Camping with Baby/Toddler – Sleep

Camping with Baby/Toddler – Sleep

posted in: Camping with Kids, Tips | 0

There are many different sleeping arrangements for babies and toddlers and the best solution (if there is one) is going to vary from family to family, child to child, and likely month to month (or maybe year to year?). The most important thing is to make sure your little one is safe and that your little one is warm.

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In this post I’m going to highlight a few different sleeping arrangements, some of which we have tried and some of which we considered (or learned about too late), along with layering options.  As Sprout has grown, we have had to change our sleeping arrangements, because what worked when she was two months old no longer seemed feasible when she was rolling/crawling around.

  1. Sleeping pad (or changing pad) + layers/swaddling:
    • This combination works really well for a non-mobile newborn, but I’m not sure it would be the best option for an older infant.
      Or as a nap place when picnicking. It packs up super compact, so it is easy to take with you.
      Crabtree Falls Hike 2014-09-20 037
      The thermarest also worked well as a soft place to lay Sprout down when we were on hikes.

      Friends of our generously gave us an extra-small Therm-a-rest ProLite at our baby shower and it turned out to be more useful than I had anticiapted (we used it hiking too). When Sprout was a newborn, we opted to lay her on her own sleeping pad between Aaron and I (on our own mats). She was not yet rolling over (she was 2 months old) and we swaddled her, so she stayed neatly on the pad. What I really liked about this option, is that when Sprout woke in the night I could easily reach her to pat her or bring her nurse her without having to get up, which helped me sleep better as well.

    • Don’t have a therm-a-rest (or similar)? How about a changing pad? I was looking at Sprout lying on her changing pad recently (she likes to move it around the house and pretend to be a baby) realized that a changing pad taken off the changing table would likely work to help insulate and provide some padding (if you have space in the car) and the contoured sides would further help keep little one in place.
  2. Travel crib:
      • A pack-and-play or other travel crib (we used our portable arms reach co-sleeper) is a great option for when your little one is mobile, and would roll off a mat and/or isn’t ready to be loose in the tent. These take up a lot of space, but if you are like us and bought a massive tent for family car-camping, then this isn’t much of an issue.
      • We used this option when Sprout was  12 – 17 months old. It worked really well for the summer. I think it helped her recognize that it was bedtime, since she slept in this same crib every night at home (we are probably fairly unique in that respect) and helped her to ‘turn off’ rather than thinking it was time to explore and play. However, despite our layering attempts, it was not warm enough for a very cold late summer camping trip (the temperature dropped into the 20’s Fahrenheit), which brings me to:
      • Cons: Keep in mind that these may be cooler than some of the other options (great for a hot summer) as air flows under the mattress and thus provides less insulation. Also, they take up more space in the car and is just one more bulky thing to pack.

    Here are a few travel cribs that are particularly compact (I love that the Phil & Ted and the Lotus cribs have the side that opens, great for easy reach to the baby while you are also sleeping). From left to right: Phil & Ted, Lotus Crib, Baby Bjorn travel crib light, and the Arm’s reach co-sleeper (not compact and light, but can serve as a main sleep area at home too).

  3. Kidco Peapod:
      • If I had thought about it, I probably would have registered for the Kidco Peapod Plus (the Plus is the larger size and therefore will last longer); however, we really didn’t need one and we did try to minimize how much stuff we got, so perhaps we wouldn’t have gotten one. These are like little personal tents for the baby with a built in mattress pad. They are compact, so they won’t take up too much space and have the ‘cool factor’ (they get their own tent!) so may be more willing to sleep in this as they get older. You can also make the transition to sleeping without any containment more gradual by opening only one side of the peapod at first. The “plus” is also longer than most travel cribs so it would work up until your little one is about 5 or 6 years old – at which point they’d probably still enjoy playing with it at home, just not sleeping in it. It can also provide sun protection at a beach or park. Depending on your lifestyle, this may be worth getting as it will work for the longest period of time and is compact.
      • Caution: Older versions of the peapod had the mattress go inside the tent rather than under the tent and were recalled, so please use caution if you plan to buy one used.

