Kids of all ages love to be outside…so tent camping with your toddler is the perfect way to introduce him to the outdoors. He’ll be thrilled and excited with all the new sights and sounds. But camping with active little toddlers can sometimes be challenging if you’re not prepared.
I’ve put together 36 tips for tent camping with toddlers, so the entire family can enjoy your camping adventure.
When and Where to Go
1. Summer camping
Unless you’re prepared for cold weather, with all the right camping equipment needed for cooler temperatures, plan on camping in the summer months when the weather is warm and almost perfect.
2. Stay close to home
Until your toddler becomes a seasoned camper, stay close to home. If you need to suddenly cut short your camping trip, you want to be able to get home as quickly as possible.
Another good reason to choose a campsite close to home – most toddlers don’t like being in the car for too long. If you drive hours to your campsite, by the time you get there you may have a cranky child on your hands. And this isn’t a great way to start your camping trip.
3. Kid-friendly campgrounds
If possible, look for campgrounds that are kid-friendly. These campgrounds will have an area set up with a playground for your toddler to play in.
Some family campgrounds even provide fun scheduled events for children, such as a nature walk or story time about the creatures that live in the area. Your toddler is never too young to join in some of these activities, with your supervision of course.
Other amenities that will make your camping trip easier with a toddler are a nearby bathroom and shower with warm water.
4. Choose your campsite
Again, if possible, choose your own campsite as you do the campground. Your ideal site is one that’s on level ground, close to the bathroom, and away from water.
What to Pack
5. Packing tubs
A great tip when packing any of your camping gear is to use clear plastic containers that you can see through. This way you’ll know exactly what’s in each without having to label them or pry the lid off to see what’s inside.
Have a separate container for all your toddler’s items – clothing, toys, and maybe some of his favorite snacks in little bags.
Bring enough clothing for the number of days you’ll be gone…and then some. It’s always best to have a few extra shirts, pants, pajamas, and socks for when your toddler gets dirty or wet.
Bring both long and short sleeved clothing, as well as jackets, and sweaters. The weather can change in an instant when you’re camping, and you want to be prepared. The same goes for shoes. Have at least a second pair of shoes for your child.
7. Diapers and wipes
As with clothing, bring more than you think you’re going to use. Toss an extra box of diapers in with the rest of your camping gear. Take at least three containers of wipes. Not only can you use them for diaper changes, the rest of the family can use them as well to keep clean.
8. Hats and mitts
Depending on what time of year you’re camping and where, mornings and nights can get quite chilly in the outdoors. Pack along a warm hat and mitts for these times. They won’t take up a lot of room, so even if you don’t use them, they’re still there if you need them.
9. Potty training?
If you’re in the middle of potty training at home, plan on bringing the potty with you on your camping trip. Otherwise whatever progress you’ve made will be lost.
It’s best to bring the same potty your child is using at home, so everything stays the same. Be patient and expect accidents to happen. Consider using diapers at night to make things easier on the trip.
If your toddler is walking, putting a headlamp on him at night will give you a feeling of security. You’ll easily be able to see where he is around the campsite. And when you’re both heading to the bathroom in the dark, having his own light will be a great adventure for your toddler.
Another option for lighting up the night that is equally as fun are glow-stick bracelets that your child can wear around his wrist.
Even with a mobile toddler, expect to have to carry him during the day. He’ll quickly tire out from playing at the playground and walking back to your campsite.
If you don’t already have one, invest in a backpack that’s been designed for older children – thick straps and padding are key for both you and your child’s comfort. Having a backpack will let you plan hikes that are a little further from the campsite.
12. Play mat
Even if your toddler is doing more walking than crawling, a play mat is ideal for camping. Your toddler can play on the mat at the campsite, keeping him out of the dirt for a short period of time. You can also pack up the play mat and take it along with you to the beach or when you’re out for a picnic.
Sleeping with Your Toddler
13. A trial run for sleeping in the tent
Don’t just assume that your toddler is going to love sleeping in the tent. It’s an unfamiliar and new place, you might not be going to sleep when he is, and it might be either too noisy or too quiet around the campsite for him to easily fall asleep.
Doing a trial run at home before leaving for your trip is a good idea. Set up the tent in the backyard…and do the same as you would when you’re camping. This gives your toddler a good idea of what to expect when you’re doing the real thing.
14. Bring sleeping buddies
Whatever you do, don’t forget the blanket or stuffed toy that your toddler sleeps with at home. To forget this sleeping buddy is an open invitation for a toddler to refuse to even try falling asleep. Make sure to enforce the rule that this blanket or toy stays in the tent and is just for nighttime.
If your toddler is napping at home, plan your day at the campsite to include naps as well. Your toddler is going to be even more tired when camping – playing and running around in the fresh air is exhausting for your little guy. Skip the nap and you’ll likely have a grumpy child to deal with.
16. Travel cot for sleeping
If your tent is big enough, setting up a travel playpen for your toddler is ideal for sleeping arrangements. He’ll be safe and cozy in his own little bed, and you’ll be far more comfortable sleeping in your own sleeping bag without him!
If you’re co-sleeping with your child at home, this arrangement might not work for you. Consider getting a travel cot that comes with a zippered netting for the top. This will help keep out the mosquitoes.
17. Safe co-sleeping
Co-sleeping at home means co-sleeping when you’re camping. Otherwise your toddler may refuse to sleep if he’s suddenly expected to sleep on his own. Buy a double pad and a double sleeping bag so that you and your toddler can sleep comfortably together.
Make sure you’re sleeping close to the tent door – if your child wakes up in the middle of the night he’ll need to climb over you to get out of the tent. If you’re a light sleeper, consider putting a child safety lock on the door so he can’t escape.
18. Be prepared for night waking
Even if your toddler sleeps through the night at home, don’t expect him to do the same when you’re camping. Sleeping in an unfamiliar place means he might wake at least once, if not more.
Have a plan in place for dealing with night waking. Let him know that he can’t get up and start playing or get out of the tent.
And what if he’s crying and fussing? Be prepared for that as well. Read or sing to him, let him know that you’re there, and do what you can to soothe him.
Food, Food, and More Food
19. Keep it simple
Don’t plan on making fancy campfire meals when you’re camping with a toddler. It may sound like a fun and tasty idea, but the reality is that you won’t have a lot of time to prep and cook.
Your toddler and the rest of the family will be hungry – for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – with no time to wait while you get the campfire lit or the camp stove heated up.
Plan easy and fast meals that you can get on the picnic table in no time at all. Oatmeal, sandwiches, hot dogs, and canned soup work well.
20. Pack plenty of snacks
Your toddler is going to be using up more energy when you’re camping than he does at home. Avoid a cranky toddler who’s hungry by always having plenty of snacks on hand.
Bring some healthy snack options that you know your child will eat – fruit, crackers and cheese, and homemade oatmeal cookies are great options.
Keeping Your Toddler Busy
21. Bring some favorite toys
Favorite toys that are familiar will help your toddler settle in. He’ll like having a few toys that remind him of home. And you’ll know that for the few minutes he’s playing with his trains, he won’t be looking for something else to get into.
22. Bring toys that can be washed
Expect that toys are going to get dirty when you’re camping. If your toddler is still at the stage where he’s putting things in his mouth, you’ll want the toys you bring on your trip to be washable.
23. How many toys is too much?
It can be tempting to bring along an entire container full of toys to keep your toddler busy. But don’t overdo it. Most of the toys you bring won’t get played with. Your child will be too busy wandering around the campsite, playing in the dirt and sand, and gathering up sticks and stones.
Limit the toys you do bring to those you know your child will play with – a few books, cars for playing in the dirt, pails and scoops for sand and water play. Choose some toys for playing with outside and others that stay in the tent for play on a rainy day or in the evening before bedtime.
24. Toddler toys
Choosing toys for your toddler is easy…here’s a few suggestions:
- squirt toys
- big balls
- pails and shovels
- toy binoculars
- coloring books and crayons
25. Bring along one new toy
When your toddler is having a melt down, it’s handy to have a new toy available that he’s never seen before. Pull it out at the right moment and you may be able to quickly avert a crisis.
26. Bubbles for fun time
Consider buying a bubble machine. They don’t cost a lot and are a great way to keep your toddler entertained.
27. Scavenger hunt
Bring along some non-toxic paint and have your toddler paint some small rocks. When dry, hide them around the campsite for him to hunt.
Another option is to hide plastic Easter eggs for him to look for. This is a good way to tire him out a little more before nap time.
28. Rainy day fun
The weather forecast is for clear and sunny skies. Don’t be fooled by this forecast – the weather is always changing when you’re camping. Be prepared.
Even if it rains for just an hour, your toddler is going to quickly get bored if you’re just sitting around watching the rain drops fall. Make sure your toddler has a raincoat and boots…and let him walk around, stomping in the mud and puddles. He’ll be delighted with the mess he’s making.
For longer rainy days, have some tent activities ready to go. Books, easy puzzles, simple crafts, and toddler-friendly games. Keep these rainy-day activities in a separate container so it’s easy to find.
29. Campfire safety
Explain campfire safety to your toddler, but don’t expect him to fully understand the danger that fire can be. You’ll need to supervise him at all times near the fire.
Some parents recommend using a special chair for your toddler. Set his very own camping chair at least 5-feet away from the fire pit. Let him know that this is his special chair and he can’t go any closer to fire with it.
30. Sunscreen and insect repellent
Always protect your toddler from the sun and from insects, especially those mosquitoes that come out in the early evening. Look for non-toxic products for both.
Apply sunscreen in the morning and repeatedly throughout the day. The same goes for insect repellent. The last thing you want is a toddler with a sunburn or insect bites.
31. First aid kit
Never leave home without a first aid kit, this way you’ll be prepared for any injuries. You can buy first aid kits that come with everything you might need. Band-aids, gauze, wipes for disinfecting.
32. Dangerous plants
Take the time to find out what plants grow in the area where you’re camping – and which ones are toxic, such as some wild berries. You’ll have to keep an eye out for these plants as your toddler won’t be able to tell the difference.
A good rule to teach your child is that they should never put any plants in or near their mouth. Still, you’ll need to supervise at all times. Toddlers are curious about the world around them and some plants may be too tempting.
Tips for Toddler-Camping
33. Expect things to get dirty
It’s just a given that when you’re outdoors, things are going to get dirty. Dirt, sand, and water – all things your toddler is going to get into no matter how hard you try to keep him clean. But then isn’t that part of the fun of camping?
Let things go that you wouldn’t at home. A little bit of dirt isn’t going to harm your toddler. And you’ll be able to relax more when you’re not chasing your child around with a handful of wipes.
34. Get your toddler involved
Your toddler wants to feel like he’s part of the entire camping experience – so get him involved by giving him small chores to do. Have something small for him to carry from the car to the campsite, such as his own little backpack with a few toys inside.
When you’re preparing lunch, ask him to help set the picnic table. If he likes being a little helper at home, he’ll have even more fun helping at the campsite.
35. Stick to routines
As much as you can, stick to some type of a routine for naps, sleeping, and meal times. This little bit of routine can keep your toddler from getting grumpy…or worse!
36. It’s okay to leave early
If you’ve planned to camp for four days and your toddler has had enough by day three, it’s okay to pack up and leave early. The last thing you want is to make your child hate camping so much that he fusses when you’re planning your next trip.
Camping with your toddler may need a little planning, but every minute you spend together will be worth it. The smile on your child’s face when they see a squirrel run by or when they’re collecting sticks on your hike…this is what camping with your toddler is all about.
With these 36 tips for tent camping with a toddler, you’re ready to pack up and introduce your child to the fun and excitement of an outdoor family adventure.