Camping with Babies & Toddlers

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High-altitude camping with an infant

August 2001

I am planning a trip to Yosemite at the end of August with my daughter who will be 4 months old then. We will be camping above 9000 feet and I'm worried about how the altitude will affect her. Her pediatrician didn't have any knowledge in this arena, so I'm wondering if anyone has experience with infants at altitude and can give me some advice (or tell me I'm crazy to go!). P.C.

We just took our 8-month old on a ten day trip to the Eastern Sierras, and it was in fact fairly rough. Our pediatrician had no idea about altitude either, so we decided to give it a try. The baby slept terribly, and wanted to nurse constantly, through the night and day--I imagine dehydration was a problem, because his nose got stuffed up and he had to breathe through his mouth. He probably had headaches as well, because he cried quite a lot. So basically, it was a pretty rough trip, but it did get better as he acclimatized (MUCH more slowly than grown-ups, in this case). I wish I could be more positive, but I think the trick is to go up slowly if at all possible (maybe camp along the way to Yosemite at progressively higher altitudes) and keep up the fluids. Another problem we had was the pulling off the hat trick, which was probably part play, part relieving the pressure on the head from headache(?), but it certainly made it stressful to be out of doors all the time--but a four-month old may not be into that. We took the chance (and will keep trying) because we like mountains, but when I lived in Kathmandu, I knew a doctor who said he certainly would not take a baby over 2500 m (about 7500 feet) for at least the first three years of life. I'm not sure what the reasoning is, but our baby's breathing did get a little irregular, and we spent a good part of our nights worrying about it. Good luck, and let us know if you find a solution! Aimee

I am not a doctor or an expert, but I can tell you my experience. I took my 3 mos old camping at lake Levitt on Sonora pass (between 10,000 and 11,000 feet) We were there 3 days with no problems. When she was 5 mos old we went to Hawaii and drove from sea level to the top of Mauna Kea a volcano which I believe is 13,796 ft feet. The drive was quick and as we neared the top my baby got very fussy and vomited. I attributed this to the high altitude change in a short period of time. We drove back down and she recovered quickly. I have taken my young children (ages 2 -6) from the Bay Area to camp at various altitudes in the Sierras ( you never get higher than 11,000 feet) and never had any problems. I do believe that young children are more susceptible to altitude sickness than adults. Here are some websites with info: lynn My first thought was that when I camped up at Toulumne meadows, which I think is about 8000', I used 15 sunblock religiously and still got sun poisoning on my face after 3 days. My entire face swelled up to the point where I almost could not see past my eye lids! I just didn't realize that the sun was so much stronger at that altitude. In hindsight I realized that I should have been using a stronger SPF. Since you should not use sunblock of any kind on a child of less than 6 months you will need to keep her out of the sun 100% of the time. My second thought was, how can you protect her from the mosquitos since you cannot put repellent on her? Regarding the altitude, I would call the ranger station of where you are going and ask them about it. I think that they may tell you that an adult can get symptoms of altitude sickness at 9,000'. They may recommend that you postpone your trip with her until she is older, or leave her with a caregiver. My only suggestion would be to make sure you research it thoroughly before embarking on this camping trip with your young daughter. marianne

Try to take at least a full day/night to acclimate at a lower alt. (7K near the valley or one of the Tuolomne camps perhaps). I also noticed that my daughter (then 18 mos.) got more congested at higher altitudes. Similar to flying, keeping up LOTS of extra fluids and sucking if there's congestion/pressure will help. Good luck! Tracy

I am not a backpacker, but what comes to mind from my own experience of parenting is this: what if the baby suddenly gets an ear infection/high fever/you name it and needs medical attention? When my baby had these problems and I was at home within easy driving distance of the doctor/hospital it was a major pain in the butt and I was totally frazzeled and worried about my baby. I can't imagine putting myself through this kind of thing in the high altitude back country of Yosemite. My sister backpacked when her baby was tiny and her husband said it would be fine. Right. After one experience she never took her baby backpacking again -- and there wasn't even a medical emergency in the mix. To me, a tiny baby and rugged country don't go together well.

