Your epic guide to camping with toddlers (advice from a camping mom)

Are you thinking about heading out the campground with your toddler in tow? Or, does this idea trigger your anxiety? Camping with toddlers is totally doable! I don’t promise it will be easy, but by following a plan, keeping it simple, having a few essential toddler camping gear items, and slowing down a bit – I’m sure you can all have a very (or somewhat very) successful trip!

So, read on for your complete guide on how to bring your toddlers camping, make it a success, and have fun along the way!

The Top 3 Tips for camping with a toddler:

  1. Practice, practice, practice – practice sleeping in a sleeping bag, peeing in an outhouse, eating lunch outside, etc.
  2. Patience – don’t overschedule your time and be willing to flex your plans
  3. Prepare as much as you can ahead of time– decide on daily clothing changes, prep as much food as you can, read this article for advice, etc.
toddler sitting on the play structure at a campground

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How to know you’re ready to go camping with a toddler?

This is different for every family.

Before kids, were you an avid outdoors person or were you the type of person that didn’t mind camping now and then? Or, maybe you’ve never camped at all, or the last time you slept in a tent you were in a leaky canvas tent in your best friend’s back yard listening to Janet Jackson on your Sony Walkman?

Your camping history and experience will directly affect how you feel about bringing your 2 year old out to the campground.

And, perhaps more importantly, knowing your 2 year old’s tendencies and perssonality will ultimately determine whether or not you’re ready to try camping with the little one.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when deciding if you should try camping with your toddler:

  • Is your toddler easy going?
  • Do they respond well to direction?
  • Will they stop in their tracks when called or do they take off running?
  • Are they good sleepers?
  • Are they potty trained, and will they use ‘strange’ places?
  • Will they wear rain gear, sun hats, or mittens when asked?

But, even with all these questions, I’m going to guess that the real answer here is “yes, your toddler is ready to go camping”. Just the fact that you’ve landed here reading this article means you’re considering it. And, if you’re ready to consider it, then go for it!

Read through this guide and get a sense of what camping with toddlers is really like. I promise, it’s totally doable!

Getting prepared to camp with a 2 year old

1. What’s your camping set up?

This is your first consideration. Will you be using a tent, a camper, borrowing your parent’s RV? And, have you camped in that situation before?

I’ll tell you a secret here – your kids really don’t care what sort of ‘luxuries’ they have while camping. Those extras of electricity, a toilet in the trailer, a bed, an indoor eating table, are all to make you feel more comfortable.

A family set up at the campground with a vintage trailer, some bikes, and toys
This is our ‘glamping’ set-up!

For your kids, any type of camping will be an adventure! So, go ahead and decide what you’re comfortable with and start there.

However, (and this is a super important tip), you’ll want to practice first!

Here’s an experienced mom tip: It is rather challenging to change diapers in a small cramped tent that you can’t move freely about in while holding a flashlight in your mouth and trying not to wake any of the other sleepers!

2. Practice at home

No matter what you decide to camp in, everybody will be better off if there’s a bit of practice before hand.

You could go all out and spend the night in the tent in the backyard first or set it up inside. Or, if you’re using a camper, sleep in it while it’s parked in your driveway or on your friend’s farm.

Little things to practice before the bit trip:

  • sleeping in their sleeping bag on the floor or camping mattress in their bedroom
  • using their ‘sleep pod’ or portable crib if you’re using one in the house the week before the trip
  • eating a few meals outside while sitting in their camp chair
  • using an outhouse or peeing in the woods (because that’s probably going to need to happen at some point)

For me, nothing can be as frustrating as laying in your sleeping bag while a 2 year old jumps and rolls all over you in a cramped tent for 3 hours while you wait for them to fall asleep.

Sleeping in a tent or camper is darn exciting to a toddler. Some practice won’t take that excitement away, but it might help them feel familiar with the situation and relax a bit quicker when it comes to bedtime.

