You love the great outdoors. Now that you have a toddler you are wondering how camping with a toddler would even work. I get it! Camping with toddlers is totally doable. But bringing your toddler on a camping trip does require a bit more planning than just going with adults or even with older kids.
Camping with a toddler is amazing. Their view of the world, and the way they take everything in, ads another dimention that we could have never dreamed of before we had kids.
Camping as a family can be really fullfilling for the soul, but there are also a few things that just makes the experience better for all.
Now we have tried it all. Trips without toddler camping gear and trips with. And while I love a minimalist approach to life, I also love covenience.
The right gear can take an okay trip to a really memorable one, because you can actually sit down an relax every once in a while. (I’m looking at you safe sleeping space, I am looking at you!)
The best tips for toddler camping include:
- Practice camping with your toddler – make it fun
- Ensure good sleep while camping
- The right clothes for sleeping – make sure your toddler is warm while you camp
- Create a changing station – make diaper change easy
- Bring a backpack with toys
- Bring more clothes – MORE CLOTHES
- Lower your expectations
- Bring Snacks
- Scout your destination
- bring a survival kit
Lets do a deep dive into what that means!
We are a family of 6, our kids being 9, 7, 3 and 1, that love the great outdoors. We have plenty of experience camping with a toddler. Many toddlers are easy to please and get excited about new things. However there are some things that you can do, to make sure your camping trip with a toddler is a success.
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Practice camping with your toddler
First off your toddler doesn’t know what it means to go camping. If at all possible practice going camping in the backyard. It can be as simple as just putting up a tent, and hanging out there for a few hours. You can read our thoughts on buying a tent here. That way your toddler will see what it’s like to be in the great outdoors, and you will get a sense of what is needed to entertain them.
It might seem like a lot of work to put up a tent to just sit out there and talk about camping. I promise – this will help them prepare them for your trip. You can talk about where everyone will sleep what you were doing all night and how they will sleep. Maybe even bring out a sleeping bag so they can have a nap.
Maybe you have the option to make a campfire in your backyard? That is another great way to practice camping. Light a campfire and roast some marshmallows or make bread in your Dutch oven. Use the utensils and take out the camping equipment you have for your toddler. Talk about how you eat while camping – I bet it will be different from the every day dinner table. Your toddler will be able to handle it all and have fun with it – you just need to prepare them a little.
Ensure good sleep
You want to make sure that your toddler can sleep in a sleeping bag. Or I should say, if you expect to sleep in sleeping bags, you need to make sure your toddler is ready for that. Sleeping in a sleeping bag is actually quite different to sleeping with a cover. Your legs are not free to stretch like you’re used to, and some kids are great at worming their way out the top of the sleeping bag. If you are going to invest in a sleeping bag make sure you read our post about choosing a sleeping bag.
You could consider putting up the camping bed, inside, prior to going camping. Bring out the full bed, and the sleeping bag or what you would bring to the actual camping trip. That way trying the new way of sleeping would not be the first time when you go on the trip. For years we used our Deryan camping tent (much like this one) as the bed for our toddlers when we were visiting friends and family. A cot like that has been fantastic in every way. I love that you can zip it up all the way and our little one stays nice and warm, and easy to reach. If you want to read more about choosing a camping bed for toddlers you can read our full guide here.
Now daytime naps are a different story. You might not want your toddler to nap in the tent, as depending on the temperature and weather of your camping location, it can get very warm inside the tent during the day.
The Deryan travel cot is still a good choice to bring outside, and just place on the ground somewhere in the shade. For nap time while out exploring we have this wagon/trailer- the chariot CX2 or we simply go from A to B in the car during nap time and the kids sleep there. The important thing is to try and stay relaxed about nap time changing a bit while you are out. As long as you toddler is not grumpy, go with the flow on this and add an extra nap if needed. If you are looking for more guidance on getting your toddler to sleep while you are camping you can find a full guide on that here.
Warm clothes for sleeping
One of the worst things about being outdoors is getting cold. I hate it! And in turn I hate it when my kids are cold. Getting cold at night is the worst because getting warm again is so hard. There is no sun and keeping a campfire going through the night can be tricky as well.
Make sure that you bring enough warm clothes to sleep in. I love wool clothes for my kids, because they’re so warm and cosy. I make them sleep with socks as well.
Take a look at our post on winter camping for more tips on staying warm on your next camping trip.
You know your child best and whether they tend to run hot or cold, so adjust accordingly depending on the climate and if your child is a warm sleeper, take that into account when you’re choosing sleeping clothes. Most of the time I have my kids sleep in the base layer clothes that we have for them. I bring two sets for them to alternate if we are on a longer trip, and I always make sure the clothes are not wet when going from wake to sleep and vice versa.
I also bring a thick wollen blanket to ad as a layer over them during the night if it turns cold. Again – you need to know how warm your kids are, but I like the option of adding some warmth to them during the night.
Create a changing station for your toddler
Changing diapers in the great outdoors is not always a good experience. As with everything else in our family I try and respect my child when they need a diaper change.
That means making sure your toddler is not exposed to the elements. I try and shelter them as best I can. If at all possible I set up a changing station inside the tent. I have a thin waterproof sheet, plenty of wet wipes, bags and diapers, in an easy to locate position inside the tent. I keep this near the exit, so that I can go in and out quickly without taking my shoes off.
