Are you heading out to the campground this summer with a toddler in tow? Below you’ll find our absolute best tips for camping with toddlers.
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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 has brought a greater sense of security and made camping with toddlers a little bit less overwhelming for us.
Camping with Toddlers: Safety, Fun, and Preparation
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.
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 as the marker fades over the duration of the trip.
Entertaining campsite diversions
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.
Some families use screen houses 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, sun, and the campfire if needed.
Bear bells for toddlers
Yes, this tip may be a bit noisy, but it is 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 you’re 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 know 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 sqeezy shoes until we brought our 18 month old on vacation and found ourselves in large crowds all the time. But those little squeekers led us right to him every time!
Don’t forget your first aid kit
I will assume you already have a camping first aid kit with your camping gear. Here are a few items to make sure are tucked into your supplies:
- An assortment of bandaids (cartoon ones are best because these always bring smiles)
- Antiseptic swabs or 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
- Sunscreen and bug repellant
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.
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 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.
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 and they have a wide variety of outdoorsy themed sets, perfect for camping!
If you are worried about warmth and still want a two piece option, try using base layers (thermal underwear) as pajammas. 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’s cold.
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 an adventure. I also know of families who use and like this peapod.
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!
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 behaviour, neighbours 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.
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
- Read some outdoor family’s tips on hiking with kids… and learn some strategies for keeping those little legs moving when out on the trail