Trying and tested tips for camping with toddlers: essential camping tips for a first family camping trip.
Going camping with toddlers for the first time may feel daunting however, it can also be a lot of fun.
I think of toddlers as ‘natural born campers’.
If your toddler is anything ike mine, they are likely to love to be outside, they find immense pleasure in getting in and out of a den and they love picking up stuff from the ground – all activities that basically can be summarized in ‘family tent camping with kids’!
To tacke your first family camping trip with a toddler however, some tips come in handy.
We have gone camping with our two toddlers several times, in equipped tents cabins (see our Mont Tremblant camping trip report here), with a family tent (have a look at our trip report from tent camping in Ireland here) and in US National Parks (read about camping in Yosemite with kids here) and over the course of the years we have perfected our camping with kids checklist and our favorite kids camping gear.
Today, we share our tops tips for camping with toddlers and our favorite toddler camping gear.
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Tips for camping with toddlers for the first time
Decide what type of camping is for you
The word ‘camping’ may evoke images of solitary tents in the middle of the wilderness, overlooking crazy beautiful scenarios and sure enough if you are in for wild camping with a toddler in tow, I believe you should go for it!
However, this is not the only type of camping there is and, for many families, it may not even be the first choice.
When tacking a first camping trip trip with a toddler, you should consider all options:
Cabin camping: depending on the type of campsite you go for, you can have wooden cabins, pre fabs or ready made tents, more or less equipped.
Ready made accommodation come in all shapes and sized and you can choose the level of comfort you want just dong a bit of research about what is available in your area of choice.
In Yosemite, we had a very simple tent that had beds and little else, in Canada we had a lovely tent with beds and large cooking facilies, camping in Italy we had a cabin that was basically a little house complete with air conditioning and clean sheets!
Cabin camping of any type can be a great way to break the ice for a first toddler camping trip and it is also excellent if you don’t want to have to carry too much gear or want to camp while overseas, without having to buy full camping apparatus for just one night
Glamping is another fun way to camp with toddlers and a good first step towards the workd of family camping if you want to try out and see how you get on.
Glamping with toddlers is usually fun as the accommodaiton tents to be quirky and unusual and because the campsites usually offer comforts and facilities that can make meal preparation and changing time easier.
Yurt camping with toddlers– yurt camping can be close to campign or close to glamping depending on the place you choose and the facilites they offer.
I personally found it great, maybe my favorite family camping style of all.
Yurts are round and welcoming, perfect even in cold weather, they are often large enough to allow your toddlers to move around in case of rain and they usually come with at least some shared faciieits that mean you don’t have to carry your whole household with your even just for one night.
RV camping with toddlers – we have gone camping in an RV a couple of times and I find it an absolutely amazing way to have family time while on the road.
RV, whether you drive them or simply book them as accommodation for the night, have lovely small kitchen that can be surprisingly well equipped, offer a lovely cozy space where your toddler can feel safe and contained and tend to offer that in-out lifestyle that make camping with kids so cool.
The main issue with find with an rv and a litte one are the steps: noting insurmountable but check accessibility as the steps in and out of it can be pretty high.
Tent camping with toddlers – tent camping with toddlers is probably the most fun type of camping of all and the one that leaves more freedom to both you and them.
Tent camping is usually super fun for a little one as the tent feels like a little den, they have the freedom to go in and out, they have nature of ther doorstep and often even other toddelrs to parallel play with or share toys with.
My kids also love sleeping in closed quarters, which is part of the cozyness of being in a tent.
Tent camping with toddlers however also requites a bit of work and a lot of packing as you are relying entirely on your own supplies to sleep, eat, get clean and play.
Before going camping with toddlers: try it out in the garden
If you decide to go tent camping with toddler, I highy recommend a dry ruhn in the garden (or in the house, depending on the tuype of tent you have).
This is the fastest way to learn how to set up your tent and make sure you have all the bits you need. Do it with enough notice that you can run to the camping shop and get that extra peg that has mysteriously gone missing!
