We put together the top 25 tips for camping with toddlers and babies to help keep you from losing your mind on vacation! (updated March 2018)
When we went on our very first toddler camping trip, I really should have googled “tips for camping with toddlers and babies“. But I didn’t. Why? Because I have a toddler and a baby, and I’m always tired, and I feel like my intelligence drops by several points with each kid we have.
Somehow we were actually surprisingly prepared, and and it went really well, except for a few items which I make sure to cover below. So learn from our successes and mistakes, and have fun baby and toddler camping!
25 TIPS FOR CAMPING WITH TODDLERS & BABIES
1. Bring some familiar outdoor toys
When you bring a few outdoor toys that your kids are familiar with, you have an option for self play in the camp site. By choosing toys they play with regularly, they don’t need you to encourage them in how to play, or make them feel safe to free play in a strange new place.
Anytime we both needed to be doing something (setting up the campsite, changing the baby while the other person cooks, etc.), we could suggest Corban play with his trucks. He filled them with rocks and dirt, used them to transport pine cones, and even made a road system out of pine needles.
2. Practice sleeping in a tent
Oh friends, I so wish we’d done this. Sleeping in a new place is hard for adults, so imagine how much harder it is for kids. Our son’s only experience with tents was his play tent in the toy room, which is for wrestling in (of course!). So we had to teach him that tents are only for sleeping, no wrestling, and we had some issues with calming down in the tent to sleep. I think having a night of backyard tent camping could have made us more prepared for what issues we might experience.
3. Bring a security item for sleep
If your child has an item they regularly sleep with, or even if they don’t, it’s a good idea to bring something familiar to hold onto at night. Keep it in the tent, only for sleeping, so it doesn’t get tossed in the dirt.
4. Safe co-sleeping is a must
Whether or not you co-sleep at home, you will be co-sleeping when sharing a tent. For babies, we love this in bed co-sleeper, which folds up really nicely. I could describe it to you, but really, just read the Amazon description, they do it so much better.
Just know that this is designed for safe co-sleeping, and works great tucked next to your sleeping bag. We layered Larkin in pajamas and a swaddle to keep her warm.
5. Have a plan for night waking
Our baby did just fine. She woke up a few times during the night to eat, which is normal, and nursed right back to sleep. Our toddler on the other hand? It was the nights that made us consider not camping again the rest of the summer. We just didn’t realize that he would wake up every single night and start crying to go home.
He LOVED camping! But he hated nighttime. #2 might have helped with this, but we finally had Eric put Corban in the car and drive him around at 3 in the morning until he fell asleep. I sincerely hope you don’t have that problem, but come up with a plan just in case!
6. Be prepared for naps
Our kids played hard, and napped hard. In fact Corban fell asleep after each and every hike. We just let him sleep in his car seat each day (on the way back to our campsite) to recharge for our next adventure. But you need to factor those naps into your plans.
7. Don’t forget the pack n play
Speaking of naps, a pack n play is definitely on our MUST list for camping with babies. You don’t need a fancy one, but a safe place to put the baby down for naps or play time if you don’t want to be in the tent.
We especially used this during setting up and tearing down camp, and meal prep and cooking.
A pack n play is also great for protecting baby from a hyperactive big brother who wants to wrestle!
8. Bring a mat for crawlers
Larkin wasn’t quite crawling yet (that’s changed quickly!), but she could scoot all over the place.
I have a cool plastic outdoor rug that was perfect for letting her crawl around and play on while staying out of the dirt. I love that it can just be hosed down to clean it so spills aren’t a big deal.
But all you really need is a big blanket or tarp that’s designated as a no shoes, baby zone. Of course, keeping your toddler in his muddy hiking boots off the baby zone is a whole different set of challenges!
9. Don’t be restricted to the campsite
Toddlers will quickly get bored if there’s nothing to do outside the campsite. Look for an area with lots of opportunities for adventure: hiking, swimming, fishing, looking at waterfalls, whatever you like. These are some great memory makers too.
In addition to all the wonderful hiking, there is a really cool sculpture park just outside of Mt. Rainier that Corban really loved exploring.
10. Bring chew toys that are easy to clean
Oh baby! You’re gonna need some chew toys. And they’re gonna fall in the dirt. We had a few different chew toys with us, but Larkin’s favorite was definitely the cow, and it rinses off really easily.
11. Know your plants
Speaking of chewing, do a sweep of the campsite area for berries. Our site was surrounded by huckleberries, which we told Corban he had to ask permission to eat. If you’re not sure if a berry is edible, better to just not eat any of them. Also be on the lookout for plants to avoid like stinging nettles and poison ivy.
12. Bring a nature scavenger hunt
We really enjoyed doing a nature scavenger hunt, which was really handy at the campsite to keep Corban busy while I worked on dinner. You can download our free nature scavenger hunt printable here. You can even write the date and location on it and notes about anything special you’ve seen, then keep it in a memory book.
13. Give your toddler a head lamp
Giving your toddler a head lamp to wear to and from the bathroom or around the camp site at night is both a fun game, and a great sense of security.
We HIGHLY recommend a headlamp with a red light setting which exists to help preserve night vision, but we appreciate that it doesn’t blind you if your toddler shines their head lamp in your eyes!
14. Choose age appropriate hikes
We tried some of our favorite hikes with Corban, knowing he’s lasted about a mile hiking before.
What we didn’t realize is that an easy hike to us is a lot harder for a toddler. It’s especially harder for him at high elevation, when he’s been running around a campsite for hours.
Corban’s favorite hike ended up being this flat quarter mile hike along Reflection Lake.
Which leads us to #14…
15. Be prepared for baby/toddler wearing
We were so glad we brought the ergo and the baby carrier hiking backpack.