We've taken our daughter camping and to high-altitude but never both at once. The good news is that when she was just a few months old she didn't seem to notice changes like sleeping in a tent or being at altitude as much as she does now at the ripe age of 15 months. We've noticed that she doesn't sleep as well in altitude. One thing that helps is giving extra fluids. In your case, I would recommend giving her water in addition to her regular formula or breastmilk. With regard to sleeping arrangements when our daughter was your babies age we simply arranged some blankets for her on the tent floor and she slept well. Now that she is older this does not work. She has to have something like a playpen or cot to sleep on so that she understands where she is supposed to sleep and that she is supposed to sleep. Andrea

That is a perfect age to take a baby to the mountains. We did a couple months backpacking with our daughter when she was four to six months old and it was wonderful! However, the common wisdom is that you shouldn't take a baby above 10,000 feet. You should be sure she is drinking alot and stays well hydrated. It would be best not to go to directly to 9,000 feet, but to spend at least one night at an intermediate altitude. If she shows any signs of altitude sickness such as loss of appetitie or unusual irritability, go to lower altitude immediately. Feel free to get in touch if I can answer any other questions. Arlene

I don't know anything about the effect on the baby, but I do know the possible effect on the adults. We went camping at nearly 10,000 feet a month ago and I got altitude sickness for the first couple of days. Not horrible, but not fun at all! The two three year olds, however, didn't seem to be affected at all. Inbal

I missed the question on this, perhaps because I was camping in Yosemite with our five month old. Having done this once, in Tuolomne Meadows, I probably would not do it again. There were a number of problems. The main one was that it was 28-32 degrees every night while we were up there. Our son couldn't sleep in his cradle, because he woke up shrieking with the cold on his face and hands and I was very worried about hypothermia. So I let him sleep with me in my sleeping bag, which is actually a suffocation hazard, because down sleeping bags are so light and fluffy. He also wanted to nurse all night. This was not restful for me. The other problems included a) intense sun during the day; b) black biting flies and mosquitos; and c) dirt. I'm not uptight about dirt with my kids at all, but our campsite had really, well, dirty dirt and our son constantly was rolling off his blanket and getting it all over his face, including in his eyes and mouths.

My son was also pretty fussy throughout the trip, perhaps because of headaches or other altitude woes. (Remember too that their ears will be uncomfortable as you're driving there and it's good to have a bottle for them to suck on so they can pop their ears. Of course, my baby won't take a bottle when I'm anywhere near--smart boy--so this did not work for us.) The only thing that saved my sanity when I was up there (because I sure wasn't getting any sleep) was the arrival of another mom and infant who admitted she was having the same trouble I was. I'm a pretty happy camper, usually, but this was generally not a good experience. Susan

We took our then 4-month old backpacking in Yosemite for 3 days, 2 nights -- probably 8 to 9,000 feet (Ten Lakes area which is very beautiful). He had no problems at all, slept at night fine, and had a great time. We did have a 4 adults to 1 baby ratio, which made it easier. Our backpack for him had a shade cover so his face was shaded while hiking. Plus at that age he didn't take a hat off. Mosquitos were not a problem. There weren't that many anyway (and by mid August they are usually fairly minimal); plus they totally ignored him (maybe young babies don't have the same odor as older kids/adults). It's a good time to go b/c at that age they are not too heavy yet and don't move yet. I would make sure the baby backpack you are using fits you really well though. The one we were using didn't fit me as well as it should have, and made my back sore. Karen

Camping with a 6-month-old?

May 1999

We love to to go camping but we are adjusting to parenthood and now have a 6-month-old. Is it feasible to take a baby camping? Or should we stick to the Hilton et al.?

My recommendation on a spot for camping with a 6 month old is based on my experience with my now 14 year old daughter. The best spots are called Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, etc. Unless you have the patience of Job and thrive on sleep deprivation, rent a nice place in the Mountains and go on day hikes. Bottom line: Camping with Baby----don't go there!

When our daughter was 9 months old we took her up to Dardanelles campground (just below Sonora Pass) and spent a couple of nights at the inlet of Pinecrest Lake. Her sleeping bag was an old ski jacket! We had to hike around the lake (about a mile), one of us carrying baby and sleeping bags, the other carrying everything else, but for a couple of nights it was doable and very nice (if maybe not strictly legal--don't know if the Forest Service really allows camping where we were). Dardanelles and the neighboring campgrounds are far enough up the road that you can avoid the camper-trailers fairly well.

