Camping With Toddlers: YOUR Survival Guide, Tips and Tricks - Well Traveled Nebraskan

Camping With Toddlers: YOUR Survival Guide, Tips and Tricks

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We LOVE camping!!!

And just because we had kids, that wasn’t going to stop us from getting out into nature, even though it meant nights with less sleep in a tent, being “on duty” at ALL times while camping with a toddler (seriously, you can’t turn your back for a second!) and needing more camping supplies for kids (aka more STUFF!).

So just like all travel with children, all it meant was that we were going to have to adjust our expectations and increase our patience but ultimately be rewarded in some awesome family memories while simultaneously teaching our kiddos to appreciate the great outdoors!

After camping with a 2 year old numerous times now, we are here to share some of our best camping ideas for families, tips for camping with toddlers and show that you can still enjoy camping, even with kiddos in tow!

 

Types of Camping With a Toddler

Tent Camping With Toddlers

1. Pick the Best Tent For Families

The first time we went tent camping with a baby, we just used the regular Coleman tent that we had prior to kiddos.  It wasn’t a complete disaster, but we were cramped (despite it already being a 4 person tent) and it didn’t lend itself nicely to great organization inside.

We quickly realized we needed a 6 person tent, if not even an 8 person tent since we knew our family was only going to continue to grow.  After extensive research and scouring tons reviews, here are the 4 top rated family tents that we narrowed it down to.

TentImageHow Many PeopleSet Up TimeFeaturesRead More Reviews and Find Current Price
Core 9 Person Instant Tent

9 People (Up to two queen mattresses)60-90 Seconds! Pre-assembled frame for quick set up. Has Room Divider for kiddos. Tall Enough to Stand In.

Ozark Trail 3 Room Instant Cabin 12 (Up to 3 Queen mattresses)15-20 MinutesPre-attached Poles for easy setup. Each "room" is 8x8 and about 6ft tall= HUGE! Great in rain.

Wenzel 8 Person Klondike Tent
810-20 MinutesScreened In Porch Area= great separation of "living" and "sleeping" space. Waterproof seems. Tall enough to Stand In.

Coleman Tenaya Lake Fast Pitch Cabin Tent
810-15 MinutesHas a built in closet with shelves! Hinged Door for easy entry. Holds up in rain. Plenty of living space inside!

2. Allow For Plenty of Set Up Time and Start Early Enough in the Day

The last thing you need when setting up camp is for it to get dark before you have everything up and ready to go.  But this is even more true when camping with a toddler.  Keeping a 2 year old occupied in the dark is probably worse than that time you had to keep your drunk roommate alive.

Make sure that you arrive to your kid friendly campgrounds with plenty of time to spare for check-in/reservations, setting up camp, and any other hiccups along the way that might occur.

3. Have Them Help

How to have kids help with camping

It seems annoying at first, considering it actually is going to make setting up take a lot longer, but if you can get your kiddo involved, not only is s/he entertained, but you are actually teaching some really valuable lessons so early on in life.  A few of the tasks we’ve put our toddler to while helping us set up camp are:

  • “Helping” Daddy hammer in the tent stakes
  • Put down the bedding (blankets, pillows, etc)
  • Find THE PERFECT sticks for a campfire (this can keep them occupied for ages!)
  • Fill up water jugs
  • Assist in setting up a “kitchen” area

Glamping

Another option when considering the best kid family campgrounds is to look into Glamping.  We LOVE Glamping in Nebraska!

You’ll have the best of both worlds- amenities similar to a hotel but with the grandeur of being out in nature.  You can find actual sites dedicated to glamping here, or just simply create your own glamping experience.  (We now LOVE our Pop Up Camper for glamping with our family!)

 

Toddler Camping Gear

If you’ve been around here for awhile, you know I am ALL about packing light when traveling, even with kids!

However, when it comes to camping, I’d actually rather have too much than too little.  After all, you are probably getting to your location in a car, so what’s shoving a few more things under seats when you don’t have to worry about luggage, weight, and size!?