We were planning to have one person wear the baby in the ergo, while the 2.5 year old walked. That lasted about 10 minutes.
For the rest of our hikes we had the baby in the carrier backpack with the ergo packed into it, ready for when our son got too tired. That allowed us to do a lot more hiking than we would have been able to without them.
16. Bring non-toxic sunscreen and bug spray
It’s important to make sure your little ones are protected from sun burns and bug bites, but you also need to protect them from harmful chemicals found in the majority of sunscreens and bug sprays. We use Alba mineral sunscreen which rates 2/8 on the EWG scale (0 being the best). It’s one of the most affordable natural sunscreens they recommend. Just be forewarned that it is SUPER thick, and can separate in the heat or as it gets close to its expiration date. (There’s been complaints in the media lately about Alba sunscreens, but we haven’t had issues with it. That said, we live in the Pacific Northwest and try to limit sun exposure. Most of our hikes are in dappled light. You may want to research a different sunscreen if you will be in full sun)
For bug spray, look for one that is made with natural oils and doesn’t contain DEET. We’ve had great results with this bug spray, and I’m a mosquito magnet! Just make sure to ask your doctor about using any sunscreen or bug spray on babies under 6 months.
17. Have lots of snack options
Corban was burning a lot more calories camping than he does on a normal basis. By having lots of healthy snack options, I could pretty much prevent any HANGRY meltdowns. Think pb&j, nuts, fruit, carrot sticks, boiled eggs, crackers with hummus, etc.
18. Plan easy meals
As a food blogger, camping used to mean lots of incredible campfire cooked meals and experimentation. Campfire pizzas, campfire roasted pineapple drizzled with melted chocolate and rolled in coconut, aritsan sausages cooked on skewers and served with roasted peppers and shallots.
Oh yeah. I figured out that just wasn’t happening with little kids. We needed fast and easy, because we were tired and hungry. Campfire packets, hot dogs, oatmeal, bacon and eggs, sandwiches. Keep it simple your first trip. If all goes well, you can try something more adventurous next time.
19. Campfire safety chair
Okay, this was an idea that I have to call genius! Corban has his own little camping chairthat he got as a present from Grandma. He loves to sit in it because it makes him feel like the grown ups. So we just parked it a safe distance (5 feet) from the campfire, and told him that anytime he wants to be by the fire, he has to sit in his chair. And it worked!!! We didn’t have any close calls with the fire. I just love fire safety!
20. Divide and conquer
This is must, it will save your sanity. One adult watches the kids while the other cooks, or one prepares breakfast with the toddler while the other tears down camp with baby in the pack n play. Corban helped dad do a lot of dishes while I cleaned up food or got baby and myself ready for bed. Be a team dividing up duties and everything will go a lot smoother.
21. Pack a first-aid kit
Thankfully, we only needed band-aids for a couple falls on a hike, but I was prepared with ice packs, insect sting treatment, gauze, an ace bandage, cleansing wipes, and more. Injuries are no fun with kids. They’re even less fun in the wilderness. Be prepared!
Those prepackaged first aid kitsare often cheaper than buying everything separately. Just make sure that you check the sani-wipes after a year as they can dry out.
22. Lower your expectations of cleanliness
You might work really hard to keep your baby clean and out of messes at home. That’s most likely not going to happen while camping. They will roll off the mat into the dirt, or big brother will toss dirt into their pack n pay for them to play with (because it’s fun!). Bring extra clothes to plan for this, and don’t panic. Honestly, even if baby ends up eating the dirt, they’re gonna be okay.
23. Wipes aren’t just for poop
On that same topic, bring extra baby wipes. We bring a Costco sized bag of wipes separated into a few different containers. A small one for the hiking backpack. Some bigger ones for the tent (night time diaper changes in a tent are fun!), the kitchen supply tub, and the car.
The wipes are great for wiping off messy hands, runny noses, wiping down toys, and just general clean up.
Did I mention your kids will get dirty?
25. Start small
For your first camping trip, don’t bite off more than you can chew. We suggest you stay within a few hours of home, and don’t do more than three nights.
It would be a lot less discouraging to unexpectedly head home from a three day trip that’s just a couple hours away, than a week long adventure in another state.
See how you enjoy a short trip, and then plan your dream camping getaway for the next month!
24. Find and create moments of wonder and imagination
As you hike, walk, explore, try to see things through your child’s eyes. I spotted this caterpillar on the ground and just told my son to look around that area for something special. He was so excited to spot it and we spent 15 minutes just watching that caterpillar, which he then talked about the rest of the day.
You can also turn the simplest things into a game. For example, bridges are very special, and made for stomping. I just had to say that once, and every bridge the rest of the weekend was a “stomping bridge” that he was just thrilled to cross.
26. Expect people to be excited to see your baby
Okay I know I said 25 tips, but this one surprised me and I had to share. We felt nervous about bringing a baby camping and how other campers would react. But people loved her!
Every time someone would walk or drive by our site, or pass us on a hike, they wanted to smile at her and talk to us and say how great it was that we brought her camping. That was super encouraging for us!
What are your tips for camping with toddlers and babies?
These are the tips we came up with. They won’t suit everyone, but we hope they’re helpful. We’d also love to hear any tips you have, just share them in the comments below.
BABY AND TODDLER CAMPING GEAR WE LOVE:
These are some of the items we really loved that we never used camping until we had kids. By using these links to go to Amazon, we get a small commission from any item you buy, and it doesn’t cost you anything extra. Thanks for supporting our site!
MORE OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES FOR KIDS:
Here are a few more of our favorite ideas for outdoor activities for kids.