I have compiled my top 53 tips for camping with toddlers and babies to help you have your best experience possible!
After having camped with three toddlers so far, I can confirm that while it might not be as relaxing (compared to pre kid days anyways) it certainly is more fun and entertaining!
You don’t have to pack much more, especially if you are only camping for a short period of time, however, it’s still good to know some tips on how to really make the most out of your family camp trip! Here we go!
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1. Check the weather ahead of time for rain
There’s no quicker way to ruin a kiddos excitement for camping than being stuck inside all day! But if there is rain for a portion, you might want to have some plans. Check out some camp themed activities for indoors during rain, as well as some awesome ways to enjoy the rain outdoors while camping!
2. Have a trial run at home
There’ a whole lot less to lose in gas money and travel time if you just camp out in your local campground! This is also a great way to start the season even if you HAVE camped before to ensure you packed everything you need (you can just run home if you forgot something!)
3. Camp away from roads
If you have no other option, do what you gotta do, but camping with a toddler is a lot less stressful if you don’t have to be watching them with hawk eyes the whole time in case they step out into the road!
4. Know harmful plants and berries in the area
This is good knowledge so that you can potentially avoid a whole bunch of “nos!” or worries about eating something bad during the trip. For example, we have twin berries that can make you sick, but we also have huckleberries that are in the same area. It’s hard to tell a toddler they can eat one thing but not the other (and they can’t always be trusted to ask before eating!)
5. Unless your toddler transfers well, arrive at camp during the day
It’s nice to have time to set up and get some energy out before going straight to sleep mode (especially if you had to drive a long ways to get there!). Mine either transfer amazing or just consider the car sleep a nap, so instead of going to bed at 8 are up partying till 10!
6. Make sure you have the right stuff to keep your toddler warm at night
Whether you’re co sleeping, using a sleeping bag, giving them their own bed, or sleeping in an RV, think about the situation before coming! Also, even though many people co sleep during camping because it’s easier (pack n plays are alot to bring!) not all toddlers will adjust to that… I know mine just get too excited and want to play!
- How to get a toddler to sleep in an RV
- Tips to pick a perfect sleeping bag for your toddler
- Choose a camping bed for independent sleeping for your toddler!
7. Bring a white noise or shusher for familiar night time sounds
If you plan on hanging out at all after they go to sleep, it’s nice to have one! It’s especially good to bring one if they are used to have some white noise or a fan on at home.
- A USB charging portable sound machine to save on batteries
- A battery-powered portable white noise machine if you won’t have access to a USB charger
8. Talk about how camping will be different ahead of time
The different sounds, schedule, and activity level are pretty exciting, but it can be helpful to get some camping themed books ahead of time that talk about these differences! For some kids, all the differences might be alot to take in and would appreciate some discussion prior too!
9. Pack at least one extra set of everything so that something dry is always available
Waterplay is pretty darn popular when we camp, and without fail, someone always ends up soaked when the bucket spills on them! This includes socks and shoes (who wants cold feet at night when the sun drops?)
10. Plan for atleast one “solid” meal a day (and LOTS of snack1)
My kids are almost always too distracted by playing to eat too much while camping, so I just try to focus on getting one decent meal in (eggs, sausages, hotdogs etc) and just accept that the rest of their meals will likely be peanut butter sandwiches or crackers on the go! Toddlers will go from happy to hangry in no time flat with all the extra activity, so keep them eating!
11. Bring a kiddie pool
Even if you don’t fill it with water (most campgrounds have a spigot you can get clean water from… and it serves as an AMAZING way to cool off!) toddlers just love going in and out of it! All 3 of mine loved taking toys in and out, putting rocks, leaves, etc then dumping it and starting over. We just brought the smallest size!
12. Plan on bringing a carrier or backpack of some sort
Even if your toddler is fully capable of walking, the carrier could be pretty darn useful while getting essential camp chores done (when they all of a sudden refuse to play somewhere else!) This is mostly for dangerous chores like cooking or setting up camp where it’s hard to monitor them and do the chore at the same time! It’s also nice to have the option of hiking around if you’re somewhere near a trail!
Check out some other useful tips if you plan on hiking with your toddler!
13. Pack a familiar stroller for nap time emergencies
To this day, I have the hardest time getting mine down for a nap during camping. They could be exhausted, but the brightness and heat tend to stop them from being able to really sleep (we have blackout shades at home). If nothing else, I can atleast put my toddlers in the stroller and walk them to sleep at camp so that they get some kind of nap and don’t melt down later!
