We recently went tent camping with 2 toddlers. We not only survived, but we actually ENJOYED it! We did everything from hike to campfires to using the “back country” bathroom. Our kids had the best time helping set up the tent, helping collect wood for the campfire and their favorite; roast marshmallows. If you’re not in a place financially to travel to lux hotels, I invite you to consider tent camping with your family. You will get to explore new places, connect in the quiet and save some cash!
Tent camping with Toddlers may not be high on your list of things you want to do. It wasn’t on mine. Actually, it was way low; like NEVER want to do it low. However, my husband loves camping. I knew I wanted to spend Labor Day weekend away and I knew we had traveled more than usual this year. Travel equals spending money. So, I came up with the idea to tent camp about 5.5 hours away from home while we explored Alabama’s Waterfall Trail. He gets to camp, I get to travel and we didn’t have to spend loads of money. (about $16 per night)
I was impressed at how much fun we all had and I want to share how you too can make tent camping fun with toddlers! From where to sleep to what to pack to what to eat, we’ve got you covered.
How to ENJOY Tent Camping with Toddlers
Some things to consider when packing for your trip:
Amenities at the campsite (restrooms, outlets, water accessibility, grills)
Whether your baby needs a pack-n-play or not
What the weather will be like (don’t forget about cool mornings/evenings)
What bedding you need (blankets, pillows, sleeping pads)
How many meals you are going to be eating while you are camping (breakfast, lunch, dinner, & SNACKS)
Whether you will be hiking
Although it was still near 80 during the day and about 65 at night in Northern Alabama, we chose to pack mostly long pants for our kids so that they could play and not worry as much about bug bites. We also knew that it was likely the camp toilets didn’t have adequate toilet paper (random), but don’t forget to bring some! We have general packing lists HERE that will get you started!
We put both of our kids (ages 22 Months & 3.5 years) in pack-n-plays even though our daughter has been sleeping in a full size bed for over year. We have two different size pack-n-plays — our son slept in the regular size and we put our daughter in the long one. You can read more about our extended length pack-n-play HERE.
We chose to do it this way for multiple reasons. The first reason is we wanted them to be contained once we left the tent. We wanted both of them to be up off the ground and hoped that would mean better sleep (it did). We knew they would do it; our kids don’t mind pack-n-plays, so this was a great option for us. We’re stingy and we never love sharing a bed with our kids, so this worked out for all of us and meant better sleep for all. Finally, this was our first tent camping trip, so we wanted the kids to be less shocked by a completely weird sleeping arrangement (outside).
When bedtime came around we stuck to our normal routine (not the normal time). We did baths; either a real bath or we use the Johnson + Johnson body wipes to give them a full wipe down. Then we brushed teeth, put on jammies and headed for the tent. We normally like to put the baby down first, so we rocked him and laid him down. Then did our routine with Chartletta.
At home we sleep with large loud box fans, so we emulate that when we travel with a battery powered sound machine. This really helped the kids sleep since they weren’t constantly interrupted by the outside noises.
A final tip to maximize sleep and minimize noise is to prearrange everything you’ll need after the kids are asleep. We set our PJs on our bed, stored flashlights in the pocket near the tent door for easy bathroom exits, and had our external chargers near our bed for our phones. (ok, ok, so we weren’t COMPLETELY unplugged) We also brought along C’s baby potty in case she needed to go in the middle of the night!
Eating is huge for me. I love food. I researched easy and fun camp fire meals before we left. I built a small menu for shopping and was sure to include plenty of snacks. I can never say enough – if you’re traveling with kids – BRING SNACKS. A few snacks that were amazingly easy were the yogurts in pouches, puree pouches, granola bars, precut fruit (cut at home before we left), string cheese, Uncrustables, raisin packs and any kind of cracker.
My husband has a small camping stove, so we did plan things like leftover pulled pork, mac-n-cheese and scrambled eggs/bacon. However, if you don’t have one, it’s ok! There are MANY meals you can make that are delicious and campfire friendly. My favorites of the weekend are wrapping croissant dough around a hotdog and making cinnamon rolls inside orange peels! (Yes, that really works!) Also, don’t write off cold meals like fruit and yogurt or cereal with milk! Pack a cooler loaded with ice or dry ice!
Along with planning the meals and bringing a cooler, I found it handy to bring along some children’s utensils. We brought 2 Oogaa Plates, 2 Oogaa bowls, 2 Water Bottles and sporks for the kids. We brought along some of Jimmy’s cookware and camping cutlery/dishes for ourselves. Everything we brought broke down or stacked nicely for compact packing. We also snagged some pretty awesome $1 telescopic roasting sticks from the Target Dollar Spot this summer, so we used those a few times for marshmallows or croissant covered hotdogs!
Another thing to note is your campground or State\National park may have a lodge with a restaurant. If you have some extra cash or need a break from cooking, it’s a good option!
Our kids played HARD with almost no input from us. They found giant sticks, heavy rocks, chased insects, went crazy with their new $1 flashlights, enjoyed running free and climbing boulders for hours. We barely packed any toys — only a couple dinosaurs for the drive. They didn’t need toys and they were surprisingly creative in using nature to entertain themselves. In the evening we walked the camp ground and both toddlers were happy to explore some new campsites.
On this particular trip we did two major hikes down to the bottom of waterfalls. We knew there would be swimming, so we attached the kids floaties to our hiking carriers and let them run free and swim.
For younger toddlers, it may be helpful to bring along an outdoor playpen. We have one and we used to use it a ton. I would recommend this for children 18 months and younger.
I decided to add this section in because it was so fun to watch our kids help us with all aspects of camping. They “helped” us set up the tent, gather wood for the camp fires, “helped” us cook and even “helped” us unload the car. My favorite was them helping us build a fire ring at our second campsite; our rock loving kids didn’t want to give up their big rocks once they acquired them.
We normally would want to get everything settled without interruption, but something about being outside helped us all slow down. Having them involved and feeling like they contributed was really good for everyone! I highly recommend letting the kids steal the show while you’re sharing the outdoors!
We recently stumbled upon a small mom-owned company called Preparakit. We are IN FREAKING LOVE. Our first travel with our kits was camping. I can’t say enough how helpful these small, easily packable first aid kits are. OH and they are super cute. We have both the regular size and the small one. We used the kit/supplies to bandage up cuts/scrapes from toddlers playing and to clean up some blisters from hiking. They are truly perfect for any kind of family travel! You can find the kits HERE.
To say that I was wrong about camping with toddlers is an understatement. It was SO fun! Jimmy and I said over and over again how much we loved the time we spent camping. We both felt reconnected, unplugged and refreshed. A little planning and letting go of our normal uptight, strict schedule went a long way.
I highly recommend a family camping trip; even with toddlers.
What are some tips and tricks you have found when camping with toddlers?
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