Camping with toddlers: Tips & Essential Gear

toddler climbing out a tent camping

Everything you need to know before tent camping with toddlers, including camping activities and essential toddler camping gear

Our family has been camping together since our children were babies. There were undoubtedly phases in our children’s lives that made outdoor adventures more interesting than others (to put it positively).  Camping with our toddlers was fun, frustrating, and entertaining, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Any parent with a toddler knows that life can be, well, a bit challenging here and there.  Toddlers are bundles of energy and independence, and if you’re considering embarking on a camping trip with a toddler in tow, you may also be currently questioning your sanity.  Toddlers are notorious for wandering off, selective hearing, and tantrums, so why attempt something as complex as camping with a toddler?

This post is part of outdoor adventures with kids series


Why Go Camping With a Toddler?

The biggest reason for taking our children camping when they were toddlers was that they were finally reaching a stage where they could become active participants in day-to-day activities.  We had been taking our kids camping with us since they were babies, and we viewed the toddler phase as simply another natural life transition.

Additionally, if you’re waiting for your child to be “old enough” for any family trip or activity, it may never happen.  Toddlers are a joy in so many ways, and you may just need to modify your approach to make it possible for everyone to have fun.

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Taking your toddler camping is also a great way to nurture their natural curiosity and sense of adventure. It’s important to remember that with the advent of learning how to walk, your toddler’s world opened up to limitless possibilities for adventure.  Everything is new to them, which works in your favor when it comes to entertaining them.

Finally, camping with a toddler provides many opportunities to teach them about responsibility, safety, and patience (the last one applies to both of you).  You can give your toddler countless tasks to accomplish at a campsite, such as picking up sticks for campfires, sorting out the best marshmallows for s’mores, and more. 



Camping with every member of your family (toddlers included) is a wonderful way to enjoy the wonders of nature and spend quality time with each other.  To help you navigate the uncharted territory of camping with your own toddler, we’ve assembled all of the essential toddler camping gear and tips to make your next outdoor adventure a success. 


Preparing to Camp With Your Toddler

Location of Campground

Toddlers require a few added levels of consideration when it comes to choosing the location of your campground.  Similar to camping with a baby, finding a campground with basic amenities (bathroom, showers, laundry services) is essential.  Toddlers are notoriously messy, and there may be days where you essentially need to hose them off.

You’ll also want to investigate the layout of the campground since toddlers tend to wander without a second thought to possible dangers or the possibility of getting lost.

The author of KOA’s blog provides this helping guidance:

“If you’re able to, select a campsite that has barriers on at least three sides, whether these are actual fences or shrubs separating your site from the next. This will act as a natural gate of sorts and prevent your little one from trying to wander over to the next campsite.”

Once you arrive at your campground, do a quick sweep of your area to ensure there are no hazards where your toddler can reach them, and especially check for poison ivy!

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Consider Your Camping Mode

The method of camping you and your family choose is also an important factor when planning a camping trip with your toddler.  If you’re going to be tent camping, you’ll want a tent with more room instead of less. If you have older siblings to consider too, consider a larger tent or tents with two separate areas so toddlers can nap on one side of the tent.

Camping in an RV might be the easiest route to go in terms of space for your toddler to move around in and sleeping arrangements, but not everyone has this option. 

Preparation

If you have a young child who is not potty trained yet, bringing an overabundance of diapers is never discouraged.  I can think of no worse situation than finding out you’ve just used your last diaper with another day or two to go.  Even if your toddler is potty trained, it would still be a wise decision to bring extra pull-ups and outfits when resources are scarce.

Meal Planning

As parents, we all know that toddlers can be notoriously inconsistent with their eating habits on the most normal of days.  Add in the multiple wonders and distractions of a campsite, and it can become downright impossible. 

Make sure to pack an abundant selection of snacks and finger foods for your toddler, such as:

  • Fresh fruits and veggies
  • Granola bars
  • Snack crackers (whole grain if your toddler will allow it!)
  • Fruit and veggie pouches
  • Easy breakfast items such as muffins and pancakes

Jenn from Take Them Outside also has some helpful suggestions regarding make-ahead meals.  She says:

“Consider bringing frozen meals instead…make-ahead meals will prevent any raw meat food contamination at the not-so-sanitary campsite…. or the dreaded ‘leaky’ meat container in the cooler!”