Also, check out parks in the Coast Range, like Henry Cowell, Portola, Point Reyes, and the county parks. No climbing, mild weather, and if you're careful you can avoid the Imperial Cruisers. Even Big Sur, where you need reservations, has tent-only areas. If you're ambitious and can deal with hailstorms, Lassen Park is wonderful. The landscape is too young and chaotic for any sustained climbs like the ones in the Sierras, and it's dotted with small warm lakes. It's a cushy wilderness, except for the hailstorms, which you should not expect to magically avoid. (They're typically an hour or two long, in the afternoon, and if you have a good tent you're fine. Unless they go on for a few days, which is what they did the first time I was there). It almost goes without saying that you need to filter your water in all of these places, unless it comes from a tap. A baby with giardia is not a happy camper, and the stuff you have to take to cure it is nasty too. Unless you get local information to the contrary, stay away from Kibbie Lake. It's a fairly easy hike in, but it's Bear Central. This may have changed in the last ten years, but being where it is (Yosemite lowlands) I doubt it.

Without mosquitoes? That may be too much to ask. I think the coast parks are by and large less mosquito-ridden than Lassen and the Sierra, but not by much. If you find a nice place without mosquitoes, let me know.

Something that might be easier than pitching a tent is renting a tent cabin at Big Basin State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It's a lovely old growth redwood forest full of great trails and the cabins are spacious and sturdy. I believe they all have two double beds in them, a wood burning stove, and a table w/benches. I'm not positive about this, but I've heard that there is a campground specifically for families in Tilden Park near the Little Farm Area. I have yet to find out more about this. We did some tent camping last summer with our daughter when she was seven months old. The hardest part was getting her back to sleep at night when she woke up. She likes to be walked back to sleep and we inevitably had to do this outside the tent. All the stooping and rackett to get back into the tent would wake her up just when it seemed she was finally asleep! There are some books that have tips about camping w/ babies & children that you can find at the Sierra Club Bookstore on College Avenue. One is the Sierra Club Family Outdoors Guide by Marlyn Doan and the other is Backpacking with Babies and Small Children by Goldie Silverman. There are probably others as well.

My son has been camping since he was 6mo. old. Currently, at age 4, he's an experienced camper with several multi-day (2-3 day) trips under his belt.

While I would not promote the Hilton etc. as a first alternative to camping there is something to be said for starting off slowly. As parents we frequently find ourselves under (self-imposed) pressure to continue our lives in a 'normal' (the way things were before the birth of a child, i.e. 15mi/day on a trail) way ASAP. It's definitely time to rethink thouroughly what is really important to you. I found that the most important thing (for me) was to be outside and to get my son used to a fun hiking/mountain environment.

We started off with daytrips to Pt. Reyes, Castle Rock State Park, and other scenic,local hikes soon after he was born. It was a great way to find out about some of the logistics involved (dirty diapers, type/quantity food [yes, babies do survive on formula for short periods of time 8^], carrying my son for extended periods of time, stops and breaks, etc.).

Around 6mo. we entered the car camping phase, which is still the preferred mode of outdoor living at this point. Once again the learning curve was high and it was literally a case of learning to walk before running for everybody involved. The biggest lesson taken home by this camper was to set few expectations and be patient. Keep your child dry, warm, well feed (many snacks) and hydrated, protect them from wind and sun, give them plenty of chance to explore. Construct a small shelter of branches and twigs for naptime. These things sound relatively simple, but anyone who has actually lived them knows better 8^).

Last summer (age 3) we went on our first real backpacking trip, a three day trip from Kennedy Meadows Resort to Relief Lake in June. It's a good 4mi hike in and my son walked most of it over the course of a full day, we slept under the stars for two nights and headed back out on the third day.

A short time later we did a two day trip, taking the boat (expensive, but fun) across Echo Lake (Desolation) and hiking to Tamarck Lake. The next day we hiked out all the way.

This past April we got caught in the rain at Camp 4 (Yosemite carcamping). Since we didn't have a tent with us, we quickly constructed an A-frame with our ground tarp and alternately snoozed and watched/listened to the rainfall for an entire afternoon and evening. The next day turned out to be clear and beautiful.

A great place to start your camping experience is Pt. Reyes (watch for wind) - it's close to home, serene, scenic, and has a multitude of loop trails so that you can make your hike as short our as long as you want to. There are four campgrounds and Sky Camp is relatively close to the car (if you don't want to cut your umbilical cord quite yet).

