We’ve gone camping since my son was one year. My daughter started at nine months.
I won’t lie, camping with toddlers, especially kids under 2 years, is work…but then again, I guess everything with kids, regardless of age, is just work.
The good thing, however, is that camping with younger toddlers is doable.
And in this epic guide, I’ll share what I usually bring when toddler camping with my 2-year-old.
What’s more, I’ll provide some secrets you could use to make your next family camping trip with your toddler more comfortable and exciting.
How to Tell my Toddler is Ready for Camping? At What Age?
It’s never too early to start getting your kids outdoors.
In my opinion, the best age to take your little kids outdoors is whenever you feel comfortable. One of my fondest childhood memories is being out in nature.
But from experience, the easiest time to take your kid camping is mostly when they sleep through the night.
I’ve seen some folks camp with their 3-months toddlers, and it has been perfect.
Our first kid was about nine months when we stayed in a rented camp, and after that, we just continued camping.
Our second was probably an year old, and it was a blast.
In a nutshell, there’s no age limit.
What you need to ensure is that everyone is comfortable. More importantly, stick to a normal routine- same as home, especially feeding and sleeping times.
For example, we always ensure there’s supper for kids by 7. They get hungry from running around.
Plus, daytime naps are important for our kiddos. They whine, cry, and have random meltdowns if they don’t have one.
In short, it’s all about knowing your kids. What will work for my family won’t necessarily work for yours.
Also, it’s important to be open-minded.
Some kids take to it. Others not so much.
I’ve been fortunate not to encounter issues with my kids, but I know some who sleep terribly and are older than my kid.
So, don’t be fixated on how your camping day will look like, and harbor the idea that you might get forced to cancel your entire trip.
But this shouldn’t scare you.
Don’t simply sit at home and think tagging along with your toddler will be too much hassle.
Instead, get out there, and you might be surprised at how much they love the experience.
My older kid is four years no, and he’s forever asking when we’ll go camping again.
The first thing to consider is your camping setup.
Simply put, choose whether to use a tent, RV, or camper.
But I’ll share a secret; kids don’t care what setup you choose. They’re not fancied by the “luxuries” that we adults adore.
They care less about the extras in your camp setups, such as the indoor RV toilet, extra picnic table bench, or extra bed. They’re there to make your camping life comfier and not theirs.
While you can pick any camp arrangement, I am very reluctant about tent camping.
It’s not that I don’t use a tent for camping with kids, but I find them a bit claustrophobic. For example, my partner always complains about changing our kid’s diapers in such a cramped space. She can’t move freely.
Personally, tent camping with young kids is usually mostly about sleep.
See, tents are bright and can get super warm for the mid-day naps. And considering we usually camp in summer, early bedtime is a nightmare.
But as I mentioned, it’s simply what makes you comfortable.
Before heading out, I’d suggest practicing in the backyard.
It’s good advice for campers, with or without kids. I’ve been a camper for many years, and I always set up my camping gear in the yard a few nights before heading for the next camping trip.
Figure out your sleeping arrangements and test them at home for a few nights, maybe one night each weekend.
Give your kid the chance to play and acclimate to the tent/trailer or camping arrangement you plan to use.
Watch their behavior closely and see how they react.
While at it, it’s important to prepare them psychologically for what’s coming.
For example, you could start by sharing exciting stories about how you’ll someday go to a far and special destination and how you will sleep in a tent/RV.
Choose the Right Campground for Kids
The other important thing is selecting the right camping ground for your kid.
I prefer “kid-friendly” campgrounds. By this, I mean I pick a campground with basic facilities such as water spigots and bathrooms.
But more importantly, one with sights and trails to explore.
It makes things a lot easier.
I’d also suggest picking an electrified campsite but still have your 12v options.
Also, pick a family campground with kid-friendly activities or a playground/sandbox area. Kids are active at this age and need a place to expend energy.
The last place we checked in had a state park, so we brought a tricycle my kid could use.
If camping during summer, keep an eye out for the shade. For example, we’ve, on a couple of occasions, experienced a brutal heatwave, and our tents felt like ovens. Nighttime was hell.
Safety is also crucial.
Check whether there’re existing pits, water bodies, roads, or highways nearby.
Site safety and fire safety are usually big things for us.
We usually like to get child safety temporary tattoos from Etsy just in case of anything.
More importantly, I start with a safety prep talk at home and when we get into the camp.
Keep reminding your kid of the rules. Demonstrate to them what to do in case they get lost, and show them where not to go and what they shouldn’t do.
Teach them to walk out and around the camp chairs by the fire and not cut across in the middle.
Over my camping life, I’ve witnessed some really edgy calls from kiddos and adults near the camping fire.
