Camping with kids is challenging. Camping with toddlers is terrifying. We know we’ve been there and managed to survive. But it wasn’t without trial and error, tears, and a lot of dirt.
How do you camp with a 2-year-old? That is precisely what we hope to help you within this post. We will discuss our best tips and hacks for camping with toddlers. And what can make your trip less intimidating.
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How can I make camping with my toddler easier?
Camp near a town
Camping near a town is a smart move for families with toddlers. Toddlers are spontaneous and unpredictable. They do a fantastic job at getting into situations and accidents. Also, having a small store near the campsite can save you time and tears.
Worst case, having an urgent care or small clinic would also be helpful. At Least until you have mastered camping with kids and your kids are at a more manageable age, camping near a small town is a good plan.
Make the campsite safe by moving trip hazards
Campgrounds are full of trip hazards; they are obstacle courses for toddlers. First, rocks and sticks trip on, then they fall and hit their head, knees, or elbows.
Guaranteed, your toddler will fall a zillion times while camping, but you can avoid some of it.
Move bigger rocks and fallen branches away from your designated campsite. Try to create a safe and clear path to get to the bathroom.
Everyone gets headlamps
Your toddler is as likely to wear a headlamp as a cat would. All the adults and older kids should have headlamps on and ready to go before the sunsets.
The sun goes down quickly while camping, and before you know it, you may have an escapee. You need to be hands-free while chasing around a toddler, and everyone needs to be on duty and ready to help.
Light up your campsite with string lights
Use battery or solar-powered string lights to light up your campsite. Not only will this look pretty and inviting, but it will also help keep track of the kids. String lights are also great for a visual guide back to your campsite if you lose your path.
I can think of several times I wandered around a bit before finding my campsite after going to the outhouse. Be sure to talk to your kids about looking for the string lights if they get disoriented.
Use glow in the dark necklaces and sticks
Glow in the dark necklaces, bracelets, and sticks are super fun for all kids. But most importantly, they make it easy for parents to keep track of them. Of course, your toddler won’t wear a headlamp, but they probably will wear glow-in-the-dark jewelry or carry a magic wand that glows.
Cover guylines with pool noodles
Honestly, this is an excellent idea for anyone camping. How many times have you tripped over guylines at night? When the sun goes down, guylines are hard to see and can be dangerous to anyone, especially toddlers.
Placing pool noodles over guylines will prevent some of the danger they can cause. Of course, you still may run into them, but it won’t be near as bad as running into a guyline.
A guyline may also be at the level of a toddler’s face. Running face-first into a pool noodle is much better.
Solar lights for a path
Inexpensive solar stakes are great for lighting a path. For example, you can use them to light a path to the bathroom or for your campsite perimeter.
Just remember to put them in the sun all day to charge. Solar lights are a fantastic camping hack for families.
Adults sleep by the entrance of the tent
If you have a toddler who sleepwalks or may try to wander out of the tent, an adult needs to sleep by the entrance. A toddler won’t be careful trying to get out of the tent, and they will step right on you if you are in the way.
So make yourself an obstacle for them by sleeping right in front of the door. This also makes it easier for you to get in and out of the tent without disturbing your sleepy baby.
Simulate naptime and bedtime with routines from home
Toddlers and all kids behave better when they have a schedule or routine. So do your best to follow the naptime and bedtime routine while camping. This is probably one of the most important tips for camping with a baby.
If you wind down with a special song or a book, be sure to do the same while camping. Take your toddler away from the excitement of the campfire and head into the tent. Be sure to close the tent door, so they don’t see everyone else still having fun.
Tell the rest of your family to be quiet, or they have to deal with the toddler. Have all the special stuffies and blankets ready for your toddler to snuggle up with. Be sure to have a soothing lantern for them (not within reach), so they aren’t in the dark.
Bring a portable potty and use nighttime pull-ups
Even if your toddler seems to be potty trained at home, they may regress while camping. Going to the bathroom in an unfamiliar area is challenging for a newly potty-trained kid.
Buy a portable potty several weeks before your camping trip and get your kiddo used to it. There is a good chance they won’t want to use the outhouse, so they need to be comfortable with the portable potty.
Even if they rarely wear a nighttime pull-up, it’s a good idea while camping. They may sleep heavier and are out of their typical environment, so accidents are bound to happen. Plus, it also takes much longer to trek to the potty while camping.