My husband and I spent a great deal of time in the back country before our first was born (now 14 yrs old) and as soon as she could ride in the backpack we started backpacking. We usually sought out places that were just a day in (3-6 miles) since my need for water was more than what technology could produce safely (now there are fantastic water filtration devices that are lightweight and reliable). Having the baby sleep directly on a nylon bag made for some sleepless nights until we put her on top of one of our t-shirts. Later on we brought along a receiving blanket for her to sleep on inside our sleeping bags (we just put her between us with open bags on top and bottom). Some of the memorable places were the Marble Mountain Wilderness (in N. California), Lassen Nat. Park (out toward Snag Lake), Tuolomne Meadows (to Ragged Peak). Generally, if it has been a really wet winter, the high Sierra can be wet and full of mosquitos. You might want to look at lower elevations that have already dried out.

Susan Schwartz has written a wonderful Family Camping book, that lists and guides you through dozens of easy to moderate backpacking trips in Northren California. She has backpacked extensively with her two children. I believe it is available by contacting her at SusanSchwa AT or at (510) 848-9538. Dawn

Sleeping arrangements for 11-month-old in tent

August 1999

We want to take our crawling-but-not-walking baby camping but we are unsure where to put him down for the night. Does he sleep with us in our sleeping bag? Any other advice about camping with a child this age?

We had very good luck camping with our son at 11 months. Our first trip with him was to Joshua Tree at 5 months, and what with the plane down, long drive, unfamiliar car seat (got one from car rental co.), etc., he did not do well at all, especially in terms of sleep. At 11 months, we took him to Yosemite for 4 days and we all had a great time. Now, at almost 2, he is an avid camper and talks about it with us all the time.

What we do now for sleeping arrangements is to put him in a sleeping bag with a pack-strap around its middle, so he's comfortable and warm but can't slide down in the bag and smother. We have him sleep between us on his own sleeping pad, and we put a duffle bag or pack at his head, as without it he has a tendency to sleep-crawl out of the bag and end up in some pretty funny places. With that route cut off, and his parents around him, he sleeps very well (he still hasn't beat the 11.5-hour sleep record he set in Yosemite). Warm jammies (we use fleece ones) are also helpful, as he still manages to get free of the sleeping bag a fair bit.

Another thing we found useful at 11 months, when our son was still crawling, was to have a reasonable size tarp for him to play on. That way, he didn't get quite as filthy and was a little less likely to eat all the bark and bugsi he could see.

If you have a tent big enough I would strongly consider taking a portable crib or playpen for a child this age. (This is assuming you're car camping.) I didn't have one for my son last summer and I found it pretty difficult to deal with. Also, keeping them warm enough is tricky too, unless you're going someplace that stays very warm overnight, ie: not around here. You could try a sleeping bag, but I found that very hard with my squirmy sleeper. Better was to bring a bunch of blankies and a pair of winter PJs. My experience of camping with a little one is that I didn't get a lot of sleep myself, because I was always checking the baby. But since I don't camp more than a few times each summer I still think it's worth it. Of course, every child is different... Have fun!

It's somewhat hard to keep them safe at this age. I would recommend bringing a portacrib or similar so that you can confine your baby at times when you're cooking or whatever. I remember our first car-camping trip with a one-year old and we ended up using the car itself as a playpen for brief periods. have fun!

I have taken my now 10 month old backpacking (at 8 months) and will take him camping in two weeks. As he wasn't as mobile when we backpacked, I found it easy to control him. I'll be bringing a fence camping - one of those gate-type things that is a full circle and we've installed cord at each pole to stake it down with a tarp/blanket on the bottom. He can hang out in it - hopefully! As far as sleep, we didn't have the best night backpacking, perhaps because of the loud river we were next to, but he did have a child's sleeping back and we bought polypropelene (synthetic) long underwear and an adorable fleece one piece hooded thing so he would be warm enough - and he was fine. We all had a great time. I think with car-camping you can bring lots of wipes and toys, and a full portable crib/play yard if you want it, so it should be easy. I'd do sponge sponge baths as necessary, depending on how much swimming you do. I have a great deal of experience backpacking and camping and I'd be happy to answer any specific questions you might have. Hope this is helpful. I think as long as you go into it expecting to have a wonderful time and deal with any little events, you'll have a great time. Enjoy!