  4. Cosleeping (2 options):
    • Air mattress and blankets: This combination would be just like cosleeping at home, except you would be sleeping on an air mattress. If you are comfortable with cosleeping, then this is a great summer time option. However, if you are expecting low nighttime temperatures you may find that you are far colder than you expect. The air in the air mattress will be the same temperature as the outside air, which means it will cool you down when you are laying on it. No amount of blanket on top of you seems to help. We tried this for a July camping trip in Southern Utah (where night temperatures drop considerably) and Aaron and I were freezing! It was probably in the high-50’s or low-60’s outside (but we did experience a fierce storm as well). Sprout was fine because I held her against my body the whole time (on top of me) in order to protect her from the cold. If you go this route, I would recommend a thick mattress cover to help insulate the mattress a bit. Also, make sure you’ll have a source to blow up the mattress once at your campsite. We have an adapter that works well in the car, but you may need an extension cord if you have to park the car away from the tent. (Note: Most air mattresses recommend that you do NOT use them with children under the age of 4, so use your judgement here.)
    • Double sleeping bagThere are some really high quality double sleeping bags out there. If you are planning to camp often when your little one is small, it may be worth investing in a good double sleeping bag where you can comfortably share the sleeping bag with your little one. Make sure you can fold the top down so that little ones head is not covered by the bag. This would make nursing easy and also makes it easier for you to know how cold/warm/hot your little one is. This is particularly good for kids who like cuddling and/or do not like wearing many layers.
    • Join two ‘regular’ sleeping bags together: If you do not want to invest in an expensive double bag, but have two regular (i.e. rectangular) sleeping bags that zip completely open, then you can zip the two together to make a double sleeping bag. This will work just like the double sleeping bag, but depending on the quality of the bags may not be as warm.
    • NOTE: If you choose to co-sleep, please make sure you are familiar with guidelines for how to safely co-sleep. This page is a great resource.
  5. Toddlers own sleeping bag: In my search for a new sleeping set up for Sprout, I considered many of the options above, but ultimately decided on getting her her own sleeping bag. We tend to camp in areas where the temperatures drop quite a bit at night and we have had a hard time keeping her warm in the past. We also wanted something that should work for the next several years. We opted for a toddler bag over a ‘kids’ bag, because the smaller size will help keep her warmer. When a bag has excess room in it, it is that much harder for your body (or LOs body in this case) to warm up the empty space and so it can fill up with cool air instead. Most toddler bags will fit a child until they are about 6 years old, but it will depend on your child’s height. We did not consider any of the novelty toddler bags, because they would not be warm enough for our needs. Here are the two bags we considered (I was fortunate enough to be able to compare both in person):
      • Kelty Woobie: This bag is super cute. It comes in two colors (pink and teal…. I like the teal with the little trees on it) and has a cute camping pattern on the inside. It is rated for temperatures down to 30 degrees. It has a zipper on both sides, so it could be a good bag to get a child used to a sleeping bag since you could leave the top folded down. This may, however, counter the need for warmth, but if you have ‘training’ time (i.e. camping trips in the summer) when you don’t need little one to be as warm, it may work out.
      • Big Agnes Little Red: The second, and the one we ultimately decided on, is more like a miniature adult bag and is rated to temperatures as low as 15 degrees. The zipper is on the side, but this worked well for us as it was on the opposite side as my bag. This meant little one could remain covered, but I could reach my hand over to her to comfort her if needed without having to be too exposed. We just opened the zipper slightly. The bottom of this bag is not insulated, rather it is intended to be used with a sleeping pad. There is a sleeve on the bottom side of the bag to keep the sleeping bag in place. This feature, along with the lower temperature rating, was ultimately what sold us on the bag.  Knowing how much of a crazy sleeper Sprout is, we didn’t think she would stay on a sleeping pad if it was not attached to the bag.    Update: Check out our full review here

Keeping your baby or toddler warm when camping

Keeping your little one warm at night is critical for insuring a pleasant camping trip for all. Not only does it give you peace of mind, but if your little one is cold, no body is going to sleep well. I find it helpful to consider what layers I am sleeping with and if I need my warm sleeping bag or not. I also make sure to check what the low temperature will be for the night. This helps me figure out how warmly Sprout needs to be dressed. You do not want your little one to overheat either.

  1. Base layer: Typically we dress Sprout in midweight wool-blend long underwear that we got from REI. They are REI brand, but do not seem to be available anymore. However, REI carries many other options. This set from Patagonia would be great for younger babies and toddlers.
  2. Fleece footed pajamas, just like she wears in winter at home. When she was smaller, we used a fleece sleep bag (with long sleeves).
  3. Swaddle (for small baby), in warmer weather.
  4. Snowsuit/ bunting bag: The bunting bags that cover up little ones hands and feet are ideal, but unfortunately these tend to only go up to 12 or 18 months. If hands and feet are exposed, make sure to cover them up! We used the snowsuit we had, but we struggled to keep socks, mittens, and hat on. Snowsuits aren’t really necessary if your little one is sleeping in a sleeping bag or if it is warmer out, but great for when they are in a travel crib and the temperatures are cooler.
  5. Sleeping bag: These are meant to keep people warm, no explanation needed.
  6. Hats, socks, and mittens: Make sure to keep little ones hands, feet, and head warm. We found LOs feet and hands got cold quickly, and I ended up cuddling Sprout on particularly cold nights to keep her hands warm (when she was too big for a bunting bag and too small for a sleeping bag).  An extra layer of socks under jammies is great when the weather is cold. I also considered putting a pair of my wool socks over Sprouts jammies if the temperatures dropped particularly low on our last trip (they didn’t though).

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