And, as for the toilet situation… well, believe me, you don’t want to get to the campsite and realize your toddler is terrified of outhouses (and really, who’d blame them… those dark scary black pits with monsters waiting below!) So, if you do have potty trained little ones, just keep that in mind. Peeing practice will also prove helpful. (More on potty business below.)

3. Finding the perfect campground for kids

Some campsites are set up better for kids. That’s just the way it is.

But, this being said, you can still bring your toddler to any campground you like (except those ‘no-kids-allowed RV campgrounds!). Below are just some considerations to keep in mind when deciding where to camp.

Safety: Think about the safety of the surroundings:

  • Is your campsite close to a busy road, a body of water, or surrounded by dense forest?
  • Does it have shelter from rain or sun?
  • Are there frequently dangerous animals or insects in the area?

I find with littles I prefer to be away from busy roads, nowhere near water, and instead, in open meadows or sparsely treed areas. My toddler then has the freedom to roam reasonably and an open campsite allowed me to keep a good eye on them. Sure, these may provide less privacy, but I was willing to trade privacy for safety (and less chasing).

Also figure out how close you want to be to the bathrooms and playground (if they have one).  

When my kids were very little I preferred to be out of visual sight to the playground. This way, the littles didn’t see it and wander over. When my kids were old enough to visit the playground alone, then I preferred to be within visual sight of the playground to easily keep an eye on them.            

Click here for more tips on choosing the perfect family campground.

What will your toddler eat when camping?

Since you know your toddler best, you’ll know what they’ll eat and not eat.

Make sure you have lots of easy to eat food, lots of snacks, and plenty of fluids.

I’ve found that when camping, my toddlers were very easily distracted. This made it a challenge to get them to focus on eating and drinking.

A few tips for feeding toddlers at the campsite:

  • Consider bringing along a toddler seat or portable high chair that they will be ‘stuck’ in so all they can do is focus on eating and drinking.
  • Have healthy snacks available for them to graze on throughout the day
  • Make sure their water is easy accessible for them and give them opportunities to eat other high-water content foods especially if it is hot out.

Our favourite toddler camping foods and snacks:

  • hot and cold sandwiches
  • fresh cut veggies, fruit, cheese, crackers, and dip plates
  • healthy muffins
  • hearty pancakes made with lots of fruit and whole wheats
  • hot dogs
  • oatmeal
  • fruit cups and apple sauce snack packs

READ MORE: Looking for more camping food ideas?

a toddler eating off a yellow tray at the campground
A lap tray is also handy with little kids, see the bells on the shoes?

Here’s a tip on for easier eating at the campsite: Consider bringing frozen meals instead. Bringing a frozen chili will mean you can use it to keep your cooler colder and you don’t have to fully make the chili at the campsite. It also means you likely don’t have to use your camp stove (or campfire) as long to cook it as you’ll just be warming the food up instead. And lastly, make-ahead meals will prevent any raw meat food contamination at the not-so-sanitary campsite…. or the dreaded ‘leaky’ meat container in the cooler!

Oh, and, don’t forget their sippy cup!

Clothing for Camping

Toddlers + Camping = Dirty, Dirty, Dirty!

But, that’s okay! Just go prepared.

Warm weather camping: You can likely get away with bringing less clothing in hot climates. Clothes can be rinsed and hung to dry if needed. And, you’ll not have to worry as much on making sure kids are warm.

Make sure you have a hat that they’ll keep on their head. Or consider a hat with an under-the-chin Velcro strap.

If sun and bugs are a problem, consider long sleeved swim shirts and loose fitting light weight pants.

Colder weather camping: You’ll want to make sure you have enough clothes to change into dry warm clothing if kids get wet or cold. You’ll need some layering options and some t-shirts or shorts if it warms up during the day. Bringing along a winter jacket, toque, mitts, and boots won’t hurt if it cools at night.

Outer gear:

  • An extra pair of shoes will be handy if your toddler gets theirs wet.
  • A warm, windproof jacket to layer at night will keep them warmer on cool evenings.
  • Hats are important for both sun protection, rain protection, and warmth.
  • Mitts or gloves may be nice for eating breakfast before the day warms up.
  • Rain pants or one-piece rain suits will keep their clothes dry and cleaner.

