I have loved camping for as long as I can remember! I love being outside and surrounded by nature. There is something so relaxing and rejuvenating about spending time outside. Camping also gives you a break from your normal day to day life. It provides you with a completely different pace and allows you to really slow down and relieve some stress. I’ll admit it though, when I had my first child, I was pretty hesitant to go camping when she was little. I didn’t know what it would be like to go camping with a toddler.
Was it even possible to camp with a toddler? Would it still be the relaxing and enjoyable experience I had grown to love? How would I keep her safe and entertained while we were outside? What should I bring with me? All of these questions swirled around in my mind and I worried about whether I’d still be able to go on camping trips when my children were young.
In my desire to go, I pushed through all of the doubts and we scheduled a quick, overnight trip just to try things out. I quickly saw that not only was it possible to camp with her, but it was also a lot more fun! Was it just as relaxing? No, probably not. But the extra work and attention it took to go camping with a toddler were completely offset by watching her enjoy the experience in her own way and making new memories together as a family.
Things We’ve Learned Camping With A Toddler
We’ve been on several trips with young children since that first overnight camping trip and our experience has allowed us to gather together some tips that we think might help other families who are looking to go camping with young children. Some of these are essential and some are just our own favorite ways we’ve found that make the trip easier. So, without future ado, here are my top 15 tips for camping with a toddler.
1 Choose a Kid-Friendly Location
Choosing a good location is really important because the location you camp in sets the stage for your entire trip. When you’re camping with a toddler, you want to choose a location that is family-friendly and safe for kids, so do some research, read reviews, and check out some local social media pages around the area you are thinking about camping in.
If this will be your first camping trip with a toddler, I would suggest planning a short one as I did at first. Maybe a quick one night trip that isn’t too far from home, so you can gauge how your child will do. This also gives you a chance to kind of go through a trial run to see if there is anything you’d want to do differently or make sure to bring with you the next time you go.
2 Select a Safe Site
Once you have found a kid-friendly location to camp in, take a look at the various campsites and find one that will be safe for your child. The most important thing I can stress here is to find a campsite that is a safe distance away from any bodies of water, You don’t want to spend your camping trip worrying about your toddler getting too close to the water.
I also prefer to find a site that is toward the back of the campground, away from the main attractions and a bit more secluded. It’s also helpful to have a site that is surrounded by shrubs or trees to make wandering off a bit harder. Bonus points if you can find a safe site that is also close to the bathroom, which is really helpful for washing up or toilet training.
3 Have the Right Tent
If you’ve ever had a baby or toddler, you know just how much gear they come with! Isn’t it amazing how the smallest person in the family takes up the most room?? When I’m camping with a toddler, I find bringing a larger tent makes the trip much more comfortable. If you’re used to backpacking or bringing minimal gear with you, this might feel unnecessary, but it really does make a difference having that extra space for them and their gear. It also gives you a place they can play inside, which is especially helpful if you need to get them out of the rain or keep them shaded from the hot sun.
Large tents can come with a hefty price tag of course, but you don’t need to spend a fortune. Here are a few highly rated larger tents that are under $100.00 just to give you an idea.
- Coleman Steel Creek Fast Pitch Dome Tent with Screen Room – 6 person
- MOON LENCE Camping Tent 6 Person Family Tent Double Layer Outdoor Tent Waterproof
- Ozark Trail 10′ by 9′ Six Person Dark Rest Cabin Family Camping and Adventure Tent
4 Bring Toys and Books
It is really helpful when you’re camping with a toddler to bring along a few of their favorite toys and some children’s books. Choose a few of their favorite toys from home that they can play with inside the tent, as well as toys they can use outside like pails, shovels, a tricycle or other ride-on toys, a bug net, and a few balls. This will keep them busy and entertained during the downtime of your trip.
5 Don’t Forget their Lovey!
If your children are like mine, they probably have a lovey! In fact, most children become attached to a certain item or object that provides them a great deal of comfort. A lovey could be a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, book, or any other object they must have with them wherever they go. Bringing a lovey along while you’re camping will help your toddler feel safer and more secure. It will also help him or her calm down faster, and sleep better.
Being in a new environment can cause toddlers to feel some stress, but having their lovey with them gives them that familiar sight or smell from home. Just be sure it is something you can clean because it will inevitably get a little (or a lot!) dirty. Also, consider if it is something that is able to be replaced in the event it goes missing.
6 Bring Plenty of Clothes and Diapers
Toddlers can go through quite a bit of clothing on a normal day and camping outside will result in getting dirty and even wet sometimes. So you’ll want to have plenty of clothing changes for your little one. Extra clothes are also great for layering which can help you out a lot in varying weather conditions and temperatures. Start off with extra layers in the morning when it’s chilly and then remove some of the clothes as the day goes on and it warms up.
As for diapers, always bring more diapers or pull-ups and wipes than you think you’ll need! You want to be extra prepared for additional changes, especially if your campground is a good distance away from stores. It’s also a good idea to bring a stash of small grocery or trash bags with you to wrap up dirty diapers before you toss them out or to use for storing wet or soiled clothes.
7 Be Prepared for the Weather
If you’ve been camping before, this is probably something you are used to doing, but it’s even more important when you’re camping with a toddler. Check the forecast starting several days before you go so it gives you time to prepare for rain, thunderstorms, high winds or extreme temperatures. Then continuing checking it daily as you lead up to your trip.
