Ten Tips for Camping with Toddlers

You don’t have put outdoor adventures on hold when your kids are small. Just be prepared!

05-25-2010 // Anne Keisman and Carla Brown
camping kid

Camping with a tot comes with its own set of ... well ... unique challenges. They're extremely mobile, but usually not yet potty-trained or old enough to know what NOT to put in their mouths.

But with a little preparation, a night under the stars with a toddler can be a joyful experience:

  1. Not the time for wilderness camping: When camping with small children, choose a camping spot close to home that has basic amenities, like running water and toilets. Car camping works well: if the kids aren't loving the experience, the car—and home—are close by.  Or—even better—register for the Great American Backyard Campout and invite the neighbors over!
  2. Portable crib: Some parents try to have their toddler sleep with them on an air mattress in the tent. This may mean a sleepless night for Mommy and Daddy, as the child excitedly runs around her new sleeping space—and all over you! Consider renting or buying a large family tent that can fit a Pack-N-Play, or another brand of portable crib. 
  3. Bedtime rituals: Keep bedtime in camp similar to bedtime at home. At the usual time, wash with the child in the camp bathroom, get pajamas on and read aloud some familiar stories. 
  4. Toys for tots: Pack a tyke-sized backpack for each little camper with some favorite "outdoor" toys—bubbles, trucks and cars, beach shovel and bucket. Most campsites have a sand or dirt "floor" that can become a new world for your children to explore. 
  5. Watchful eye: Of course, campsites will have more hazards than, say, your living room: a fire, possibly a lake or a stream, wide open spaces or dense woods. Don't panic. Be aware of the dangers your particular campsite poses and be vigilant.
  6. Beat the heat: You don't have control over the temperature like you do in your home. Bring a portable fan to place outside the crib at night, and water squirt bottles to cool off hot kids during the day. 
  7. Packing tip: Sort and pack each day of your children's clothes within individual small plastic grocery bags in their overnight bags. This way you can grab a bag in the morning and have a full set of clothes for the day, and at night you can stuff the dirty ones back in the bag—to keep them separate from the rest of the bag. 
  8. Pack layers: Dress kids in several layers, which can be peeled off as they get warm or added on as they cool off. 
  9. Keep the light on: Kids of any age should have their own light source during a campout. A flashlight for older kids; a glow stick for younger ones.
  10. First aid kit: Cuts and bruises are not the end of the world. For close to home trips just bring the essentials:
    • band-aids of various sizes 
    • hydrogen peroxide 
    • neosporin 
    • eye drops 
    • aspirin or other pain medicine 
    • anti-itch cream 
    • kid-safe insect repellent
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