And, don’t forget lots of socks and extra pajamas!

Read More: In case you’re looking for more tips on dressing warmly, check out this post!

You’ll want to read this post’s super-tip for camping with potty trained toddlers wearing one-piece pajamas… hint, just don’t do it!

The toddler camping bed – What do toddlers sleep in (and on) when camping?

Mostly, this answer will depend on your camping set-up and your routines at home.

  • Are you in a camper with beds?
  • Does your toddler co-sleep at home?
  • Is there room in the tent for a portable crib?
  • Will it be really cold at night?

For us, all our toddlers slept either in my bed/sleeping bag with me, in a portable cot, or in their own sleeping bag right beside me.

a selfie of a mom and toddler all bundled up in sleeping bags in a tent
A very blurry photo of a very cold night in a very old tent

When tenting, both the toddler and I would sleep on camping mattresses or, if tenting in luxury, our air mattress. Some tents will be big enough for a travel crib inside.

When camping in our trailer, the toddler would be put to sleep on the bed that we would share that night. I would use pillows and/or backpacks as a deterrent to keep the toddler from rolling off the bed until I could join them.

A portable bed side rail would also be a useful item to use when worried of toddlers rolling from beds in campers.

For babies and young toddlers I used a portable crib in the camper. It took up almost all the floor space and it was not convenient to move around or have in the trailer, but this was the safest option, I felt, for the little little ones. If I was tenting with a very young child, I would just go to sleep with them at the same time to make sure they didn’t wake and wander.

If you have ample space even a pack-n-play will work! (In my parent’s RV we didn’t have space constraints and our toddler slept happily in the same bed he slept in while visiting Grandma and Grandpa’s.

The Best Portable Crib for Camping with Toddlers:

This is one of the most common travel cots that families use for camping. The brand we had is no longer in production, but this one looks almost identical to the one we had, used, and loved.

Sleeping Tips when camping with a 2 year old:

  1. Practice sleeping in their travel bed or sleep sack/ sleeping bag before the camping trip
  2. Try to keep their bedtime routine as close to regular as possible. If you read books at home or have a chocolate milk before bed, then do those things at the campsite as well.
  3. The dark can be scary for little ones. You may want to bring along something to use as a night light as they fall asleep.
  4. If you toddler has security items do make sure to bring them (favorite blanket, stuffies, soother, etc).
  5. Even if you toddler doesn’t have a strong attachment, having a familiar blanket, book, or stuffed animal may help them feel comfortable.

How to keep your toddler warm at night?

Another question many parents face when bringing a toddler camping is how to keep them warm when sleeping in an unheated tent or trailer?

Layering, sleep sacks, appropriate sleeping bags, and quality camp mattresses are your answer.

Layering and cover those heads and hands

If you are looking to go all out and get the best, you might want to consider merino wool pajamas (or base layers) for your children to sleep in. For us, we didn’t want to spend the money and our kids have only (and still only) sleep in their regular pajamas (usually fleece) when camping. If it is really cold we make sure they have extra warm socks and I may have layered an under shirt and/or leggings under their pyjamas as well.

A sleep sack: If your little one kicks the blankets off at home, they’ll likely do that at the campsite too. Using a sleep sack will prevent them from kicking all their covers away. Sleep sacks come in a variety of weight/warmth and sizes.

Sleeping in a snow suit: Some parents (us included) have actually had their toddlers just go to sleep wearing their snow suit. You’ll want to check throughout the night to make sure they’re not overheating. But, we’ve found this to be an easy solution to colder weather camping.

Hat and Mitts: For cool nights, having your littles wear mittens (or socks on their hands) and a toque will keep them warmer as well. I’ve never been comfortable with using a hat with a strap for fears of strangulation (who knows if that would actually happen) so instead I repeatedly re-adjust their hat when I wake up during the night… which isn’t ever a problem since I never sleep well in a tent anyway!

