Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

Tips for Camping with Toddlers

Morning snuggles

Morning snuggles

A couple of summers ago I wrote a post about camping with infants.  But now that I’m the proud mama to a stubborn passionate 3 year old, that old archived camping post is way outdated for our family.  Nowadays, nights in a tent look far different than they did back then!  In some ways, this makes things MUCH easier (ie, we all get more sleep!).  In other ways, some camping activities are a lot more stressful (ie campfires).  If your kiddo is one of the lucky ones that got exposed to camping early and often, transitioning to toddler camping is probably something that came relatively gradually.  If an overnighter under the stars is something you’ve been wanting to do as a family, but for whatever reason weren’t able to make it happen when your child was an infant, don’t despair!  The curious toddler years are a GREAT time to start camping!  Here’s a quick rundown of what our family considers to be the most important logistics for a night of tenting…

BEDTIME ROUTINES:  For the first few excursions, try to keep your nighttime tenting routine resembling your nighttime home routine as best you can.  Having as much familiarity as possible within an unfamiliar setting can go a lot way towards helping your toddler feel safe and secure in an unfamiliar sleeping environment.  You may find that the more your family camps together, the more your bedtime camp routine might evolve to be “tent-specific.”  For example, at home C always gets 2 books followed by individual snuggle times with Mommy and Daddy.  But in the tent we all just lay down together and look at the stars (or if the rain fly is up, look at the silhouettes of the many creepy-crawlies that have accumulated on the outside of the tent!)  Top camping hammocks with mosquito net are ideal for it.

LAYERS:  Now that C is older, I don’t worry so much about temperatures, since he now has plenty of vocabulary to tell me if he’s hot/cold/etc.  That being said, layers still reign supreme!  For warm weather camping, C wears wool jammies and socks, and sleeps in a Ducksday Fleece suit.  Sometimes we add a blanket.  For cold weather camping (we usually go no lower than 35 degrees), we add a wool hat and a down bunting from Molehill Mountain that he wears as a sleeping bag.  He has his own sleeping mat, but he rarely sleeps on it, usually preferring to snuggle up next to one of us instead.  ๐Ÿ™‚

Enjoying a post-climbing campfire in the Red River Gorge

SAFETY:  Come up with a set of guidelines for scenarios that might require extra precaution (such as campfires), and be sure to discuss them together as a family prior to your trip.  Many of these safety issues are not specific just to camp life, but can be encountered any time your in the woods (or maybe even outside in your backyard).  Make sure your child is clear on the rules about touching snakes and spiders (in our household we don’t do it unless a parent says it’s okay), and understands that we don’t drink water from the creek!  It’s also never to early to educate your child about poison ivy, oak, and sumac – C is at the stage right now where he announces that ANYTHING with green leaves is poison ivy…  

I’ve had more than a few people ask me if I ever worry about C escaping from the tent at night.  My answer is always a wholehearted no!  Our sleeping arrangement has a parent at each door, and C in the middle, so that he’d have to crawl over us completely in order to even access the door.  The only time C is ever alone in the tent is sometimes for an hour or two in the evening if we’re not ready to go to sleep yet (and even then we’re rarely more than a few feet away from the tent – no way he could slip away without our knowing!)  As an added safety precaution, however, we always leave the zippers to the doors up high and out of reach.  

WHEN NATURE CALLS:  If you camp with any regularity with a child between the ages of 2 and 3, odds are good that you will have to deal with diapers, potty training, or potty mishaps at some point on a camping trip.  Go often enough and I guarantee you’ll deal with all three!  Diapers are relatively easy to deal with, but can get real gross real quick if you’re not prepared.  You can never have too any wipes!!!  We found it worked out best for our family to have multiple “diaper stations” – one in the tent, one in the car, and a mobile one in the backpack we were using during the day.  The majority of the time we used cloth diapers, and found it easiest to consolidate everything from the car/backpack stations into the big dry bag in the tent at the end of each day.  For longer trips without access to laundry we’d just do disposables, and made sure we had plenty of Ziploc bags to ward off the stench til we could find a trash can.

When we began potty training we’d bring along the Potette transitional potty along with us (wherever we went…not just to the crag).  It’s basically a plastic ring with legs that pop out to make an instant potty!  (More on that later in next week’s post about potty training at the crag…)


BOTTOM LINE:  If you haven’t already, don’t be afraid to get out there under the stars with the whole family!  If you’re really worried about how the night will go, start in your backyard!  Remember that with little folk, big adventures don’t always have to be “big.” (Ironically the same is often true for adults ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).  Take a chance and enjoy yourselves, and don’t forget to laugh a lot, even if especially if things don’t go according to plan!  Oh, and don’t forget your camera!  

