When you have children, preparation for everything and anything is crucial. The same principle of readiness applies to camping, too! When you are ready to share the wonders of the outdoor world with your toddler and younger children, you want to make sure it is going to be a magical experience that gets them excited for the next round of camping.
Here are some tips to make camping with toddlers and kids a stress-free experience:
#1: Bring Outdoor Toys
Make sure that you not only packing toys, but you're packing the ones that are built for outdoor play—such as construction-themed toys, target games, swings, and sandbox kits. These should be toys that your kids are familiar with too, because then you won't have to encourage them. Having something in hand that they know means they can dive straight into games instead of worrying about feeling strange in someplace new.
While your kids play, you can focus on setting up camp quickly and efficiently as well.
#2: Practice Sleeping in a Tent
Sleeping someplace you are unfamiliar with is even hard as an adult. Imagine how troubling it is for children, especially with a new world of sounds, smells, and lighting. Before ever leaving for your camping trip, it is best for your entire family to practice pitching and sleeping in the tent together.
This will help your child(ren) recognize that the tent is a place for sleeping, that it's secure, and that you're all going to be together, so they don't have to be afraid. Also, you can figure out how to set everyone up in the tent comfortably to avoid getting stepped on or other problems at the actual campsite.
#3: Safe Co-Sleeping
If you co-sleep at home, then this might not be a problem for you. However, if co-sleeping is a first for you when camping, then you should not only practice, you should buy the appropriate equipment for the set-up too.
There are plenty of co-sleeping pillows available online. Look for one that folds up nicely so it can get tucked into a sleeping bag for easy packing. For older children, you can purchase things like double camping cots to save space.
#4: Pack n' Play
When you take your kids camping, there will be more rocks, dirt, bugs, and other things that they collect and are entertained by that you probably are thinking you don't need entertainment.
No, trust us, you should consider packing a number of games and toys that are not electronic (keep that stuff at home), so you can teach your toddlers and children how to use their imagination—and keep them from crawling through poison oak and ivy.
Here's some good ideas for entertainment that everyone will enjoy:
- Squirt or NERF guns
- Soccer balls, Volley balls, Velcro Hand Toss, Baseball and Glove, Football
- Badminton sets
- Coloring books
- Nature-themed scavenger hunt – that can also incorporate the crafts!
- Card games
- Horseshoe sets
- Cornhole sets
- Dolls and action figures
The bonus is that most of these things can be packed up all together and used interchangeably!
Here is a more detailed list of 15 Cool and Fun Camping Activities for Kids we wrote last year!
Sometimes, your kids aren't going to be too keen on sitting close to the ground or on it. Mats are going to help not only keep feet and bottoms clean, it will make the squeamish toddlers and older children more willing to sit on the ground, play, and snack happily.
You can use fitness mats, yoga mats, or even leisure mats. Some people recommend rugs and blankets that repel sand, especially if you're going somewhere where the earth is more dry or there's a lakeside area to spread out. Tarps work too, especially if you're afraid of spills or in the chance of a sudden thunderstorm!
#6: Know Your Plants
Although your kids are no longer babies that stick everything they see in their mouths, toddlers and younger children will still be tempted to eat something that looks particularly delicious, like mushrooms, berries, and even some flowers (like honeysuckle).
If you're not sure whether or not some is edible, it is best to leave it alone. Also do a campsite sweep for poisonous plants like stinging nettles and poison ivy.
Here are the most common poisonous plants and how to identify them.
Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum )
Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix)
Poison Wood (Metopium toxiferum)
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
As mentioned before—and from what your parental instincts are probably telling you—there is going to be a lot of laundry to sort through. A great way to keep dirty clothes from commingling with clean stuff is to set up a laundry spot using a hanging clothes organizer or octopus hanger.
This way, you can take the clothes that are dirty or stained, quickly wash them off with water, hang them, and keep them away from the rest of your packed, clean clothes. When you're reading to leave the campsite, just drop everything—hanger and all—right into a trash bag or bin.
#8: Stick to Usual Routine
This is mainly for younger children that have specific meal and nap times. You don't want to throw them off of the usual routine too much, because it will make them moody. This will also help with the whole issue of trying to get them to fall asleep at nighttime.
#9: Practice Campfire Building
Since a camping adventure is not complete without a real life campfire, you should know how to build one prior to reaching the site. It will be helpful to do this on the same night that everyone sleeps outside in your tent for the first time. This sets the mood and gives kids a chance to get familiar with the process.
Also, it will be nice to have your kids help you with gathering the wood or with setting up the fuel. Be sure to have a good supply of nontoxic fuel sources for the fire, too, like newspaper, char cloth, and Lightning Nuggets to get the blaze going. Once you get the campfire going, be sure to practice safety as well.
#10: Know Some Campfire Recipes
Aside from packing plenty of snacks and quick meals, you are going to want to make some magic with that campfire. There are dozens of campfire-friendly recipes out there that only use a skillet and some aluminum foil. If you are car camping or at a campground with cooking spots, then making a delicious and nutritious dinner is even easier!
Some favorite recipes that kids can help make are:
2. Campfire Nachos in a cast iron skillet and heaped with pico, sour cream, and cheese
#11: Don't Forget Lighting
Camping lights nowadays are highly functional and do more than just light up the site. You can change electrical devices, create a breeze with fans, set some ambiance (try the mtnGLO Tent Light) or even repel insects (such as the Thermacell Scout Lantern). No matter the kind of lighting you decide on, make sure it is incandescent to help with natural sleep patterns.
