Heading out camping with your baby can be a daunting prospect, to say the least. Since our family has logged 100’s of nights in the Great Outdoors, I am happy to share my top tips for sound baby sleep. Whether camping in Kamloops, Chilliwack or Prince George, my philosophy, as both a sleep consultant and mama, has remained the same – keeping my little one’s sleep environment and routine as familiar as possible to ultimately pave the way to sounder sleep for our entire family.
The Ideal “Camping” Sleeping Environment.
Safe, dark, cool & consistent are the ideal areas of focus for baby’s sleeping environment, whether home or away.
A Safe & Independent Sleeping Space:
For baby or toddler, a safe sleeping space is a must. There are so many great options for safe and independent sleeping spaces while on the road and many have elements that will lend itself to sounder sleep as well.
I am a big fan of travel cribs/cots/bassinets for camping. Not only do they consume less space than a traditional pack-n-play (during travel or when in use), many come in darker colours (less light = decreased bedtime resistance or early rising = more restorative sleep) and also offer the contained and independent sleeping space that puts safety at the forefront.
My favourite all-round travel cribs for babies through to toddlers are either the Phil & Ted’s Traveller Travel Crib or the Baby Bjorn Travel Crib Light. If camping or travelling will be a constant in your family’s life, my advice would be to invest in one of these cribs early on. For babies older than 12 months of age, the Kidco Travel Pod is a nice option as well. And for a newborn or infant who is not yet mobile (likely less than 3-4 months of age) the Brica Fold N’ Go Travel Bassinet is a compact option that allows you to keep baby close, but safe, when away from home.
**Be sure to review all manufacturers recommendations before use to be sure it suits the age and development of your child.
A Room Within a Room (within your tent!)
When sharing the confines of a tent with a social baby or toddler “out of sight, out of mind” is best practice. If your little one can see you enter or leave the tent or make eye contact in those early morning hours, the chances of them resettling to extend their sleep is slim. There are great options for tents with rooms or individual sleeping spaces – yes, they are a little larger, but they create that independent sleeping space that keeps distraction to a minimum. If that’s not feasible, then hanging a dark flat sheet between your sleeping space and baby’s (out of reach of their crib) is the next best thing.
Pick Your Spot, then Dial It In.
Before you even pitch your tent, consider the impact that your surroundings could have on your child’s sleep.
Location, Location, Location.
Whenever possible, be as picky as you can with respect to where you will be pitching your tent. The ideal location would be heavily shaded, away from the entrance/exit of the campground, roads or train tracks, and as far away from your camping neighbours as possible. Stay clear of group sites and campsites that are right next to washrooms or showers aren’t the ideal, due to higher foot traffic and slamming doors.
Staying Cool in the Shade.
One of the trickiest aspects to camping is the limited impact that you can have on the external environment. Controlling the level of light that your baby will be sleeping in, isn’t easy! Barring the perfectly treed campsite that offers a cool and darker setting, I encourage you to consider how you might be able to shade and darken the area where you will be pitching your tent or parking your trailer.
Using trees or telescopic poles, hang a tarp (or two!) above your tent so that it blocks the sun as it tracks across the sky. I am also a huge fan of shade sails (1st picture), as they pack down to nothing and are super easy to hang at just the right angle.
The benefit of a hanging shade cover is that it will also serve to dramatically darken the interior of your tent. There is a balance between choosing a darker coloured tent that doesn’t become too hot in the sun, with a lighter coloured tent that feels as though you are sleeping in broad daylight the majority of the time – my first choice would be dark colour tent with a hanging shade or two to keep it cool and dark.
Ssssshhhhh, baby sleeping.
The likelihood of your fellow campers, birds and sounds of the outdoors quietening down when you really need them to (nap time, late night and early morning) is slim. And rather than elevating your level of frustration with nature and your nieghbours, I really encourage you to consider one of the easiest fixes for obtrusive sounds during your child’s sleep – portable white noise!
There are fantastic options from brands like Marpac, Homedics and Lectrofan – either battery operated or chargeable via USB (the portability of white noise has really improved in recent years!). I suggest having one inside the tent (out of reach of baby) and if neighbouring sounds prove too much, a second machine that could be placed outside of the tent against the wall that baby is closest to. A reminder that with white noise, it’s not about ramping up the volume – it’s about sound distribution and buffering – so be mindful of where you place the white noise machine so that disrupts exterior noise rather than drowning it out.
This article has focused on the “logistics” of your baby’s sleep while camping. To learn more about my thoughts on reasonable expectations for camping sleep and assimilating your child’s routine to what they are used to at home, please visit my “Camping and Baby Sleep” blog.
Remember that despite the gravel roads, early rising sun and bugs galore, your family can do this! We are so blessed to live in the most amazing province, with beauty unlike anywhere else in Canada, right on our doorstep. A bit of pre-planning and modest investment and you will soon be making some amazing memories with your little ones this summer, all the while, sleeping well.