Camping With Toddlers
Going on a family camping trip is one of the best bonding experiences a family can have. There are a ton of sights to see and areas to explore in the fresh air. For young kids, camping makes the world seem endless. It’s truly magical. With that in mind, however, it’s important to make sure that the experience of a young child camping is as wonderful as it can be.
Camping can quickly go from a fantastic adventure to a nightmare if you’re not prepared. Especially where toddlers are concerned, there are a lot more factors that need to be considered. Whether this is your first camping trip or your 20th, whether you are tent camping or in a large RV, having the right toddler camping checklist is essential.
So, let’s go over some helpful toddler camping tips. They can be used to create your own toddlers checklist to ensure you have everything you need. Great preparation will help ensure your little one will learn to absolutely love camping as much as you do.
The most important tip for camping with toddlers is adequate preparation. It may seem obvious, but let’s dive into the specifics. Preparation is one thing, but having a plan is another. Planning the camping trip you want with your toddler is crucial because it will inform every other decision that comes after that. This may be their first trip into nature, so remember that they might be scared and need extra attention and activities.
There are a ton of details surrounding the trip that you can prepare for to make it easier for you and your toddler.
Checking The Forecast
One of the first things you can plan for before heading out on your trip is the weather. Simply checking the forecast can make everything so much easier for several reasons. First of all, you may want to consider postponing your trip if it will be rainy. No one wants to start camping in the rain, especially a toddler.
Knowing what the weather will be will allow you to pack more efficiently. Clothing is an obvious one, but also foods (will you spend more time cooking outdoors or in,) and activities.
Obviously, clothing must be planned by the expected weather. You don’t want to show up to your site in the mountains wearing shorts and find out that there is rain or snow in the forecast. Check the forecast and plan accordingly, and bring a few “just in case items” knowing that the weatherman isn’t always correct. You want that little one comfortable in any situation.
For foods, cooler weather may mean soups or stews in the Dutch oven, while warmer weather may mean cold sandwiches, and more time cooking on the grill or open fire. Check the weather and then consider what types of foods you will want to make and eat while you are there.
Where activities are concerned, the weather will play a huge part. Dry weather means much more to do outdoors, playing in the woods, checking out nature. But bad weather will mean packing more family activities like books and games to help pass the time. If you are staying in an RV resort, they may be set up for handling family travel, but places like the National Parks will require you to bring more of your own items.
Camping Snacks for Toddlers
When you are going camping with a toddler, always make sure to bring along plenty of snacks. We find that having snacks on hand helps to keep any toddler happy and busy while camping. We try and stick with healthy snacks so we don’t have any sugar crashes.
Having simple, nutritious snacks means you won’t have to stop what you’re doing to feed your toddler, they can go pick a snack while you chill and relax.
Our favorites snacks for a family camping trip are crackers, trail mix, dry cereal, and fishies. We always pack some string cheese and yogurts too, as well as some grapes and apple slices. Camping with a toddler is not the time to decide to test out new foods, stick with what they know and love, and bring extra!
Reading Up On The Campground
Once you’ve checked the weather, reading up on the campground is the next step in your preparation. While usually people camp to be near an area full of sightseeing, the campground itself, if chosen correctly, can be a whole experience on its own.
Before settling on one, read up on it a little, see what activities if any are offered there and what facilities are in use. Is there a playground or a family center? Is there a pool or water park? Will there likely be other families camping there as well? Better yet, call ahead and speak with someone at the camp. You can get really good information which will inform your decisions.
Great facilities and activities can make a campground like a mini theme park for a toddler and can take the burden off your hands when they are itching to do something.
As fun as it is to explore the campground with your toddler, it is also important to keep safety in mind when doing so.
Checking The Local Vegetation and Wildlife
One of the best ways to plan for safety before a camping trip is to check on the local vegetation and wildlife. As beautiful as nature is, there are also dangers to be aware of.
Plant allergies are a common thing as well as generally irritable plants such as poison ivy or poison oak growing all along different paths. These things can quickly ruin an experience for a toddler and can even be dangerous in more severe cases. Look for trails that are wider and easier to keep a little one on, as opposed to narrow trails where they will want to touch everything along the sides.
Wildlife especially can pose a risk. Bears, mountain lions, coyotes, and bobcats among others are all common animals that can be encountered by anyone while camping. Wild animals are dangerous to anyone, let alone a child. When camping with toddlers it’s important to keep these things in mind so as to prioritize their safety.
Make sure they don’t wander off onto any trails alone and keep food secured overnight so as not to attract any animals. Check for local requirements or suggestions on safety, like carrying bear spray, etc. These things will help keep you and your toddler from crossing paths with a potentially dangerous animal.
Practicing In The Back Yard
We’ve all heard it before a million times, practice makes perfect. The same is true when it comes to camping with toddlers. Practicing in your backyard is a perfect way to do this. Not only is it a super fun activity with your toddler, but it allows you to run through the steps you’ll be doing once the trip begins.
Setting up the tent, organization, drills, smaller activities, and even campfires can all be practiced in your backyard. When the time comes for the actual trip, both you and your toddler will be operating off of pure muscle memory.
Packing Toddler Camping Gear
Preparation and planning are beyond important, but another aspect of your trip that is just as important is packing. With toddlers, having the right toddler specific items is half the battle when it comes to being prepared. So let’s go over some of the most important kids camping gear to bring with you on a trip.
When bringing little camping, consider upgrading to a larger tent to give yourself ample space for playful activities as well as trashing arms and legs during the night. Make sure you have a good amount of space for the whole family.
Diapers and Pull Ups
For a younger toddler who has not been potty trained, make sure to pack plenty of diapers or pull-ups. Camp sites can be exciting things and with a change to normal routines, there may be more “accidents” than normal.
Even for older toddlers who are new the potty, your campground experience will be different than home. There may not be flushing toilets so pull ups may be in order as a safety precaution.
Bring Their Favorite Toys
It might be easy to forget in the heat of everything, but bringing their favorite toys is not something you want to overlook. As fun as camping can be, at times it can be overwhelming for a toddler. Especially in remote areas at night, a ton of noises can come from surrounding areas that can really make a child uncomfortable. Having their favorite age appropriate toys on standby can help serve as that familiarity that gets them through those unknowns.
As always, try to bring toys that do not take up much space and are lightweight.
Flashlights/ Headlamps/ Glow Sticks
Speaking of remote areas at night, you’ll definitely need to pack flashlights, headlamps, and glow sticks. For any time you’ve misplaced something that your toddlers need, or if you’re out exploring the campground at night, you’ll want lights handy. Headlamps and glow sticks are particularly useful as toddlers will usually want to use them and that makes it very easy for you to keep an eye on them, or for vehicles driving at night to see them.
How much fun will they have running around the camp in glowing neon?! The entire family will love nigh time activities, from younger toddlers to older kids!
Bug Spray/ Sunscreen
Is it really a camping trip without a ton of annoying mosquito bites? With that being said, what may be a mild nuisance for you can be really big deal for a toddler. Having bug spray packed is a great way to have that extra layer of comfort ready for your toddler on the trip.
Sunscreen is also very important. Camping is a great chance for your toddler to be out in the sun all day, but being safe while doing so is crucial. Being sunburnt is the last thing a toddler needs on a trip, so being prepared for all the elements is an important thing to keep in mind when packing.
Pack Plenty of Layers
Another aspect of being prepared for the elements is packing plenty of layers. Even a warmer area can get unexpectedly cold at night so it doesn’t hurt to pack extra layers. Blankets and comforters for the tent at night are a great option, but it is also important to consider layers of clothing.
Long sleeves aren’t just important for when it gets cold, but they can protect your toddlers from annoying insects and irritable plants when on trails. For example, long pants rather than shorts are a great way to avoid ticks when trudging through overgrown areas. Nothing ruins a family trip like a case of poison ivy!