Try to encourage using the outhouse as much as possible. Use treats if you have to. But don’t punish them or pressure them too much. Remember, this is scary to them.
How do I organize camping with a toddler?
Utilize a family camping checklist
A family camping checklist is essential for a smooth camping trip. There are so many things to remember, it’s impossible to bring it all without a solid list.
Also, your list will change over the years, so always bring a copy of it with you. This way, you can make changes to the list right away and not forget about it.
Clear bins are essential to good organization when camping. They stack easily, show everything inside, keep items clean and make camping less stressful.
We use clear bins for almost everything that needs to be packed. It is also helpful to label the bins and attach a running list of the items inside the bin.
Hanging shoe racks for any small items
Hanging shoe racks are lightweight and collapse small. They are perfect for storing small, frequently used items such as kitchen items and toiletries. Counter space is also limited while camping, so hanging items up saves space.
Place a tarp and or rug outside the entrance to the tent
A tarp or rug outside the entrance to the tent will help keep dirty feet out of the tent. Remind everyone they need to take off their shoes before entering the tent.
Place foam tiles on the floor of the tent
Get some of those fun-colored foam tiles you see in daycares for your tent floor. Not only will this add a clean play area for your toddler, but it will help insulate the tent and keep your feet a little warmer. Also, it is much nicer to step out of your sleeping bag onto a soft surface rather than a rock.
Invest in a portable play-n-pack
A portable play-n-pack is nice to have for napping or if you just need to contain your toddler. You can quickly move it outside or place it in the tent for nap time.
Bring a portable high chair
A portable high chair will keep meal time so much easier for you and your toddler. They have a safe, designated place to eat.
Realistic meals that are pre-packed
Don’t get all gourmet and fancy when camping with a toddler. Be realistic and pack easy-to-make meals and things you know they will eat. Any meal that can be pre-packed is also a bonus.
Contained sleeping area for toddler
Toddlers roll all over the place when they sleep. Try putting some pool noodles wrapped in the bedding as props to keep them contained. Also, toddlers tend to kick off their blankets, so you may want to put your baby in a bunting sleeper.
How do I keep my toddler busy while camping?
Watercolors and crayons
This seems like a no-brainer but can be overlooked when packing for everything else. Coloring is also great for adults and older kids. It’s relaxing and perfect for an afternoon with nature.
Watercolors can be messy, so they are perfect for camping. Let your little one go crazy with watercolors and not worry about spills on the carpet.
Your kiddos will be inspired with creativity by all the trees and plants. And of course, they will want to draw some bears.
Chalk is fantastic for camping, especially sidewalk chalk. Let your toddler draw all over the paved areas near your campsite. Be sure to bring plenty because it wears down pretty quickly.
Bubbles are super fun for kids of all ages. When my kiddos were toddlers, they would play with bubbles for hours. Of course, they love to make them, but most of all, kids love to pop bubbles.
When you are all done, your toddler will have a thin layer of suds on them. Then add a little water and a washcloth, and you can transform your dirty baby into a clean one.
While camping, sand toys turn into perfect dirt scoopers and spreaders. They can rake the dirt, pile it up and make dirt homes for bugs. My kids made elaborate villages for bugs all out of dirt, sticks, and leaves.
Toy trucks and cars
Toy trucks and cars just add more fun to the sand toys. Toy dump trucks are needed to transfer the dirt to the bug condos. It’s super fun to run their cars all over the campsite.
My kids used to make roads out of sticks in the dirt. Then they would race their cars all through it.
Scavenger hunts and stories
Scavenger hunts are my personal favorite. While camping, there are so many new and different things for kids to look for. You can keep it very simple for toddlers too.
Give them a paper bag and tell them to find leaves or pinecones. They will be so proud to show you each and every one.
For your older kids, make it more challenging. For example, they may need to search for specific items, like a particular color of a leaf or stick size.
You can also play a game of I spy with my little eye. This game can be super easy for toddlers or more difficult for older kids. These games also get your kids to know more about their surroundings in the forest.
Camping in the forest is totally different from their day-to-day life. Take opportunities to point out the different trees, foliage, pinecones, and plants.
We loved to make up grand stories about creatures and fairies that live in the forest. So encourage your kiddos to come up with stories of their own. Just make sure they aren’t too scary for your toddler.
