25 Helpful Tips for Camping With a Toddler

Updated on December 6, 2018
leahlefler profile image

Leah Lefler enjoys adventures with her family and frequently camps with her two sons.

Camping with very young children requires special preparation to make the trip a success!
Camping with very young children requires special preparation to make the trip a success! | Source

Camping with very young children can be daunting, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Developing a love for the outdoors and nature is important, as is the family bonding that comes when distractions from everyday life. Our family has camped with small children many times and we have learned many tricks to make the adventure a little easier with the littlest ones in the family!

1. Fire Ring Safety: Create a Safety Zone

One of the most dangerous elements of camping is the evening campfire. Campground fire pits are often not raised up from the ground, increasing the danger potential. Toddlers are often unsteady on their feet, act impulsively, and have no sense of danger around fire. It is imperative to set up a three foot “safety boundary” around the campfire where children are not allowed (or able) to enter. It is possible to do this by placing a ring of chairs around the fire and disallowing children from walking or playing in the space between the chairs and the fire. An alternate idea is to use stakes and twine to mark off a 3’ boundary line around the fire ring. Children of this age require constant supervision near the campfire.

2. Bring an Extra Sleeping Bag (and lots of Towels)

Every camping parent has had it happen: their deeply asleep toddler leaks through a diaper in the middle of the night, soaking their sleeping bag (or even worse: your sleeping bag). A spilled sippy cup or a toddler who gets sick in the night can cause a similar situation. Having an extra sleeping bag stashed in the car will make an unfortunate midnight wetness issue a solvable problem.

3. Pack a Portable Crib

A pack and play can help contain a toddler when the adult’s hands are needed for important work, like setting up a tent and campsite. Besides keeping a young child safe, the playpen can double as a clean place to take a nap.

In addition to a safe outdoor play space and napping location, a pack and play can also be placed into the tent. This creates a familiar sleeping area for the child. In the event a child gets sick or wets through their diaper in the middle of the night, a portable crib system also contains the mess.

4. Bring a Comfort Object

Most children have a favorite toy they like to sleep with. Do not forget to bring their special sleeping toy on your campout! Familiarity helps children relax in the new environment, so make their bed space as “home-like” as possible.

Toy cars and trucks are excellent toys at the campsite. Toddlers love filling the trucks with sticks, rocks, and other items they find in nature.
Toy cars and trucks are excellent toys at the campsite. Toddlers love filling the trucks with sticks, rocks, and other items they find in nature. | Source

5. Bring the Right Toys

Certain toys are better than others when camping. Leave the stuffed toys at home, with the exception of the one special toy your child will sleep with. Playthings should be easy to clean, as they will likely become caked with dirt and mud throughout the course of the trip. Dollar store toys are a fantastic option, as if they are inexpensive if they are damaged or lost. Our favorite toys for camping include:

  • Toy cars and trucks. You can make roads in the dirt and the kids will play for hours.
  • Water toys for use in the pool, lake, or river.
  • Bikes are great fun around the campsite, whether your child rides a tricycle or uses a two-wheeled bike with training wheels (or a balance bike). Riding down to a campground’s playground was a highlight of camping with my children.
  • Beach toys, including sand sifter. My kids loved filtering sand and rocks at the campsite. The bucket can be used to study tadpoles from a local pond.
  • Fishing net. This can be used to catch butterflies and other insects, and to scoop up interesting things from the water.

6. Light up the Night

Campsites can become darker than a small child is used to at home. Give them a light they can control – for very young children, this might be a glow stick. For older toddlers and preschoolers, a flashlight or headlamp is a great option for letting them control the light level around them. Use solar-powered fairy lights to mark the edges of your campsite or to light the way to the path to the restrooms.

7. Prepare Kid-Friendly Camping Meals

Meals that are easy to prepare, easy to clean up after, and well-liked by the child are the way to go on a camping trip. Avoid upset tummies by preparing food similar to what your child eats at home. When camping without kids, we like to make fancy shrimp dinners and more complicated meals, but with small kids we stick to simpler food like pasta, mountain pie pizzas, macaroni and cheese, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Bring plenty of healthy snacks, as kids are often hungry when playing in the fresh air all day long.

Cook simple meals when camping with little ones. Mountain pies, grilled cheese sandwiches, and pasta are easy to make and have an easy clean-up when mealtime is done.
Cook simple meals when camping with little ones. Mountain pies, grilled cheese sandwiches, and pasta are easy to make and have an easy clean-up when mealtime is done. | Source

8. Bring Many Packages of Wet Wipes

Kids get dirty when camping. Bringing pre-moistened wet wipes is an easy way to wipe off hands before snacks and to clean off a dirty face. We go through more than one package when we are on longer camping trips, so plan accordingly!