Bedding is also important not just when thinking of layers, but also when thinking of comfort. The ground your tent is situated on is oftentimes going to be very uncomfortable. Imagine trying to get a good night’s rest with a stiff tree root stuck in your back. Bedding includes a foam pad or air mattress for sleeping, sleeping bags to keep warm, and extra blankets and sheets that can be placed on the sleeping surface for added comfort.
For littles, you may want to consider bringing along a travel crib, or travel bed to make him/her more comfortable.
Bring A Back Up Heater
Having a backup heater with you is always a great idea as you never know when the weather can randomly change. Sudden temperature drops especially at night are quite common and are awful to experience if you’re not prepared. Having a spare heater will make the experience a lot more tolerable for you and your toddler should the weather decide to suddenly shift.
Crawl Mats and Playyards for Babies/ Toddlers
Just in case the campground you’re staying at doesn’t have that many child-friendly activities, bringing crawl mats and play yards is the next best thing. It’s important that even at the campsite your toddler can have a way to play and have fun without having to go off too far on their own. With a nice play yard, your campsite can become a mini playground for them.
If nothing else, a portable crib or pack n play will allow you to relax for a few minutes while Jr. plays or takes a nap.
Check Campground for Poison Plants/ Critters
While exploring the campground is half of the fun, it never hurts to be aware of any potentially poisonous plants or insects that may be nearby. Poison ivy and poison oak can irritate a child, but stinging insects or venomous animals can be outright dangerous. Many toddlers are allergic to various insects and many small animals when they feel threatened by a curious child can lash out.
Stop by the office of your park and ask about any local critters to be on the lookout for. That way you are aware and on guard. A child’s natural curiosity will drive them towards new plants or cute critters that may be dangerous.
Another important aspect of safety while camping is campfire safety. After all, no one should be playing with fire, but toddlers often like to do so especially when other kids come around. Burning sticks and leaves over the campfire or throwing rocks in are all part of the fun, they should simply be done under adult supervision.
One mistake with fire is all it takes to seriously hurt someone or to trigger a much larger fire than can consume large parts of the campground or worse.
Tag Toddlers With Your Site Number/ Phone Number
This one may seem strange but it’s worth considering. Tagging your toddler with your site number, phone number or both is a great plan to have in place in the event that they get lost. After all, some campgrounds are built like a maze and a toddler wandering off on their own can get lost very easily.
Sharpie marker is best for this purpose as most others will wear away with sweat or play. Sharpies are certified non-toxic and can easily be removed with an alcohol swab from your first aid kit.
A park ranger or a camper that comes across them can bring them back to you if the site number or your phone number is on them. These scenarios might not always run through your mind, but they are important to consider.
Consider Using Shoe Bells for Toddlers
Alongside tagging them, having them wear shoe bells or “bear bells” is another way to make sure they don’t stay lost if they wander off. The noise of shoe bells off in the distance will always be distinguishable in a campground. Having them on your toddler’s shoes is a near guarantee that even if you don’t have eyes on them, you’ll know where they are.
First Aid Kit
When thinking of safety, the first thing we often think about is a first aid kit. Even with all of the aforementioned safety precautions, accidents can happen. In the event of one, having a first aid kit makes it easier to deal with those bug bites, scratches, and scrapes that are a natural part of being a kid exploring a campground.
Consider Cell Service
When planning a campground site, make sure to ask ahead about cell service. With little ones, it is not only a matter of safety to make sure you can contact emergency services in the case of an accident. Also, during upset times, a quick face to face call with grandma, or a streaming session with Barney may be just the ticket.
What to Do While You Are There
Plan to Arrive With Plenty of Time to Unpack Before Dark
Arriving well before it gets dark is always a good idea, but it’s especially important if it’s the first time you’re staying at that campground. Getting used to the layout of a campground is almost never easy, so one can imagine how much harder that becomes when it’s completely dark.
Most campgrounds also have limited lighting at night so when it becomes dark it can be nearly pitch black at times. Imagine dealing with the stresses of trying to get situated while also being nearly blind. That’s why planning for that extra time to ensure you arrive before sunset is one of the best things you can do to make the experience easier for you and your toddler.
Sleeping Arrangements for Kids
Speaking of nighttime, having your toddler’s sleeping arrangements planned out beforehand is really helpful. Everything they need to help them sleep should be packed with you, from their favorite blankets to travel beds, to stuffed animals, as well as establishing a bedtime and considering the layout of the sleeping items in the tent.
If you are tent camping, practice sleeping in a sleeping bag at home, maybe on sleeping pads on the floor. It will help at camp.
Being away from his/her normal bedtime place and routines can be stressful for a toddler, so building some consistency into the camping bedtime routine and in the sleeping arrangements will often make each night easier than the last.
Another good idea may be a white noise machine. Campgrounds can be noisy and unfamiliar so a nice calming white noise might help your little to sleep all night long.
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Easy Meals While Camping
Camping with younger children can be difficult under the best of circumstances, so making food preparation as simple as possible is critical. After all you came to spend time together, not get stressed out over dinner.
Planning ahead is key here, as proper planning will make meal time simple. For instance pre-made meals that you just need to heat and serve are a huge time saver. You can also plan no-cook camping meals to give yourself a break from cooking at all. Of course, don’t forget to roast marshmallows!
The focus here is simplicity. Plan easy camping meals that are easy to make, with fewer ingredients, but will still please your family. If you need some help getting started, here is a list of 100 Simple Camping Meals. Also, fill in the form below and we will send you our Camping Meal Planner and Shopping List absolutely FREE!
Fun Camping Activities For Kids
There is nothing more gratifying that watching your toddlers eyes open to the wonderful world of nature. Seeing them explore and learn new things is the best camping experience there is. However, keeping them entertained and happy can be a bit difficult, so being prepared with some fun activities can really save you some heartache.
Packing an endless amount of toys and games is not really something you want to do, but bringing along a few of their favorites is a very good idea. Outside these, there is a world of nature to help you along.
- Campsite Scavenger Hunt: Just look around you and see what nature has for your littles to “discover.” Pine cone, red rock, acorns, oak leaf, you get the idea. It doesn’t really matter what you put on the list- they will love finding them.
- Create “Traveling Stones:” Find some good sized rocks to paint and leave around the camp. Put a message encouraging people to take the rock to their next camp. You can even create a FaceBook page to track the progress of your stones.
- GeoCaching: This activity costs nothing and is available anywhere. Just get the GeoCaching app for your phone and start hunting these “treasures.”
- Rock Sculptures: Build stacks of balanced rocks along a rocky shore or trail. Kids love working on balancing them largest to smallest.
- Nature Hikes: Take a walk around wherever you are staying and see what your littles can find. Keep a photo record of their discoveries.
- Rain Dancing: If it rains, we all head indoors right? NO- kids LOVE to go out in the rain. Just put them in their swimsuits and let them splash around!
- Stargazing: At nighttime, start teaching your kiddos about the constellations. Do a little background research so you will have some mystic, mythical tales to tell about the night sky. Great way to get them to sleep. Use a free app like SkyView FREE to help you find the right star patterns.
Before your next trip into nature, do some planning and preparation to help make your kids camping time ton of fun for the littles. Use these tips to create your own toddler camping checklist to make sure nothing gets missed. Once you are there, just let your mind wander to find all of the fun that nature has to offer.
Grainne Foley grew up in Ireland and spent summers caravanning around Europe with her family. Now, as a wife and mother of 2, she spent 5 years traveling the USA as a full time RVing family. She is passionate about travel, and helping others who are considering the RV lifestyle. She has created dozens of helpful RVing checklists which are available throughout the website, and has curated hundreds of simple, flavorful meals for families on the go.