For the veteran family campers, what tips would you add that I may have overlooked?  For newer family campers or those still in the planning phases, what’s been the biggest obstacle so far?  And just for fun, what’s everyone’s absolute favorite place to camp?







9 Responses to “Tips for Camping with Toddlers”

  1. BethC

    Great writeup! Have you had trouble with noise at the more open campsites keeping C up at night?


    • Teresa

      We have always kept a “noise maker” machine in the kids room when they sleep. It doesn’t have to be real loud to help mute out neighborhood sounds (like neighbor kids who are still playing/fighting outside when it is bed time for my kids.

      The noise maker is a life saver on camping. We can still hear other voices and cars, but it all blends together and makes it much easier to ignore. AND batteries last for several nights.

      It is also wonderful while in the hospital or hotels so you can’t hear people in the hall.

  2. We havenโ€™t camped with Alex yet but plan too before he turns 2. Weโ€™ll probably car camp first in Acadia National Park, with waterfront sites on Somes Sound and excellent cragginโ€™ and day hiking there is amazing for families with kids!


  3. Great post! We have been taking our Baby Bjorn training potty (pretty much just as simple as the one you describe) just about everywhere. And since we’re just not classy campers, we let our kiddo run around without pants at the campground. This makes potty training SO MUCH easier!

    Also, I get a little irked whenever the outdoor mommy collective suggests a good starting point is a “backyard campout”. Not that this isn’t a good idea, but that it’s really not that inclusive of many people’s living arrangements. We lived in a townhouse until our kiddo was well past two, and the HOA there would never let us put up a tent for the night (grass damage = crazy HOA officers). Also, lots of families live in urban areas or apartments without yards. So, to these families, find a place within an hours’ drive (or less if possible) and recognize that you can leave whenever you want! You can leave if the kiddo won’t go to sleep, or if they wake up in the middle of the night, or whatever. Just give it a try once, and the second time will be much easier.


    • Erica

      Beth C – We’ve camped with C in all sorts of places, even at festivals that wouldn’t necessarily be considered family-friendly (as far as noise levels go, anyway!). If we’re anticipating loudness, we try to pitch our tent as far away as possible, but sometimes that’s impossible. If it’s loud he does have trouble falling asleep quickly, but thankfully he’s a sound sleeper once he’s asleep, and never has trouble waking up (probably b/c he’s exhausted from running around all day!)

      David – I hear Acadia is GORGEOUS, especially in the fall. We’d love to go there someday – sounds like a great first camping option!

      Kate C – Yes, agree about the backyard campout. I think a lot of times parents make it more difficult and complex than it actually is. The important thing to remember is that the first time will always be the hardest! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Justin B

    Great post! We have two little ones – 18 months apart – and both went camping for their first time at 6 months old! Now they are 3 1/2 and nearly-2 and we are itching to get back our there.

    One piece of advice to add – noise control. It’s one of the biggest thrills and thwarts that unique sounds accompany the camp-out. Establish a sleep aid of some kind whether that’s a white-noise app, a sound machine, kid-safe fan or whatever works, just in case you need the added familiarity while getting to sleep.

    You mentioned it but I will reiterate that you MUST be flexible. Camping outdoors is not the place to expect the bedtime routine will go as it always does or that your little one will just stay asleep through the night. One of our early trips with the first one involved an early bedtime (dark quicker) then an interested infant at 11 pm. Campfire fun ensued for another hour and a half, we broke open another box of s’mores materials and made some great memories.

    Whatever you do – just commit and do it! The worst that could happen is you pack up and go home or to hotel. It’s worth the risk to try.


    • Erica

      Justin – The white noise factor is a good tip, thanks for mentioning it! When C was little, he had a lullaby CD that always played while he was going to sleep (both home and away), so whenever we’d go camping, we’d leave it playing on my iphone until the grown-ups were ready to go to sleep. Now that he’s older he doesn’t really need it anymore, but at the time it was a GREAT option for white noise as well as that added familiarity. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Great post! I did a similar one recently myself ๐Ÿ™‚
    We just got back from camping with 2 under 2!


  6. Hi my name is Wahab, Iam a blogger and camper for quite a long time. Your article is so useful for families who want to camp with toddlers Some points are extremely useful. Thank you


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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN