There is no backing out now. The campsite beside a mountain lake in the Mt. Hood National Forest is reserved, and the other families we are camping with have taken time off work. My fingers scroll to the weather app on my phone to check the extended forecast. I need to know what to pack. All I see are cloud icons and some of the clouds are crying out droplets of rain. Lows in the upper 30s to low 40s, highs in the low 50s. I hope that the clouds are not some kind of mystical foreshadowing. Will our first real camping trip with our kids end up in tears?
I love camping. Fresh air, nature, dirt, sleeping on the ground, cooking outside, building a campfire and watch the flames dance against the night sky. Since having children, there haven’t been many forays into nature to sleep in a tent and enjoy all that the natural world has to offer.
I imagine myself in my sleeping bag–rated to 25 degrees–and file through my memories, unable to find examples of when I had camped in such low overnight temperatures in the past. And I am going to bring my kids out in temperatures this cold? I must be crazy.
My primary focus became keeping the children warm and dry for two nights and three days. I ran through all manner of solutions. When I landed on Maybe we could rent an RV?, I could hear my husband laughing in financial disapproval. I decided it was time to face the facts and figure out how to keep the kids warm in a more practical, economical way.
The four-year-olds need sleeping bags. We bought two REI Nodder sleeping bags, rated to 25 degrees with attached stuff sacks that can fold over the end of the bag and be drawn closed, effectively shortening the length of the bag. Less air space makes for greater efficiency at keeping the occupant warm. I like that these bags will grow with our boys for several years. In the tent, the sleeping bags are set up on cots we purchased last year to serve as portable beds to use while traveling to visit relatives. The cots are designed for smaller children, therefore are compact, which is an important consideration when packing the car. At the campsite, the boys sleep in two layers of pajamas and two pairs of socks, and we cinch the mummy bags tight around their faces. Once they are in bed for the night, we don’t hear a peep out of them until 7 or 8 the next morning.
The baby, age 1 year, is another matter. She is too small for a conventional sleeping bag, and I am not going to shell out money on a miniature sleeping bag to use for one or two camping trips. Remembering that babies need one more layer than an adult needs in order to stay warm, I contemplate how to replicate my own plan for sleeping in cold weather, only pint-sized. I dress her in a long sleeved onesie, fleece pajamas, extra socks and a winter hat tied under her chin to keep it from wiggling off. On top of that I put her in a down filled snowsuit, also called bunting, with a hood and fold over hand and foot cuffs. Over that, I zip on a winter-weight, quilted, wearable blanket.
She is so snug that she can’t turn over which is a great big unexpected blessing because we did not have enough room in our Subaru Outback for her pack and play. Instead, we have a folding bassinet (meant for smaller, non-mobile babies) that we used when she was tiny. She still fits in it if she’s lying still. Now that she is crawling everywhere, the containment it provides is laughable in normal conditions, but immobile in her sleeping “attire”, it works perfectly. In the event temperatures stay warmer, I also have a fleece bunting suit that she can wear in place of the down-filled snowsuit, or to use during the day when it is cold and a hooded sweatshirt is not enough to keep her warm.
The gear I purchased for the baby will have a secondary use this winter to play in the snow. I wouldn’t have that flexibility with a baby sleeping bag.
Each night begins with all children sleeping soundly, but as the wee morning hours approach and the temperatures are the coldest, the baby wakes up fussing. I assume she is cold so I bring her into my sleeping bag to nurse for a little bit then return her to her bed, and she sleeps until morning when the rest of us are waking up.
As we load up the car to go home, the cloud cover breaks and the friendly warm sun shines down on us and our pile of gear. I look over at the dirt-covered, smiling faces of my boys and I can feel warmness in my heart. The clouds of worry give way to triumph. We made it through the nights unscathed and with much enjoyment. The camping bug bit me hard, and I find myself eager to venture out with the children again, faithful to the logic that once one has success with something, perhaps the next time it won’t be stressful.
Our 3 season sleeping supply list for camping with the kids aged 1 through 4.