May long weekend is your chance to conquer the wild Canadian outdoors with your baby in tow. As true Canadians, we're hardwired to hit the great outdoors the moment we can, especially on the kick-off to summer weekend. Jumping on the camping bandwagon, Sylas and I took the plunge for his first time camping last year and I'm not gonna lie - it was a bit of a shitshow! Having previously survived six months of tent living during my treeplanting days, I thought I had it in the bag. But camping with a baby is a next level challenge!

Meticulously crafted from my own unpreparedness, I've created a first time camping with a baby checklist.  So grab your milk, secure those tent pegs, and let's explore the unpredictable ride of camping with kids!

First Time Camping with a Baby

My first time camping with a baby was at Raven River Hideaway, a family-owned gem with a vibrant community spirit. Its proximity to Cochrane, Alberta, just over an hour due north on the Cowboy Trail, and near the charming town, Caroline, Alberta, made it an ideal first location for our first time camping.

Tip - stay within an hour to home so that you can abort mission if need be!

Our camping adventure kicked off with a late entrance into the campground well past Sylas's bedtime. In a race against the clock, we scrambled to set up campsite and get the little dude settled down. Working as a team, we set up pretty quick and got Sylas off to bed.

Camping Checklist for Sleeping

I borrowed most of the gear for our first time camping, sparing me from the hefty initial costs associated with it. This allowed me to have a trial run and identify the essential items I would want to purchase for future camping adventures.

  1. Tent: Ensure you have a spacious tent that can accommodate a queen-sized air mattress and a playpen. Additionally, make sure the tent is tall enough for comfortable standing.
  2. Playpen: While lugging around a playpen may seem cumbersome, it's a necessary item to keep your little one confined and secure during bedtime in the tent.
  3. Sleeping Essentials: Bring an air mattress, cot, or sleeping pad along with a sleeping bag, comfy pillow, and plenty of blankets for your baby. Keep things are normal for them as possible with their favourite stuffed animal or toys to aim a peaceful night's sleep.
  4. Stay Warm and Protected: Pack appropriate clothing layers, including beanies, gloves, hoodies, and long johns, to combat our chilly Alberta nights. Dress your baby in fleecy pajamas with feet at bedtime.
  5. White Noise: It's normal for Sylas to sleep with background noise so I opted to bring this along to help drown out the campfire chatter and bird chorus.
  6. Parking near the Tent: If possible, park your vehicle close to the tent. Leave most of your belongings in the car and keep the tent clutter-free to minimize noise disturbances during baby's naptime and bedtime.

As night fell, I discovered our chosen spot was home to a chorus of chattering birds near the river and dense woods. They seemed determined to keep the nocturnal symphony alive, leaving us feeling like we were caught in an avian opera. At the crack of dawn, a boisterous cow decided it was time to showcase her vocal talents. With a zest for life that matched her moo-velous spirit, she belted out a morning serenade promptly at 6am.

The morning cow greeted me with a newfound realization—our first time camping journey demanded adaptability. Our lack of foresight and planning the previous night left me without the essential tools to make that sweet, sacred elixir of life—coffee.

Tip - don't forget coffee and everything to boil water.

Eating & Cooking Camping Essentials

For coffee enthusiasts like me, overlooking access to a stove and pot to boil water was a massive oversight. As we were camping with friends that had a trailer, I didn't think to bring a stove. Avoid doing what I did by following these planning meals.

  1. Cooking Equipment: To avoid early morning caffeine crises, make sure to pack a small propane stove, a pot, coffee mug, bowl, plate, and utensils.
  2. Water & Cooler: Don't forget to bring an ample supply of water. Chances are, you'll need a small cooler with ice to keep milk and perishable food items fresh.
  3. Meal Prepping: Prepare at least one meal in advance to minimize cooking time at the campsite. Consider dishes like my favourite tofu peanut noodle dish, or maple oatmeal with chia, flaxmeal, and pumpkin seeds for a nutritious and convenient camping feast.
  4. Baby Snacks: Have lots of quick options; to-go veggie pouches, fruit bars, bananas, grapes, sliced veggies.
  5. Last-Minute Grocery Run: Grab some essential items like ice, marshmallows, and snacks before hitting the road.
  6. Don't Forget Coffee: Pack instant coffee like Starbucks VIA Instant, sugar, and creamer to ensure you start your day off right amidst sunrise cow outbursts.
  7. Cleaning Supplies: Bring a small amount of dish detergent, dish cloth, and drying towel for basic dish cleanup.
  8. Keep It Clean: Bring a garbage bag to dispose of waste.

