Camping can be a great way to spend time with your family and make memories that will last a lifetime. However, can you camp with small children? Toddlers? Is it even logistically possible to spend a night or several sleeping in a tent with a toddler? The answer is yes. However, the key to surviving a camping trip with a toddler is preparation. Here is what you need to know if you are thinking of taking your child camping.
First off, let me tell you about me. Anyone can make a list like this, but how credible are they? I have been camping since I was a child with my family. In my twenties, I used to organize and plan a camping and canoe trip for around 20 people each year. My husband and I are backpackers, where we hike into the forest with nothing but the packs on our backs. Its safe to say I have done a lot of camping in my life. Every type from completely roughing it to luxury camping, or “glamping” as some call it.
I am a huge fan of prepping before a trip. Like excessively. I always do a dry run with my gear in the back yard before a trip. I like to pop up the tent, inflate the air mattress, check all the gear, etc. For me, its reassuring to know everything is in working order before I head out.
Making a list is also crucial for preparation. Again, being a little “extra”, I tend to list out every single item I am taking. Like down to the number of underpants or socks to pack. My husband thinks I am nuts, but I always have everything I need.
I have put together a basic Camping Packing List for you to help get you started preparing for your next family adventure.
Hacks for Camping with Toddlers
Bring Glow Bracelets
This one I discovered accidentally, but it is one of my all-time favorite hacks. First of all, the kids will absolutely love them. Who doesn’t love glow in the dark stuff? They are inexpensive. I bought a pack of 5 glow bracelets at Walmart before our last trip for about $1.00. They are great for keeping track of your children as the sun sets. Campgrounds can get pretty dark at night, so making your child easy to spot is a great way to ensure safety. Another reason they are great? They make pretty good night lights for the tent. They aren’t super bright, where they will keep you awake, but they give enough light to give comfort and chase away complete darkness.
This one I can’t take credit for. This was all my husband’s idea and it was actually pretty great. We have a pop-up hamper at our house, and it folds down flat. It doesn’t take up any room while traveling. That thing came in handy during our trip for dirty laundry. When we got home, all I had to do was carry that hamper from the car to the laundry room for washing. I used to use garbage bags for dirty laundry. That will work too, but sometimes clothes that are wet and sitting in a bag for several days can start to smell kind of funky. The hamper we have is mesh, so it allows air to flow through and no icky smells to accumulate.
A Comfort Object
For toddlers, sometimes change can be overwhelming. It is super important to give them some stability while camping. If your child has a special comfort object, like a stuffed animal or blanket, bring it along. Its tempting to leave these things at home so they don’t get dirty or lost, but the comfort and stability they give your child will make it worth the risk. My son, for example, has “Bun-Bun”, his white bunny lovie. (You can read about Lovies HERE!) He can’t sleep without Bun-Bun, so there was no question that he was coming for the trip. Our rule was that he had to stay in the tent to avoid getting dirty or lost. Worked out very well.
Small toys for the tent can be a life saver as well. If it rains, or if your child just needs a break, they will have something to keep them busy while inside the tent. I wasn’t going to bring anything because I thought my son would be too busy running around to play in the tent. I was wrong. I brought some tiny Paw Patrol Pups and a couple of their vehicles. My son was happy to sit in there and play with them when he needed a small rest from all the excitement. They didn’t take up a ton of space, and kept him busy while we set up camp or while we cooked.
What to Expect from Your Toddler While Camping
Dirt everywhere. If you don’t like dirt, camping isn’t for you. On our last trip, at one point my toddler was running into the waves on the shoreline and then running out and rolling in the sand. I didn’t know it was freakin’ possible for one small body to contain so much sand.
Clothes and shoes and bathing suits and towels will all be wet. That’s why I recommend bringing a rope to hang a clothesline or finding some other way to help dry out wet laundry.
Your child is in a new environment, with a lot of exciting things to do and see. Their energy level will be through the roof. Bring things to help keep them busy while you are taking care of the more mundane tasks. We brought a bubble machine, which was a huge hit. It also seemed to attract kids from all over for my son to play with.
My son is a late kid. He always has been. However, with all the activity of camping, he tends to fall asleep super early (for him). This last trip, he actually admitted to being tired. That never happens. Tired is a four letter word to my toddler. But he even asked to go lay in the tent and was fast asleep around 8pm. He hasn’t gone to sleep that early since infancy. And he slept in late the following morning.
Because of all the fun and excitement, your child may be more tired than usual, and their behavior may reflect it. There may be more whining or meltdowns. Try and be conscious of their energy level and try to give them a break if you see them struggling with behavior. Give them something to do quietly. Coloring, reading a book, playing quietly with a toy, whatever helps give them a break when they are overstimulated. It will help to give them that space and rest.
I don’t know if its all the activity or the fresh air itself, but kids are HUNGRY when camping. My son eats 3 times his usual amount when we camp. I make sure to bring lots of snack. Chips, crackers, fresh fruit, whatever your child likes to eat, bring it. They will be hungry. The more portable the snacks are, the better. Things that can be grabbed on the go and don’t need to be prepared will make your life that much easier.
Things We Couldn’t Live Without
My husband insisted on bringing our bikes and I will admit, I thought he was nuts. I thought they’d never get used. Man, was I wrong. We rode them constantly. My son is potty training, and our site wasn’t very close to the bathroom. The bikes were a life (and laundry) saver. My son doesn’t ride a bike yet. We have one of those trailers that my husband pulls behind his bike. Also, campgrounds can have lots of things to do, but they can be pretty spread out. All that walking can wear out little legs quickly.
When you are camping, you are outside pretty much all day every day. That is a lot of sun exposure. We all know the dangers of the sun’s harmful rays. Sunscreen was an absolute must-have for us. Make sure it is not expired, that you have plenty of it, and that the SPF is at least the recommended strength.
This one seems like a no-brainer. Having a good cooler, or coolers, is a must. You will have to keep food and drinks cold to keep them from spoiling. I recommend one with a plug near the bottom that allows you to drain the water out, otherwise they can get really heavy and your food can get water-logged.
I have camped with and without sleeping bags. When camping, the weather can change sometimes very quickly. Investing in good sleeping bags can be a life saver when the weather turns cold, or even if you get a lot of rain. The moisture can make sleeping very uncomfortable and a good sleeping bag will help combat that.
Again, I have back-packed and slept right on the ground. Its possible. However, it is certainly not ideal. You can get a good air mattress and pump for a reasonable price and it’s a comfort item your spine will thank you for.
If you are camping at a campground, many sites will have electrical hookups. However, they may not be placed conveniently next to where you want to set up your tent or other things. An extension cord can be priceless. We also brought a power strip for plugging in multiple things.
Whether you have a nice expensive camera, or just use your cell phone, make sure to bring it along, and be prepared to charge the battery. You will be able to capture so many amazing memories, and you’ll be thankful you had your camera there.
I tried to cover the big things with this post, but if you have any questions or input, I’d love to hear it in the comments below! I’ll try to help with anything I can. And I would love to hear your best camping hacks, as I have several more trips ahead of us this summer.
***For more awesome info on Camping with Toddlers, check out this post from The Mom Life by Rosie: