We’ve gotten a lot of questions about how to actually have fun while tent camping with toddlers so here are some of our best tips and tricks!
We’ve only gone a couple times so far with our two kiddos ages 1 and 3, but they’re absolutely hooked and always have an amazing time. Our oldest now talks about going camping all the time and asks when we can sleep in a tent again.
What to pack for going camping with toddlers
Here are some of the additional items you’ll need to pack when going camping with toddlers, aside from the usual camping packing list:
Sleeping bag for kids. Nights get *really* cold, especially in the mountains. If you’re not co-sleeping and regulating your child’s body heat with your own, you’ll want to make sure they’re completely self sufficient and warm enough on their own in their travel cot. A proper fitting sleeping bag is incredibly important to ensure kids are warm!
Travel cot if your child usually sleeps in their own crib. These are easy to set up and provide a firm and flat surface for your child to sleep in! Make sure they have a warm sleeping bag if you choose this option since you won’t be able to monitor their warmth levels throughout the night.
Toddler camping chairs might seem a bit extra, but there’s nothing like having a SEATED toddler while they’re eating their dinner. I thought having a picnic blanket would be enough, but that does encourage a lot more roaming than I’d like during meals and things get.. well.. everywhere. Having chairs helps with the whole sitting down situation and prevents free-range toddlers during meals 🙂
We always take our portable potty no matter where we go. You can use it as either a seat cover for a regular toilet, or as a standalone potty and it’s extremely small. We store it under the seat in the car for easy access and pulling over on the side of the road during emergencies 🙂 Make sure you read up on proper potty etiquette!
Snack containers are the first thing I pack when we go anywhere. They’re spill proof and great for long car rides. They’re also great for camping when the kids want to snack on something but also roam around the site. This keeps the food in the container instead of spread out all around your tent for attracting exciting wildlife!
Easy meals when camping with toddlers
I’m a big advocate for doing as much of the prep as possible in advance, so that all you need to do is re-heat or combine when you’re ready for food! Unless you have magical kids who make it easy and *actually* help you cook, cooking with kids is messy, takes a long time and can get stressful. (If you are one of those lucky parents who have magical toddlers, please contact us and tell us all your secrets).
If you have a hard time making meals at home while your little offspring are running around, or while the kids “help” in the kitchen, just multiply that by about 2345828 to estimate the difficulty of doing this while camping. Now that you have a rough idea, make sure to prepare as much as possible before actually heading out on the trip!
Obviously every family will have different meal preferences and food restrictions, but here are some simple ideas that can be modified to get you started!
This has become a staple for going on overnight outdoor adventures since it’s so easy and quick to make. It’s also easy to make vegan or vegetarian depending on your preference! This one is easy to cook on the spot, but we prefer to make it ahead of time since Chili tastes even better the next day 🙂
Mostly mess-free and easy to bring along on hikes. We bring all the ingredients separately and then combine them at the campsite or right before a hike if we’re doing lunch as a break during the hike!
Bring enough snacks to last the entire trip, and then also load up the car with a year-long supply of backup snacks because you will go through snacks like you’ve never gone through them before. Somehow fresh air + camping results in non stop snacking in kids so plan accordingly. We usually bring fruit, dried fruit, crackers, peanut butter + jelly sandwiches, cheerios, fig bars and sliced veggies (peppers, cucumbers, carrots).
How to ensure sleep when camping with toddlers
Whatever your current bar is for sleeping at home – lower it. Now lower it a little more.
And a little more.
Ok, now we can chat 🙂
Whether you co-sleep at home or have the kids next to you in a crib, or in a different room – camping will be different and a little (or A LOT) uncomfortable. But we don’t go camping so that we can get a good night’s sleep. Having the right mindset here will go a long way!
I would highly recommend to try and keep your sleeping arrangements as close to what you have at home as possible. If you co-sleep, get an air mattress that will fit all of you. If your child sleeps in a crib, bring a pack-n-play and set it up inside the tent. Most tents should be able to fit 1-3 travel cots easily as well as a queen mattress.
If you use a pack-n-play, and your child usually sleeps in a separate room, you could try using a crib cover. We used to bring this with us on every trip (not just camping) so that our 1 year old doesn’t see us when we’re in the same room since that would completely distract her from going to bed.
Where to go camping with toddlers
There are two types of campsites around the US – paid and dispersed. Paid campsites usually require reservations, have a few spots that are first-come-first-serve and have at least some amenities. Dispersed campsites are free designated camping areas usually in National Forests that do not have amenities and are a little harder to get to.
Pros of Paid Camping
If you managed to get a reservation at recreation.gov, you have a guaranteed spot and do not need to worry about getting to a campsite early in order to secure a spot. This is often my biggest worry when going camping so it’s a huge weight off if you already know you have a place to stay. The other benefit of paid camping is the amenities. Depending on the campsite, that means water, bathrooms, shower and a trash bin.
Pros of Dispersed Camping
Dispersed camping is free! It’s often a lot less crowded, campsites are a lot more spread out, and you’re usually completely on your own in nature. These spots are often only accessible by 4×4 roads which makes it harder, if not impossible to get to for regular cars. This also means the campsite is a lot more wild and untouched, and can get you to some of the less touristy locations. This is a good website for finding dispersed campsites.
Leave No Trace
As usual, when going out to nature it’s important to adhere to the principles of Leave No Trace.
- Plan ahead (research weather, terrain, regulations, group size)
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
We hope you found this post useful, and would love to hear from you in the comments! If you enjoyed reading about tent camping with toddlers, you might also like our post on jeep camping with kids!