I’m sure we all remember our first long distance overland trip. We didn’t know what we were doing, what we’d need, and, if you’re anything like me, massively over packed! No matter how long you’ve been overlanding, taking a baby overlanding completely changes everything, and is like you’re heading out for the first time again.
Our baby is 10 months old now, and has visited 17 states so far. We’ve videoed a couple of our trips, starting with a one through Colorado and Utah when he was 12 weeks old, and most recently through the Mojave Desert. In our videos it might look like we really know what we’re doing, but I’ll let you guys into a secret: we don’t. None of us do. Every parent is constantly learning and facing new challenges, even if they’ve had children before!
Every child is different, so your best bet is to just get out there and learn for yourself. It’s more work, but it’s also really rewarding taking your baby or child overlanding, and definitely worth it. Despite the differences, there are some things I’ve learned that I can share.
Disclaimer: This advice is based only on my experiences camping/traveling with our baby, and I am not an expert. Every child is different and may have different requirements. Consult with your pediatrician before following any of this advice. Also, be aware that safety guidance may change, and toys/equipment suggested may have been subject to recalls or may have since been found to be unsafe. You are ultimately responsible for your child’s safety!
This page contains affiliate links, where I earn a small commission on any sales. We own every item that is linked, but we bought most of the baby equipment on Facebook Marketplace, where it can be bought for a lot less!
1: PRACTICE FIRST
When my wife and I were starting to get into overlanding, we started out relatively close to home (and a Walmart) in a campground. It paid off, since we were able to run over to the store to pick up some cooking utensils that we’d forgotten!
Our first trip with the baby was very similar - we went about 4 hours from home to the Smoky Mountains, where we rented a cabin. We spent the days hiking and exploring the national park. Sure, it’s not overlanding, but it gave us a good idea of what we’d need, how we’d pack, and what it’s like spending the day on the road with him, and we learned a lot!
2: HAVE A BACKUP PLAN
One of the things that made taking the plunge on our first long-distance trip was knowing that we had a backup plan. Our plan was to camp our way across Colorado and Utah, but if things were going poorly, we’d just get an Airbnb in southern Colorado and head out on day trips. We didn’t need to, but it was good peace of mind.
3. DOUBLE YOUR TRAVEL TIME
Everything is slower with a baby. Driving from Kentucky to Colorado used to take us a day and a half. With the baby it ended up taking three days. We’d normally drive as much as we could, stopping only for gas, a bathroom break, and a sandwich or fast food drive through.
With the baby we stop to feed him and take time for him to stretch and have a break - babies can’t just sit in a seat all day long like we can! It’s the same on the trails. We’re constantly stopping to give him time out of the seat and getting him out to explore, see the sights, and spend time out of his car seat.
Something that helps keep him entertained is a travel arch car seat toy that he loves to play with. It also comes in handy when they're smaller and in a bouncer at camp. To carry him around outside of the vehicle we've been using the Osprey Poco LT - it's lightweight, folds relatively flat, has a built in sun shade, and he loves to be carried in it!
Before having the baby, my wife and I had things pretty figured out at camp. We both had our jobs, and could get set up and packed away quickly and efficiently. On our first camping trip with our baby, all that went out of the window!
There are several things that we have learned and that help us out with being a little more efficient. One of them is having something he can play on/with while we pack away. When he was young, we had a bouncer with a set of toys we strapped over it. We’ve also used a fold up play mat that he loves. Now we have a picnic mat that we set up and sit him on to play.
We’ve also switched bottles since our first trip. We used to have Dr. Brown’s, but with 5 small pieces that all needed washing with small scrubbing brushes it took forever to get everything clean. We’ve since switched to Boon NURSH bottles that have just the two silicone inserts that need cleaning, which is so much easier! The inserts also squash down small, saving a bunch of space. If you have anything that complicated, whether bottles or not, consider something simpler!
We’ve been very lucky with sleeping. Our guy actually slept his first full night while we were out on our first camping trip with him. We have him in a DockATot Grand in a sleep sack or sleeping bag. The DockATot is a high sided padded “lounger”. They’re not sold for sleeping in the US market, but we found that it protects him from us rolling onto him in the iKamper 3.0 and stops him rolling off his sleep platform in the Habitat.
Out of all the tent's we've used, the iKamper 3.0 is definitely our favorite for us to all sleep in. The king size mattress has plenty of room for us all, but the best thing is that it really helps him sleep in longer - the thick canvas absorbs the light in the mornings, and the covered zippers are quiet in the wind. The Habitat doesn't have those advantages, but it makes up for it with tons of living space!
Temperature management has been a struggle for us, since we're not supposed to use blankets due to smothering risk. We take several sleep sacks (Nested Bean are our favorites) of different temperature ratings, and now that he’s older, we also have a sleeping bag with arms (he has always hated being swaddled or having his arm movement restricted).
Thankfully our Habitat has a Truma heater with a thermostat, which is really useful for regulating the tent’s temperature on the colder nights. Before the heater we had tried putting a heated blanket underneath him just as a gentle source of warmth - just be careful, since you don’t want it getting too hot! Please do not use a Buddy heater in the tent, especially not with children in there. The best is a propane heat exchanger like the Truma (coming to revereoverland.com before next winter) or the Propex HS2211, but the slightly less reliable diesel heaters will also do.
The final thing that helped us at night was preparing everything he’d need in the morning so that it’s ready to go. We don’t want to be getting out the tent or digging around finding things while he’s hungry!
7. WHAT TO PACK
Everything. We overpacked, but it’s ok. We’re still narrowing down what we need, and what can be left at home.
Something that helped was paying attention to how many diapers, burp cloths, and how much water he went through each day in the weeks leading up to our trip… then packing extra. Bring some tide pods or similar for washing at campgrounds, or consider camp soap if you’re able to dry the clothes where you’re camped.
If you’re camping in the cold and your baby is bottle fed, consider a bottle warmer. We almost didn’t take ours, but after a particularly cold night all of our water was too cold for him, and we were glad we had it.
8. FINAL THOUGHTS
Anyone is capable of taking their baby with them on their trips. It’s definitely a lot more work, and everything you’re used to will have changed. Be prepared for shorter travel days and less distance traveled, but it is 100% worth it. The trip will be a lot more fun and a lot more meaningful when you’re showing your little one the world.
Hopefully I see you and your family on the trails soon - Rob