14. Bring some favorite toys (that can hold up to campground play!)
This is more for toddlers that haven’t camped much, but it can be helpful to have that extra comfort when doing something new. You could even say something like “Let’s go check out camp with Kitty 1!” (My oldest has numerically named his cat stuffies.. he’s at kitty 4 now =P)
15. Speaking of toys… make them the first items out, and last things packed!
We RV camp, and at the very front of our storage compartment is the bucket of special camping only toys. It’s the first thing to come out and usually gives us 15 minutes atleast to try and get camp somewhat set up before we need to help the kids with anything!
16. Engage their senses and creativity in nature at camp
Help them explore by giving them a little guidance such as asking them to make a campsite sign or to whip up some camp soup! I like to write out their names on paper, line it with glue, then have them find stuff around camp to decorate. Another popular one is the soup I mentioned (I even have little camp “recipe” cards I give them if they really need direction!”
17. Explore camp with a scavenger hunt or BINGO game
It’s good to help your toddler get familiar with camp so that they feel more comfortable and have some sense of direction in regards to where things are in your campground. We love starting this off with a scavenger hunt (check out my free scavenger hunt printables here) or for the more visual kiddos, a camping BINGO game where we try to mark off each item on the card!
18. Get one of those outdoor rugs for new walkers around camp
If your toddler JUST ENTERED toddlerhood, having a nice camp rug can make play time a little easier. Mine loved a place to sit away from the rocks, ants and pokey grass that tend to be at most of our camp sites!
A lightweight outdoor specific rug like this is perfect – just don’t forget to get the rug stakes so they don’t trip on the edges (as it turns out, rocks make awful rug holds… this was learned from MANY falls from my kiddos!)
19. Camp near water (or some other cool place to explore and play)
We love having some major event each day (we tend to get a little stir crazy just sitting in camp!) It could be as simple as a lake or stream to play near in the afternoon or a cool trail to walk in the morning. If you are in an established campground where the campsites are typically smaller than boondocking (always our preference) then you’ll definitely want to have something to do!
20. Opt for long sleeve sun hoodies and pants to prevent sunburn and bug bites
We have AWFUL biting flies that make mosquitos seem like nothing, and when they bite the kids, it leaves a welt sometimes! We try to always have long sleeve breathable sun shirts on them as well as some nice pants or overalls to reduce the bites and save on having to reapply sunscreen so much!
21. Use a fitted sheet to keep bugs and sun out of pack n plays or strollers
I love using a fitted sheet over my double stroller for their naps, but it could also be put over the pack n play too! I mostly like it because it helps darken the area a bit and hopefully prevents them from fully waking if they happen to open their eyes!
22. Get some glow sticks for easy tracking of your toddler!
There are some glowsticks they sell at the dollar tree that have a loop with a string that could easily be attached to the back belt loop of your child if you know they’re a runner. It’s great peace of mind!
P.S. You could save alot of money and just buy glowsticks in bulk on Amazon (they don’t have the little place to tie a string though!)
23. Speaking of peace of mind… get some squeaky or light up shoes!
All 3 of our kids had/have light up shoes during the toddler years. It’s a nice away to quickly see where they are when the sun drops. If you are really nervous about your toddler wandering off though, get some shoes that squeak so that you can hear where they are!
24. Always have a fire watch
Fire safety is VERY important when camping with toddlers as there is no way to tell someone so young what can happen should they fall in. If there is a fire going, plan on having one adult available to be sitting near the fire and able to intervene! We allow our kids to throw in things like sticks and pinecones (it actually keeps them occupied for a LONG time) however there is always an adult present!
25. Your toddler might freak out in the middle of the night – that’s normal!
If they are absolutely inconsolable (which can happen if they are half asleep and wake up somewhere new to them!) try taking them on a drive. Yes, it sucks, but the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to camping. I just don’t want you to think because your toddler had an epic freak out that they’re not meant to camp! We have had to do this 2 or 3 times!
26. If you’re camping with a baby but don’t want to bring a pack n play for sleep, use a laundry basket!
People did use dresser drawers and such for many MANY years before bassinets! Put a bassinet mattress in a laundry basket and you have both a baby bed and functional storage space when not in use!
27. If your toddler is potty trained, bring a little potty just in case they don’t give you much warning while camping!
5 second “OH I GOT TO POOP” events happen pretty often to a newly potty trained toddler when there are exciting things going on! Having a potty nearby helps with those kinds of emergencies!