Toddler Sleeping Bag Tips

If you are looking for a camping sleeping bag for a 2 year old or toddler, do know that a properly fitted sleeping bag will keep them warmer. Since their body heat will be circulating through the sleeping bag, a smaller, toddler-sized camping sleeping bag means they loose less body head within the bag itself and they’ll stay warmer through the night.

I have heard of parents using an adult sized bag, but folding the legs up under the body as a way to trap heat just around the body. I don’t know how well this works as I haven’t tried it. But, the outside of our sleeping bags are slippery and I’d be worried they just slip around on the folded part, maybe?

Another tip I’ve seen is to tie off the bottom part of a longer sleeping bag. Again, the idea here is to keep the heat mostly in the area of the toddler’s body and not moving all the way down the unused portion of the sleeping bag.

If you do happen to buy a quality sleeping bag, make sure you know how to care and store them properly (and clean them too!)

Favourite Kids Sleeping Bag

  • Super warm mummy sleeping bag
  • Made specifically to fit growing kids
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Rated for 25 degrees F. / -4 degrees C.

A quality camping mattress is important too!

Using a proper camping mattress will help insulate the cold from the ground, or even the floor of the camper. (Regular air mattresses do not insulate well at all!). Our portable sleep crib even have an insulating mattress that slid into a pocket underneath the sleeping surface but if your doesn’t, you could put an insulating layer between the tent floor and the bottom of the crib.

Other handy toddler camping gear

The toddler camp chair!

As mentioned above, sometimes little ones can have a hard time settling down at the campground long enough to eat meals. While using a travel toddler chair can help kids get their fill of food, they can also help keep kids secure and safe around the campfire or if you need to keep them close and occupied while you make dinner or attend to another matter.

Our Favourite Toddler Camping Chairs:

These chairs are both super high-rated and I see them all the time at campgrounds. They fold down nicely for space-saving and are easily cleaned. I prefer the shorter one for less chances of tipping on uneven ground.

I’ll be honest. We didn’t have a special portable camp chair. We used a basic toddler booster chair (like this one) that is intended to strap onto kitchen chairs. When camping, we’d just place this on the ground or strap it to an adult camp chair, or even sideways on the picnic table bench. And, it’s so easy to wash off!

The Potty (and other toileting stuffs)

Sure, this isn’t specifically a piece of ‘camping gear’, but when you have a toddler, potties really are handy!

For the last 10 years there’s a small IKEA plastic potty in the secret under-seat compartment of our van. That little green potty has been everywhere and seen a lot of action!

We’ve pulled it out on highways, at the beach, in parking lots, at grandma’s pool, and at many, many campsites.

If you have an RV and toilet then you’re probably fine. But if you’re camping without those luxuries and have to use the public bathroom – which might be far away – or worse, a dirty dark outhouse…. then, you’ll be much better off with a potty on hand!

Tips on using the potty at the campsite

Where you decide to put the potty at the campsite is entirely up to you and your child’s comfort levels.

We just left our potty out for the kids to use on the outdoor rug by the door… a few toys right there beside it. In fact, our potty has been so inviting that we’ve had freinds’ kids ‘help’ themselves to it as well!

Setting up a camping potty station:

  • A portable potty and waterproof rug in a shady but easy to access spot
  • A few easy to wash toys nearby
  • Cleaning wipes and toilet paper or paper towels

After they’ve done their business I’d walk it to the outhouse myself, give it a rinse with water and some toilet paper, and it’s good to go again.

For messy clean ups: Make sure to bring along some disposable cleaning wipes and paper towels.

Some families will first line their potties with a plastic grocery bag. We don’t. If the idea of cleaning the potty isn’t your thing, you might be interested in this type of portable potty.

If you’re planning to use the public bathrooms, or outhouses, consider bringing along a toddler toilet seat too. You can just use the regular one you use at home, or pick up one of these cute travel ones.