Packing several pre-prepared camp meals along with traditional camping favorites such as hot dogs and s’mores not only alleviates some of mum’s stress but also allows you to keep an eye on your adventurous bub.

Practice Runs

It’s important to remember that when you take a toddler camping, you’re not expecting them to suddenly become an outdoor fanatic. Rather, you’re helping to instill familiarity with the camping process, enabling them to enjoy it much more in the future.

Tip: As such, we strongly suggest giving camping a go within sight of your own home.  Your toddler will love the experience, and it will help them understand what’s in store when your family embarks on your next trip to the wild.  Completing a camping practice run or two will also inevitably reveal weak areas in your planning, resulting in a better-prepared future trip.

Toddler and mom camping in a tent in the garden
Give camping with a toddler a trial run at home first – great preparation for ‘the real thing!’

Consistency

Toddlers thrive on routines, so it’s wise to keep to these as much as possible while camping.  This is especially true when it comes to naps.  Skipping naps typically results in a very cranky child, so schedule downtime each afternoon for everyone to decompress.  A well-rested toddler is directly linked to how much fun the rest of your day is, believe us!


Essential Items You Need for Camping With Toddlers

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Toddler Camping Essential #1: A Travel Crib or Bed

As a mum of three children, my main concern when camping with a toddler was how much sleep everyone would lose, especially while camping in a tent.  Even if your toddler is a sleeping champion, a disruption to their routine can result in several rough nights.  This is why it’s essential to find a comfortable toddler camping bed to provide them with the best opportunity possible for a good night’s rest. 

One of our camping essentials has been the Shrunks Toddler Travel Bed, as it is inflatable and has elevated sides to keep your toddler from rolling out during the night.  The KidCo P3010 Peapod Portable Indoor Outdoor Travel Bed is also a viable option for younger toddlers. 

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You could also just use a standard inflatable mattress with a toddlers sleeping bag – when ours were all quite small we could get away with three of them sharing a queen-sied blow up, but everyone now gets a better night sleep with their own beds or camping mats.

Tip: Keep your toddler’s nighttime routine as close to normal as possible. Read them their bedtime story by the campfire or within the comfort of your RV, and do make sure to pack their security blankets or essential stuffed animals (that are machine washable!).  

Toddler Camping Essential #2: Hiking Backpack or Carrier

Toddlers love their newfound independence, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get tired at some point.  A versatile baby carrier like the Ergobaby Omni 360 works well to take with you on shorter walks, as you can always pop your bub in if they’re worn out. 

For longer hikes, we suggest a baby hiking backpack such as the ClevrPlus Cross Country Baby Backpack.  Although this mode of toddler transportation often comes with a heftier price tag, your back will thank you for it!

You can find our full guide to toddler carriers for all occasions here

Toddler Camping Essential #3: Toddler Camping Chair

Toddlers love to feel like one of the grown-ups, so an age-appropriate camping chair that can double as a booster seat for mealtimes is a must-have.  That’s why we suggest the Baby Delight GoWithMe Chair.  The chair comes with a removable snack tray and sun canopy, so it can easily be converted into a booster seat for mealtimes. 

Tip: Finding toddler camping gear that folds up for easy storage can make life so much more convenient.  The fact that the GoWithMe chair quickly collapses and comes with its own carrying bag is a plus in our book.

Toddler Camping Essential #4: Spill-Proof Water Bottle

As we’ve mentioned previously, toddlers tend to forget eating and drinking normally when they’re excited or distracted.  You’ll have to closely monitor their liquids intake to ensure they don’t get dehydrated.  We recommend a spill-proof cup like the Tommee Tippee Non-Spill Insulated Sippee Toddler Tumbler Cup, as it comes in a three-pack and has easy-to-clean parts.

Tip: Camping with a toddler doesn’t mean you have to continuously be picking up their dirty sippy cups and cleaning them.  We recommend using a toy tether like the Brilli Baby Cup Catcher to keep your toddler’s drink cup off the ground and away from dirt and grime.

Toddler Camping Essential #5: Durable Toddler Hiking Shoes

Among the most important toddler camping tips is to bring along a pair of durable, water-resistant hiking shoes.