28. Bring a play tent
Not only is this shade for the kiddos, but it’s a fun place for toddler and babies alike to play in at camp and make “their” spot! It’s also nice to be able to keep camp neater looking if all the toys stay inside the tents!
I really like this play tent because
- it requires no assembly (it’s one of those pop up ones),
- includes stakes
- multiple tunnels tunnels,
- includes games, and multiple areas for kids to play in!
29. Bring a journal to do with your toddler
Believe it or not, toddlers remember ALOT, so why not start teaching them to observe their surroundings? Get a little printable camping journal like this and fill it out with them for some amazing camp memories you can look at later!
30. Find other families to camp with who also have kids!
I have to say, our camp trips with other families have always been WAY easier than with just us! This can be especially helpful for new campers as they will be able to watch how the other kids play around camp… and hopefully, eventually join. This means more adult time and less need for constant guidance from you!
31. Any walkers (especially older toddlers who RUN) should have a site number written on them
We haven’t had to do this very often, however, the first time your toddler wanders off and every worst possible situation runs through your head, you end up doing it just in case!
32. If packing stresses you out, get a checklist!
You don’t have to bring ALL the things if you’re camping with a toddler! Check out this helpful checklist and activity planner to help keep you focused on just bringing what you need!
33. Don’t forget to always bring a first aid kit
Some essentials include tweezers for getting ticks and splinters out, allergy medicine (we bring benadryll for emergencies) in case you encounter any surprise allergies, sunscreen and bug spray!
33. Embrace the dirt (but bring wipes if it really bothers you)
The only time the kids ever really get wiped down while camping is after food so that they don’t get rashes – other than that, they are free to dirt it up! Food will likely fall in the dirt, you’ll cringe, and before you have a chance to pick it up your toddler will likely to have eaten it! This freaked us out with the first toddler… but now on toddler #3, we just shrug our shoulders!
34. Have a second set of toys for JUST camping (from the dollar store!)
You don’t have to splurge or anything, but it is nice to not have to pack and unpack so much! Here’s a list of some sweet dollar tree camping toys for kids!
35. Don’t hype up a campfire unless you’re sure what the fire restrictions are
For us, the nightly campfire and s’mores are a BIG DEAL! It even ends up serving as bait sometimes if we are on a really long hike. If this is something you are hyping up, double check and call the campsite. It’s very common to have no fires (even in established fire rings) during the height of summer and wildfire season!
36. Be prepared for early mornings and late nights
This is a great time for coloring books or special small toys (ours tend to be happy meal toys) to give the kid something to do while you’re waking up as well as something to wind down with for nighttime. Summer days tend to start early and end late!
37. Give “chores” to the kids to keep them busy (and anticipate them helping even if they don’t have chores)
Be mentally prepared for your toddler to want to help with everything. We love telling ours to find kindling, pinecones and whatever else is local to the area for our fire!
Check out these 11 campground activities that are perfect for toddlers!
38. Don’t hate me for this but… a liitttlle screen time won’t hurt anyone!
We have certainly had days that were so crazy hot that it just exhausted all of us and we wanted to lay down and relax. We’ve also had times where we needed to get camp packed up in a hurry for whatever reason and needed the kids to stay put. I figure if we’re camping for 3 days straight, 1 hour of screen time isn’t the end of the world!
39. If possible, set up your tent or camper ahead of time to tame the excitement
While it’s really good to be excited about camping, that can be frustrating if the newness of it all prevent them from sleeping. Try letting them play in your camp set up before hand so that it’s not all so new (and they will actually relax for a nap!)
40. If camping in a tight campground, mark out boundaries so that toddlers can easily see where they need to say
Now, this doesn’t mean they will STAY in the boundaries, but it’s nice a nice reminder for them because it’s often hard to explain to a toddler where that imaginary line is between your campsite and someone elses.
41. Paranoid about little ones around the campfire? Bring a configurable play yard
While we never did this, I know alot of parents are really nervous about their kids falling in. If you don’t want to use a harness, buy some of those play yards that you can build however you want and just put it around the campfire!
This play yard has optional STAKES to really create a stable barrier!
42. Get double use out of a bin that you pack stuff in and use it as a bath!
Get a black trash bag and put it over the bin during the day so that it has a chance to warm up (you could always just boil a pot of water if it didn’t get warm enough). Bathe right before bed so that they can get dressed and warm up by the campfire aftr!