Loosely plan for Activities

Amidst the chaos of our first time camping adventure, we stumbled upon another huge oversight—activities! Rob, armed with a Tupperware container filled with dinkies, came to the rescue and saved the day, captivating Sylas for hours on end. If you don't want to chase your kid around the entire day, consider a small bin of camping toys, reserved exclusively for camping adventures. Balls and frisbees are also good things to have in the vehicle.

Regrettably, our lack of activity planning led to a haphazard selection of items packed for the trip. We didn't have a lifejacket so couldn't paddleboard with Sylas. But we still went on an outdoor excursion to the beautiful Gleniffer Provincial Park where Sylas happily ran up and down hills and threw rocks in the water.

To fully enjoy camping with a baby, certain essentials should never be overlooked:

  1. Diapers and Wipes: Be well-stocked with diapers, wipes, and poo bags to handle any messy situations.
  2. Engaging Activities: Pack a small bin of camping toys, especially ones that are exclusive to camping. Additionally, don't forget your baby's lifejacket and water shoes for water activities like paddleboarding. Bring hats, and don't forget sunscreen and bug repellent to ensure their comfort.
  3. Towels: Bring a few towels for drying off after swimming or any unexpected splashes.
  4. Toiletries: Toothbrush, toothpaste, whatever you need to clean yourself and your kid.

Embrace Discomfort

Camping often demands that we step out of our comfort zones, and our experience was no exception. Battling against the scorching heat dome and the suffocating embrace of heavy smoke, our day became an exercise in endurance. The sweaty nap we took seemed almost unbearable. In fact, there were moments when I contemplated leaving the campsite in a flurry of frustration, desperate for relief.

But in the face of adversity, it was my unwavering resilience that anchored us to our mission: to create unforgettable memories for my baby boy's first time camping experience.

Here are some valuable tips that I learned about my first time camping with a baby:

  1. Noise Control: Be mindful of your tent location and try to choose a spot with minimal noise. You can also bring a white noise machine if this helps with your baby. Unfortunately, we unknowingly ended up next to a vocal cow that fancied morning serenades!
  2. Loosely Plan Activities: Have a tentative plan for activities, especially if vehicle space is limited. We made the mistake of not planning ahead, resulting in us wandering around the campground for hours. Embrace spontaneity but have a loose plan to avoid wasting time and energy.
  3. Embrace Discomfort: Camping isn't glamourous, and getting a little dirty is part of the experience. Leave your high maintenance, self-care routines at home and relish in the freedom from makeup!
  4. Location: For your first time camping, it's best to choose a location that's within an hour to home.
  5. Follow Your Gut: Sometimes, it's best to trust your instincts. If the first time camping trip isn't going as planned, you can always bail out early.

Extra Touches for a Memorable Camping with Kids Experience

Amidst a fire ban and the haze of smoke, we elevated the first time camping experience with a propane firepit! While the smoke cast a shadow over our traditional campfire plans, this alternative provided a warm setting for great convos and bevies.

To elevate your first time camping trip, consider incorporating these additional items and experiences into your checklist.

  1. Camping Chair: Bring a comfortable camping chair for lounging and enjoying the great company.
  2. Alcohol: I struggle to give advice here as I often get excited and overindulge! Pack ample amounts of your favourite alcoholic beverages but try your best to keep it reigned in. Take it from me; a 6am wakeup call, mixed with a hangover and no coffee, really sucked.
  3. Musical Instruments: Bring along an instrument like a ukulele or a 3/4 size guitar. If you have shakers, a handdrum, tambourine--bring them along too for those who can't play string instruments. They're easy to use and gets everyone participating in a jam. And if you can find others jamming, that's even better.
  4. Luxurious Flames: Consider investing in a propane firepit as a bonus addition to your camping setup. It provides a cozy ambiance even during fire bans or smoky conditions.
  5. Stay Charged but Disconnect: Pack a charger and portable battery pack to ensure your devices are always powered up. Also, remember to bring a headlamp or use your phone's flashlight for nighttime activities. But also take this time to be present and try to use your phone a little as possible.

