Far and away one of the biggest concerns I had prior to taking my children camping, was whether they would sleep. I was concerned they would never fall asleep, that they would nurse all night, that I’d wake them up, that they’d wake me up, that they’d be up at 4 am. The list of worries was long. I’m sure you’ve had some of the same concerns. I assure you, your kid will sleep, eventually. Here are some things to think about when planning to sleep in a tent next to your kids.

Mom adjusting the hood on a kid's hoodie while they sit in a tent

Where do you want them to sleep?

Warren was nine months old and Graham was two when I first took them camping last year. Warren slept on a blanket folded up a bunch of times and Graham slept on a Thermarest with a down sleeping bag. There are two things to think about in regards to when your kid is ready for a sleeping bag.

One: Kids need either kids sized sleeping bags or to have the bottom of an adult bag stuffed with insulation so that they don’t have to heat as much space.

Two: Graham doesn’t move around a lot in his sleep, so he stays on his pad. This is super important since the pad is what insulates him from the ground. If you have a squirmer there are sleeping bags that attach to the pad. Warren is much more of a wiggle worm. He keeps scooting until he ends up at a corner. If you have the space for it, a pack n play in the tent is a great option to consider. It would be helpful especially if your kid is like Warren, but we fit four people in our four man tent, so ultimately we make do.

Tent sleeping arrangement for 2 adults 2 kids in a 4 man backpacking tent

Four-man tent set up for two kids, two adults with the adults in the middle.

For those who co-sleep, an inflatable mattress or double sleeping bag is a great option to allow you to continue to co-sleep while at camp. If you are going the double sleeping bag route, look into how you secure your sleeping pad. Once again, it’s important to make sure that your baby or toddler is insulated from the ground, so try to avoid gaps between the two pads. They make double sleeping pads as well, which would eliminate this concern.

4 man tent sleep set up with a pack n play for 2 adults and an infant

Four-man tent set up for two adults and one kid, with the kid sleeping in the pack-n-play.

What are they going to wear?

We love wool baselayers for sleeping in. For the especially small infant, who isn’t in a sleeping bag, I’d put them in wool base layers, a fleece sleeper, and top it with a sleep sack (fleece or wool). If it’s going to be cool a wool hat and mittens are a great idea. If you are co-sleeping, your infant might be fine with just the base layers, since they will be sharing your body heat. Graham is a very hot sleeper and sleeps in a wool t-shirt and pants. In the mornings and evenings we throw a wool hoodie on him while he runs around camp. Warren is a very cool sleeper, so he usually sleeps in wool long johns and possibly a blanket sleeper plus sleep sack, depending on the time of year. He also won’t stay in a sleeping bag yet, so it’s important to layer him up.

young boy sleeping in a tent with a red sleeping bag and a wool t-shirt

Graham (3.5) sleeping

When are they going to bed?

When we camp bedtime is easily an hour later than at home. This allows them to burn off excess energy and not have to fight the sunlight. We typically bring a hammock and I rock Warren to sleep. Graham is a solar powered kid and practically puts himself to sleep once the sun goes down or he’s been up for 13 hours, whichever comes first.

But how will I get them to sleep?

I’ve found that my children are less sleep resistant when we camp. It has something to do with the amount of fresh air, sunshine, and energy level of the days. Add that to “jammies, book, and bed” and usually we have two sleeping kids. For those kids that fall asleep best when you leave them alone, I’d put them in the tent and let them work it out. I also am not afraid of bringing out my phone with our white noise app on it, if we are desperate. We do occasionally set up the tent in our yard to allow for our kids to get used to being in it.

We have a two man tent and don’t want to buy a larger tent just yet.

Not a problem! Especially for the younger babies who aren’t mobile yet. The set-up below could also be easily modified so that one adult could be in the middle with two kids on the side.
2 Man tent set up to accomodate 2 adults and an infant

This post is sponsored by Chasing Windmills. Hike it Baby was provided product in exchange for inclusion in this post. We would not recommend something that our children do not love. Our opinions are our own. All other gear pictured above is the author’s own gear.

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2 thoughts on “Tent, Toddlers and Sleeping under the Stars

  • Avatar
    Chris Messick

    So far I have taken my daughter on two camping trips to Yosemite both in April. The first visit she almost 1 and the second almost two. These were father-daughter trips so it was just me and her. So I had to cheat a bit and drove around till she fell asleep in the car seat and put her to bed when I got back to camp. The first year I did the blanket thing. I put on several layers and her coat and made a nest with a comforter and she was fine. This year I took my wifes down bag and just folded it in half under my daughter. She is a wiggle worm and managed to get out of both but she stayed in the bag much longer than the blanket.

    • Avatar
      Heidi Schertz

      I’ve definitely done the drive around as well. My 1.5 year old still doesn’t stay in the sleeping bag, maybe next time- is what I keep telling myself.

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