#12: Don't Forget Nighttime Safety
Another reason lighting is important is for illuminating the tent in the middle of the night when one of the little ones has to use the bathroom. It can also be flicked on easily when you want to assuage their fears about something lurking outside.
Glow sticks are also a great way to illuminate both people and objects.
#13: Organization is Key
One thing you don't want to do when camping with toddlers and kids is rough it. You don't want to overpack, either, so knowing exactly what you need and where it is will make the entire process much easier.
Be sure to add some extra comforts to the campsite, such as extra mats in the tent, some cooking devices, lighting, and fans. You want to also pack for all kinds of weather—but you should separate these items depending on the scenario. For example, hot and humid items get placed together while cold weather items have their own storage bin.
#14: Hand and Foot Wash Station
Kids get dirty outside. It's a fact of nature. Therefore, one way to make sure everyone stays kind of clean is to set up a hand and foot washing station. Procure a single or double jug with an open/close spout to control water flow.
You are also going to need a plastic pin—something like a wide, flat-bottomed storage bin, baby bath, or even a litter box—that everyone can step into to wash off their legs and feet.
Other things to complete the wash station would be beach towels, antibacterial soap, and a rug or mat that can be stood on while drying off.
This hand washing station is simple, although maybe a bit large. And according to this mom, the kids love washing their hands at this station.
Here is a video on how to build your own hand washing station;
#15: Antibacterial Wipes
When you can't make it to the wash station, antibacterial wipes are going to be a saving grace. Wipes will clean hands, faces, runny noses, and can even wipe down surfaces before putting down food.
#16: Have the Right Supplies
You don't want to skimp on the stuff that matters, like scissors, screwdrivers, a can opener, thermos, magnets, wrenches, a nut cracker, wire cutter and stripper, bottle opener and a knife. There will also be instances where you need or want some cooking supplies, like aluminum foil, matches, char cloth, and a skillet.
Be sure to also pack things that can help you teach your kids how to be responsible campers, like trash bags for cleaning up their garbage and eco-friendly, biodegradable dishes and eating utensils. Don't forget the compass and map either, especially if you plan on taking to the trails!
The things you can forget about, though, would be your cell phones. Leave those off and tucked away, either in the safety of your car or RV.
Here is a camping checklist that you can use as a guide:
#17: Age-Appropriate Hikes
Keep in mind that an easy hike for an adult is still going to be a long, arduous journey for a toddler. You are going to want to choose a trial that doesn't have a lot of ups and downs or obstacles that you have to weave through.
Otherwise, you might end up carrying your kids for 80% of the course, and that is no fun for you. Take your time, break often, and remember not to get impatient with the little one(s) while they survey the land and play.
#18: Non-Toxic Sunscreen and Bug Spray
Kids are very susceptible to sunburn and bug bites. Knowing this, it is obvious you would want to protect them from such uncomfortable scenarios. Yet, another thing you must be cautious off is sunscreen and bug repellents that are loaded with toxic chemicals.
Choose all-natural options that have healthy ingredients to prevent breakouts, allergic and other skin reactions. Plus, you will helping the environment by not using anything with DEET.
#19: First-Aid Kits
Yes, bumps and bruises can happen anywhere. That's why if you don't have a first aid kit with you already, be sure to have one for your camping trip. You never know when someone is going to trip on an exposed root and scrape up their hands and knees. Have ice packs, insect bite and sting treatment, antibiotic ointment, bandages, sterilizing wipes, and gauze on hand.
Pro tip: Buying everything in a bundled case is going to be cheaper than purchasing everything outright!
#20: Lower Cleanliness Expectations
If there is one thing that has constantly been underrated is how good a little dirt is for your kids. Though you might fight to keep them clean and the home mess free, allow them to embrace being a little dirty while camping.
This means that you, too, should lower your expectations about how “clean” everything has to be. Let them play in the dirt, get their fingers dirty, climb trees, and skip stones. It's good for them!
#21: See With Your Child's Eyes
This isn't about wanting to eat rocks and dirt and poking dangerous things with sticks. This means getting on their level and looking for things that can excite or educate them. For example, as you are walking through a wooded area, you might want to keep your eyes opening for fascinating insects, reptiles, or even animal tracks and droppings.
You can point out these things and give them information. Older kids will appreciate the knowledge, and young ones will be amazed by how many discoveries can be made outdoors, away from technology.
There you have it: 21 tips to make camping with toddlers and kids are much more fun and productive experience. Though these tips aren’t for everyone, you can certainly glean some useful ideas and ways to pack, play, and immerse the entire group in the experience. The last thing we forgot to mention is to let out your inner child too! Have a wonderful trip.
- #1: Bring Outdoor Toys
- #2: Practice Sleeping in a Tent
- #3: Safe Co-Sleeping
- #4: Pack n' Play
- #5: Mats
- #6: Know Your Plants
- #7: Laundry
- #8: Stick to Usual Routine
- #9: Practice Campfire Building
- #10: Know Some Campfire Recipes
- #11: Don't Forget Lighting
- #12: Don't Forget Nighttime Safety
- #13: Organization is Key
- #14: Hand and Foot Wash Station
- #15: Antibacterial Wipes
- #16: Have the Right Supplies
- #17: Age-Appropriate Hikes
- #18: Non-Toxic Sunscreen and Bug Spray
- #19: First-Aid Kits
- #20: Lower Cleanliness Expectations
- #21: See With Your Child's Eyes