Nobody would bat an eyelid if you asked for tent camping tips for a trip with your kids. But tell them that you're heading out into the wilderness with a toddler in tow and they're bound to think you're crazy.
While camping with toddlers might seem like a disaster waiting to happen, with the right preparation, it's not only possible but lots of fun too.
Sure, your toddler will end up a little dirty and you won't be able to go too far off the beaten track. But there's nothing better than seeing the wonder in your child's eyes as they experience nature's beauty close-up for the first time.
Keep reading to learn our top tips for camping with toddlers.
1. Start Small
If it's your first time camping with toddlers, don't try to be too adventurous. This is definitely not the time to put your inner Bear Grylls to the test as you attempt to make an emergency rain shelter with some must-have survival tools.
Play it safe and start small by heading to a campsite within a few hours of your home. Going to a local campsite means you won't be stuck in the car for too long on the way there. The last thing you want is to arrive with your toddler already tired and cranky from the long journey.
It's also a good idea to choose a campsite you're familiar with and know to be toddler-friendly. If you don't know anywhere firsthand, ask friends and family for recommendations of nearby camping grounds. Having a heads up on the cleanliness, facilities, and exact location of the campsite will make it easier to plan ahead and pack accordingly.
Finally, make your first trip an overnight stay, or two nights at the most. If it's a success then you can extend your stay and go farther from home next time.
2. Pick a Plot Near the Bathrooms
Whether you have to make a reservation or get to choose your plot on arrival, be sure to pitch up near the bathrooms. You'll most likely have to make dozens of trips to the bathroom every day, so having to trek across half the grounds to get there will soon get old.
And while toilet time, washing hands, showering, brushing teeth, and general clean-ups will take up a lot of your day, you'll be even more appreciative of a nearby bathroom at night.
To make nighttime bathroom trips easier, attach this clip-on hat light to a cap and keep it near your tent entrance to grab on the way out for some hands-free light.
It's also a good idea to bring an LED lantern to light up the path for your toddler if you have to take them to the bathroom. This kind of lantern is also useful for adding light to your camping area to help with food prep, games, and other activities.
3. Select a Spacious Tent
Children might be small but they can take up a lot of space, and that's before you consider all their toys, clothes, and equipment.
If you're keen to take your kids camping a lot as they grow, it's worth investing in a spacious family and toddler tent now. This will ensure that you have plenty of room for sleeping and indoor play while your toddler is still small, but also that you won't have to upgrade when they get bigger.
An ideal tent will have separate but connected sleeping quarters so that you don't disturb your toddler when you go to sleep. If there are separate entrances, even better. This will make nighttime bathroom trips a lot easier to manage for all the family.
4. Bring a Pack-n-Play
Depending on the age of your toddler, they might already be sleeping in a full-size bed at home. But, while kids' camping beds are great for older children, pack-n-plays make for a safer and easier camping experience. This is especially the case if it's their first time sleeping away from home.
During the night, you'll find a pack-n-play is better for guaranteeing a good night's sleep for your child, and for you too. They'll be off the ground, contained, and comforted while sleeping in a strange, new environment.
A well as acting as a portable crib, a pack-n-play also serves as a playpen for safe playing near the campfire or within the campsite grounds. Toddler tents are a fun way for small children to play at camping but they won't contain your child like a pack-n-play does.
A pack-n-play is also useful to have on hand whenever you need to set your child down for a moment while you're busy putting up the tent, cooking, or making the fire.
5. Try to Stick to Your Normal Schedule
Aim to stick to your kid's usual schedule as much as possible, but don't worry if nap times and bedtimes have to change a little.
The great thing about camping is that all that fresh air and nature will often have a calming effect on your kids. So even if their afternoon nap is shorter or later, they should be ready for bed at their usual time. And even if they're not, go with the flow and relax; it's just for a night or two.
Recreating your usual bedtime routines will help them adjust to their new sleeping arrangements. Use the bathroom facilities to wash your child or give them a bath in an inflatable bathtub if you have one. Make them brush their teeth and put their pajamas on then read them a story just as you would at home. Or you could even invent a story about their adventures in the wild.
6. Pack Smart
Packing a few smart essentials will make life a lot easier while you're camping with toddlers.
First up, you'll need some kind of hiking carrier. Your child might already be walking but you can't expect a toddler to cover miles and miles. Let them explore where it's safe to do so and then carry them the rest of the way in a comfortable backpack-style carrier.
An outdoor mat or rug is another useful item for your camping with toddlers checklist. This will extend your campsite living space beyond the tent and provide a safe place for your toddler to play and crawl around.
Clothes-wise, bring lots of layers of older, well-worn clothes, with enough options to change up to three times a day plus pajamas. It sounds excessive but it will ensure you're prepared for unexpected rain, a sudden drop in temperature, or a run-in with a pile of dirt.
Keep at least one change of clothes in your foldable waterproof backpack when you go for a hike in case of mishaps while you're away from the tent.
7. Keep Food Simple
Taking inspiration from these fun picnic ideas, plan simple outdoor meals and snacks for your time away from home.
Easy snacks for the car or hikes include carrot sticks, raisins, puree pouches, yogurt pouches, boiled eggs, string cheese, granola bars, and crackers. When it comes to mealtimes, there are plenty of simple meals you can make on a campfire such as bacon and eggs, beans, baked potatoes, and kebabs.
But don't forget the utensils, for both you and your kids. Plastic or silicone bowls, cutlery, and bottles are lightweight and easy to pack. Add in this handy multi-tool and this food picnic tent and you'll be ready for anything.
8. Get Playful
Your toddlers might be so enthralled with nature while they're camping that they reject their toys in favor of rocks, sticks, and leaves.
But it's best to bring a selection of camping toys for toddlers in case it rains or your child needs a little downtime inside the tent. Stick to toys you can wipe or wash easily, such as plastic balls and rubber figures. And remember to bring a shovel and pail for fun outdoor exploration.
9. Prepare for Bumps, Blisters, and Bugs
Make sure to prepare for minor cuts and injuries with a fully-stocked first aid kit. It's often cheaper and a lot easier to buy prepackaged kits than trying to make your own so you don't forget anything.
Mosquito bites can also put a dampener on camping trips, especially with toddlers. Protect your little one with a DEET-free protection cream or oil and use this mosquito lamp to keep bugs away while you're enjoying some family time in the evening.
10. Embrace the Dirt
It is impossible to keep everything clean while camping with toddlers. Wet wipes will be a lifesaver for messes, diaper changing, sticky fingers, and the like, but there's only so much they can clean.
Do your best, but don't panic if you find your toddler rolling in the mud. Pack enough clean clothes for these eventualities and learn to embrace the dirt while you're away.
Tent Camping Tips for Having Fun with Toddlers
As these tent camping tips show, camping with toddlers is as much about being able to relax and go with the flow as it is about being prepared.
Yes, you'll need to start small, pack smart, and consider every eventuality. But it's also necessary to let go of your normal, rigid routine once in a while. And camping is a fun way to do just that!
For more information on all the essentials you'll need at home and away, feel free to contact us.