Even then, keeping an eagle eye on them is always important, especially without confinements. My toddler will go wherever he wants, and you need to keep an eagle eye every second. And I usually never let my kids out of my sight when camping.
I’m amazed by the number of ways he can get into trouble.
What to Eat
Easy food is your friend.
Pack hot dogs, hamburgers, raisins, snack pack cheese, granola bars, healthy snacks, and pop tarts. Also, pack eggs, sandwiches, Vienna sausages, oatmeal, and instant kraft dinners.
I bring frozen meals and ice trays. It’s a convenient way to pack food since all we need to do is warm the block when we get camping.
IMO, I’d recommend packing food that you could need, then packing more. It helps avoid raw meat food contamination while keeping everyone satiated.
Regarding food choice, it’ll all boils to what your kids love. You know them better.
Another food tip I learned from my camping neighbors is you need to have a ready and quick breakfast option when kids wake up.
Most kids are impatient and won’t wait for you to prepare a full breakfast. I usually carry a propane camp stove for quicker breakfast preparation.
Kids are also likely to get dirty. Don’t worry about keeping them clean; instead, bring snacks than can be consumed with dirty hands.
Plus, when camping in the heat of summer, give dehydration preference.
Unfortunately, most kids aren’t fans of water, or rather won’t even know when they need one.
The good news is packing water-flavoring packets makes the water look enticing for the kids.
I’d also suggest bringing juice boxes and small water bottles. My older kids are fans of mini-Poland bottles but will go gaga over the juice boxes for some reason.
They hate milk, but they get excited when it’s presented in a milk box.
I also let them sleep with sippy water in their portable crib, and if they didn’t have much of it during day time, they tend to finish it at night.
Of course, this also means a regular visit to the toilet.
I usually bring more clothes and layers than I think.
An extra pair of shoes is a must. Depending on your camping location and conditions, I recommend bringing slip-on shoes such as crocs or rain boots.
Crocs and flip-flops are handy when getting in and out of the tent.
Kids also get dirty, so don’t wear cute new camping outfits. My partner usually freaks out when they keep rolling in the dirt in their new camp clothes.
Instead, we usually take the weird outfits we know might go to the garbage after the camping trip.
It’s also important to bring thick fleece pajamas. They’re great for sleeping, especially if they roll out their sleeping bags.
I usually buy them cheaply during Christmas.
We’ve been camping with our young ones since they were kids, and we’ve a tent, an air mattress, and double sleeping bags that we all slip into.
It’s an intriguing experience, and I recommend everyone in the same tent. With time, however, you kids can get their tents.
Air mattresses are also a great bed option. Pick a big-enough mattress to accommodate everyone.
We use a single-size air mattress and strap them together. I find it comfier than a double mattress that tends to sink in the middle. Our kids can sleep in between us.
If your tent is big enough, you can also consider a playpen. We’ve done it a couple of times, and it’s a handy sleeping and safe solution, especially if your young child is the fiddly type and always wants to get out.
If you don’t have room for pack n play, you could bring a simple mat for them to sleep in at the head of the tent.
You could also invest in a sleeping bag for toddlers. Most of them aren’t cheap, but they’ll keep them warm, and more importantly, I don’t have to worry about them suffocating out of her covers.
There’s no better way to do it when it comes to sleeping.
We usually run our kids until they crash. We let them stay up later than normal, and they fall asleep in their camping chairs.
If we’re on road drive, a car seat offers a nice place for them to sleep. However, his mom holds their heads when negotiating grade 3 and 4 trails.
When sleeping in a tent, you must sit still next to the. At least, this is what I do for my kiddos.
This way, they feel secure with you and won’t get scared by the nature sound, especially if they’re not used to them. They usually hold our hands and pass out in the tent.
However, it’s also important that when you put your kid to bed, you prepare yourself. Nothing is more distracting to them than noise and movement when you’re getting prepared for sleep.
Some of the other tips I use to ensure a night of restful sleep for my kiddos while camping is:
- Packing familiar things and scents. Or rather their favorite bedtime stuff, including their favorite picnic blanket
- Using a dark tent that won’t allow light inside or shadows from the campfire light
- Have a flashlight. It doesn’t need to be crazy bright, just bright enough so they’re not scared by darkness when they wake up.
- A portable white noise machine to drown out stuff
How to Keep Warm When Camping
Staying warm is key to a comfortable and restful camping trip and comfortable sleep.
The first thing to do is pack enough clothes to keep your kiddo warm. You shouldn’t worry about overpacking if you’re RVing or car camping.
Also, consider the weather. Bring tons of rain pants-resistant stuff if you’re camping in the fall.
More importantly, ensure you’ve sufficient layers.
Even during the warm summers, temperatures can drastically drop at night, so it’s important to pack layers.
Also, have lots of socks and mittens. Keep these in different compartments so that you can just grab them at any time. They’re small and tend to get lost easily.
If your kids love water, it’s more reason to pack. Also, bring some plastic shoes with you as they dry out fast.
Pack long pants. Avoid the shorts as possible because they’re not as protective against the biting cold, mosquito bites, and bugs.
If the weather is cold, invest in some sleeping mats that will retain their body warmth.
Unless you are sleeping with your kid in the same bed, avoid the air mattresses to avoid the freezing.
If you’re near a water source, it’s also necessary to watch out for diaper rash.
Other Essential Toddler Camping Gear
In addition to what I’ve already shared, there are a couple of other essential camping gear we always like to bring with us while camping with our toddlers.
Having an organizer drawer is especially helpful for mommy. It makes her happy to have all the kid’s camping gear and stuff easily accessible. A happy mom is a happy kid!
Toys are important to have when camping. Otherwise, your kids might end up nagging and whining around you.
Pick toys that are great in the dirt.
We brought our home DVD player for bedtime. I use their favorite show to get them to bed.
Other awesome toys for the boys include little dump trucks for collecting rocks, twigs, and flowers at the campsite.
When selecting a toy, it’s important to consider their likes and hobbies. For example, if your kid is into cars, trains or construction, bring a few of those that are easy to clean.
If your campground has paved ground, you could also bring some chalk for drawing.
Consider bringing a drawing pad, crayons, and watercolors to keep them engaged.
Even then, camping ground sticks are universal toys, while rocks and dirt are magical.
Plus, when visiting new towns and seeing a playground, you must stop and let them romp.
Checking out new playgrounds is my kid’s favorite part of any camping trip.
To sum up, bring anything you feel will keep your kids engaged. It’ll beat the boredom, and they won’t nag and whine around.
A wagon is something we never forget, especially when we’re beach camping.
It’s great for getting around, especially when you need to carry some bulky items.
· Portable potty
If you’re potty training your kid, get a portable potty.
OXA has some nice offerings with a large freezer Ziplock bag that goes over them. So, the kids simply poop in the bag, and I seal and toss it in the dump tank.
Pick a used old playpen that you won’t care much about getting dirty.
California Beach Tent has some nice options.
Be sure your pick is quick and easy to pop open and put away. It should also have some shade.
We usually hit up the dollar store for some cheap packs of glo-sticks.
Be sure your kid is past the stage of chewing everything before you get them the glo-sticks.
The glo-sticks help keep your kid busy, especially in the tent before they fall asleep.
You could also build a necklace with these. At least, there’s no better way of keeping track of your kid in the dark than with a shiny necklace.
· First aid kit
I can’t overemphasize the importance of a first aid kit.
Come with a suitable kit for a kid as their needs often differ from those of adults.
Some of the essentials you should have in the first aid kit include:
- Celest amine
- Allergy meds
Sunscreen is also necessary, especially camping in the hot summer.
Don’t forget burn cream, either. It’ll come in handy in case your kid trips and falls into a hot object.
· Little camping chair
Get a little cheap camping chair from Walmart or Costco.
Nothing is more adorable than seeing the little kiddos n a tiny camp chair, which they can carry.
The ideal camping chair for kids should be foldable, lightweight, and easy to set up.
Plastic chairs are great for camping occasions because they hardly get dirty, and it’s easy to wipe the dirt off when they do.
· Baby wipes
Be sure to pack plenty of these.
Baby wipes are essential, especially in regions campgrounds where water is a precious commodity and in the not-so-sanitary campsite.
You can use it to clean their little hands before eating and bed. Baby wipes are also handy for cleaning their nether regions and sweaty armpits.
What to Do When Camping
Camping activities will depend on the camping locations and conditions.
But here’s a toddler camping checklist of the things we usually do when camping with my kids:
- Plan local activities for the daytime. This may include walking around, visiting neighbors, canoeing, fishing, climbing, and playing game
- Bring coloring books and see their creative side
- Get a hammock where you can relax for the evening
- Go for some swimming pool sessions
- Go chill at the lake
- Nature scavenger hunt
If you don’t know what to do when camping with your young toddlers, remember that it’s not any different from being home with them.
Let them explore, just as they do at home.
You could also allow them the help with some of the camp chores, such as setting up the wood for the fire.
They could also help roast some marshmallows under your supervision and watchful eye.
Kids love helping in almost everything, and you shouldn’t turn them down unless you feel it’s dangerous.
Is it safe to camp with a toddler?
Toddler safety I usually the biggest concern for many parents when they think about camping.