Camping with a toddler

May 2002

My husband and I are planning to take our 4.5 year old daughter and 15-month old son camping in Toulumne Meadows this August. (Actually, he'll be 17 months old then.) I'm feeling rather anxious about camping with a 17-month old. We went camping a year ago, when he wasn't mobile, and doing all the usual camp chores, plus caring for two children, was a very full-time job. Doing all that, plus making sure my son doesn't wander out of the campsite, stumble into the fire, put gross stuff in his mouth, throw bear- attracting food around, etc sounds impossible--especially the wandering out of the campsite part, as he's very mobile and very curious. Has anyone had experience with this? I'm almost inclined to skip the camping trip this one year, just because he's at such a hard age. Susan

We just went camping at Joshua Tree with our very very busy (she's a climber, she's got a ton of energy, she never holds still and is a lousy sleeper) 17 month old and it was fantastic. I can't speak to camping with 2 kids, but I was very concerned about the things you are worried about (wandering off, the fire, eating bizarre/ poisonous things, dangerous creatures etc) and, though we had to keep a sharper eye on her than at home I am so glad we didn't cancel our trip. She was so fascinated with the environment and there was so many new things to check out it exhausted and mellowed her out. We went on lots of walks with her in the backpack which kept her out of trouble some of the time and we spent a bit more time in the tent than I normally would while camping, but, again, it was a very rewarding experience for all of us. Molly G

Camping with a 16-month-old

June 2003

My husband, son and I have been invited to go camping in July near Lake Tahoe. My son will be 16 months old in July. My husband and I camped a lot in our pre-baby lives, and I'm wondering how people do it with kids my sons age? Does the child get his own sleeping bag? Do we bring the portable crib? As it won't fit in the 2 man tent, do we have to buy a bigger tent? Will he be comfortable sleeping on the ground? (I never am, but I dont cry when I'm awakened at night.) There is an option to stay at a hotel nearby and just join our friends during the daytime, but that seems so high-maintenance of me...I'd love to hear tips from anyone whose camped with their very-young child/children...

We took our kids camping as young babes, toddlers and on and on. We originally brought the porta crib and ended up putting our gear in it. We did have a big tent (5 or 6 person...plenty of room to move around and have toys) so our son slept in between us, probably with me earlier on. If you're nursing and they wake up crying at night you can quiet them with a boob, but if not nursing it can be tricky. I suggest don't worry about, go and have fun. brave camper

We have been camping with all of our kids (we have 3) since the first one was 9-months-old. I would not recommend bringing your port-a-crib. If your child stays under blankets all night, you may buy a cheap kid's sleeping bag (Target sells them). If your child does not keep his blankets, like my daughter, bundle him up like it is winter if you are camping where it is cold at night. They love sleeping between parents. It was actually while camping that our oldest sarted sleeping through the night! Enjoy. m

I took my daughter (who is now 32!) camping for the first time when she was 10 months old. Her father and I had split up and I needed to get away. Camping was what I could afford; I took her to the woods alone. I took her playpen (the kind with mesh sides is light enough for this) because it was *very difficult* to keep her under control and allow me to have any time to relax without being vigilant. She still stuck her little hands through the sides and messed in the dirt, eating what she could. BTW, she now has three children of her own and loves to camp and kayak with them. A love of the outdoors cannot be shared too early. Go camp in a way that is good for you, and include her in your pleasure! Ilene

We took our 2 1/2 year old and 10 month olds camping a year or so ago and brought the portable crib. However, we only used it when we needed 2 hands each and could not watch the baby closely. As for sleeping arragements, we had sleeping bags for them, but were also open to having one of the m each in the sleeping bags with us. Our olde daughter slept just fine in her own with her pillow from home, cuddled up against my husband on the air mattress. The baby slept best in the sleeping bag with me on a foam pad on the floor of the tent. That way, I didn't worry about her getting too cold, and she fell asleep right away with me beside her. Worked out great and we all had a ball! Good luck -- Trish

I loved camping and backpacking before I had children. Camping isn't the same after children. My first child went camping when she was 5 months, 11 months, and 2 1/2. In retrospect, it was ALOT of work. You are not being high maintenance but children are high maintenance when camping. If you are willing to lose even more sleep than usual and prepared to vigilantly watch your child (yes, there are portacribs), go for it. Do what is best for your family. It is okay to stay at a hotel. My experience is that by 4 or 5 years old camping is fantastic. We go every year and it is the highlight for my girls. With that said, and you decide to camp, airmattresses work well. Put blankets on top (the air can get cold inside of them) and put a warm sleeper on your child and more blankets (sleeping bags are useless at that age). We also use a foam mattress but it is bulky for the car. Portacribs work well for a place while you are cooking, etc. If you plan on camping more in the future, a bigger tent is a must. It will give you a place to store clothes, toys, a place to change diapers, and a place to play (kids love tents). Good luck. I am sure you will enjoy Tahoe any way you go. Happy camper

We have taken our little one camping three times - once at 16 mos., once at 19 mos., and just a couple of weeks ago in Tahoe at 28 mos. My advice is to go, camp, and have a great time. Your toddler will surprise you. We slept with our little one on an air mattress - even though he sleeps in a crib at home. In Tahoe, it seemed necessary because it was so cold at night. All other times, it just seemed most comforting to be with us in such unusual surroundings. We'd put him down by lying beside him about an hour after his usual bedtime - to be sure he was really tired. Then we could actually sneak out and join the others by the fire for chatting, etc. Each time he woke before we rejoined him, crying a bit until we got there, and then he'd go right back to sleep with us on either side - warm and snug. We didn't use sleeping bags but rather blankets, flannel sheets, etc so we could use each other's body heat too. He LOVED being outside all day and eating outside, etc. Like I said at first - go and have fun! Best of Luck! anon

We've taken our daughter (now 2 1/2) camping a few times (starting when she was 4 months old). It's been a wonderful experience for all of us and I really wish we were able to go more often! One thing that really helps is to have some sort of ground pad. We got an inflatable mattress for our tent (a 2 person tent) and that helps a ton, but if you're going somewhere that gets chilly at night (almost everywhere right now) you may want to get something like a thermarest (tm) pad.

Our daughter sleeps between us in the tent, though, in the past, she slept with us in bed too, so we are used to having her there.

My daughter is a pretty busy gal and not a good sleeper, but she is so amazed by the camping experience and we've had no problems with her running around like a maniac or sleeping poorly in the tent. Have fun! Molly G

We took our daughter on her first camping trip when she was 18 mos. We used our 2+ person backpacking tent, and she slept with me in my sleeping bag with an extra comforter over us and a Thermalite pad underneath. She has slept on the ground with minimal padding several times since then and appears way more comfortable than I am! Now that she is 4, we have a 4-person car camping tent and she has inherited my old sleeping bag. Kids get filthy on camping trips so my two major pieces of advice are 1) relax about it, and 2) bring a whisk broom and baby wipes for a quick clean when the dirt factor gets too high. Our daughter loved her first camping trip and entertained herself for hours playing in the dirt while we flaked out in our camp chairs. Have fun! Janet

Congratulations on your decision to begin what could be a lifetime of memories with your family. We've been camping with our kids for the past six years, and our oldest just turned six. We've camped when they've been nearly every age, but to be frank, the true toddler years (as in where your son falls) are the most challenging, particularly the ones that fall between crawling and hopping on one leg. These are the years that are the most fun and photographic, and here are a few things that I've learned


-- Don't hold back. It's perfectly fine and probably even best to overpack for your first car camping trip (if you have room). You'll learn as you go along what you do and don't need. Besides, clothes for a 16-month old don't take up that much room. And with the photo opps, you'll want to have a bundle of cute outfits.

-- Pack only clothes you don't care about. Nylon and other tightly-knit manmade fibers that repel dirt are best. You'll never get the dirt out of cotton, trust me.

-- Water socks are a must. For the entire family. My husband squawked when I picked up a pair for him as wellas for the kids , but now he takes them for granted. You just never know what the beach is going to be like and this is cheap footwear!

-- Embrace dirt. If you don't take clothes you want your child to wear on ocassions other than camping, you will find that dirt can be your best friend. There is nothing as happy as a toddler looking like an Appalachian ''Save The Children'' poster child. And the photos make great Christmas cards and newsletter fodder.

-- Pack separate ''going home'' outfits for everyone. Do not remove these from the car under any circumstances other than to go home.


-- Like expanding the seating capacity of your car (in our case giving up the Miata for a 4-door SUV) you also have to expand your tent capacity when you decide it's time to start camping with your family. Go for the bigger tent. It is great to have room for the portable crib (but if your child is small enough, use the bassinet basket). With the port-a-crib you can put your child down for a nap and need not worry about any wanderlust that always happens while you're between your campsite and the bathroom. It's best to keep the kid off the ground; they'll sleep better, it's warmer, more comfortable, and you know just where they are if you are 10 feet away and hear them squirming. (BTW, if you're looking for a larger tent, I am going to sell our REI dome tent. I just upgraded to a 3-bedroom condo tent that will accomodate two kids, my husband, me and a dog and we're getting rid of our beloved dome. Life has changed).