If you don’t use it, that’s fine, but better to have it just in case!

Expert Tip: Make a Family Camping Checklist in a google doc or note so that you can reuse it.  If there are things that you ended up not needing,  just delete it from your list or make a note about it to remember for next time.

I have two categories of kids camping gear.  1) The MUST HAVES and 2) The “Wow, these are so cool and funs!”

Camping Essentials With Toddlers

Toddler Camping Bed

This is actually at the top of the list for a reason (unlike the others, which are in no particular order).

The last thing you need while camping is to have your tot not sleep through the night, whether it’s because it’s an unfamiliar place, the sleeping arrangements aren’t comfortable, they are too hot or too cold, etc.

My biggest tip is to try to be as close to what you do at home.  Sometimes, this is pretty hard, but there are some areas that are easier than others.

For example, we always use this specific travel crib when traveling.  Therefore, Lil B knows it’s “HIS” bed.  It’s only seven pounds and can be worn like a backpack, making it easy to transport and even Lil B at over 2 still fits comfortably in it.

Our Guava Lotus travel crib fit perfectly into our tent with all our stuff
Our Guava Lotus travel crib fit perfectly into our tent with all our stuff

Click Here To Read More Reviews On the Lotus Travel Crib

If your tot is in a big bed, our friends RAVE about this easy to use toddler air mattress while camping.  It has sides and everything and their toddler loved having an air mattress “Just like Mommy and Daddy!”  Now that we are in the thicket of transitioning out of the crib (oh joy!) this will be our next purchase for camping.

Click Here To See the Intex Toddler Air Mattress, perfect for camping

Another option is to just co-sleep if you are comfortable and up to date on best safety practices for co-sleeping.

Toddler Sleeping Bag

If you go camping often, I really can’t recommend a toddler sleeping bag enough.  Yes, it’s one more purchase and one more thing to bring along, but we talk all about WHY toddler sleeping bags are NOT equal to adult ones here as well as give our top recommendations for which ones to choose.

Sunscreen

Of course, don’t forget to pack the SPF!! You’ll be out in the sun (hopefully!) a lot!

Hat

If your toddler is anything like mine, then you know the struggle of keeping a hat on them!  However, when out in the woods, I try my best to keep a hat on, not only to protect from the sun but also ticks.

Bugspray

Shhh….I’m a bit of a hippie, so I’m really particular about what bug spray (and sunscreen) I put on my kids, but regardless, make sure you have KID FRIENDLY bug spray.  While Deet is bad ass for keeping those mosquitos away, it really should NOT be put on your infant’s delicate skin.  Instead, try something like this natural based spray.

Did you Know: Lavender Essential Oil is the PERFECT way to calm down pesky bug bites.  I have a roll on tube that has a carrier oil (coconut oil is what I use) and a few drops of lavender for any particularly itchy and uncomfortable bites. (See?  I told you I was a hippie!)

Camping First Aid Kit

You should always have a first aid kit with you while camping, but when kiddos are involved, especially so.  You can always just buy a kit ready to go or make one up yourself.  Things to consider putting in your kit are:

  • Various sizes of band-aids
  • Tweezers for thorns and splinters
  • Gauze
  • Rolled bandages/ gauze for slings
  • Disposable gloves
  • Cleansing wipes
  • Anti-sting wipes or rollers
  • Tylenol or Ibuprofen (+ children’s medicine with appropriate dosage clearly labeled)
  • Cough Medicine/ Allergy Medicine
  • Thermometer
  • Hydrocortisone or Calamine for nasty rashes like poison ivy

Click Here To Buy a Ready To Go First Aid Kit

Wipes

Can you really ever have too many wet wipes….ever??? No.  The answer is always no! Not just for nappies, we use wipes for a quick hand cleaning, for spills and Lord knows what else.  Always bring an extra pack!

Travel Potty

If you are potty training (or are newly trained) like our toddler, the last thing you need to be doing is running for the shared bathroom across camp trying to get your toddler to a potty fast enough!