9. Stick to the Schedule

Keep your child’s normal routine when in the great outdoors. If your child normally naps after lunch, keep this in mind when planning day trips or activities. Camping can make a child more tired than typical indoor pursuits, so be prepared for the need for longer or more frequent naps. Keeping your child’s typical daily routine for mealtimes and naptimes will help avoid meltdowns.

10. Bring a First Aid Kit

Accidents happen, and toddlers are prone to getting splinters, insect bites, and dirt in their eyes. Make sure you carry a first aid kit that contains (at a minimum) the following items:

  • Tick removal tool
  • Band-aids
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Eye wash solution
  • Tweezers
  • Disinfectant
  • Powdered Pedialyte or rehydration salts

Use a Laundry Detergent Container as a Camping Wash Station

An emptied detergent container with a spigot creates an excellent wash station when camping.
An emptied detergent container with a spigot creates an excellent wash station when camping. | Source

11. Make a Wash Station

Repurpose an old laundry detergent container that has a spigot into a wash station. Thoroughly clean out the container to remove all traces of detergent and fill the container with water. This creates an instant faucet to rinse off hands, feet, and sippy cups that have fallen into the dirt.

Camping toddlers are quite possibly the dirtiest humans on the planet. Keep plenty of wet wipes on hand and create a wash station out of an old laundry detergent container to help wash away the mess!
Camping toddlers are quite possibly the dirtiest humans on the planet. Keep plenty of wet wipes on hand and create a wash station out of an old laundry detergent container to help wash away the mess! | Source

12. Pack Clothes in Plastic Bags

We use this trick for all of our trips, not just camping trips. Pack each day of your child’s clothing into a gallon-size re-sealable plastic bag. This keeps clothing organized and separate. More importantly, it keeps each day’s set of clothing clean and dry!

13. Bring a Canopy

Whether you use a stand-alone canopy or tarp you can tie to surrounding trees, a canopy is a necessity. Even if the forecast doesn’t call for precipitation, rainy weather can happen at any time. The canopy can be placed over the campsite’s picnic table or over an indoor/outdoor rug for a dry outdoor play space in the rain. A canopy also helps to create a shady place on hot days, helping to prevent sunburn.

14. Use Clear Plastic Totes to Organize Supplies

Using clear 5 gallon or 10 gallon totes keeps camping supplies organized and visible. We typically have one tote for kitchen supplies, one for clothing, one for basic camping supplies (including lanterns), and one for personal and cleaning supplies like soap and sunscreen. Being able to use one of the clear totes as a toddler bathtub is an added bonus of having this type of storage system.

A Poll: The Best Age for a First Camping Experience

How old was your child the first time they went camping?

See results

15. Mark Tent Lines with Glow Sticks

One of the most awful things that can happen while tent camping is to have the tent collapse at night in the rain. Having camped numerous times with many small children, one of the most common causes of this unfortunate event is the fact that staked tent lines are often difficult to see and are easy to trip over. This can easily collapse a tent wall. A simple solution is to tie or tape glow sticks to the tent lines to make them visible each night. Place a glow stick bracelet at the bottom of each tent line to mark where they join the ground.

16. Bring Heavy Duty Garbage Bags

Keep your car clean on the return trip by placing muddy laundry, sooty pans, and your tent’s ground cloth into garbage bags before leaving your campsite. It is much better to isolate filthy camping equipment than to have to clean the equipment and your car when the trip is over!

17. Use a Camping High Chair

Small, portable camping high chairs are almost a necessity when camping with a younger toddler. These seats can keep them safe during campfire time, and also help small children have an eating space that is the right size. Sitting at a picnic table can be difficult for really young kids.

Toddler High Chair for Camping

Summer Infant Pop and Sit Portable Booster, Green/Grey
Summer Infant Pop and Sit Portable Booster, Green/Grey

When camping with our boys as toddlers, we used this portable booster seat as a high chair. We were able to feed our kids in a safe and comfortable way using this chair, as the picnic tables provided at the site were too big for them to sit at comfortably.


18. Bring a Portable Fan for Hot Nights and a Hat for Cold Nights

Camping means you are subjected to whims of nature. We have gone camping when the mercury has dropped to 27°F (-3°C) and we have also camped when the temperature has climbed to greater than 90°F (32°C). Bring the right equipment for the forecasted weather, and make sure you have a contingency plan for extremely hot days and/or extremely cold nights. A portable fan and ice from a cooler can help cool off an overheated child. For cold nights, a winter hat helps prevent heat escape from the only body part that isn’t covered by a sleeping bag.