It is also a great way to get your kids to familiarize with the space.
Choose the right tent
Tents come in all shapes and sized and the best tent for a family depends on the number of people it needs to accommodate, the weather at your destination and how much space you want for meal times and relaxation.
I personally find the best camping tents for kids are those that the option to zip up the sleeping area and have a large sitting area at the front, so that you can have some privacy also during waking hours.
Camping with toddlers tip: if the campsite offers the space for this, it can be fun for your toddlers to have a separate small tent just for their toys and playtime. For this I find pop up tents a cheap and practical solution.
Choose the right campsite for equipment
Tent camping requires you to have a lot of stuff but how much of it depends on the campsite too.
While some offer literally just a place for you to pitch you tent, others have hobs, fridges and a common kitchen with cutlery, pots and pans etc etc.
Make sure you pick the campsite that is best for you and never assume there have anything, unless specified!
Pick a campsite with kids facilities
As much fun as camping is for toddler, nothing beats a playground or a pool.
Especially for a first trip, make sure you have some good playing areas nearby as they will go a long way to make your stay easier.
Even just setting up the tent is easier if one of you can bring the toddler far from hammer and strings!
Arrive well before sunset
Talking about setting up camp, I highly recommend you time yourself so you get to the campsite with plenty of time to set up.
Setting up a tent as the light starts to fade and with a toddler getting restless because hungry or tired is no fun and, should something happen or you have difficulties with your tent, getting help is harder.
Toddlers can also get quite excited or scared about camping so giving them time to get used to the place before trying to settle them is a good idea.
Choose the right camping bed for your child
Sleeping in a tent can be a problem for adults and kids and choosing the best type of camping bed goes a long way to make your night better.
For toddlers, we like the following tye of camping beds:
- Kidco Peadpod for toddlers, which works like a mini sleeping tent for toddler, where they can feel safe and contained. Make sure you get also a sleeping mat as a base, if you are worried the ground may be too hard, bumpy or cold.
- A toddler crib, if you have the space in the tent. This is great as it also doubles up as playpen, both inside and outside of the tent. You can find our recommendations for picking a portable crib for toddlers here.
- An inflatable bed, this is the least space consuming ki camping bed and a great one for toddlers used to get in and out of their bed autonomously
Consider bathroom arrangements
When packing for camping with a toddlers, toilet needs must be considered as even simple daily routines can become a little harder once outdoors or with shared facilities.
My best advice it to consider your daily moves and think how they would work at the campsite.
For instance, if you toddler is used to a daily bath to settle, a portable bath tub can be a good investment or a camping shower head can be handy if they don’t like the feeling of the full on shower.
I also find it handy to set up a canning area in the tent.
Depending on the space you have and your habits, you can simply have a portable changing mat (I love them, they are one of my toddler travel must haves!) or want to set up a full on portable changing station (this can great for your back, as it will save you from having to bend over too much)
Pick the right area to pitch your tent
When contacting the campsite for your space, make sure you consider he best place for your tent.
Consider if road access and therefore cars are nearby, how far the play area, the toilets and the kitchen are, so you can be as comfortable as possible.
Research potential dangers
When choosing a campsite, have a look at potential plants, animals, bodies or water, animal born illnesses that may pose a risk to your toddler.
They will pick up a lot of stuff from the ground and as much as you can wash their hands, this can pose risks in some areas. Advance research in your best friend.
In the US, we found the National Park websites especially handy for this as they have excellent advisory pages about current and ongoing hazards for visitors.
Keep them warm
Nights camping can get surprisingly cold so make sure you have the right gear, especially a good camping sleeping bag for kids.
Many kids sleeping bags are really slumber beds and only suitable for indoor overnight stays or slumber paerties: if you are camping, you want to good ones that are suitable for the werather.
Research carefully the weather at your destination and pick a suitable sleeping bag also keeping an eye on the material: you want it warm, breathable, water resistant and fire resistant.
