This past weekend we went camping. My husband and I have both spent a lot of time camping and for us having a toddler doesn’t make camping that much harder. It might be less relaxing, but it’s a lot more fun!
Camping is a pretty toddler friendly activity as it is. Most kids I know love to be outside and so living outside is their idea of a great time. We didn’t try to do too much – we put our phones away (we had terrible service anyway) and just played and explored. It helps that my husband and I fall pretty easily into “camping mode” and work really well together in terms of setting up camp, cooking, and cleaning. Having a toddler didn’t really change a lot.
Here are my tips for a more toddler friendly camping trip:
• Get a good tent! We have the REI Kingdom 6 that we got with our member coupon and dividend. It’s huge, but it’s awesome. After being two people and a dog who often backpacked we feel slightly ridiculous, but oh so luxurious. With Little Man and Pearl (the dog) it was nice to have all the extra room. It actually divides into two rooms each with their own entrance and the rain fly folds back to make half into a screen room.
• Try to stick to your kids schedule, but then relax and go with the flow. Don’t freak out if nap doesn’t happen at the right time or is too short. The wonderful thing about camping is that being outside has a calming effect on most people.We planned to leave at 11 so that Little Man would have an early, but (hopefully) long nap. It worked well and he slept almost the whole way there. At home if he naps early the period of time between dinner and bedtime is a disaster, but camping he was as happy as a clam! Since we were only gone one night we did both naps in the car, but I think he would have napped in the tent easily. Despite the fact that it was light out at bedtime he fell asleep quickly. Being outside does something to kids and my kid, who is normally a terrible sleeper, slept SO WELL. I’m considering moving into a tent for the summer 😉
• Bring toys! We brought books and games for inside the tent and outside toys (shovel & pail, bike, ball, bug net, etc.). It was helpful to have the inside toys for when we needed to have down time in the tent – like after he got wet.
• If you’ve never camped with a toddler before just go for a night. Don’t plan a big thing – go somewhere close and get a feel for how it will work out.
• If you can, choose somewhere that you’re familiar with and that is toddler friendly and safe. We’d been to Beverly Beach before. We knew there’s no poison oak, we found a campsite far from the creek (so we wouldn’t worry about him tumbling in), and our camp site was blocked in on three sides by big shrubs so he couldn’t wander off.
• Bring plenty of clothes and warm layers! Dressing in layers is great because you can easily adjust to changing temperatures. Make sure you have extra sets of clothes. We were gone for 26 hours and went through three changes of clothes and a pair of jammies. No one is happy when they’re cold and wet.
• Embrace the dirt!
Here’s what we do when we first get to the campground:
• Do a quick loop through the area and choose our campsite. We always try to get one that’s sort of private and boxed in mostly because we like to feel a little isolated, but also because it helps contain the tiny human.
• We typically park in the site and then walk to register and pay.
• Pick up any stray pieces of trash (this camp ground was really clean, but there were a few obvious things like a yucky q-tip, beer bottle caps, and cigarette butts that I did not want Little Man to play with so we quickly threw those out.
• Set up the tent – this is a habit picked up from backpacking. I never want to be stuck setting up in the rain or bad weather unless I have to so I immediately set up camp. It’s a good habit to keep.
• Unpack food and other supplies.
• Have lunch or a snack.
We have a Ford Escape and with a car seat, two adults, and 70 pound dog there isn’t a lot of extra room, which means we have to be pretty select in what we bring.
• Table (if there isn’t one)
• Camp chairs – We used to just bring our Crazy Creeks, now we go full-on soccer mom chairs.
• Air mattress, pillows, sheets, mattress pad, and quilts. – Again, this is luxurious for us. If our kid slept in a crib we would probably just put him on his own mat, but we co-sleep so this was the most comfortable way to do that. We’re car camping, why not be comfy? The mattress pad is really important if you’re going to be somewhere cool, we tried it once without and it was too cold, a mattress pad provides just enough insulation.
• A cheap door mat for outside the tent
• Small dust pan and broom (yes, I’m a little OCD, why do you ask?)
• Warm hat
• Sun hat
• Jackets – whatever is appropriate for your climate
• Fleecy pajamas for the kid
• Halo Early Walker SleepSack
• Extra shoes & socks
• Bring more than you think you’ll need, especially if you’re going anywhere near water. No one wants a cold, wet toddler.
• Toiletries – mostly a little soap, sunscreen, and toothpaste/brush
• DIAPERS & WIPES – bring more than you think you’ll need. We don’t worry about bathing while camping, but wipes can come in handy if the kiddo is super grungy.
• Picnic blanket
• Water bottles
• First aid kit – or at least some band-aids. We don’t really use antibiotic cream like Neosporin. We did bring adult and infant Acetometophin & Ibuprofen just in case.
• Camera with fully charged battery
• Kitchen Stuff
• Food & Snacks
• Sponge (don’t know how many times we’ve forgotten this!) & biodegradable camp soap
• Towel & paper towels
• Plates, bowls, & utensils, travel mugs
• Sharp knife
• Cutting board
• Pot & Pan
• Utensils – big spoon, spatula, vegetable peeler, can opener.
• Dishwashing tub
• Plastic tablecloth and tablecloth clips – I got this impulsively while getting new camp chairs, but it was really handy to have. Just don’t put your stove on top.
• Extra bags – a variety of sizes for trash, wet/dirty clothes, snacks, etc.
• Stove & fuel – We have a Coleman two-burner stove that we use for longer trips, but we use this odd one-burner stove for short trips. It’s small and easy to use. I think it’s Chinese, but I don’t know – we got it at a specialty market.
You can download a free printable version of my toddler camping checklist here.
Did I miss anything? I hope I’ve inspired you to get out there and try it. It’s so fun and not that hard! Check out other posts here on Camping with Little Ones!
Rosie is an environmental educator turned stay-at-home mama. She and her family call Oregon home where they enjoy hiking, camping, making stuff, and fixing up their house – all with a toddler in tow. Rosie blogs about all these adventures and more at www.peonyandpine.com.
Connect with a community of like-minded families by making a membership level donation to Hike it Baby. Learn more about membership levels and join today!
About Hike it Baby
Hike it Baby is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to getting families outdoors and on trails across the U.S. and internationally, supporting, educating and inspiring families through their more than 300 communities across North America. More information on memberships, making a donation, and daily hike schedules can be found at HikeitBaby.com.