If you’re going to be hitting the trails regularly, Merrell Unisex-Child Trail Chaser Sneakers come in a wide range of toddler sizes, as do the Mishansha Kids Water Resistant Hiking Boots.  Regardless of the hiking shoes you select, it’s always beneficial if you can toss them in your washing machine.

You can find our complete buying guide for toddler hiking shoes here

Toddler Camping Essential #6: Hygiene Solutions

Opportunities to bathe your toddler may be few and far between while on a camping trip, but that won’t stop them from getting dirty.  We were convinced that our toddlers made it their mission to get as grimy as possible by day’s end, and they often achieved that goal with flying colors.

We’ve found that an excellent solution to cleaning your toddler between baths is a package of Johnson’s Head to Toe Hypoallergenic Wipes.  They’re gentle on your toddler’s skin and can be used on the face and body.  They’re also twice the size of regular wipes, which comes in handy for those extra messy scenarios.

If you’d still prefer to give your tot a full wash and have the facilities to do so (i.e. fresh water!) check out our guide to the best portable bath tubs.

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Tip: You’ll want to bring regular trash bags in case your toddler has an accident, especially if they’re new to potty training. If your child isn’t potty trained, we recommend using a Munchkin Arm & Hammer Diaper Bag Dispenser for poopy nappies.  They’re odor-controlling, which is especially helpful if a trash can isn’t nearby.

Toddler Camping Essential #7: Toddler-Friendly Plates and Utensils

Traditional plasticware is usually fine for toddlers to use during mealtimes, but it’s also helpful to include a few toddler-specific items for snacks and mealtimes.  This gives your toddler something that is special for them and typically reduces messes for you.

Packing a few sturdy plates with separate food compartments is wise. These AIYoo 304 Stainless Steel Dinner Plates are virtually indestructible and inexpensive, and they can also reduce the number of paper plates your family will use while camping.

Tip: Triple-check to make sure that you have at least one easy-to-clean bib when camping with a toddler.  Something like the b.box Travel Bib folds into its own travel pouch, which is both space-saving and economical.

Toddler Camping Essential #8: Mosquito Repellent

We’ve always been very diligent about our children using mosquito repellent, especially given the number of health complications that can result from mosquito bites.  This is doubly important with toddlers because they don’t understand that scratching bites just make them worse.

Toddler skin is sensitive to chemicals and irritants, which is why we recommend a product like Babyganics Natural Bug Repellent.  It’s DEET-free and made from natural ingredients, and it’s very effective in keeping biting bugs away from your bub. 

Toddler Camping Essential #9: Nature-Friendly Toys and Activities

Planning camping activities for toddlers doesn’t have to involve hours of preparation.  You and your toddler can enjoy the following with virtually no prep:

  • Nature scavenger hunt
  • Writing your name in rocks
  • Building a stick castle
  • Making a nature bouquet
  • Painting and decorating rocks

Tip: If you’re wanting to bring along camping toys for toddlers, we recommend that they’re functional as well as entertaining.  Some options include:

Toddler camping toys don’t always have to serve a functional purpose, however. Bubbles, squirt guns, and a toddler-sized bean bag toss can be fun for the whole family and will keep your bub occupied for hours.

We have a great guide to kids camping gear for all ages here

Toddler Camping Checklist

Ensure that you have everything you need for your next camping trip with this toddler camping checklist.

  • Easy diaper change kit
  • Disposal diaper bags
  • Sudocrem/diaper cream
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Sun hat
  • Several changes of clothing
  • Socks
  • Small first aid kit
  • Hiking shoes or sandals
  • Travel bed & pillow
  • Lovie or security blanket
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Bath wipes
  • Baby carrier or hiking backpack
  • Camp chair
  • Mealtime utensils
  • Washable bib
  • Extra diapers
  • Rain jacket and rain pants
  • Spill-proof water bottle
  • Toothbrush and training toothpaste

We hope this has helped prepare you for all the possibilites ahead camping with a toddler – just remember have a little patience, accetp there will be mess but a lot of fun memories along the way.


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Toddler playing in front of a tent
Camping with a toddler - small boy crawling out of a tent

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