Glow in the dark items
Glow in the dark stuff is fun and adds safety to your campsite. The kids will just think it’s super fun to have glow-in-the-dark bracelets, necklaces, and whatever else glows. They can play imaginary games with glow-in-the-dark swords and magic wands.
Your kids think they are just having a good time, but you can keep track of them. And they last the perfect amount of time. The glow starts to fade after about 5-6 hours, plenty long for them to get tuckered out and head to bed.
Glow in the dark gear also makes bedtime less creepy. They can hang their bracelets and necklaces up in the tent. Then, when the parents go to bed, all the glow will be gone, and everyone will get some sleep.
Toddler bowling with solo cups
There are tons of silly impromptu games that you can play while camping. Just be creative and use what you have.
For example, stack up some solo cups and grab a ball or even a pinecone. Then, roll the ball or toss the pinecone towards the cups and knock them down.
This game is hilarious to a toddler, it’s simple, and they love it. Any version of bowling is fun for kids of all ages. These games are fun because they can be as easy as needed.
If you have older kids, encourage them to come up with some fun games of their own.
Baby camping hacks – clean and happy baby
Relax about the dirt
RELAX ABOUT THE DIRT. I cannot stress this enough. If the idea of a filthy dirty toddler makes your heart race, then maybe camping with a little one is not for you.
And that is ok, camping has to be enjoyable for the whole family, not just the kids.
Once you realize that a dirty kid is a happy kid, your camping trip will be much more fun. You will lose if you spend the trip trying to keep your kids clean. When we went camping, the kids would come home about 5 shades tanner than usual.
Only they weren’t tan; they were super dirty. Dirt doesn’t hurt anyone, though, and it comes off easily once you are home. So, of course, we would change their underwear and clothes, but they would be playing in the dirt the next minute.
As long as they are safe and not getting into danger, there really isn’t anything to stress about. Pack clothes that you really don’t care about. Don’t let your kids bring their special sweaters or other favorite clothes.
Use a plastic tub for quick baths
If your toddler has an accident, you need a way to clean them off. Dirt is one thing, but a soiled baby is not ok. Take one of your camping bins, empty it out and use it for a portable bathtub for baby.
They will actually love it and think it’s so funny to be bathing in a bin. It’s not their regular bathtub, so it will be new and fun. I only had to do that a few times, and thank goodness it was actually pretty fun. Drying them off was the challenge.
Bring bags for clothes that get soiled with poop or pee
Bring ziplock bags for clothes that get soiled with poop or pee. You need to take these home but don’t want to smell them all the way home.
Make sure you put soiled clothes in the car at night. Bears and other animals may be curious about these smells, don’t encourage them.
Bring extra bags for dirty diapers
Bring extra plastic grocery bags for dirty diapers. You will need to take these to the garbage right away. Nobody wants these lying around the campsite.
Have a designated changing station
Changing a diaper on a squirmy toddler can be a challenge. Now add some dirt and mother nature. It just got worse. Have a designated changing station to help this process.
It can be an old beach towel or whatever works for you. Just make sure it is close to the baby wipes, plastic bags, and anything else you need to change a poopy diaper.
Have a changing station in the tent for the middle of the night
You will also need a designated changing station for the middle of the night changes. This must be inside the tent and have all the baby wipes and plastic bags available.
A headlamp is too bright and will startle your baby, so try a low-light battery lantern or even one of those flameless candles. Remember to take the dirty diaper to the garbage can.
Hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes
Hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes are a must when camping with toddlers
Prevent bug bites
Rub or spray preventative bug bite creams on your baby. The spray might be easy, but it is usually so stinky and not really something I want to put on my baby. There are several bug repellent creams on the market for under $15.
First aid – sunblock, bug spray, bandaids, Tylenol, peroxide or alcohol, itch cream, Benadryl
Bring all of the items above and any others you think you may need. A well-stocked first-aid kit may prevent a trip into town.
Be patient, so very patient. Camping with kids is crazy fun, and when there are toddlers involved, it is even wilder. It’s not easy, but you will have some great family memories.
It is all about being prepared as much as possible and relaxing your rules a bit. We genuinely hope that our camping hacks and tips will help you prepare for a camping trip with a toddler.
Be brave; remember that things will get messy, which is ok. So get out there, explore the woods with your family, and as always, camp s’more worry less.