Super mom tip: If your littles will be using a public bathroom, bring a small step stool (like this one that folds). Having a stool for them to stand on will save you from holding them up at the sink while they wash and brush (and getting onto and off the toilet too). Instead, you’ll be very grateful you carried the stool to the bathroom and saved your arms, back, and patience;)

For toddlers still in diapers: You might actually have it a bit easier, in my opinion. You have the luxury of changing diapers in the place of your choosing. Just remember to bring a few more extra garbage bags, a change mat (and an extra one), your wipes and creams, and a few more diapers than you’d anticipate using, just in case.

For toddlers using pull-ups at night: Same as above. Don’t forget to bring the supplies!

Super mom tip: Using a pee pad / bed protector on your camping mattress or inside the sleeping bag might be a good idea if you’re worried about leaky diapers or accidents. Especially camping, a wet sleeping bag could mean the end of the trip… and I wouldn’t even know how to begin to wash out our foam camper mattress at the campground!

A screen tent or small pop-up tent

You might be thinking, okay, i see why a screen tent could be helpful, but why a pop-up tent?

Well, if you happen to have an active explorer, having a second tent for them to call their own could help keep them contained and safe when you’re tired of chasing. Or, use the screen tent as a way to keep them playing in one spot with you near by for a while.

This is our Screen Tent:

We have this particular screen tent. And, while it does take a few adults and strong hands to put up, it is very sturdy and designed well. A picnic table fits inside or a decent circle of chairs. I really like the skirt along the bottom that stops bugs from entering.

If we’re tenting I do not let my kids play in the sleeping tent during the day. However, I’ve found that kids love when they have a tent of their own to play in at the campsite. Throw a blanket in there, some books or toys, their water bottle, and they’ve got an enclosed, safe (bug free, sun free, rain free) place.

I’ve even seen families put a small pop-up play tent inside a screen tent for their toddlers! Then, you can sit down with your tea and book and they can play. You’ll not need to worry about them – for a few minutes anyway;)

Do you need camping activities for toddlers?

1. Camp!

We’ve found that camping in itself is pretty exciting for toddlers. And, toddlers are that great age where everything is new and exciting… they want to explore and watch and learn.

So, often times, we never really did anything special or different just because we had a toddler along with us. Just the activities of setting up camp, making a fire, cooking, eating, and exploring were enough to keep them entertained.

And, if not, they usually entertained themselves easily enough with the rocks, sticks, dirt, trees, and random camping gear we’d let them play with (like tarps, buckets, and ropes).

2. Toys

I have seen parents go really overboard here. In fact, a few summers ago, we camped beside a little guy and his dad for four days. On day one the little guy dumped this huge tub of toys onto the grass – and we’re talking tonka trucks, little people, nerf guns, t-ball set, buckets, balls, big building blocks, some sort of weird doll thing, and a whole lot of other random plastic.

Well, we also happened to be right beside the playground. And, you know what? I didn’t see that little guy touch anything in that pile until he and his dad cleaned it up on day 4!

Did I mention that little guy also had an electric kiddy car at the campsite? Yep. Even that was ignored.

We’ve found the most-used toys by our toddlers when camping are things they can play with in the dirt: trucks, shovels, and buckets. We’ve also found a ball is also popular if there’s another kids to kick it around with.

A 2 year old riding a balance bike on a wooded hiking trail
Balance bikes make hiking with toddlers easier as they can scoot along quickly

The other must-have item for our toddlers was their balance bike. They can go and go and go for hours on those things – and the rough campsite roads, trails, and campsite pad are perfect surfaces for these bikes. A toddler ride-on toy or push mower might also be popular depending on the age and likes of your little one.

Strider ST-S4YE - 12 Sport Balance Bike, Ages 18 Months to 5 Years, Yellow
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Our Favourite Top 3 Toddler Camping Toys:

If you’d like to skip the reading and just get to the top 3 suggestions, here they are!

Inside toys: As for inside the tent or trailer toys…. well, that’s up to you. How much do you want to pack, haul to the campsite, clean up while you’re camping, re-pack, and haul home again?