First Time Camping with a Baby Checklist

This camping checklist is not minimalistic by nature and not meant to serve as a backcountry camping with kids list. The amount of stuff that you will need to be comfortable is mind-boggling. And be prepared to spend at least half a day packing, meal-prepping, and loading up the vehicle.

  • Tent (with ample space)
  • Queen-sized air mattress
  • Playpen
  • Sleeping bag
  • Pillows
  • Blankets
  • Favourite stuffed animal/toy
  • White noise machine
  • Cooking stove
  • Pot
  • Coffee mug
  • Bowl
  • Plate
  • Utensils
  • Water bottle
  • Water supply
  • Cooler with ice
  • Marshmallows
  • Snacks
  • Meal-prepped dishes
  • Garbage bags
  • Coffee, sugar, creamer
  • Warm clothing layers
  • Slip on shoes
  • Water shoes
  • Towels
  • Hats
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug repellent
  • Diapers
  • Wet Wipes
  • Poo bags
  • Camping toys
  • Lifejacket
  • Hair elastics
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Camping chair
  • Alcohol
  • Musical instrument
  • Charger and portable battery pack
  • Headlamp/flashlight
  • Propane fireplace
  • Propane for the cooking stove and firepit
  • Lighter, paper, and wood (if there isn't a fire ban)

Remember, this list is a general guideline, and you can customize it based on your specific needs and preferences.

As you embark on your own camping with kids adventures, be prepared to face challenges head-on, knowing that it is in those moments of discomfort that we find the greatest opportunities for resilience and personal transformation.

Should you find yourself camping alongside a singing cow, consider it a unique wake-up call to embrace the whimsical adventures that camping with a baby brings!

Leave No Trace, Except for Laughs!

Camping is the perfect opportunity to teach kids about sustainability as small choices can make a big difference in preserving the beauty of the outdoors for future generations.

  1. Leave No Trace: Respect the environment by packing out all waste and leaving your campsite as you found it.
  2. Use Eco-Friendly Gear: Choose sustainable camping equipment made from eco-friendly materials, or borrow gear like we did!
  3. Minimize Campfire Impact: Follow fire regulations, use designated fire rings, and gather only fallen wood for campfires.
  4. Stay on Designated Trails: Stick to marked paths to prevent damaging fragile ecosystems.
  5. Respect Wildlife: Observe animals from a distance, avoid feeding them, and do not disturb their natural habitats.
  6. Conserve Water: Practice water conservation by using minimal amounts for washing dishes, bathing, and cleaning.
  7. Use Biodegradable Products: Choose biodegradable soaps, detergents, and toiletries to protect the environment.
  8. Reduce Single-Use Items: Opt for reusable containers, utensils, and water bottles to minimize waste.

Discovering the Silver Linings: Sylas, the Adaptable Adventurer

Amidst the sweltering heat and smoky haze of our camping escapade, we stumbled upon some valuable takeaways. Sylas, our little explorer, proved to be an incredibly adaptable baby, earning him an array of compliments for his chill, yet humorous nature.

Though he needed a little reassurance on our first night under the stars, he swiftly settled into a peaceful slumber, undisturbed by the bird orchestra that surrounded us.

Our midday nap, drenched in perspiration under the scorching 30-degree heat, proved to be a sweaty affair. Yet, Sylas managed to find solace in the midst of it all, sleeping for a blissful hour.

Through these moments, it became clear that Sylas not only weathered the challenges of our first time camping but also found joy in the adventure. As I reflect on our journey, Sylas's adaptability serves as a reminder that, together, we can overcome hurdles and forge lasting memories in the great outdoors.