Camping with a toddler can be incredibly challenging. You’ve got to deal with tantrums, safety issues, chasing after your toddler who never sits still… But, then again, these things are part of everyday life with toddlers. So, don’t be intimidated about the idea of taking your toddler camping! Here’s what you need to know to have a good trip camping with a toddler.
1. Choose a Toddler-Friendly Campground
Some campgrounds really aren’t set up well for camping with little kids. You’ll want to carefully research the campground, taking into consideration things like:
- Distance from home: For weekend camping trips, it’s probably not worth driving a long distance only to arrive with a cranky toddler.
- Safety issues: Is there a lake or pool your toddler might fall into? Are there lots of RVs driving close by the campsites, potentially hitting your toddler? Does the campground have issues with bears or other wild animals?
- Amenities: Look for clean amenities like clean bathrooms, potable water, electric hookups, and a camp store where you can buy anything you forgot.
- Shade: A shady campsite means you don’t have to worry about your toddler getting burned while playing outside.
Tip: Ask for a secluded campsite when making your reservation. Some campgrounds will even put families near each other.
2. Prepare Your Toddler for Camping
Some children just don’t handle new situations well (and there’s absolutely no shame if your toddler is one of them!). Try to expose your toddler to camping as much as possible before the trip and the trip should go more smoothly. You can:
- Set up the tent in the backyard: Let your toddler play in the tent and even sleep there overnight.
- Test out other gear too: Like letting your toddler sleep in her new sleeping bag or go for a test ride in the carrier.
- Let your toddler help pack: As much as possible anyway. Explain what each item is to get them excited.
- Watch TV shows and books with camping themes: There are episodes of Curious George and Peppa Pig where they go camping and Cocomelon has a few camping songs. There are also lots of great camping books for little kids.
3. What Gear to Bring
You don’t need any extra special extra gear for camping with a toddler. But some extra gear will make your life much easier. For example, you might want a portable high chair to make meal time easier. Or glow sticks to put on your toddler at night so they don’t get lost. A stroller or child carrier backpack is a must-have if you want to go on hikes.
For more, read: Toddler Camping Essentials (Printable Checklist)
4. Sleep Setup
For most parents, sleeping in a tent is what stresses them out most about camping. Luckily, some outdoor brands have started making camping gear for toddlers. Your toddler will need a sleeping bag (see these best toddler sleeping bags) and a sleeping pad. If your toddler has a tendency to squirm all over the place at night, you might want to bring a portable toddler camping bed too.
Worried about naps, nighttime waking, your toddler’s crying bothering the neighbors? Read this detailed post on How to Get a Toddler to Sleep while Camping.
5. Dressing Your Toddler for Camping
You need to bring clothes so your toddler can play outside regardless of the weather. You don’t want to keep an energetic toddler stuck in the tent for hours because the weather took a turn for the worse! Ideally, you dress your toddler in layers. The layering system helps you regulate temperature better and you can quickly remove any layers which get wet or dirty.
- Bring a clothesline: You can use it to dry out anything that got very wet.
- Rain suits are a must! They not only keep your toddler dry in the rain, but keep her clean when playing outside after the rain has stopped. See these best rain suits for toddlers.
- You need rain pants too: I’m assuming you’ve already got a rain jacket. The pants are also a must-have. Otherwise you will get wet and muddy when you go to pick up your child.
- Avoid cotton: Cotton soaks up water and dirty like a sponge and takes forever to dry. If you have to use cotton clothes, then make sure to bring plenty of extras.
- Invest in good base layers: If you don’t want to shell out money for a complete camping outfit for your toddler, at least get some good wool base layers. These are key to keeping your child warm and dry. See these good options.
6. Camping Food for Toddlers
Meals are one of my favorite parts about camping. But mealtime can also be a major pain when camping with a toddler – especially if your toddler is picky. Hungry toddlers get cranky and it’s not like you can just reach into the fridge and offer something else. And let’s not forget how messy mealtime can be.
- Choose easy meals: They should be quick and only require one pot. See these fast, easy and kid-friendly camping meal ideas
- Plan meals you know your toddler likes If you want to bring freeze-dried camping meals, let your toddler try it at home first.
- Bring a portable chair: Such as this one.
- Use a giant bib: Which saves you from having to change clothes yet again.
7. Toddler Camping Activities
It’s okay to plan some activities to do with your toddler, like hiking, biking, or a scavenger hunt. Your toddler will also appreciate campgrounds which have sandboxes, playgrounds, or a lake where they can splash. But try not to over-plan camping activities: unstructured playtime is crucial for building creativity, resilience, and imagination.
When left to their own devices, even young toddlers will come up with things to do on their own. For example, my two-year old once spent 40 minutes happily poking a muddy puddle with a stick. Meanwhile, I got to relax and drink my coffee while enjoying a spectacular view. How often does that happen at home? 🙂
Not convinced? See these 30+ Camping Activities for Kids which Require Zero Prep
If you do feel the need to bring toys for your toddler camping, choose open-ended ones like buckets and shovels or an adventure kit like this one.
8. Plan for Bathroom Issues
One of the difficult parts about camping with a toddler is going to the bathroom. If your toddler is potty-trained, she might not be able to make it to the camp bathroom on time. Not to mention that the bathroom might be gross or, when on nature walks, there might not be a bathroom at all.
- Bring a portable potty: You’ll walk to the camp bathroom to empty it.
- Choose a campground with good bathrooms: It’s hard to clean a portable potty in an outhouse. It’s even harder to use an outhouse with a toddler.
- Get a campsite close to the bathrooms: Then you won’t have to walk as far to empty the potty.
- Follow Leave No Trace: On nature walks, you’ll need a trowel for burying your toddler’s poo. Or make a “wag bag” for packing it out.
- Be careful with wipes: Baby wipes can take hundreds of years to decompose. Don’t bury them. They also aren’t allowed in many outhouses. You’ll need to put them in the trash.
9. Keeping Your Toddler Safe
Yes, there are a lot of potential safety issues when camping with a toddler. Your toddler might eat a poisonous berry, fall off a steep cliff, wander off and get lost… Not to mention other camping dangers like widow-maker trees and wild animals. But, all of these safety hazards can all be mitigated with knowledge and planning.
- Bring a Pack-n-Play to put your toddler in while you do camp tasks
- Consider a leash for your toddler.
- Research which plants are poisonous.
- Keep a very safe distance away from the campfire.
- Avoid camping right next to water where your child could drown.
- Follow these tips to prevent your child from getting lost.
- Pack a complete first aid kit (here’s a full checklist)
- Check for ticks often. Here’s how to remove ticks.
10. Remember, It’s Worth It!
Camping with a toddler is lots of fun. However, don’t let all those happy-toddler-camper images you see on Instagram fool you.
There WILL be stressful times!
You will get exhausted at times.
Your toddler will probably get some scratches, bites, or stings.
But it is worth it.
Not only does camping with my toddler mean I get out of the house (where I tend to go crazy quickly), but it’s a great bonding experience. All that dirt builds their immune systems. And I’m certain that the time outdoors is good for their physical and mental development.
My advice is this: When things start getting stressful on the camping trip with your toddler, just think about what you’d be doing at home. Chances are there would have been a struggle there too. For example, my toddler will cry at bedtime whether in her crib or a tent. When I remember this, bedtime while camping isn’t as stressful.