We’re just getting back from our yearly camping trip for Sukkot (Jerry spoiled me with a little one room cabin this year!), so I thought I’d share a few tips on camping with toddlers while they’re fresh in my mind.
Camping as a family can be a lot of fun, but it can also be pretty nerve-racking too, if you aren’t properly prepared. ESPECIALLY when you have little ones accompanying you. But don’t let this tempt you into leaving Junior with grandma for the weekend.
The memories you will build as a family are so worth the effort. Let me help take some of the stress off your trip by suggesting a few particular extras you might like to bring along when camping with a toddler.
Some of these suggestions would not be suitable for backpacking-camping, but are better suited for a campground. Glean what you can to best suit your needs.
Definitely bring more changes of clothing than you think you’ll need. ‘Cause kids get dirty. Fast. And one outfit a day probably won’t cut it.
Even if you’re camping in the summertime, pack a light, waterproof jacket, because evenings can get pretty chilly. And whether you like it or not, rain is always a possibility. A rain poncho is a good hot-weather option.
If you’ll be anywhere near water, bring water shoes for your child. And make sure he puts them on before he goes running into the creek! Walking around in soggy shoes for the rest of the day is no fun. (Hint: Water shoes go on clearance in the fall. We picked ours up for $2-$3 each at a local Big Box store.)
Kids tend to eat even more when they’re camping. Be sure to bring lots of munchies for them to snack on.
When choosing which foods to bring, stay away from anything really messy. Syrupy, sweet, sticky foods are an open invitation to swarms of bees and ants, so stick with less messy options. The same goes for drinks. And definitely don’t let your child bring food into your tent, or your sleeping bags will be crawling with ants.
Here are a few snacks I like to pack for my kids when we camp:
- Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies
- Freeze Dried Corn
- Freeze Dried Peas (my toddler actually loves these freeze dried veggies!)
- Pouches of squeezable applesauce (instead of the cups that can spill)
- Trail Mix
- Beef Jerky
- Granola Bars
- Freeze Dried Apples
- Freeze Dried Bananas
- Yogurt Bites
- Graham crackers
In your standard camping gear you should already have a first aid kit packed. But there are a few things you might want to bring in addition for kiddos.
- The Extractor – I seriously never leave home without one in my diaper bag. It’s AMAZING for bee and wasp stings, mosquito bites, and even hives. It’s also used for more serious bites from snakes and scorpions.
- Sting Relief – Because curious kids don’t always know the difference between a friendly insect and a stinging one.
- Bug spray/lotion
- Tweezers- For possible splinters.
- Child’s pain reliever
- Crystallized ginger- For upset bellies
- Hylands Teething Tablets/Gel, if you’re dealing with teething
- Instant Cold Packs – Just in case junior takes a spill and ends up with a good sized knot on his noggin.
- Burn Free Gel – In case your toddler gets a little too close to the fire or grill
No. You can’t childproof a campground. But you can bring a few things with you that will help keep your little one safe.
- A playpen is a wonderful thing to have with you on a camping trip. I know it’s big and heavy. But when you’re focused on frying fish over the campfire, it’s easy to lose track of where baby has gone off to. Having a safe, secure place to put your toddler during those times when you really need to focus on the task at hand is a real sanity saver. It’s no fun chasing a toddler around a campground ALL. DAY. EVERY. DAY.
- On the same note, if your child is too big for a playpen, and if you happen to be camping in a cabin, you might want to bring a baby gate to put in the doorway of the cabin to keep him contained but still visible. If you’re in a tent… open the windows and hope junior can’t figure out the zipper. Be sure to bring toys to occupy baby, and make sure there isn’t anything dangerous your little one can get into in the cabin or tent. Alternatively, if your toddler is still pretty small, a child carrying backpack or a hiking carrier might be suitable for containing your child for periods of time as well.
*NEVER leave a child unattended when camping! And never keep them locked up in a hot tent. Setting your tent up in the shade is a good idea, but areas that have too much shade also have too many bugs… so ideally you want to place your tent in a place with partial shade throughout the day.
- Fasten bells to your child’s shoe laces so that you can hear where he/she is at all times. Little ones have a knack for disappearing in a split second without so much as a stick snapping.
- At night, you might want to attach some glow sticks to your child’s waist, so that you can see where they are even in the dark. (I found some glow bracelets on clearance at my local dollar store, but my toddler quickly took those off and tossed them aside. Attaching something to their belt loops would be a better option.)
- Give your child a head lamp instead of a flashlight. Toddlers don’t always get the concept of pointing the flashlight where they’re walking.
When you have a potty training/trained child, a travel potty is worth its weight in gold. The first time we went camping without our own potty, I don’t know how many trips I had to take across the campgrounds to take a child to use the restroom.
And I’m telling you, it’s creepy walking through the dark in the middle of the night, to a leaky, dimly lit bathroom on the backside of a building where nobody would hear your screams. Uh-hem. Bring your own potty. You have a few options…
1. A Snap-On Bucket Potty Seat Cover and large bucket (which you can find for free from most bakeries, or cheap at a hardware store). I’ve never used one of these so I can’t attest to their comfort one way or the other. But I know it’ll get the job done, and it’s probably the cheapest option beside digging a hole outside your tent.
2. A Flushable Camping Potty. A more expensive, but less stinky option. We actually scored BIG TIME and found a brand new one at a yard sale for $10 this summer!!
3. A Cool Gear Travel Potty. We also have one of these and absolutely LOVE it. It stays in the back of my vehicle, and goes everywhere we do. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve set it up in the back of our SUV so that a little one who couldn’t hold it could go.
4. Wet wipes! You should have them on hand at all times – you just never know!
If you really only need a travel potty for your little one, and you don’t mind walking to the public bathroom yourself, then this is a great option.
If you get a family-sized travel potty, you’ll also want to get a Pop-Up Privacy Hut to put your toilet in, and some Eco-Fresh Toilet Deodorant/Digester to keep your potty area from stinking up the camp. Keep a roll of tp somewhere where the dew won’t make it damp. A small bottle of hand sanitizer in the potty area is also a must.
A Sanitation Station
Expect to do a lot of hand washing during your stay, so don’t count on a pack of baby wipes to be enough! I’ve found a “sanitation station” to be perfect for keeping hands and faces washed. (Thanks, Pinterest! )
All you need is a 5-Gallon Water Cooler, a cheap dollar store paper towel holder, some bungee cords, a bucket for catching the water, eco-friendly liquid soap (less messy than a bar), and a roll of paper towels. Pack all of your supplies in the bucket with a lid for easy carrying. Hang onto the used paper towels to use as fire-starter when they dry out.
Before we talk about actually sleeping in a tent during camping, you might want to set up the tent in your back yard first, to see if your toddler is comfortable sleeping in it.
Now, it’s really important that you bring comfortable bedding for your child. If they have a favorite blanket or stuffed animal, don’t leave it at home. A cot or a blow up mattress is nice to have, but is more of a luxury than a necessity in most cases.
Bring warm footy pajamas for your child to sleep in. It’s hard to keep an active toddler bundled in a sleeping bag, and you definitely don’t want them to get cold in the night.
Getting an excited little one to be quiet and go to sleep in a new and fun environment can be hard to do. Add in multiple children and it’s darned near impossible. It really helps to give them something warm and calming before bed to help their mind and body relax before they settle in for the night.
Calm Kid Tea (recipe from Natural Living Mamma)
Mix these dried herbs together in an airtight container. Use 1 tsp. per cup of boiling water. Steep for at least 20 min., and up to 8 hours for a stronger tea.
- 1 part Chamomile
- 2 parts Catnip
- 1 part Lemon Balm
- Honey to sweeten to taste
I made this tea for this year’s camping trip, and not only was it delicious but it seemed to work very well. I definitely didn’t have the trouble I had last year getting the kids to settle down. About 20 min. after putting them to bed they were sound asleep.
You’ll need something to boil water with if you’ll be making tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. We did bring a propane camp stove, but I wanted to see how my Camping Cookset would hold up, so I put it on our Campfire Tripod and boiled water over the fire.
Worked like a charm, and the cups that came with the cookset did a great job not getting too hot for the kids to hold while sipping their tea.
Naps. Camping will be exhausting for your toddler. Make sure you’re ready for him or her to take naps, either in the tent or in the child’s car seat.
When you go camping really depends upon where you live, and what your climate is like. Camping in freezing temperatures probably isn’t a good idea when you have a little one along. Likewise, if you live in very hot climates, camping during the summer months is equally inadvisable.
Either extreme will make it hard for your little one to stay comfortable, and could be risky to his/her overall wellness. We all know the dangers of hypothermia and heat stroke. If you can escape to the cooler air of the mountains during the hottest part of the year, that would be a great option.
Personally, I think Fall is the BEST time of year to camp. The air is cooling, the leaves are changing, and there’s nothing like a crisp Autumn night to sit around the campfire roasting marshmallows and building S’mores.
PLUS, an added bonus which I have recently discovered about waiting until after Summer to camp is that you will often find supplies you need on Clearance as stores are restocking their shelves for the upcoming holidays. I found several of the things I needed in the Clearance section for 75% off, including the glow sticks and water shoes I mentioned, as well as an outdoor tablecloth, ponchos, and a few other supplies.
However you decide to camp, bring along a camera and make lots of fun family memories to look back on in years to come. Try not to make it too much work for yourself, and take time to play with your child and help them explore the beautiful nature around them.
And bring some friends!! Camping with another family always adds to the fun.
Have you gone camping with your toddler? What tips or advice can you add?
last update 07/31/2019
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.