-- If your child cries inconsolably during the night or for more than eight minutes, drag yourself out of your tent and put him in his car seat and drive him as far as he needs to go. Everyone in the entire campground will appreciate your consideration, and you will feel better about yourself and your toddler.

-- Invest the $9.99 for a ''portable shower.'' These can easily be found at Target or Walmart and are worth every penny. In addition to having warm water for washing dishes and so on, it pays for itself on the final rinse everyone needs before they leave. And which you will be thrilled to have.

-- No matter how good your child has been at potty learning prior to the trip, if they don't have a regular established pattern, bring along extra pull-ups. It beats the heck out of a wet sleeping bag in the middle of the night. And it's less traumatic for them, too. They'll get back on track once you're back at home. And you'll all sleep better.

-- Be sure there's enough chairs for everyone. While most campgrounds have picnic tables and other amenities, there's nothing like having a great camp chair to sit back in while you watch the memories begin. Or to catch up on that novel, knitting project or crossword puzzle while junior sleeps blissfully.


-- Go with another family. You learn more by sharing these experiences. And if you run out of something, chances are the other family will have it. Besides, you'll always have a witness when your child writes their family tell-all.

-- Worship baby wipes. You will develop an entirely new appreciation of them after you've camped with a toddler. Or with anyone, for that matter.

-- Don't apologize. Yes, it's a big step when you go from a 2- door world to a 4-door world, in camping and in other things we go through as parents. But even though you're hauling more gear and are far more vigilant than you ever thought you'd be, these are the times that seed the memories our children will take with them forever (and maybe even pass on to their kids). Laugh when you find yourself stressing over the air mattress. Wink at your partner when you can. Your kids will treasure the memories, and you will die a happier person because of them.

- Above all, have fun. Be flexible. Laugh with your kids and company. This could be the start of something great and it is wonderful to embrace it with the patience of a saint and the preparation of a Marine. Along the way you're sure to gain the humor, memories and family traditions that we as parents cherish beyond words.

Best of luck! And my two cents.... Happy Camper --

You asked for advice from parents camping with very young children and most of the responses were from families camping with 1yo or around that age; I wanted to respond that it is very possible (and pleasurable) to camp with very young babies. Our first took his first camping trip (Tahoe) at 5 weeks; our 2nd took his first at 3 weeks, our 3rd and 4th I (embarrassedly) don't remember, but I've conceived while camping, camped with little ones while 8mo pregnant, camped in very remote areas and touristy ones - it is all very fun (though dirty )) and not all that hard. We camped a LOT before having kids so maybe it is alot easier for us, but they enjoy it so much. We camp about 3-4 times a year and I've found that it is harder while they are between walking and about 18mo and easiest when they are newborns and 3+. Good luck and happy trails!! Kathy

We've taken our son camping numerous times, the first being to Yosemite when he was 7 weeks old. (He's now 21 mos.) One difficulty about Yosemite and other bear-country areas is needing to keep milk/food in the bear boxes, which can be a real pain in the middle of the night -- but that won't be an issue in Tahoe. Otherwise, the hardest age for camping was right around a year old when he was either crawling or just starting to walk. Essentially, he would either crawl or fall down a lot, so he was filthy -- but he had a great time! We also found that up until and just past the one-year-old mark, he would have sleeping issues in the tent, which meant poor sleep for us -- and daytime naps were tough to initiate on the regular schedule. But since then, he has slept solidly and a lot of it seems to be the ability to go down for a daytime nap more readily, as well as his capacity for understanding beforehand that we're going camping, we're going to sleep in a tent together, etc. -- setting the expectations in advance.