For day adventures in cold weather, I like to equip all of us with a thermal layer: you can find my tops picks for thermal layers here.
Bring many changes of clothes and shoes
Toddlers get dirty and toddlers who go camping get even dirtier.
There Is not a lot you can do about it and really it is for them part of the fun.
Make sure you bring lots of layers, changes of clothes, water shoes, wellington boots and socks, socks and more socks!
Bring kitchen essentials
Unless your campsite has absolutely everything, you want to make surew you have the right kitche essentials and this, with toddlers, may also include special gear for them.
As well as our basic camp kitchen stuff, we always bringt with us favorite spoons and bowls, just in case the unfamiliar environment kicked up a meltdown die to lack of favorite fork…
Bring camping chairs
Toddlers love to sit on the ground and you can sure have a picnic on a picnic blanket while camping however, I find a toderl chair can come in handy.
Portable chairs are good to have them sitting at the table with you and can also be a good place for them to sit and eat and have a snack should you go for one with a tray attached.
Bring an all terrain stroller
All terraihn strollers are my favortie toddler travel essential and that applies to campign trips too!
They are solid, comfortable for kid and parent and they are great if you want to go on walk even after hours or go stargazing away form the tent while your toddler is asleep.
Bring lots of toys
Toys are the number one item for any trip with a toddler. Those that work great in a campsite include:
- Toddler Camping kitchen
- Bug set
- Kids binoculars
- Toddler scavenger hunt
- Remote control cars
- Digging set
- Explorer set
- Croquet set for kids
Sleeping in a tent can be scary for little ones especially if you get a night with a lot of wind or they can hear animal noises.
Bring a teddy or blankie
Always a must when traveling with a little one!
Have a list of toddler approved camping meals
Especially if you have a fussy eater, having a list of go-to meals you can easily make at your camp kitchen is handy. My kids love small cheese and ham sandwiches and pasta, surprisingly easy to make even on as portable hob.
Bring a suitable first aid kit
I always have with us a good first aid kit that we refill each time. You can find our family travel first aid kit essentials here.
I find it is always useful to have some rules: as well as basic safety ones, ours include no shoes in the tent (bring indoors shoes or thick socks) and no eating on the beds.
Camping with toddler checklist
- Tent pegs
- Mats for under the beds
- Sleeping bags
- Pillows and pillow covers
- Pajamas Warm socks
- Booklight or kindle for reading without disturbing others
- Gas camping stove
- Toddler cutlery and favorite meal time essentials
- Toddler bibs
- High chair/camping chair for toddlers
- Potholder/oven gloves
- Coffee maker
- Water bottle
- Salt and condiments
- Cooler bag Sealed containers to protect from ants, mice etc
- Kitchen pegs
- Bottle opener / cork screwer
- Cutting board and knife
- A bowl to wash dishes once done
- Tin opener
- Scourers and cloths to wash dishes
- Dish washer soap
- Tea towel
- Garbage bags
- Camping table
- BBQ fire
- Insect repellent
- Camping candles
- Camping lighting
- Camping entertainment (board games, printable games, outdoor toys)
- Guitar or other instrument for nights around the fire
- Tent shoes (or socks)
- Wet bags
- Laundry bag
- Mini hoover – a lifesaver for the car too, especially if you go to the beach!
- Repair kit / sewing kit
- Air pump
- Pocket knife /Swiss knife multi tool
- Extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Fire extinguisher/Blanket
- Safety pins
- Shower shoes/flip flops
- Underwear and socks Trousers/skirt/belt Shorts T-shirts Sweaters
- Thermal layer
- Night wear
- Sun hat
- Rain gear
- Swimming trunks/ swimsuit
- Towels/face cloth
- Soap/shampoo/shower gel
- All toddler changing essentials
- Deodorant an parents toiletries
- Toilet paper
- Personal medications
- Baby wipes
- Washing powder
- Clothes pegs
- Collapsible clothes drying rack
- Laundry bag
- Wet / dry bags
Camping with toddlers pinnable image