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Tent Camping with an Infant

How to Tent Camp in Cold Weather with a 1-Year Old

We get it. You’ve got a young child and your life has been stuck more at home than in the outdoors. You want to try camping but have reservations about an infant sleeping in a tent as the weather gets colder. You’re probably debating if you should go or not, which inevitably means that you will wait until the last second and then end up canceling the trip. Another weekend holed up in the house with a toddler. However, doesn’t that sound scarier? 

How to Tent Camp in Cold Weather with a 1-Year OldCamping in cold weather with a young child isn’t something to avoid and can be even more enjoyable than normal camping. We were hesitant to go camping with our 1-year old but once tried it, she loved it and we felt more confident in camping multiple times after, even in cold weather. 

Don’t cancel your trip, go pack the car and get ready for a fun weekend. See our helpful tips and how we camp in colder weather and avoid the crowds. 

Tent Setup with an Infant

The first important thing to think about is the tent setup. It’s important to  make sure everyone gets a good night’s sleep, parents included. We recommend getting an oversized domed tent when you are camping with a toddler because you’ll want room for a Pack-n-Play. 

Plus, there is extra room if you have any pets, gear, and room for yourself to sleep. We have a 4-person tent that fits both parents, our 85-pounds golden retriever, and the pack n-play. 

Camping Tent Setup with Infant

We bought a high domed tent from REI to make it easier to move around with the little one.  Something similar to this UNP Tent would work. This is especially nice when you are trying to stand and maneuver around. The taller tents don’t hold heat as well as shorter domed tents but we love the extra room. 4-person Dome Camping TentAfter some trial and error, our preferred setup is placing the Pack n play on the far left of the tent, perpendicular to our inflatable air mattresses and sleeping backs near our feet. This way you can keep the noise of getting into your sleeping bag as far from your sleeping monster as you can. If you’ve never realized how loud getting into a sleeping bag was before, you will now.

We were able to place our bags on one side of the Pack-N-Play and then our dog slept on the other side near the entrance to the tent so she can easily go in and out without waking the kiddo.

A few other tips:

  • We also recommend setting up the tent and sleeping bags as early as you can to get the south-facing sun you warm up the tent
  • We placed our extra clothes, jackets, and a few blankets underneath the pack-n-play to prevent a cold draft underneath it
  • We also place Nalgene’s with warm boiling water underneath the pack-n-play to let the heat rise and keep her warm. 

Is Sleeping in a Tent or a Car Better for Camping with Kids

We often get asked if sleeping in the car is better and easier for kids. We prefer sleeping in the tent for a few reasons.

Sleeping in the car may actually make it worse because the metal frame of the car just sucks in and holds the cold air. Sleeping in a car is actually colder than tent camping. The coldest night of camping I’ve ever had has been sleeping in the car. 

The one benefit of sleeping in the car is if it is extremely windy then the car does provide much better wind protection.

Camping in the car

Sleeping in the car also presents other challenges when you are with a toddler. 

  • The car door is insanely loud when you have to do the middle of the night bathroom trip (too many campfire beers?)
  • Every little move and rotation shakes the car, you’ll feel each one
  • There simply isn’t as much room as camping in a tent
  • Anytime you bring the dog they make so much noise getting in and out of the car for sleeping and will absolutely wake up your little one each time

Getting your Toddler to Actually Sleep in a Tent

Morrison Little mo 20 down infant sleeping bagThe key for us was finding a way to keep our daughter warm in the tent without worrying about using a blanket. We have had great success with the Morrison little Mo 20 degree Sleeping Sack. It’s an ultralight down sleeping back for infants and toddlers. It covers everything but her head and zips like a normal sleeping bag.

She was warm and toasty wearing only lightweight polyester long sleeve pants and shirts and the sleeping bag. The next morning when the temperature dropped into the mid 30’s F she was still warm and toasty.

daughter in infant sleeping bag

We put a small beanie on our daughter just because of how young she was and the top of the head is an easy place to lose heat for you kids. We were worried the beanie would frustrate her as she moved around and her hands wouldn’t be free to adjust it so make sure the beanie fits well and isn’t too big. 

Insiders Tip: To help keep her warm while sleeping in her pack-n-play, we stuffed blankets, clothes, and other items underneath to block any cold airflow underneath her.

We also boiled hot water before bed and poured it into Nalgene bottles which we also put underneath the pack-n-play to help keep her warm. Who knows how long the Nalgene water bottles actually stayed warm, but it’s something a little extra and for more peace of mind for the parents. 

The first time we went camping in the cold we kept waking up to check on her and she was always plenty warm and honestly seemed to really like the kids sleeping bag. 

Important Item: Finally, to avoid waking her up when we were by the campfire or crawling into our own surprisingly loud sleeping bags, we brought a rechargeable sound machine from Yoga Sleep just for camping.

Rechargeable sound machine for camping 

Our daughter sleeps with a Hatch sounds machine at home already so she is used to sleeping with white noise. The battery lasts the entire night and is great to hide the noise of people laughing near the campfire once your little one goes to bed early. The rechargeable sound machine is great to help keep her routine the same as at home and can plug into any USB to charge the next day. 

Items to Keep Your Infant Warm While Camping

In addition to using the Morrison sleeping bag to keep our daughter warm there are a few other items that we used. 

  • Beanie – She doesn’t have much hair to keep her head warm
  • Socks or Gloves – She hates having her hands covered so we have to pick our battles. We had them covered mostly in the early mornings
  • Puffy Coat – The puffy coat is a must for camping plus it’s adorable on an infant. There are great options from many of the outdoor clothing companies.
  • Underclothes Gear – We had her stay in her polyester long sleeve top and bottoms underneath her warm clothes. These help keep her warm with the long sleeves but the polyester material also keeps her cool underneath her jacket
  • Don’t forget a Pacifier – If your kids use a pacifier, don’t forget to bring them. Then can help keep your kids’ face warm by having them use the muscles sucking. 

FAQ for Camping with an Infant

How Cold is Too Cold to Camp with a 1-Year Old? 

It obviously depends on the conditions but with adequate warm clothing and considerations, you can feel confident camping 20F or above. Young kids in Scandanavian countries such as Norway let their kids nap outside in freezing temperatures regularly and even think that it helps build up their immune systems. 

daughter camping in warm clothes

Where Should your Infant Sit When Camping

Camping Chair for Infants and ToddlersWe were able to find an incredibly cute camping chair for infants with a tray that we actually use in many different situations other than camping. Our daughter loves it. We set it out next to our camping chairs and she sits in it throughout the day. We love it cause she isn’t always in the dirt and the tray keeps her in the chair when it’s time to eat. Since we started camping with her she has become obsessed with her chair.

Daughter sitting in infant camping chair

Can Infants Wear a Beanie to Sleep?

The recommendation is that babies and infants should not wear a beanie or anything on their heads when they go to bed. This is especially true the younger they are. We didn’t have to start worrying about covering our daughters head until she was a little over 1-year so we felt more comfortable at that age. 

We also only used a light beanie that fit nice and snug and that wasn’t going to slip off. For safety sake we recommend erring on the side of caution and not using anything on their head.

Can you Cover an Infant's Hands for Sleeping in a Tent?

Again, the experts are going to tell you not to put anything other than their hands. Infants like to put everything in their mouth, so if a sock or glove fell off in the middle of the night, they might naturally put it in their mouth and risk suffocating. 

That’s part of the reason we loved closed arm sleeping bags for any infants or young toddlers. Their hands are covered through the night and are a lower choking hazard.

Tips to Stay Warm When Camping When Camping with an Infant

If you are worried about keeping your infant warm while you are camping there are few tips to stay warm.  

  • Go for a Hike or Walk – If you are getting cold then go get active. Your body heat will increase and warm up your little one as you hold them or use an Ergo 360,
  • Let your Little Ones Move – The more active that you let your kid be and move around the warmer they will be. Let them walk around as much as they want, dirt can wash out.
  • Change Diapers in the Car or in the Tent – The wind is the most chilling part of a cold-weather day, but changing in a shelter will block the wind from getting to the babies sensitive skin.
  • Can Warm up a Pacifier in Warm Water – Just don’t boil the pacifiers, trust us it can happen. She had fun dipping the pacifiers in the warm water and then even drinking some of the warm clean water.
  • Can warm up water with a little lemon to be a camping treat in their water bottle. The warm water with lemon will be a new taste and keep them warm.
  • Avoid Getting Wet! – Getting wet by a water bottle spilling or in the rain can cause drastic changes in body temp

In Review

If you are considering canceling your cold-weather camping trip because you have an infant or toddler, don’t! You can create a great family trip and your infant will do great with a few tips to help keep them warm. Your trip will stay as a great memory you can look back on forever.

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