We have him sleep between us in the tent. We made a small ground pad for him by cutting a 2x3 piece of thick egg-crate foam and laying a down jacket underneath him, dressing him up in fleece and hat, and then layering blankets and another down jacket on top. We didn't bother bringing a portacrib -- instead, we rented a larger (3- or 4-person) tent from Marmot in Berkeley. It gave us more room for sleeping/gear and we actually used the tent as a kind of portacrib when we needed to confine him (it had two fully see-through mesh sides). We just zipped him in! It did great double-duty in shielding him from the mosquitoes and could be packed up to carry along on hikes to buggy areas -- much more portable than the crib. Don't worry about bringing any toys except maybe a familiar book for the bedtime ritual -- otherwise, nature has a lot of its own toys (sticks, rocks, etc.). It has helped to have a sand bucket and shovel handy for him to scoop dirt to his heart's content in the campsite. Have fun! Noreen

Camping with friends and your 16 month old can be a lot of fun. My husband and I camped a lot before our son was born (5-7x year), so we were happy to get into it again. We camped with friends first when our son was 6 months old, then again when he was 9 months old, and we just went again during Memorial Day weekend; he's 18 months old. Because he usually sleeps with us in our bed anyway, we just put him in his own sleeping bag next to us in our 3-person backpacking style tent. It's pretty familiar for him to be next to us at night. At home, we can put him down by himself in bed. When we were camping I put him down and lay next to him for about 10-20 minutes until he fell asleep. If your child isn't used to sleeping next to you at night, you may want to consider buying a bigger tent so that he can be in his crib. We have friends with a child about the same age who do that.

Whatever you decide, don't stay in a hotel! If you and your husband love camping, you'll feel happy to get back into it, sitting around the campfire, sleeping with the sounds of nature, and going with friends is so much easier than going on your own. There are other people around to help you keep an eye on your tot and to help with dishes and cooking. One of our friends even wanted to carry our son in the backpack! Honestly, I'm not sure our son had as good a time as we did. He did have a chance to play with the other kids and being in nature I think was good for him. He didn't seem to have a BAD time. It was more like going to our neighborhood park. Mornings were a little confusing for him, but we just gave him something quick to eat, then got breakfast going as soon as possible and he was o.k. In any case, you would be initiating your child into the whole scene. Good luck, you'll have fun. Barbara

Is it safe for a mom and child camping alone?

February 2003

Although it is early in the year, my mind is in spring and summer. I would like to get some thoughts/feedback on a camping question I have been pondering. Basically the question is: Is it safe for a mom and daughter to camp by themselves in a state park or beach? I understand Yosemite and a few other places are really like complex cities. But what about the other parks? I have basically given up the idea of backpack camping for awhile; finding myself comfortable with 'car' camping; my daughter loves it. The past several years I have set up many camp trips with friends; those are great. It is just getting hard to match everyone's schedule. Also, I would like to go more often when it is a last minute event. I am comfortable dealing with all the stuff that goes along with camping. Just a little concerned about the safety issue. Thoughts? Heather

My partner and I (we are both women) love camping and have resigned ourselves to car camping since the arrival of our daughter, now 22 months. Last summer we did hike in a couple of miles to a campsite at Point Reyes but now we have a 4 week old son so even that is out of the question until they can walk a little and carry a small pack. I think car camping should be relatively safe at public camp grounds. Get there early in the day so you can meet your neighbours. If you are uncomfortable move spots of leave. Trust your gut, be alert and pay attention. You are giving your daughter a wonderful gift.

On a different note. We are always looking for new spots. Where do you go car camping in the spring or summer on short notice?

go camp! relax and enjoy. Camping will be no more dangerous than walking around your block. I grew up in a sleepy suburb where my mother was hyper concerned about personal safety. While it taught me awareness, I've realized that this hyper-awareness of the _potential_ BAD things prevented me from choosing to explore many activities that were safe. My concern made me timid and kept me indoors, safe but stunted. Finding the balance in personal safety and the need for adventure is tricky, more so with children-- but go out and explore, teach your children well.

You'll find most campgrounds, regardless of location, are populated, and generally safe. (The ''city'' of Yosemite has had some terrible crimes.) Backpacking, these days, is also popular, such that, unless you hike in a few days, you will have other friendly adveturers as company...Desolation Wilderness now issues permits to keep the numbers down. braver, better, beating the paths

I went camping with my son, just the two of us, from the time he was three on. We camped in East Bay Parks (Chabot and Del Valle), state parks (many throughout California,) and one national park (Lassen). We never experienced any problems safety wise, including leaving all our stuff for a day and going off on hikes, swims, ranger talks and such. Generally speaking, people will leave you alone if you leave them alone. In fact, camp grounds are often a bit crowded and thus it is almost impossible for anyone to hassle you, because everyone around you would notice immediately, I would think. So go for it. Good luck. Dianna Clare