43. If camping with a large group, put all the kids (and you too parents!) in the same, bright colored shirt
This can help in the chaos of tons of kids running around for easy identification. If you also wear the bright colors, it makes it much easier for your toddler to find you!
44. Bring a whistle for your kids to use in emergencies!
Kids sometimes forget how far they have walked from camp, look up, and all of a sudden realize they are lost. Give them something that’s easy to use so that they can let everyone know where they are – this is especially true in bear country to signal danger!
45. Toddlers LOVE playing catch with balls – take it to the next level and buy a tetherball!
Attach a tetherball like this to a tree and let them have at it! It won’t roll somewhere dangerous, get lost, and they won’t NEED someone to still have fun with it (I remember playing tetherball all the time as a kid!)
46. Get a special waterbottle for camping that has a cover!
Toddlers especially will drop things, so get a bottle that has a dirt safe top. We use 360 cups from munchkin, but they are truly awful for camping because the dirt gets stuck under the seal. Try these instead
47. Get a toddler camp chair or, even better, a foldable toddler size table if you have more than one kid!
We were big fans of our camp highchairs, then our toddler chairs, however I am REALLY love our kid camp table. It folds down flat and also serves as a great place for them to do their arts and crafts!
We got ours at Sams Club, but here is a foldable kids table that is pretty similar!
48. Plan meals that are very easy to make or prep as much as you can ahead of time
Even one toddler can make you alot less willing to cook an elaborate camp meal, so try meal prepping or going the ol’ hotdog and hamburgers route! Some easy camping meals for toddlers (and the family) include:
- eggs (break them into a bag or container before hand so all you have to do is pour some out on the pan in the morning)
- oatmeal (you can prep this ahead of time too in little bags with any additional toppings – we use dried fruit and nuts in ours)
- peanut butter sandwiches
- cheese sticks
- snack bars
- nut mixes
- deli sandwiches
49. Tent strings can be tricky – try adding something to them to make it more visible
Glow in the dark paint, cut up pool noodles, or wrap foil around the stakes and/or the lines!
50. Pack each days clothes into a separate bag so that it doesn’t all get mixed up when trying to find something
This is one I heard about, and NEED to start doing since we always seem to lose socks and underwear! Put a full days clothes in a gallon ziplock for each kiddo for each day. That way, the little items like socks and underwear don’t get lost in the pile!
51. If you’re anxious about your toddler wandering out at night, try using bear bells on the tent
This might not work if you’re a deep sleeper, but if you get a string and tie a bear bell or two onto the zipper or door handle, it might be enough to stir you at night should they try to leave. And if you need to leave for something, you can just hold them so they don’t ring and wake others up!
52. Have some fun camp games and songs planned to really reconnect as a family during the camp trip!
I secretly kind of love camping out of cell service because it brings everything back to what’s most important – connecting with my family! There are no chores, no distractions… just good fun!
This book has tons of resources to make camping with toddlers WAY more fun (games, songs, printable activities, camp activities, and checklists for parents!)
53. Most importantly… stay positive! Kids catch on to your mood and attitude!
Even if everything is awful, try as hard as you can to find something positive. We’ve forgotten so much stuff, had things break, got little to no sleep.. but we really TRY to keep up beat so that the kids can see how to stick through the rough times!
It’s hard, and you won’t always be able to be chipper after 2 hours of sleep the whole night, but it DOES get better with time. Just keep trying!
Do you feel a little less intimidated now to take your toddler camping? Any other tips you can think of?
And if you still do, just know that once you get that first trip knocked out, it does get easier! Even if it’s awful, try again and they will eventually get used to it.
P.S. Here are some other campy kids articles you’ll enjoy!
- This cute campfire
hand printthat’s easy and has a free printable template!
- These 55+ camping themed crafts for every occasion!
- A “rip and stick” glowing BEAR lantern craft that’s magical and oh so fun (what kid doesn’t love tearing stuff up?)
- A fun camp themed cootie catcher that inspires creativity and teamwork!
- Give your kids their very own camping journal to document each camp trip in!
- The BEST EVER kids camping planner and book that’s chock full of songs, crafts, tips and activities for camp!
- Sensory soup camping kids activity that uses sticks, grass
androcks (as well as free printable recipe cards for inspiration!)
- A DIY Campsite Sign that’s perfect for pretend play or at the actual campground!
- These 13 awesome camping books for kids that will really get the camping vibe going!
- Camping BINGO and some fun camping scavenger hunts to really bust boredom at camp!
- Tons of ways to make yummy s’mores (HINT: You DON’T need a campfire or even any open flame!)