We’ve compiled the ultimate list of travel potties here so that you don’t have to regress, even when on vacation.

LOOONG Bonfire Sticks

We love finding sticks in the woods for our smores and hot dogs, but I know not everyone else wants to go on a scavenger hunt for long sticks.  However, when talking about toddlers, the last thing you need is to worry about them getting too close to the fire.

BUT we are talking about threenagers here.  You just know a fit will be thrown if they can’t roast their own damn ‘mallow!

Buy specially made, long roasting sticks to give your child a bit of freedom without causing a bit of a panic attack on your part.

Click Here For 3.75 Foot Roasting Sticks

Backpack, Carrier or Woven Wrap for Wearing

Hiking baby carrier

Ever since Lil B was born, we’ve worn him while traveling.  Even if you haven’t worn your toddler, having a carrier while camping (in my mind) is essential if you want to do any hikes or even just walks.

I’ve loved my Tula from day one, but now that Lil B is bigger and heavier, it’s time to upgrade.  I honestly can’t decide between a Toddler Tula (larger than the standard) because of how much I LOVED my original or an Osprey Hiking Carrier. I love every single piece of Osprey Gear we have (no, I have no relationship with them!) and after tons of research on best child hiking carriers, it’s no surprise that they are at the top of the ranks.

The benefit of a hiking carrier is the weight distribution and many have places to put a few items (water, extra clothes, etc).

Neither option is exactly cheap, but the quality for both are second to none and Lil B loves the free rides!  Having a carrier is a life saver when on walks while camping since strollers won’t work and I don’t really care to break my back holding a 30 pound kicking child who is tired of walking.

Don’t tell my husband buuuut I’ll probably just get both! Shhhh.

Click Here to Read More Reviews on a Toddler Hiking Carrier

 

Kids Camping Chair

This one is at the bottom of the “Essentials” list because it could truthfully go either way.  But, to be honest, having a kid-friendly camping chair has not only been a huge hit in our family (Lil B loves having one just like us!) but also, there aren’t always kid-friendly places to sit to eat at a campground.  Having a chair HIS size has been a huge help in this area.

There are actually quite a few choices out there for toddler camping chairs.  I always love Melissa and Doug products but the options are pretty endless!

Click Here To See Amazon’s Top Choices for Foldable Chairs perfect for camping and young children.

 

Other Kids Camping Gear

Here’s where camping can get REALLY fun with kids (but also more crowded in the car!)

I think that getting your kids involved in your travels can be the key to success for a great trip where they are excited, and getting them on board with camping gear is no exception.  Here are a few things that I think are really great to have in your arsenal of camping gear.

Kids Camping Lantern

If your toddler is used to a night light at home, having a lantern just for him/her is perfect.  It gets into the spirit of camping and gives them something that is “THEIRS” (Or is it just my toddler whose favorite word seems to be “MINE!!!” right now??).

Here is my top pick for a kids camping lantern that is durable yet kid friendly.

Fishing Pole

Growing up, I still remember my snoopy fishing pole.  I felt like such a big kid going down to a pond next to my Dad with my own pole!  Did I ever actually catch anything?  Probably not, but I sure got a kick out of “practicing.”

Today, you might not find snoopy, but there are still some pretty awesome kids fishing poles, like this Paw Patrol fishing pole and other popular kids themed poles for both boys and girls, made especially for the littles.

Other Helpful Things To Pack

  • Water bottle specifically for your little camper
  • Hand sanitizer
  • More spare clothes than you think they need.  Between “accidents” and mud piles, camping can get real messy!
  • Flashlights and /or headlamps
  • Swimsuits
  • Appropriate shoes (multiple pairs and styles; actual shoes, sandals, etc)
  • Shovel and Pail
  • Bike or Balance Bike if you have the room
  • Camping books for toddlers (I LOVE bringing literature into real life.  Having camping books prior to our trips gets the kiddo introduced to camping concepts.  We also never travel without at least a few books for bedtime)

Click here for a whole list of camping books that toddlers will love!

 

Camping Activities For Toddlers

If you are willing to take on a camping trip with a toddler, then surely you know that the weekend is not just going to be like the good ‘ol days of drinking beers by the fire and hanging out.

You’ll need to stay busy but that doesn’t mean you can’t involve your tot in all your past-time favorite activities (well, ok, minus the beer drinking!)

At the Campsite

Biking at Chadron State Park. Photo Courtesy Nebraska Tourism

One of my favorite parts of camping is relaxing around the campsite.  But toddlers are always ready to go-go-go!  That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun staying near home base though.  A few of our favorite camping ideas for kids are:

  • BUBBLES! You just can’t go wrong with these.  Bonus for a bubble machine!
  • Water guns
  • Bug catchers and nets
  • Soccer ball to kick around
  • Campfire Skits and Songs (Here are 50 campfire songs for kids in case you are a bit rusty)
  • Cleaning up camp (muahaha!)

Camping Games For Toddlers

I loved this list at Quirky Inspired that has tons of games to wear your kids out while camping! Some of my favorites specifically for toddlers were:

  • Eye Spy
  • Flashlight Tag (this one is a riot with the littles! Just don’t get too far away from them in the dark)
  • Capture the Flag
  • Cornhole (perfect yard game for adults that kids love to partake in as well)
  • Freeze Tag or Duck Duck Goose!

Cornhole is a Great Game for Adults and Kids! Click here to read more reviews 

Out and About

  • Go on a Hike

No, you aren’t going to be out all day long putting in the miles, but you’d be shocked at what a kid can walk if you get them used to it!  We always make Lil B start the walk, but have a carrier ready to plop him in and out of as we go.

  • Go Fishing
  • Swimming
  • Create a Scavenger Hunt or Do a Geocach

Easy Camping Meals For Kids

easy camping meals

Whether you are a family that cooks over the open fire or you bring a camping stove, I LOVE making camping food that is different than what we typically make at home.  There is just something about cooking over the flames while relaxing out in the open nature that is so rewarding!

If you are looking for campfire cooking inspiration, you can follow my Pinterest board dedicated solely to the best camping food.

Tip:  Cook, chop and prep as much of your food at home before your camping trip!

  • Even just throwing some chicken in a pyrex with a marinade before heading out can make a huge difference!
  • Chop up chicken, veggies, etc before leaving so you don’t have to deal w/ raw meat and sharp knives at the campsite

Bonus Tip: Just like having your kiddos help set up camp, having your child (yes, even your toddler) help with food prep can really get them excited to try new foods.  Have them help at the campsite (who cares if it gets messy, your outdoors!) and they’ll love gobbling up these camp foods!

Here are some of our favorite camping food for kids:

FOIL PACKETS!

The options are ENDLESS here!!! Veggie packets, quick meats, potatoes and vegetables all in one, loaded baked potato packets, MAC AND CHEESE packets!! Get creative!

Hot Dogs

I mean, cmon….duh!  If you want to get real “fancy” bring a can of premade chili for chili dogs!

Grilled Chicken

Use any easy-to-use sauce for a marinade (BBQ, Thai Sweet Chili, etc), brush it on and then lay over a grill grate over your campfire.   Grill up some corn on the side and you’ve got yourself a great meal!

Roasted Veggies

I’m obsessed with our grill basket.  I love dumping a bunch of veggies that I already pre-chopped at home in it and calling it good.  Healthy food even while camping!

Quesadillas

Just a few simple ingredients, what kid doesn’t love a cheesy tortilla, and SO good over the campfire!

Nachos

Surprisingly simple! Grab a foil pan, and layer up your favorite nacho ingredients (tip: If making meat, have it prepped beforehand) and set on a grill grate until everything is melted and yummy! (Bonus Tip: Bring small foil pie pans and everyone can make their own just the way they like theirs!)

Sandwiches

Not all camp food needs to be over a fire or camp stove! Make it easy, bring along some cold cuts, or even easier, PB&J!  No need to get creative- stick with what works!

