sheets and set up our tent like a bed. We’ve found that sleeping bags are easier (Love the Bear Grylls). I just unzip mine and use it as a blanket over Evie and me. We bring pillows too! On that note, yes, we “bed” share when we camp and it works really well for us for easy side lying nursing, extra warmth, and family cuddles.
- Guava Lotus Travel Crib: LOVE LOVE LOVE. Did I mention that I love this thing? It packs up small and conveniently, it’s durable, it’s easy to clean (literally just hose down the mattress), and the easy open zip side makes it simple to let Evie explore when it’s safe or to keep her in when it’s not (usually once the fire is going). She can be in the mix but contained when needed. We then put it between our two camping mats (when we had two) for a little more evening out. I love this thing. *Note: we plan to work in naps in the Lotus too when we’re not out on hikes! Stay tuned. (We’ll continue to cosleep in the tent for the foreseeable future)
- Picnic blanket: It’s great to have a hearty blanket, ideally with a plastic or similar bottom, to lay out for play time, diaper changes, and lounging. We like this one.
- Hammock: If you get a site with trees suitable for setting up a hammock, do! Evie loves rocking back and forth, and if you have a kid who enjoys rocking to sleep, it’s a nice way to keep some normalcy to bedtime routine. We love the double wide so we can all lay in it together. I look forward to nights under the stars soon.
- Headlamps: necessary for late night diaper changes, exploring after dark, and enjoying the stars without big obnoxious lamps.
- Baby Monitor: We finally bought one (never use one at home) because it’s great to be able to hear her in the van (yes, that is the new setup, shhhh more to come) when she goes down before us. We chose this one because both ends are battery operated (hard to find). So far, so good!
- We are able to pack for the whole family in our Cotopaxi duffle (Use THIS link for $20 off your first order).
- How we bundle for cold camping: onesie, sweatshirt with hood, easy zip snow pants, and then we use a woolino sleep sack (or once or twice we’ve used my vest) as a sleeping bag around her body (layers are key – we’ve had some nights where she got way too hot and we had to strip her down in the middle of the night).
- Beach attire: iPlay has been great. We love the bathing suit bottom (legit catches poop) and the sun protective tops and hats.
- Bring plenty of changes of clothes because babe WILL get dirty, and that’s what makes it all so fun. Stick with outfits that you’re not especially fond of or that are durable as all hell. We LOVE Cotopaxi and Patagonia.
- We also love having our Ergo 360 on hand for if Evie wants to be held or to keep her (and me) warm in the evenings. It’s also GREAT for hikes. And it’s super easy to just throw in the wash when you get home to get the campfire smell out.
- Beautycounter Countersun SPF is our go to for sun protection if we will be out in the sun longer than 20-30 minutes (less than that and we let the sun do its thing for Vitamin D). I’ve felt comfortable putting this on Evie since 4 months, but I believe the recommendation is 6.
- To keep the pesky bugs away, we use THIS bug spray. So far, so good, but this is California camping. I’d love suggestions if you guys know of anything strong and safe!
- Most important: Here’s what I’ve learned from my friend, Taz (of @thetribelife), DON’T RUN OUT OF WOOD. Buy more than you think you’ll need. At least 3 bundles for night and 2 for morning (because morning fires are magic). Make sure you have a lighter and some paper too – we grab newspaper or tear up paper bags.
- We recently borrowed THIS babe camping chair / high chair combo from our friend Natalie, and now we’re obsessed. It’s the absolute best for sitting around the fire, eating, or just hanging.
- We also LOVE these chairs for sitting around the fire or taking to the beach. Our friends have a set, and while they can be a challenge to put away, I love how compact they get, and I actually find them to be very comfortable.
- If there isn’t a good fire setup, we pull out our camping stovetop. It’s super easy to use and very convenient for boiling water, frying eggs, and cooking meat. Just make sure you get a small kettle to boil water (though we have used a glass bottle in a pinch), and a lightweight cast iron griddle for cooking!
- Keeping this one simple: we do not feel the need to bring toys or things to entertain Evie when we camp. The opportunities for her to use her imagination, explore, get dirty, and create her own games are endless in nature. Watching her do this make my heart happy.
- Someday we’ll get her a balance bike and then a real bike because there’s something incredibly nostalgic about riding bikes around a campsite. That’s where I learned as a kid!
- Mama: Beautycounter face wipes to clean of grime and then Cleansing Balm to keep moisture in (great easy combo, especially with no running water)
- Babe: Baby balm for all things (scrapes, rash, cuts, etc) + Countersun spray SPF for the sunshine protection.
- Everything: Dr. Bronner’s soap is magic for dishes, body, even hair. And it won’t leave any toxic residue in the water! We also do body wipes with Water Wipes if we don’t have access to a shower. By far my favorite wipes.
- Snacks: We stick with things that travel easy, have plenty of high quality fat and protein, and aren’t loaded with sugar to keep us satiated longer for the adventures of the day: Paleovalley beef sticks (20% off with code: radicalroots), 4505 pork chicharrones or cracklins, Flackers, a jar or bag of sauerkraut (I love that this gives probiotics and veggies in one, and we’ll go through a small jar in a trip easily), cheese (to make things even easier, buy pre-sliced like Applegate), and always berries!
- Dinner: We usually keep it simple with grass fed burgers over the fire (ideally look for a site with a grill top on the fire pit or a separate grill). It’s best to season and form the patties ahead of time so you make less of a mess. We’ll pack guac, more cheese, and kraut for easy bun-less cheese burgers. OR sometimes if it’s a late night getting into the site, we’ll just sit by the fire, and eat a charcuterie spread of salami, prosciutto, cheese, and flackers while sipping some Dry Farm wine in our camping wine tumblers.
- Breakfast is always a favorite. Here’s what we do: Rusty and I are actually not much for breakfast these days, so we boil water on the fire and then throw together boosted coffee (I usually pack some whey, collagen, mushroom elixirs, and mct powder). The babe will usually enjoy more cheese, berries, and whatever else we have. If we’re with a group, we’ll cook up bacon, fry eggs in said bacon grease, and enjoy berries!
- Keeping it cold: We have a big ice chest and we freeze big plastic water bottles filled with water. This keeps ice from melting everywhere and then we can use the water as it melts. Win! (one of the only times we’ll use plastic water bottles)
Did I miss anything?? Leave me a comment with any questions you might still have. I hope this helps. Sending you love and joy on your next adventure!