11 Tips for Camping With a Toddler

There is nothing quite as exciting as gathering the family around a campfire, making s’mores, telling stories and then turning in to sleep under the stars. However, camping with a toddler may put a damper in your plans if you aren’t well-prepared for the unique challenges. These tips will help you ensure your toddler loves camping as much as the rest of the family does.

Father and son sitting near beautiful river on nature in summer. 

Father and son sitting near beautiful river on nature in summer. 

1. Practice Before the Trip

If you plan to camp in a tent, practice doing it in your own backyard or even in your living room first. By creating a camping experience close to home, you can help ease fears as well as teach your toddler that the tent is a quiet and calm place for looking at books, playing a quiet game and then sleeping. This is especially important if your toddler has a play tent at home in which he is usually allowed to be louder. He'll think the family sleeping tent is just another giant play tent.

2. Bring Items to Help Your Toddler Sleep

Your toddler will likely have some issues sleeping in an unfamiliar place, especially one in the middle of the woods. You can ease some of his stress by bringing a security blanket from home. This could be a literal blanket or it or may be another item he or she is used to having when going to bed, such as a stuffed animal or a favorite pair of pajamas. Keep the item in the tent to keep it clean as well as associate it when sleep time.

3. Decide How to Handle Waking Up at Night

Many toddlers wake up during the night from time to time and the likelihood of yours doing so multiplies when in a new situation. If you don't want to be stuck with a crying child all night, it may help to have a plan. Storytime, soft singing or even a quick drive in the car can help to calm your son or daughter.

4. Bring a Playpen

Just like at home, you won’t be able to keep an eye on your toddler every second of every day while you’re camping. You’ll need time to pack and unpack items, put up the tent and cook meals. Grab a portable playpen and pack it in the car last. Pull it out first at the campsite and use it to keep your toddler corralled and entertained so you don’t need to worry about him running off while you’re taking care of important responsibilities. As silly as it sounds, if your toddler tends to climb, you may want to use a child leash and tie him to a nearby tree as well. That way, if he does escape the playpen, he won’t be able to wander too far before you realize it.

5. Camp Somewhere That Has Lots of Activities

Maybe you and your partner are happy to do nothing but sit around the campfire with some good books, but this isn’t your toddler’s idea of a good time. If you’re going to take kids camping with you, ensure you choose a campsite that has plenty of child-friendly activities. Consider boating, swimming, short hikes, nature preserves, fishing, and other age-appropriate activities. If you find a campsite that has a playground nearby, you’ll probably earn bonus points with your kiddo.

6. Read Up on Local Plants

Nature is beautiful but it is also full of dangerous plants. Before going camping, make sure that you read up on plants native to the site. Learn how to identify and avoid poison oak, poison ivy and plants that are dangerous if ingested. If your toddler is old enough to understand, team him or her how to avoid these plants as well. If you aren’t sure what something is, never get near it or allow your child to.

7. Plan Hikes in Advance

Don’t set out on a trail unless you know exactly what to expect. Hiking trails that are too long, too rocky or too hilly will likely be too hard for your toddler to navigate. Seek out short trails that are mostly flat and have clear, safe paths if you plan to hike with your child.

8. Know How You’ll Handle a Toddler Who Is Too Tired to Walk

Regardless of how well you choose your trails, toddlers are notorious for deciding they are too tired to walk five minutes after you set out on your path. If you don’t want to stay off the trails, bring a backpack made for carrying your son or daughter on your back or in front of you. If he or she is growing too fast for you to comfortably carry, you might also consider paths with paved trails or purchasing an all-terrain stroller.

Travel, camping and adventure with child. Kid sitting at campsite.

Travel, camping and adventure with child. Kid sitting at campsite.

9. Bring Plenty of Supplies

Ensure safety and that your toddler has fun by bringing plenty of supplies. Wide-brimmed hats and kid-friendly sunglasses help to keep the sun at bay, but it is also important to apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 50 every few hours. In addition, kid-friendly bug spray or insect-repelling candles are also important. Don’t forget to pack a first aid kit with antibiotic ointment, gauze, tape, band-aids and other medical essentials.

10. Choose Easy Meal Options

You don’t want to spend most of your time cooking over a campfire only for your toddler to refuse to eat. Pack plenty of snacks and easy meals that the entire family will love. Hot dogs, burgers, chips, vegetables, fruits and pre-packaged snacks are always good choices. Campfire packets, oatmeal or bacon and eggs are other good choices.

11. Don’t Go Too Far Too Fast

Avoid going too far out of town or spending more than a night or two away from home while your toddler becomes accustomed to camping. Choose a local site that you can check out overnight a few times. Once your toddler becomes familiar with your local camping routine, you can begin to venture further from home.

Above all else, remember to be flexible when you are camping with a toddler. Perhaps you can’t make elaborate campfire meals or go on the miles-long trails when you have a child in tow, but you can create plenty of family memories that will last a lifetime for you all. For more tips, check out Kamo on Twitter (@kamo_family), Instagram (kamofamily) and Facebook (kamofamily).

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