We tended to bring just a few items. Usually I’d just pick a few small imagination play toys – whatever they happen to be enjoying at the time: a handful of cars or animals, a few little people, a mini board book, and an interesting container to put them in like an old purse or tin box. This little package of toys usually ads enough of a diversion when needed.

READ MORE: Click here for more great camping games, activities, and toy suggestions!

3. Scavenger hunts and adventure play

You can print one off before heading out or make one up when you’re there. Kids love searching and finding.

Even if you don’t want to go to the trouble of having a paper scavenger hunt on hand, you might just want to start a game of search and find to keep them happy and occupied if you’re out on a walk / hike.

Challenges, like the ideas below, will help keep your toddler happy and entertained when out hiking or exploring:

  • Can you find something red?
  • Can you hear something?
  • Let’s stop and sit on the next boulder we see
  • Every time we walk past a sign we have to hop up and down three times

4. Playgrounds            

Toddlers love playgrounds. Easy. Done. If you go camping and there’s a play area then you’re all set!

We’ve even visited campgrounds that had specific toddler play areas set up with small security fencing and comfortable parent seating nearby, perfect!

5. Explore!

Most toddlers love to explore! And, the great thing about toddlers is they can be entertained by the simplest of adventures…. find a hill, a small creek, a huge fallen tree, a sandy shore and they’re all set! Sit down and enjoy seeing this new adventure through their eyes at their own pace.

a 2 year old wearing a rain jacket standing in a puddle
The joys of a puddle!

6. Hiking – or meandering with a toddler…

Many parents get frustrated with the slow pace of toddler life. I’ll hear parents complain that they only made it a kilometer down the trail. Or that they hate going hiking with their kids because they have to carry them the whole way.

But, then there are many parents that embrace the fact that hiking with toddlers is going to be different than the pre-kid hikes they used to take.

If you’re up for the challenge of a long hike with a back-pack carrier, then fantastic! It’s totally doable, but, I won’t go into all that now.

Here are a few tips for more smaller, less ambitious, but still fun, toddler walks:

  • Using an all-terrain stroller or wagon is handy when your little one needs a break
  • If your toddler has a runner bike, these are great on relatively flat dirt trails
  • Friends usually keep toddlers moving fast
  • Bring snacks and water
  • Let them find a stick and carry that as they walk
  • Give them a pair of binoculars (these are great for toddlers) to use
  • And, again, let them lead the pace. Let them stop and explore when they need to and know that turning back isn’t a failure!

READ MORE: Here’s an article with more in depth details and tips on hiking with kids.

a toddler running ahead on a hiking trail through the woods
My little one setting a good pace on the trail

Is it safe to camp with a toddler?

For many parents, this is the biggest concern and the reason why some parents just decide not to camp with toddlers. Yes, there are a lot of risks when out in the woods… but having some ideas of how to manage and respond to those risks will go a long way in keeping everyone safer and happier.

Of course, you need to ultimately be the judge when it comes to the safety of your surroundings. But, here are some considerations:

A toddler-stocked first aid kit

No matter who you’re camping with there are basic items you should be carrying in your first aid kit. How full and comprehensive your kit is varies tremendously between families. Decide how much you want to have on hand, how far you are from medical assistance, and what your likely needs will be.

Some basic first aid items:

  • An assortment of bandaids (cartoon ones are best because these always bring smiles)
  • Antiseptic swabs or tear free wash
  • Larger gauze pads and tape
  • Butterfly closures for those super deep cuts
  • Tweezers for removing ticks and slivers
  • Antihistamine and pain relievers in both child and adult dosages
  • Bug sting wipes and anti-itch lotion for mosquito bites and stings
  • Sunscreen and bug repellent

READ MORE: If being prepared is your thing, check out this very comprehensive article on camping first aid by REI.

Your environment

As mentioned above under choosing a good campsite, you’ll want to make sure there aren’t any hazards close to the campsite. Look for drop-offs, signs of dangerous animals or insects, poison ivy or oak, water features, traffic, and such.

If you’re camping in bear country, this is a good informative read on both keeping kids safe and teaching them bear safety.