Backpack with toys
While there are plenty of things to play with in nature, we always try to bring some toys that are recognizable. I put them in one small backpack that our toddler can carry himself.
We have this Fjallraven Campus Ace 6L Backpack. It also serves as a great practise for the future, our older kids now carry a little more of their own equipment, and they will carry more as time goes, and they grow.
You might also consider packing a few books for the trip. Here are some of our favorites about camping.
Bring more clothes – seriously MORE
Toddlers are adventures at heart, and when they explore they will get, wet, dirty and cold. A fresh set of clothes will be needed ALL THE TIME. While you are camping, washing might not be an option, so bringing a lot of clean clothes is a great idea. That and lowering your standards of what clean is 🙂
We like to bring clothes in separate bags for each child. That way they can easily find their clothes in a bigger bag. We also have waterproof bags for spare clothes. That way, if we are away for longer periods, we are absolutely sure we have a dry set of spare clothes for later in the week.
Check out this post for a full guide on toddler camping clothes.
Lower your ambitions
Now while a great camping trip out into the middle of nowhere could be what you dream of, that might not be the best place to start. Toddler camping is better when it’s simple and recognizable. Start small, close to home or at least a place you are familiar with. That way it is new to your toddler, but you will be at ease because you know some of the utilities.
Bring easy to make food, something that you know your toddler will eat. I think taking out the Dutch oven and making an all day meal is brilliant (just check out our amazing Dutch oven pulled pork), but if it’s your first time camping with a toddler, then why not make things as easy as possible. Bringing a frozen bag of pasta Sause that will only need to be heated, and then boil some spaghettis – that can be a wonderful meal for camping.
Are you sure you want to go for multiple nights? Just go for a night or two the first time, and see how camping agrees with you.
Try to not to have too many fixed plans for your camping trip. You will be surprised how much time can go by while you’re watching the flow of a stream or or color-sorting Fall leaves. It’s a good chance for you to decompress too, and have some time to just… do nothing.
Camping is tiring even for seasoned campers – but sleeping outside in a tent is very tiring for a toddler. And if you then add to that the hunger… You could end up with a situation on your hands, just saying.
When we go camping I always bring more than enough snacks. I try to have them in the “heathy” category. This can be whole meal crackers, dried fruits, muffins or rolls. But something that you can wip out in no time, and feed your toddler. (Having wet wipes on hand for wiping off the hands before eating is very handy here as well)
Scout your destination
Make sure that you know where you are going in advance, and what the facilities are like there. If possible, drop by to check it out. That way you can talk to your toddler about what to expect, what games you will be able to play, and it will be easier (easier, not easy :-)) to establish some rules.
Having a toddler doesn’t mean you have to give up on your camping trips, you might just need to adapt a little, so everyone can enjoy the great outdoors.
Bring a “survival kit” for yourself
I know that this all can sound really simple and easy, but there is nothing easy about camping with a toddler. Its fun, its fantastic, its an experience, but its not easy. That’s why I recommend that you bring a survival kit for yourself. Something that makes your day better. A magazine that you can read during nap time. Chocolate, candy, crackers, beer – what ever your favorite poison is – bring some of that, to treat yourself at night.
Making sure that there is a moment of hygge for you wrapped into your camping experience makes it that much sweeter. You can always be stricter and stick to the schedule again when you get back home.
FAQ about camping with toddlers.
How do you entertain a toddler while camping?
This is one of the questions that I get asked A LOT. Its completely understandable that you are unsure about this if you are camping for the first time with a toddler. I will say that my toddlers have been incredibly adventures once outside, and they just grab sticks and rocks and play with those. If you are unsure how that would go, you could bring a new favorite thing along. This could be some buckets, or trucks or simple dolls that would make for hours of play time. Dont worry that they usually have a lot of toys at home, because usually the magic of being outdoors makes just one toy extra exciting.
Camping is also a great time to just be together – and you could bring your toddler along for all of the tasks of the day. They might like drying off stuff while you do the dishes, or carrying sticks for the campfire. They are great helpers at that age.
What is a good age to take a child camping?
Another common question is when can I start bringing my child camping. And honestly that is a gut call on your part. We have had our kids with us camping since they were 6 weeks old. That is not to say that I recommend it for everyone.
I will say that if its a season where you might get rain (and therefore mud) you might consider waiting with the first camping experience until your toddler is at least off the ground and walking. Once we brought a barely walking toddler for a week tent camp, and it ended up raining the entire time. He learned to walk, but it was hard work on the adults carrying him and making sure that he was okay the entire time.
What do toddlers sleep in when camping?
I touched a little on this in this article, but we bring a small tent, and a sleeping bag for everyone. You can go read our full articles about toddler sleeping bags and toddler camping beds. We also have a full article on getting toddlers to sleep while camping that you can check out here.
Have you tried camping with your toddler yet? How did it go? Leave a comment below – I would love to hear all about it.
Until next time,
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All these are spot on! Especially the one about lowering your ambitions! LOL! It sounds bad but actually, it’s good to mentally prepare for. Camping with kids is definitely different, but can be just as fun if you change the expectations!
Thank you for that, Stacy! And I agree, it’s just as fun, and there is just something special about waking up with in a tent together!