Camping with Toddlers can be challenging. They are very needed and high maintenance at home with all the comforts, so taking most of their comforts away is crazy. Especially when it is their first time and a new experience, but if you do not plan correctly it can be a bit of a disaster. I know because I have been there. The first trip with my daughter at the age of 5 was not what I had in mind. Here are 21 tips so next trip I will put into place so it will go smoother.
1. Why should you plan ahead of time?
I did not have a plan for camping with my 5-year-old daughter on our first trip. I planned like I was going alone with buddies. I packed “camping” stuff, not paying attention to kid-friendly camping ideas. You need to be mindful of what kids think camping is about. It may not be what your idea of camping is. Planning will keep you prepared for whatever can happen, but focus on the kid-friendly camping ideas.
[Tweet “Kids bring all kinds of new struggles to camping that you may not be familiar with if you have only camped alone or with buddies. Have a plan and stick to that plan.”]
- Potty breaks
- Activities that are kid-friendly
- Short activities so they keep interest
- many other things…
Just to name a few.
[Tweet “Kids bring all kinds of new struggles to camping that you may not be familiar with if you have only camped alone or with buddies. Have a plan and stick to that plan.”]
2. Have gear put together before you leave
Take the night before you go and put all your gear together. Make sure to get everything you are going to need or think you are going to need and keep it lightweight. Go through your gear and gather the necessities you will need, kids items that will make them comfortable but not too much (will explain later).
Packing light is key to camping but especially with camping with toddlers. My kids have so many toys, things, and clothes which are everywhere in my house. Anytime we leave the house, the area where they sit in the van is always surrounded by their stuff. That is the last thing you want when you are trying to camp. Lighter the better, but the allow them to have things that will help them have the comforts of home.
Packing gear early will allow you to go over your checklist one last time before you get in the vehicle headed to the campsite. When you arrive you will need to get the site set up fast and efficient. Pack the vehicle so you will be able to get the major items out first and get them together first. Large items like the tent and chairs should be put out first, making sure to get them up before sundown. Put up a tent in the dark is not easy, nor fun and really difficult while trying to watch your kids.
I was running behind schedule and lost light with the sunset. Having to try to put up the tent in the dark was definitely not ideal. Thankfully I had a headlamp which made the task a little easier but wished I would have had camp all set up prior to the sun going down.
3. Have firewood together Before you Arrive
Because I was running behind schedule, I also did not have firewood together or cut. I thought before I left, “maybe I should pick up so pre-cut firewood at the store. Nah, I have my new hatchet. I will cut some when I get there. I will have plenty of light left and she can learn something fun.”
I was trying to gather firewood, find kindling and small twigs in the dark with a headlamp. The whole time my daughter is scared, trying to help and complaining the whole time. Dark woods and toddlers do not mix and they become insecure quickly. It made for a chaotic situation that could have been avoided. If I would have had the firewood ready prior to setting up camp and the fire up quickly my daughter would not have been so scared.
Fire is mesmerizing. You know I am right, you watch it dance all night at camp. The kids will watch it dance and give you time to get everything else set up. Just be sure to keep an eye on them and keep them at a safe distance. Good time to teach them about the dangers of fire and fire safety.
4. Get the fire together before sundown
As touched on above, fire is one of the main items needed for a campsite and should not be the last thing you do, especially if you are running out of daylight like I did.
Campfire sets the mood for your trip. As the coolness of night creeps in the warmth of the fire makes everyone feels comfortable and cozy. It calms nervousness and allows everyone to enjoy the evening. Smoke from campfire wards off critters, bugs and especially mosquitos. Plus with a campfire you can make awesome, yummy meals and snacks everyone will love.
Setting the mood is important and should not be left as the last thing to do.
5. Make Setup easy and fast
Make setup easy by planning ahead. Pack so you can get things out quickly so the setup time is minimal. Get to the “why you are camping” in the first place, having fun outdoors with your kids and teaching them new things.
But if they are hanging around bored, watching you set up everything, their enthusiasm goes away quickly. As you know, your kids have short attention spans so get the gear setup quickly, so you can start doing what they want to do.
Setup the vehicle in stages and have your gear placed into tubs or bags to easily carry them to where your site is located. This way you will be organized for efficiency.
Example: Stage One: Put tents, sleeping bags, pillows and everything that will go in the tent together in one tub or bag. This way you will have everything you need to set up in one staged area.
Kitchen equipment, pots, pans, food, snacks and everything else that has to do with your “kitchen” all in its own tub as another stage.
Use this method for as many stages as you will need. This will help you get your gear out quickly and organized. The faster you get it up the faster you get to the fun activities of camping.
6. Clear a GOOD Spot (no weeds or bugs)
This was the BIGGEST mistake I had with my first camping trip with my 5-year-old. I should have had my spot pick prior to getting there, but I didn’t. A little rushed (another problem), I picked a spot I thought looked nice. Would have been great for me and buddies, but not for a little girl.
There was tall grass. Weeds that she did not like. Mulch which had bugs. Nothing big or poisonous but bugs crawling around none the less, that she could not get over. “Daddy, I can not sleep with bugs”. There was no breaking that idea in her mind. Had to move to a better spot that was hard bottom dirt with plenty of space between the tall grass.
Make sure to find a spot where they feel comfortable. If you do not, there will be no joy. Find a spot that will fit a tent on flat, hard ground. A place where you can build a fire safely in the dirt away from other material that could be flammable. Now if you are camping in a campground, with designed campsite will make this process easier. Probably what I should have done first ( HERE is a list of campsites you might look into). Most campgrounds are staged for you to put camp easy.
7. Make sure to have bug spray.
Here in Florida, mosquitoes are a huge problem. If you are camping, be sure you have plenty of mosquito spray or bug spray for your area. Want to ruin your camping trip quickly? Let your kids get bit up and your trip is over. They will be miserable and so will you.
My daughter is allergic to mosquito bites. When she gets bit, it swells 5 times larger than normal, itches tremendously and scales up. A couple of days later it turns hard, itches uncontrollably.
Guess what happened? Yep, I forgot to get the Thermacell out first and spray her with OFF deep woods skeeter spray. She got bit. I should have got this together first thing out of the vehicle. The mistake made and noted.
8. Make a spot to potty quickly and not too far from the tent
Make a spot for them to potty as soon as you get the first stage (the tent) set up. If you are in a campground, you will probably have a bathroom in place for your stay. However, if you are making a campsite in the woods, this is a very important step that can not be overlooked.
As soon as we finally got to where we were going to set up our campsite, she immediately needed to potty. As you can tell, I was not ready. I had nothing out and had to stop everything I was doing to help her find a spot to squat. If I would have set that up earlier, I would not have had to stop what I was doing and she could have gone potty by herself.
Make sure it is a good clear spot away from weeds, tall grass, bugs and anything else that might be scary. This will ensure that they are not afraid to go by themselves.
9. Have chairs so they can stay put
Having chairs set out will allow them to stay out of the way and allow you to get the campsite put together as quickly as possible. Again, I did not do this step until last and it was not wise.
As I was trying to get the tent up, my daughter was running around asking questions, while my 3-year-old nephew and 2.5-year-old son was trying to tear everything else up. They had no disclosed place to be and they were into everything (My son and nephew were there during setup but left later – it was just me and my daughter).
If I would have set out some chairs they would have a designated place to be and probably would have given me enough time to get everything setup and off to do fun things. At least that would have been my hope.
10. Keep all sharp items out of reach
Kind of an obvious you would think, but you would be surprised. I was when I saw my daughter trying to use my new hatchet alone. She was just trying to help but no way qualified to swing a hatchet. Scared me to death.
I should have made sure the sheath was on the hatchet (this is a favorite of most woodsman – best priced here at Amazon) and put back into my pack. Out of sight out of mind. Next time, I will cut what I need and get the hatchet or knife back in the pack. That way our trip does not close short by a trip to the emergency room.
11. Let them help
This one is difficult, especially with little ones, but let them help. Give them little tasks they can do so they feel like they are helping.
That’s what my daughter really wanted to most of the night we were there. She was bored and wanted to help me get everything together but I did not have anything for her to do.
I should have broken down little tasks for her. Like collecting small twigs for the fire, let her seat up her sleeping bag, unpack the s’mores and any other small tasks she could do. It would have made her feel like she was contributing.
12. Have games to play and Keep it fun
This is where I failed miserably. I had visions of us making s’mores, sitting around the campfire, telling stories, laughing and having a good time.
She was good with the s’mores, we laughed a little at her jokes but then she was done. She wanted to know what fun thing we were going to do next. I was unprepared. Her fun was not my fun.
I should have had or made up some games for us to play, keeping things fun and entertaining. Bored kids can ruin a trip quick.
13. Keep them busy learning
Make this a learning experience. Allow them to learn something each and every time they go camping. Teach them skills that they can carry on for the rest of their life and share with their kids. Skills taught at camp can be lifesaving in some situations. Teach them how to make and do things they will need to survive.
- how to find firewood
- how to look for bugs
- Show them how to cut or carve wood (if they are old enough)
- to make crafts or tools
The list could go forever. Explore their minds. Ask them what they would like to learn and then show them.
Kids these days really do not know how to do “outdoor activities”. They spend too much time on video games and watching television. Teach them the outdoor activities your parents and grandparents taught you as a kid.
14. Have quick easy snacks ready available
SNACKS. They are needed.
Kids get hungry and they get hungry fast especially if they are helping and playing around a campsite. And when they do get hungry, they get “Hangry”. They become little monsters on a rampage, ready to destroy the world if you can not produce a pack of fruit snacks within a short time frame.
Keep snacks around to keep them satisfied until the campfire meals start showing up. Full bellies are happy bellies and happy kids make for a great camping experience.
15. Ready next meal
Make sure the camping meals are quick, easy and fun to eat. Snacks will only get kids by for so long before you need to provide them with something more filling. Keeping meals already put together in containers, and readily available makes this task simple.
Tin foil meals are a perfect example. You can make most of them prior to leaving the house. Place all of the ingredients together, season them and wrap everything up in a piece of tin foil like a pocket. Them place them in the cooler, (if needed like with meat recipes) so when it’s time to cook, you can just pull them out and place them around, in, near or over the campfire to cook.
Where I made yet another fateful mistake on our trip. I had nothing previously prepared to make the process simple or fast. I figured I would just prep everything there. Yep, remember the running out of sunlight thing. Yeah, that did not work out how I envisioned it in my head. Plan and prepare meals ahead as it will make all the difference.
16. Make sure they are comfortable (clothing and bedding)
Comfort is HUGE when camping. The old saying “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t Nobody happy”. Well, that is also true for kids, especially toddlers while camping. Make sure that they are in climate-appropriate clothing. Meaning shorts and t-shirts in the summer months or hot humid climate like Florida (but remember the mosquitos with the sun starts to set). Cooler, colder climates will need long pants and jackets to stay warm.
I know, you’re thinking “well that is obvious”.
What most people do not realize, in some places, it gets cooler than you think at night. It may be 90 degrees during the day and 40 degrees at night. Just make sure the kids have dressed appropriately for the comfort.
The tent needs to be comfortable as well. Making sure there is no debris under the tent. Sleeping on sticks, rocks, mounds make for terrible sleeping arrangements. Make sure everyone sleeps comfortable and get a good night sleep.
17. Make sure to capture the moments on video.
Make memories while you are camping, get them on video, so you all can look back as they grow and rewatch them together. Making memories is what this is all about. Check out the article 7 Ways to Make Lasting Memories with great tips.
With technology nowadays you do not have to lug around heavy camera equipment like my parents did when we were kids. Our smartphones and action cameras (I have this one here from Amazon) have 4k video cameras that capture amazing quality videos. Document these times with your kids and enjoy them for years to come. Who knows, you might catch that funny moment that could make you money or the true sighting of Bigfoot that could make you famous?
18. Make sure to not make it scary.
Want to make sure your trip is doomed? Get your toddler scared before you go. Tell me about all the ghosts, wolves, bears and boogeymen that live in the woods. It will surely end things before they even start.
Thanks to my sister-in-law this is exactly what happened on our first trip. She thought it to be funny to make jokes. Telling my 5-year-old, that ghosts are in the woods, with snakes and to listen to them at night.
Recall back in my story, where I was trying to get the campsite set up after I lost daylight, with no prepared campfire and having to do everything by headlamp. Yep! My daughter got so scared that she vomited all over the place just as soon as we got to our campsite. I was not a “happy camper”.
However, after I explained to her that her Aunt was just being funny and that everything would be ok, I got the campfire going and she was good.
19. Give them the opportunity to go home if they want too.
Do not force them to stay if they do not want to stay. When they are done with the experience, let them be done. If you do not, kids will make the trip a nightmare, especially toddlers. They do not know how to cope like you do when they are out of their comfort zones. Which takes me to my next tip.
20. Have a quick easy exit plan
One thing I did do right on this trip? I made sure that I had a plan to quickly get everything packed back up and leave if needed. I had everything laid out in an orderly fashion, so it would pack up quickly, efficiently and we could bug out of the campsite without any more drama than was needed.
Strategically keep everything together, easily packable and ready to go fast.
- keep folding chair bags hanging on backs of chairs so you do not have to look for them.
- Keep items removed from pack close or put them back in the pack after use.
- Keep all knives, hatchets, and axes together and sheathed so you are not having to look for them in a rush.
- All kitchen items in their appropriate tugs or bags to quickly grab and load.
- All storage bags for sleeping bags, tents, etc all together with those items so you are not searching for them in a rush.
Organization of your camping gear will be your best friend at this time. Now if I would have just reversed this order at the beginning of my trip, by keeping everything organized maybe our trip would have gone better. Lesson learned.
21. Keep close to home
Camping close to home on your first trip is highly advisable. Nothing would be more miserable than having to pack up camp quickly, in the middle of the night and to drive hours to get back home. Keep it close and keep it local, so you know the area.
I purposely camped where we did because I was unsure how she was going to react. My relatives have a large wooded area close to their home. I chose there to experiment with our first trip to have a comfort zone for her if needed.
We needed it.
When she was done experiencing camping she was done and she was ready to go. I tried consoling her to find out why she did not want to stay and she stated that she was not having fun and she was not comfortable. It was over.
First camping trips usually start in the backyard and for good reason. You will never know how your toddler will react to the new experience. I had a strong inclination that my first camping with my daughter was going to turn out to be a short night so I planned ahead for it. Next time I will make sure I have my checklist ready and follow as many of the 21 must have camping with toddler hacks to ensure our next camp goes smoothly.
- What experiences have you had camping with toddlers?
- Did you run into any of the same issues I did?
- What problems did you or did you not overcome?
- What activities did you plan to make the trip fun and exciting?
Leave your comments below.