And it’s understandable, considering the numerous risks in the woods.
However, I’ve been camping with my kids since they were barely a year. We stuck close at home for the first few camping trips but got into it properly.
We’ve not experienced any safety issues so far. We now go out more often than not.
Of course, it’s not to say your experience will be similar. I imagine you’ve already come across some horror camping stories.
You need to judge the surroundings and see whether it’s safe to camp with your kid.
In most cases, it depends on the camping location and where you live.
For example, we usually camp in Ontario, and generally, things are safe. A lot of single parents usually do it.
The trick is to get prepared and avoid camping in sketchy places.
Do some proper research, and if I was starting, I would recommend camping at an established camping ground.
Do the state, provincial or national packs as opposed to backpacking.
I’m a huge fan of the state parks because they offer a safe camping site, bathrooms, rangers, trails, etc.
Pick the one closest to some town so you can have somewhere to rush in case a storm comes.
I’d also suggest you avoid the bear country or locations with large predators like bears, coyotes, or mountain lions.
Otherwise, you should sleep together in such locations, especially if you’re unsure whether they’ll wander off when sleeping or not keen.
It’s also important to make your kid understand the safety risks of camping. We already discussed this earlier.
But it’s important to reiterate that you should keep them up to speed on what to do and what not to do.
If you’re still a bit nervous, especially for the female campers, here’s my family camping checklist of things my wife does when she goes camping alone:
- Get your essential toddler camping gear in “manly” colors. Don’t advertise you’re a single woman. Get the black and brown chairs and gear instead of the pink and purple options.
- Bring a few more extra items so that your cam looks like you’re more than you and your kid. Bring extra chars, hang a few more items on the cloth line, and be sure to hang up a pair of men’s gear.
Overall, toddler camping is much safer than you might think.
Yes, there are some incidents, but they are not as common. I don’t see any reason to worry if you camp in an established site.
Tips and Tricks of Camping with a Kid
As promised in the introduction, I’ll share some of the trips and tricks I use when camping with my kid.
I’ve learned the tip through experience, and they’ve come in handy in the wild.
· Arrive early
If camping at an established campground, arrive early so you can pick a nice and safe spot.
A nice spot should allow you to use your car or RV as a barricade between the campsite and the “outside.”
It should also have sufficient space.
It’s always a nice idea to plan, especially for food, but always have a backup plan.
Nothing is more miserable than planning to roast some hotdogs; then it starts to rain. It’ll take long to get a fire going, and your kid will already be on your neck.
Instead, have something like granola bars and pre-made frozen sandwiches, which they can have in case the fire doesn’t work.
· Commit, but with care.
It’s important to commit, but don’t overdo it.
Don’t reach sacrifice your sanity for fun.
If the conditions are too favorable, there’s no shame in bailing out than having everyone, including your kids, have a miserable experience.
· Bring lots of snacks.
Your kids can get pretty hungry, especially from their hyped activity.
They’ll need to replenish their energy.
· Kids should be active participants.
Kids get bored pretty easily.
You can avoid all that by making them active participants.
Allow them to help with the camping chores, from preparing meals to dinner.
· Kids dictate
You must work on your kid’s schedule and not yours.
If they want to sleep, it’s time for everyone to head to bed, even if you’d preferred to stay a bit late on the fireside.
If they’re hungry, then everyone should eat.
Understand that it’s not about you or your partner, but you, kid.
Scrape off all those plans you had for everyone, and focus on your kid only. Sometimes, I spend hours poking holes in leaves and gladly do it, not because it’s fun but because it makes them happy.
In short, let them dictate the camping pace and everything.
· Familiarity is key
Try to make things as familiar to home.
Have everything set up exactly or as close as it’s usually at home.
Familiarity makes the camping trip more comfortable.
· It may suck
Toddler camoing isn’t a ride in the park.
In most cases, you’ll end up coordinating everything, solving everyone’s problems, and you may even break down.
My youngest kids are good at complaining about everything, all the time. It sucks!
While camping with a kid isn’t easy, don’t beat yourself up. Parenting isn’t easy either.
For the time we’ve been together out camping, my kids have grown fonder of the experience, and camping has grown into them.
Today, they’re always eager to go out.
Generally, the hardest part of taking your kid out is always needing to be vigilant.
You also need to pack the right toddler camping gear.
With those two checked, you’ll have a comfortable toddler camping experience.
Even then, I’d still advise you to set your expectations low. Camping with kids isn’t really a vacation.
You’ll still have to deal with the tantrums, sleep struggles, bathroom mishaps, and much more.
But in my opinion, it’s all worth it and probably one of the experiences they’ll always relish for years.