All-weather rugs help keep the interior of the tent free from dirt and debris.
All-weather rugs help keep the interior of the tent free from dirt and debris. | Source

19. Use Outdoor Rugs

We love using a sturdy outdoor rug on our campouts. We often place one inside the tent – on rainy days, this helps keep water from wet feet from creating puddles on the tent floor. Placing a rug outside by the tent flap prevents mud from being tracked into the tent. A sturdy, waterproof picnic blanket or outdoor rug can also be used as a relatively clean and dry play space for toddlers.

20. Bring Non-Toxic Sunscreen and Insect Repellent

Even on overcast days, being exposed to the elements all day long can create a nasty sunburn. Bring plenty of sunscreen to help shield your little one while they are exploring the great outdoors. Buying an environmentally safe sunscreen will also protect the fish in the lakes and rivers you explore. Insect repellent is also a must: whether you use a spray-on repellent, Citronella candles, or mosquito netting. Mosquitoes can carry disease and no one likes to be bitten by black flies and other problematic insects.

21. Bring a High Quality Cooler

Food poisoning is extremely serious in young children. Ensure your cooler is of a high enough quality to keep ice frozen for at least a 24-hour period. Check the ice levels and temperature regularly to verify food is maintained at a cool enough temperature.

22. Make it Short and Keep it Close

The first camping trip your child experiences should be kept short in length and relative local to your house. This allows you to work out the kinks prior to taking a bigger adventure. There is always a piece of equipment you find you need (and don’t have) on that first camping trip! By staying close to home, these issues are a minor annoyance rather than a major problem far from civilization. Camping is a new and exhausting experience for young kids, so shorter camping trips are ideal for the first forays into the great outdoors. After the kinks have been worked out and everyone has more experience under their belts, longer and more remote camping trips can be attempted.

23. Bring Rain Boots and Water Shoes

Even when the forecast calls for only sun, campground and forest trails can remain muddy. Many campgrounds have ponds and fishing holes that have thick mud around the edges. Rain boots help to tame some of the mud in these situations. Many campground swimming areas may be rocky, have sharp shells, or have a muddy bottom. Water shoes help to protect little feet and make little ones more comfortable on the water’s edge.

Wading along ponds and other waterways is a muddy business. Water shoes will help protect sensitive small feet from sharp stones and shells.
Wading along ponds and other waterways is a muddy business. Water shoes will help protect sensitive small feet from sharp stones and shells. | Source

24. Bring a Potty Seat

Campground toilets range from rustic latrines to fully plumbed bathrooms. In all cases, toddlers may have trouble using the adult-sized toilet in a strange environment. Bring a folding child’s toilet seat to fit on top of the existing amenities. A complete potty chair is a good idea for younger toddlers, as the urgency to use the bathroom may not wait for a walk down to the public toilets. Having a portable option in the campsite for emergencies or for middle-of-the-night needs is a great idea.

25. Get a Big Enough Tent

Tent sizes are slightly deceptive, as a four-person tent will sleep four people, but without cots and lying tip-to-tail in very close quarters. A good rule of thumb for camping with small kids is to purchase a tent that is rated for double the size of your family. A family of four should purchase an 8-person tent. This will allow for inflatable air mattresses, cots, and a young child’s portable crib to fit inside the tent. Many families opt for a two-room tent, which allows one side to be converted to a play space during inclement weather.

Camping with Toddlers: A Checklist

General Camping
Health and Hygiene
Large Tent
Camping high chair
Wash water jug
Ground cloth
Spill proof cup
Biodegradable soap
Sleeping bags/blankets
Unbreakable dishes
Baby wipes
Portable crib
First aid kit
Outdoor rug(s)
Dishwashing soap
Water shoes
Pots and Pans
Potty chair
Glow sticks
Cooking utensils
Child’s portable toilet seat
Portable fan
Mountain Pie Maker
Clear totes
Campfire skewers
Insect repellent
Clothing appropriate for the forecasted weather
Filtered water
Garbage bags

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Leah Lefler


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • teaches12345 profile image

        Dianna Mendez 

        24 hours ago

        This was such a fun and informative article. I like the idea of using different types of lights to make it even more of an adventure.

      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        15 months ago from Western New York

        Getting kids outside and living in nature for a few days is such a wonderful experience, Richard. Particularly in this day and age, disconnecting from electronic gadgets and spending time wading in a pond and playing in the dirt is really necessary! There are definitely difficult elements parents encounter when camping with very young kids. We had one night with a child who had a stomach bug and it was definitely a tricky situation. Bringing a lot of extra clothing items and towels (and wet wipes) got us through it, but I'm grateful the stomach flu never made a return visit on other camp-outs!

      • profile image

        Richard F. Fleck 

        15 months ago

        This brings back memories of camping with our 3 toddlers who are now gown-ups at ages 47,48 and 50. A very helpful article!


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, skyaboveus.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)