Establish an easy-to-understand set of ground rules for outdoor safety. You'll need to be meticulous in looking after your child in the wilderness. One turned head can result in an emergency drive to the nearest hospital after your precious one samples berries off an unrecognized bush. Teaching your toddler to be safe now may prevent the unthinkable from happening later. And if the unthinkable does happen, be prepared to meet the emergency head-on. Before taking a wilderness trip, learn basic first aid. Many community colleges teach first aid courses at reasonable rates. Your local American Red Cross office also offers a variety of first aid classes.
In addition to your at-home family first aid kit, prepare an outdoor first aid kit. Go over the kit with your toddler and explain what each item does. Your child's knowledge of what is in the family medicine bag may help her feel more comfortable should you need any of the contents to treat her in an emergency. Family Camping Gear suggests a list of items to include in your kit. There are several online resources for outdoor first aid and children's wilderness safety; About.com has several pages of information, and for pre-packaged outdoor family first aid kits, visit Altrec.
Car camping is a wonderful way to spend your first outdoor adventure. You can pack for any situation without the hassle of lugging items in and out of your campsite.
Have your toddler pick out several favorite toys and snacks for the car, and a separate smaller group of toys for your tent (in case you're faced with inclement weather). When packing clothes, err on the side of excess. Pack items you can layer, with lots of onesies for your youngest camper and undershirts for your toddler. You should only need a couple of heavier items for outer layers and for sleeping—change the clothes closest to your little one's skin and reuse the outer layers. Don't forget to include sunscreen and an insect repellent that's gentle on your child's skin.
Camping and diapers are a daunting combination for many parents. Here are a few easy solutions to the dreaded diaper dilemma.
- If you are using cloth diapers, boil them with a little soap over a fire; hang them to dry, and use them again.
- If you use disposable diapers, dig a pit (just as you would for an outdoor latrine), clean off the diapers, bury the waste, and let the diapers dry before stowing them in a garbage bag.
- If you are camping with a potty-trained child or toddler-in-training, bring along your training potty. You can set it up just outside your tent for late night use.
Sleeping in the woods can be difficult for children. Create a comfortable environment by replicating your family's at-home sleeping conditions. Bring along bedding that smells like home and a favorite stuffed animal or pillow. And if you are camping with a baby, bring along a play yard, port-a-crib or baby bed. You can also cut down a camping mat to the same size as your baby's crib mattress and fit it with an old crib sheet, positioning your baby's bed between you and your partner so your child won't roll out in her sleep.
Baby backpacks and hiking strollers are two essentials for family camping. If you are traveling with a child under the age of two, you'll need to look for a front-facing carrier (young babies don't have the head control to safely ride in backpacks). For toddlers, look for a backpack that fits you well across the shoulders and hips (with padded straps and belt for you and a comfortable carrying seat for your child). When shopping for an off-road stroller, look for a three-point harness, a strong lap belt, bike tires (or other sturdy material), brakes, and a reclining backrest. If you plan to do a lot of camping, consider one of the new convertible baby backpack/stroller combinations; they are purportedly lightweight and durable. Be sure to visit REI, Kelty, InStep, BABYBJÖRN, and Graco Baby for products that can help make camping easier, more enjoyable, and safer for your family.