It is a good idea to check with the campground information kiosk or park information to see if there are any local safety or wildlife notices.

If ticks are in your area remember to do frequent tick checks since your toddlers will likely be exploring a lot in the grass and shrubbery.

Also, don’t forget the danger of too much sun and heat. Have your toddler wear sunscreen, a hat, drink water, and take breaks in the shade when needed.

As much as I don’t want to admit this, strangers can also be a danger at your campsite. Most likely all the other campers are there to have a good time and will have an eye out for your little one. But, sometimes you meet a ‘bad apple’… maybe someone with an off-leash aggressive dog, someone who doesn’t think about driving slowly, someone who really doesn’t want kids around… you know, those people. They exist.

Washing, germs, and smell

Oh, no, little Sally’s grilled cheese falls onto the ground… what do you do? You’re camping! You pick it up, give it a visual inspection, brush it off, and hand it back. Right?

For some reason when camping our cleanliness standards seem to fall a few notches. And, for the most part, that’s just fine.

Should you set up a wash station? I’ve seen families set up a washing station right at the campground with a water bucket, soap, and towel near by. I tried this once. The mud underneath this station was very counterproductive! Instead, I had inadvertently created a much more enticing invitation for mud play and the kids were way dirtier than they would have been had I not attempted to make ‘getting clean’ easier!

Instead, I try to encourage them to wash up before eating and going to bed. I refuse to share my sleeping bag with a toddler who’s full of sand and whose feet are caked in dirt! To remedy this I’ll go to the trouble of rag-washing them before bed.

If the climate were warmer I would just have my toddlers take a tub bath in the evening, but it’s usually too cold here for that. Nor do we always have access or the time to warm up that much water.

But, if this were possible for you, just use an empty plastic bin for a stand-in toddler bath and voila, a clean baby before snuggling in bed!

Outhouse tip: If your family will be using an outhouse (or the woods) and doesn’t have access to water for washing afterwards, tuck a bottle of hand sanitizer into the toilet paper bag or a package of sanitizing wipes for everyone to use.

Which reminds me, another great tip is to have a package of baby wipes on hand at the campground for quick hand and face washes throughout the day.

And, a comment on smell: Okay, perhaps this is leaning towards over-caution, but I know these things happen…. so…. please, if you are tenting in bear country, please do not let your children sleep wearing clothing that they ate in… especially if it was sticky sweet s’mores! Please make sure they’ve washed any food off their faces and hands as well.

A lost child

Aside from bears, this is perhaps my biggest fear when I’m camping with kids. Even now, that my kids are older, I still worry about this.

With toddlers, they won’t be allowed to venture too far on their own, but accidents (and quick escapes) still happen.

Some important kid safety tips

  • have your toddler wear a bell or squeeky shoes – so you can hear them even if you’ve lost sight of them
  • write your campsite number on their hand
  • Bring bright colored clothing for them to wear

READ MORE: For more details on these tips, check out this article where I share how and why these two things were so important to me when I camped with toddlers.

And, if you child has indeed wandered away, act fast, and don’t wait to enlist help to find them!

Toddler's hand with a campsite number written on it

Be organized – (just basic family camping tips)

I’ve camped with lots of different families and what ‘being organized’ looks like really differs from family to family.

So, again, figure out what you’re comfortable with and start there. I perfer to be as organized as I can be. I find the more preparation, planning, and organizing I’ve put into the trip before hand has a direct effect on how much time I can actually spend at the campground relaxing and enjoying myself.

For example, if I plan all the meals ahead of time to be quick or make-ahead meals, then I spend less time cooking. If the gear is organized, I spend less time searching for random items. And, if I don’t over-plan with games or expectations, I spend less time trying to control the flow of activity and more time just enjoying the quality time and ‘being there’ with my family.

So, what does all this mean? Here are the quick tips for maximizing your time and enjoyment when camping with toddlers:

1. The camping checklist

Using a checklist while planning and packing will help you make sure you arrive at the campground with everything you need. You can get my favorite family camping packing checklist here…. and one for the kids to do their own packing too (if you have older kids).