 

Easy Breakfast Camping Foods For Kids

If you want to be a super parent, keep reading for a few easy camping breakfast ideas to actually cook.  But, let’s be honest here, why not just take the easy road.

  • Grab a box of granola bars
  • Bring along instant cups of oatmeal
  • Have some premade muffins on hand and just call it good
  • If you want to have some milk in the cooler and do cereal, more kuddos to you as well
  • We love bringing yogurt in the cooler for breakfasts

(Here are our top camping cooler recommendations, including my personal favorite, a plug-in cooler!)

Food doesn’t need to be difficult while camping!  Even if you typically don’t eat that kind of “on the go” food, what is a few days if it makes life easier for all?

If you love to cook though and want to go all out, a few camping breakfast faves are things like:

Scrambled Eggs: Scramble them all prior to your trip and put into an empty coffee creamer jug for easy pouring.  You can either cook these over a camping stove or over the fire.

Pancakes: Make the batter and freeze in baggies that you can then cut the tips off of for easy squeezing.  Better yet?  Make them at home and just reheat in a skillet at your campground.  NO MESS!

Campfire Cinnamon Roll-Ups: (Kids LOVE these!) Wrap crescent rolls over a roasting stick, roll in a cinnamon and sugar mixture that you put in a baggie before leaving home and toast like you would marshmallows over the open fire.

Other Tips For Camping With Kids

Let them get dirty

You are camping! Sure, it can be torture for us OCD parents to see our kids get covered in mud or playing with germy bugs, but this is what camping is all about!

And, not to mention, the exploration for kids at this age is pivotal for great development! (Sorry, you know the former teacher in me has to come out at least once in every blog post!)

Camping toys for toddlers

Get them excited beforehand!  I’m a big believer in practical or real-life type toys, so when we were asked what we wanted for Lil B’s second birthday, here were a few camping toys for toddlers that I thought would be perfect prep for our upcoming camping trips.

Camping ToyImageBuy Here
Kids Camping Set

Wilderness Gear Play Set

Camper Van Little People

Wilderness UNO

Playmobile Camping Trip

Replicate what you do at home

For example, what is your bedtime routine?  Can you get as close to that as possible while camping?  For example, we use a white noise machine at home so we bring a tablet that has a white noise app installed for whenever we travel.

Toddlers THRIVE on routine.  Of course, things will be a bit off anytime you travel, but if you can, pick a few things to stay the same so that they know what to expect, which should result in a smoother trip and less meltdowns.

Nap time

If you can coordinate a hike during naptime (sleep in the carrier) or just plan on being back to the campsite at the usual nap time, life will be a lot easier.  However, don’t be so rigid with your schedule that you don’t have fun or miss out on adventurous opportunities!

Layer it up!

Even in the summer, it can get cool at night and early in the morning.  Prepare by having lots of light layers for both night time and day that can easily be put on/taken off.

Weather while camping

Sometimes, it just rains.   Or Hails.  Or there is a tornado warning.  It sucks while camping.  Period.

Have a backup plan if you see a storm coming in, like ensuring everything is inside, or can you somehow pile into your car if need be?

We all hope for fantastic camping weather, but you are bound to hit a few rainy days if you camp a lot.

Have a Coffee Plan

No, seriously.  Your kids are probably going to be going to bed late and waking up at the crack of dawn.  There is a good chance your toddler will end up in bed with you at some point as well, resulting in less than stellar sleep!  Coffee will be your best friend!

Have Fun!!

This is a given, but let’s end on this note regardless!

It is easy to get overwhelmed while camping.  From the long list for packing, to the muddy messes, all the way to the tedious cleaning up and putting away what feels like a million supplies, it can be easy to write camping off when you have such little ones.

However, getting those tots loving nature from such an early age is going to pay off in the future.  Giving them opportunities to have real-life experiences, learning right along with you is HUGE for their development and of course…you will be creating memories for years to come!

Have you ever camped with a toddler before?  What tips do you have for other parents?

Do you know someone wanting to try camping with their little one?  Share this with them so they are ready and prepared!

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