Camping with a toddler can be hectic and even exhausting. But it’s absolutely worth the trouble!
It is normal to feel a little hesitant though - your thoughts may swing from, ‘It’ll be fun,’ to ‘Should I really be doing this?’ There may indeed be difficult moments. But there will also be super fun moments that create lasting memories.
Camping with a toddler is not just possible, it is enjoyable! Proper planning is the key that will make it a wonderful trip for everyone.
What is a good age to take a toddler camping?
The answer is whenever you are ready! A toddler and camping may sound like a disaster waiting to happen. But many families that love the outdoors have found a way of making it work. And you can too. There is no right age for a child to start camping. If you feel ready as a parent, go for it!
Is camping with a toddler worth it?
The answer is an enthusiastic yes! There is so much to love about camping with your toddler. It provides a great way to get a break from the hustle and bustle of your daily lives. It’s a great bonding opportunity – you’ll spend hours exploring nature together. Your toddler will be enthrall to the great outdoors, and you’ll see ordinary things through fresh eyes. Pinecones, salamanders, banana slugs, frogs, birds, squirrels, leaves, sticks, bugs. It’s kid heaven! So don’t over think it. Most children will LOVE a camping adventure.
What will you need to take when camping with a toddler?
Our first camping trip with twin toddlers was a blast. We camped in a redwood grove in Northern California. We prepared like scouts but still things turned out a bit different than we imagined. So just know going in that you’ll want to practice some flexibility and letting go.
To start your list, pack 3-4X more clothing than you would on a trip to a relative’s house or with a hotel stay. It will take your toddler about 20 minutes to get filthy in a campground. Go with it, but pack plenty of extra clothing.
Here’s a short list of extra items you’ll want to have along on your first camping trip with your toddler. This assumes your regular camping gear – tent, stove, etc. – is already on your list.
- Tons of extra clothing, including spare shoes
- Rags or wipes for cleaning hands
- Sunscreen and sun hat
- Changing mat if still in diapers
- Nighttime diapers and waterproof diaper cover
- Toys – see a full list below
- Favorite stuffy
- Easy access snacks
- Your kid's toiletries, anti-itch cream and other first aid supplies
Are tents good for toddlers?
Some families will choose to use a screen house with toys and a blanket inside for napping during the day. This keeps kids protected from the sun and bugs. But when it comes to nighttime sleeping, your toddler can be right alongside you in the family tent.
What should a toddler where to sleep when camping?
The best way to help your toddler settle in quickly is to dress them in familiar sleeping clothes. Pajamas that they wear often will help them settle in for a good night’s sleep. Dressing in layers is also important. There are plenty of baby camping sleeping bags on the market now that you may want to purchase. But depending on the weather, a cozy sleep sack will probably do the trick. Keep in mind that regular sleeping bags are not recommended for kids under age 3.
One special consideration is the potential for nighttime wetness. At home, it’s inconvenient but easy to change a crib sheet. On a camping trip, a wet sleep sack is another thing entirely. Best to avoid that possibility with extra protective nighttime diapers and diaper covers. And bring a backup sleep sack just in case.
What are the best toys for camping with a toddler?
On our first camping trip, our toddler twins spent most of their time arranging play food and dishes inside the bear locker! Good camping toys should foster open-ended play and be durable. But know that there will be plenty of things to play with in nature – sticks, rocks, leaves, and so forth. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- A play camping set
- Bucket with small shovel
- Flashlight and lantern
- Magnifying glass
- Play food and dishes
- Digger trucks
What are some fun other things to bring on a camping trip?
Camping offers you the opportunity to step away from your normal life and breathe. So put away your phone and tablet. Get that book you have been meaning to read. Or play a silly game with the kids. Some great ideas for both the adults and kids are:
- Card games like Uno
- Magazines and books
- Coloring books and crayons
- A ball and a scoot bike
- Local area guidebook
- Musical instruments
- Sporting equipment
4 tips for camping with your toddler the first time
Camping with your toddler will give you some much needed bonding time. And you’ll both also get a chance to interact with nature.
Here are a few tips for how to make the experience a success and fun for all.
- Start small – It may feel exciting to plan a big camping trip for the whole family. The thrill of being on the move for a few weeks and visiting different places is all good on paper. But with a toddler, this may be recipe for repeated meltdowns. Better to start with shorter periods. Maybe just a few days not more than a few hours drive from home. This will give you a chance to learn what works and what doesn’t for your little one. And if things go sideways, you can end the trip early and get home quickly.
- Simple meals – Before kids, you might have enjoyed complex gourmet dinners when out in the wilderness. But when camping with a toddler for the first time, you may want to start with simplicity. Think mac n' cheese and hotdogs. You can even prepare pasta in advance so all you need to do is heat it up at the campsite. As stated previously, you're going to spend a lot of time supervising your child. So unless you have plenty of adults to fold into the childcare rotation, give yourself a break and streamline mealtime.
- Bring toys – There’s a lot to explore when camping. Rocks, trees, sticks and bugs will keep you and your toddler busy for hours. But it’s always good to have some familiar toys along too. Your kids will without doubt get creative with their favorite stuff. Buckets can hold lots of sticks. And that magnifying glass is perfect for spying on bugs and worms. Plus, you’ll want something engaging at your campsite for when you need to prepare dinner or just rest.
- Have some toddler activities at the ready – Some simple craft projects are a great thing when you want to hang around camp in the afternoon after exploring in the morning. Think glue stick and blank sheets of construction paper. Grab some leaves and sticks and you’re ready to create camp scenes. If you’ve planned ahead, you may have some dry macaroni on hand!
- Safety is key – Close-toed shoes to prevent stubbed toes, long pants to protect from scratches, teaching kids to identify poison oak or ivy. These are all safety considerations when camping. Plus, be aware that you’ll need to supervise your toddler at all times when camping. So, setting up a schedule with older children and adults is a great idea.
Keep it light
To some people, camping with a toddler may feel plain daunting and overwhelming. But keeping it light, and following some of these tips will likely result in an enjoyable camping trip that will last in your memory for decades to come.
Packing only the essentials is key, but also noting those things that simply should not be left behind. Take it easy! And remember that your toddler will mimic your energy! Stay calm. And above all, have fun!