After you’ve packed all the essentials, then consider how much space you have left and what else you might like to bring as ‘extras’.

a printed camping checklist being used to pack for a camping trip

2. Keep your camping gear organized

Use tubs or bins or plastic drawer systems (or your camper cupboards) to keep all your gear and supplies organized.

I find it most helpful to pack like-items together. Use labels and lists if that helps.

Put different people’s clothes into separate bags or bins.

READ MORE: How we pack and organize our camping gear and supplies.

3. Meal plan and prepare your foods

Using a meal plan will make the food planning much easier. You’ll have a better idea of how much of certain foods you should be bringing and when would be the better time to eat certain foods.

Along with your meal planning, do as much ahead-of-time preparing as you can before you get to the campsite:

  • wash and chop fresh fruit and veggies
  • cut and proportion any ingredients for meals to be cooked at the campsite
  • pre-cook meals if possible

READ MORE: If you’d like some help on meal planning, weekend menus, managing your camp kitchen, and prepping ideas, check out the family camping guide to eating – seriously, this guide is great!

Raising Campers

Hopefully your camping trips go well. Hopefully you want to take your toddler camping more. Hopefully they grow to enjoy camping (if they didn’t love it first time around)…. and hopefully this is something you and your kids will do for years to come.

Here are a few last thoughts on helping both your toddlers grow into being great campers and helping you grow into a camping family:

1. Go at your toddler’s pace

Turn your watch to toddler time. Don’t over-fill your days with activities. Make sure there are opportunities to relax, nap if needed, and keep your expectations reasonable for your family’s abilities.

Remember that even through things might seem at a slow pace for you, they might be experiencing so many new stimulus that that in itself can be very tiring for them.

2. Let them be involved

Two and three year olds love to help. So, let them help. Give them small jobs at the campsite. Let them gather twigs for the fire, let them put the cloth on the picnic table, or help you wash the dishes.

3. Keep a positive attitude

I know, sometimes this is really hard… especially if it’s raining and cold and you wanted to get to the waterfall but your toddler was tired and needed a nap and you realized you forgot his blankie and he won’t sleep and your neighbour’s dog keeps barking and there are so many mosquitoes – like how is it actually possible that that many mosquitoes can live in one spot…. but… (deep breath)… It is what it is.

Ultimately, when it comes to camping with toddlers, it’s not that much different from camping without. Right, sure, you’ve got to bring a bit of extra gear, make sure they’re safe, and tend to their every whim…

But, do what you need to do to make sure you’re comfortable too and enjoying your trip as much as you can. Then, if things get hard, remember… you are the one with the choice. How do you want to feel about all this?

It’s okay to be disappointed if the trip doesn’t go as planned. Follow some of these tips, be prepared, have a plan. Try to remember why you’re camping, what’s good about this situation, and soak up their smiles and giggles and adventures as reward for all your hard work in making the trip happen in the first place!

Because little nature lovers grow into big nature lovers! … and that makes it all worth it!

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6 thoughts on “Your epic guide to camping with toddlers (advice from a camping mom)”

  1. Samantha Hennessy

    I’m planning my first camp trip with my 18 month old son in a few months and I must say, the bells on the shoes is GENIUS. So many other good ideas here, thank you so much for putting this together.

  2. Thank you so much for this! Loved your tips and I think you narrowed it all down. Also love that you have tips for both camping options (tent/RV)

    Much love,

  3. This was so thorough! I don’t normally comment on things I read, but I just had to stop and say thanks for all the great tips and tricks. I’ve camped with each of my three kids as toddlers, but you mentioned multiple things I had never thought of. This year camping with our neighbors (so two 9 year olds, a 6 year old, a 5 year old, and two 2 1/2 year olds) will be a breeze!

    1. Hi Katie, Thanks for leaving your comment. And, I’m happy you found this article interesting and helpful, even for a super camping mom like yourself:) Happy Camping!

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