If the forecast calls for rain, bring along some rain gear and some things to do inside the tent. If it calls for cold temperatures, make sure you have plenty of warm clothes and extra blankets for the night. If it’s going to be hot and sunny, make sure you bring cooler clothing, clothes to get wet in and I would also recommend you bring along a hat that will protect your toddler’s face and eyes from the sun.
8 Sunscreen and Bug Spray
Spending time outside means spending time in the elements. Even on cloudy days, your toddler’s delicate skin is exposed to the UV rays of the sun, so make sure you bring along plenty of sunscreen. You’ll also want to bring bug spray, especially if your campsite is surrounded by woods or thick brush.
Look for one that protects against mosquitoes and ticks, but always read the label! It’s really important to read the labels on anything you’ll be putting on your toddler’s skin. Choose sunscreen and bug spray that is both safe and effective for young children.
9 When You Arrive
When you first get to your campsite, I recommend taking a quick stroll around it to look for any safety hazards or potentially dangerous spots. Check for holes that can cause your toddler to trip, standing water that will attract bugs, trash that was left behind, broken bottles or cigarette butts, basically just look for anything you need to be aware of or remove from the campsite to make it safer. This won’t take long and it will help you relax more for the rest of the trip.
And always, always be aware of your proximity to any bodies of water that your toddler could slip into or wander off to. If you are near any water at all, even if it’s shallow water, you will need to be extra vigilant in keeping your toddler nearby at all times.
10 Set up Your Tent Right Away
After you’ve done a scan of the campsite, the next thing to do is set up your tent. Sometimes this takes a bit longer than you’re anticipating and you want to make sure you can do it while you still have plenty of light. It’s also good to get it set up immediately in the event it starts raining and you need to move inside quickly.
If you have brought air mattresses, cots or mats along for sleeping, now is the time to get all of that set up too. I personally recommend air mattresses for the adults and a small mat or pack and play for your toddler. This might seem like a luxury when you’re camping, but getting good sleep on a trip with a toddler is a must for everyone involved. Especially the toddler!
Getting your tent all set up first can give you a space to let your toddler play or nap safely while you’re busy setting up the rest of your camp. It also ensures you’re all ready for them to go to sleep at night whenever they get tired.
11 Try to Keep the Same Schedule
I know, I know. Vacations, trips, and camping are supposed to be relaxing and free from schedules! While this is normally true, when you’re bringing a toddler along, try your best to keep a similar schedule as to what they have at home. For example, if your child normally goes to bed around 7:00 pm when you’re at home, try to get them to bed around the same time while you’re camping. Schedules and routines can help children feel secure and will also prevent your toddler from becoming overtired.
12 Be Flexible
Now that I’ve told you to try your best to keep your toddler on the same schedule, I’m going to counter that with a word about remaining flexible. So much of the fun of camping comes from spending lots of time outside and the little adventures you find to go on. If you’re a bit late for your children’s nap because you were down by the water or out for a family bike ride, try not to worry! Or if your toddler’s naps are shorter or longer than they are at home, just go with the flow.
Playing outside is both invigorating and tiring for your child, so just pay attention to how they’re doing and what you think they need and adjust your plans for the day accordingly. You’ll probably be surprised to find out how well your toddler sleeps on your camping trip. Spending time in the fresh air, sun, and water if you have access to some are all great activities to help your child sleep better at night. Not to mention the real-life nature sounds you’ll hear just outside your tent that act as white noise during the night while you sleep.
13 Embrace the Dirt
Yes, I said embrace it! It has to be said because let’s face it, toddlers are messy and toddlers who are camping (which means essentially living outdoors) will definitely get dirty! Young children seem to have a knack for finding the dirtiest places to play it, but try to allow them the opportunity to play and explore and yes, get messy, without worrying too much about it. Let them jump in the puddles, splash in the creek and dig in the dirt. All under your supervision, of course.
14 Be Extra Cautious with Campfires
This one probably goes without saying, but because it’s so incredibly important I’m going to say it anyway. Be very careful with your campfires. Make sure you build them in a safe place away from your tent and away from where your toddler will spend most of his or her time playing. Keep your eyes on your toddler at all times when you have a campfire going and be aware of flying embers.
Also, remember that the coals and ash left behind after your campfire is out can take hours to cool completely. Just because a fire isn’t actively burning doesn’t mean your toddler still can’t be burned. It’s also a good idea to keep a bucket of water next to your fire in the event you need to put it out quickly.
15 Have Fun!
Children naturally love being outside and toddlers are no different! Enjoy the time you have outside with your toddler on your camping trip. Play in the dirt with them, sing songs, tell stories, go on adventures together, play games, take a walk down to the water or a light hike on a nature trail. Many campgrounds even have a playground you can use together. All in all, a family camping trip is about unplugging, getting away from your regular life and enjoying time together.
As you can see, if you love camping, having a child doesn’t mean you have to give up your camping trips! Not at all. I hope these tips help you feel more confident in planning a trip to go camping with your toddler, or at least more prepared for your next trip! Camping with a toddler really doesn’t have to be stressful or overwhelming. In fact, I have found it can actually be a lot more fun! We always end up doing things we never would have done before we have young children with us. And the memories made on family camping trips can last for years to come!