How do you know your toddler is ready to go camping? How do you know you’re ready to take your toddler camping? For some parents this idea is either super exciting or super daunting.
Below you’ll find our absolute best tips for camping with toddlers. (Seriously, these are good tips!) And, if you’re still looking for more guidance, check out this article: Your ultimate guide to bringing toddlers camping with everything else you might want to know: gear, food, play, safety, and so much more!
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For some of you super moms out there these tips might not be new. But over the years each one of the tips below, along with only packing the essentials, has brought a greater sense of security and made camping with toddlers a little bit less overwhelming for us.
Tips for Camping with Toddlers: Safety, Fun, and Preparation
1. Write the site number on their hand
This one is so simple and easy, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do this! Sure, you don’t expect your toddler to wander away, but if they do, your site number is written right there on their hand. Keep a permanent marker in your camping tub for this reason.
If you want to be super cautious, you could also write your cell phone number on their hand (if your campground has cell service).
This tip is good for older kids too. Sometimes campsites are confusing and if they go off exploring and need to ask for directions, they’ll always know the site number where they’re staying.
You could get fancy and use clear nail polish over the writing to ensure it stays on or make special ID bracelets, but really, using a marker will be sufficient. Just re-write it as the marker fades over the duration of the trip.
Permanent marker tip: alcohol will break the pigment down quickly. Try using an alcohol based hand sanitizer to remove the numbers when you’re back home.
2. Have some toddler activities on hand
One trick to keeping toddlers from wandering away is to have interesting and exciting things for them to explore close by. If you’re not camping with older kids, this might not be so much of a concern. However, if your toddler is watching the other kids leave the site and explore, they’ll want to follow.
Having a special play game or toy at the campsite might help distract your toddler when the older kids go off to play. You might want to pick up one of these light-weight pop-up play houses as a special camping surprise. A few other easy diversions to bring along are a bucket and shovel, a giant ball, some toy trucks, or sidewalk chalk.
Just a note here: It has come to my attention that many tenters really hate to see kids playing with bubbles at a campground because apparently the bubble solution can lessen the waterproof coating on the tents…. just saying…
A neat idea that some families will do is use a screen house with a blanket and toys inside as a means to keep the toddlers from wandering too far. It will also keep them protected from the bugs, the sun, and the campfire if needed.
Get even more camping games and toy ideas here: great camping toys and games for kids and families.
3. Shoe bells for toddlers
Yes, this tip may be a bit noisy, but it’s just genius! As long as your little one hasn’t pulled the bell off, or stopped moving, you’ll know where they are around the campsite.
If you’re camping with only your toddler, locating your child should not be too challenging. However, if your camping trips are like ours, with three families, and a gaggle of roaming kids, locating a toddler can be a bit of a test sometimes. So attach a bell and even if you can’t see them you will hear they’re close by and when you do need to find them you’ll have an advantage.
We use bear bells because they come on handy Velcro straps, make a relatively loud and clear ring, and are available for purchase everywhere around here! While the bears might be habituated to their sweet tinkling sounds, you will not be.
You could also try using squeak-making shoes as a way to keep an ear out. I hadn’t realized the bonus of these squeaky shoes until vacationing with our 18 month old. Those little squeakers led us right to him every time!
4. Toddler-up your first aid kit
I will assume you already have a camping first aid kit with your camping gear. Here’s a run down of what we like to keep in our kit or handy when camping:
- An assortment of bandaids (cartoon ones are best because these always bring smiles)
- Hand sanitizer and wipes
- 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
You don’t need to go overboard here, but it does pay to be prepared. And you can always bring more first aid supplies if being prepared is your thing!
In fact, you might want to consider putting together a small tin of a few supplies to always have on hand in your purse or bag. If you’d like to read what I carry around for regular adventures from home, you can read about carrying a well-stocked mom purse here.
5. How do toddlers sleep while camping?
This is a biggie! How will your toddler be sleeping at the campsite? … in their own sleeping bag, sharing yours, on an air mattress or cot, or using a sleeping pad? And, what will they wear? Will they be warm enough, what are the logistics of night time bathroom trips?
There’s nothing worse than trying to help a potty-training toddler use a dirty, scary outhouse in the middle of a cold, dark Jasper night! Oh, wait, yes, you can make it even worse if said toddler is wearing one-piece pajamas. This means you will now need to remove their coat in order to get the jammies down, make sure the jammies don’t touch anything suspicious as they hang half-worn, help your cold toddler back into their jacket, and then hoist them (and their sagging pajamas) up onto questionably clean toilet… all while holding a flashlight in your mouth because you forgot the headlamp!
So, if this is a potential scenario you could see yourself in, make sure to bring two-piece pajamas! Yes, the onesies are generally cozier, cuter, and warmer, but just consider your bathroom logistics when packing.
Side note: Have you ever seen Hatley pajamas? They’re super cute, 2 piece, and they have a wide variety of outdoorsy themed sets, perfect for camping! I find the best place to buy these are the sales racks in tourist towns.
If you are worried about warmth and still want a two piece option, try using base layers (thermal underwear) as pajamas. Something made from merino wool will be best as it is super warm and will wick away any moisture from their skin as they sleep. Another option is to skip the sleeping bag and just have your toddler sleep in their snow suit and some blankets if it drops to freezing and your toddler is the type to kick off covers.
For temperatures that are not as cold, you could use a sleep sack to prevent them from escaping the covers.
You might also be a family who would be interested in a sleep pod contraption for inside the tent or camper. We have used this phil & ted travel bed on many adventures. I also know of families who used and liked peapods, or ones similar in design, like this one.
The most important toddler sleep tip: Practice! Your toddler should be either very easy going or have slept in a tent, or in their travel bed at home before arriving at the campsite. Trust me… camping is super exciting for toddlers and getting them to settle down for the night could be hard!
This guide to camping with toddlers has more sleep tips you might want to check out.
6. Bonus tip – Water, treats, and sweets and a special chair
Here’s a bonus tip that I’m adding… make sure to bring along your child’s special sippy cup or their own leak-proof, kid-friendly water bottle. Make sure your toddler is drinking frequently throughout the day. If it’s really hot, juice boxes, juicy watermelons, and freezies (if you actually have electricity and a freezer) will entice them to take more fluids.
Then, for food, you’ll want them to eat their healthy options. Camping for us usually means lots of treats. And, it can be easy for kids to fill up on sweets and be less-willing to eat their fruits and vegetables. So, make sure your toddler has access to healthier options first and bring along lots of healthy camping snacks.
Camping can be busy and the new surroundings and distractions might make it hard for them to sit down and focus on eating. You might want to consider a special toddler camping chair for them, a lightweight portable high chair (like the plastic ikea ones) or even this cool collapsible camp high chair. These last options have the ability to contain your toddler making it more likely they’ll sit longer for eating.
A toddler seat is also a safer way to keep them contained around the campfire if you happen to have a toddler that’s really interested in getting close to the fire.
There are a lot of variables that can make or break a camping weekend. The weather, the bugs, the stuff you forgot to pack, your kid’s behavior, neighbors late night partying, and so on. The more you can control, the greater the chance of your family having a fun and safe time. I hope you find at least a few of these camping with toddler tips helpful for your next family trip.
Are you planning a camping trip soon? You might want to check out how to simplify the packing for your camping trip by bringing only the basics and using a camping checklist.
What should you do now:
- If you are planning a camping trip, you might want to check out these camping packing lists or these campground scavenger hunts
- Join the Take Them Outside Newsletter to stay up to date on news, tips, and inspiration for getting you and your family out into nature
Other camping posts you’ll want to read:
- Keep kids motivated and happy on the hiking trail
- Simplify your family camping packing with lazy-mom camping tips
- Easy and quick campfire pizzas that kids will love
- How to stay dry when camping in the rain