When we think of camping, we usually think of teenagers out hiking under the stars, or scouts in uniforms tying knots and fishing. Family camping trips are legendary, and are a fair rite of passage for families, but our images of these trips don’t usually include toddlers, who can be wildly temperamental and difficult to control. But you don’t have to be afraid of your toddler and camping! Toddlers can have a great time camping and so can their parents.
Families who have taken the plunge and gone out into the woods with their little ones all started with these questions:
- Will my child be able to enjoy the trip?
- Will we have a toddler meltdown in a tent?
- Will anyone get any sleep?
- Is it even safe to take a toddler camping?
If you’ve been thinking about taking your kids camping OR if you’re just now reading this piece and thinking that it might be fun, but you’re concerned about whether it’s going to be worth the time and effort, then read on for four ways to make camping work with your toddler.
Set Up for Safety
The number one concern when doing anything with your toddler is safety. You need to find a camping site that’s right for your family – and that means finding one that has the following attributes:
- Cell phone reception
- Away enough from water like lakes, streams or rivers
- No open campfires
- In an open area for clear visibility
- Parking close by
When you’re taking your toddler camping, especially for the first time, you want to make safety easy. Ask around with other moms, with park rangers, or with the staff at the local camping store for campsites that fit these criteria. By choosing a campsite that’s got these qualities, you’ll be making your life easier and also giving yourself peace of mind so that you won’t be worrying constantly about your child’s safety.
What to Pack
When you’re getting ready to go out into the wilderness, you want to be ready with everything that you’ll need. When you’re taking a toddler out into the wild, you’re nervous that you’ll forget something essential. Here’s list of “must haves” for your trip with a toddler:
- Bug repellant, DEET free (Sweetly Citron, $16.95 on Amazon)
- Sunscreen, toddler safe (Thinkbaby Safe SPF 50+, $12.83 on Amazon)
- First Aid Kit (Adventure Medical Kits Family Kit, $25.50 on Amazon)
- 2 extra sets of clothing
- Diapers, wipes and bags for trash
- Blanket or other comfort item for sleeping
One big piece of advice: skip the sleeping bag, or if you do bring one then unzip it to let it lie flat. Toddlers can get twisted up inside a sleeping bag and while it’s unlikely that they’ll get seriously injured, it’s still not something that you want to happen. You might want to consider a portable crib like the Lotus Travel Crib and Portable Playard if you’re a serious camping family. If you have a large tent, then this is perfect for keeping inside and is wonderfully portable and easy to use, not to mention will give you peace of mind in knowing that your child is safe inside while you do all of those necessary camping chores like cleaning and cooking.
You can also of course use what you’ve got! Umbrella strollers make great camp seats. Lightweight footed pajamas keep bug bites and sunburn at bay. A blanket makes a great play space for kids who aren’t so mobile yet. Aim to pack light, but remember that if your campsite is close to your car then you won’t have to go too far. You’re going to overpack on your first trip, and that’s ok! The more you do this, the more streamlined you’ll get.
Plan Simple Food
When you’re camping, you don’t want to be spending all of your time cooking! You want to be able to enjoy yourself. Not to mention you’ll still be spending a great deal of time taking care of that toddler. The other thing to keep in mind is that your child is going to need to actually eat the food, and toddler are notoriously picky anyway. Try eating your camping meals with the family in the weeks leading up to your trip so that you can know exactly what your toddler will like and so that they can get used to what might be new foods.
Pre-freeze meals like sloppy joes, sliced meatloaf or taco meat, then organize it all in your cooler and your meals are ready to just heat over the fire! No fuss. For breakfast, you can get individual containers of milk that doesn’t need to be kept cold for cereal, or throw in some frozen waffles into the same cooler for a crispy breakfast treat over the fire. And of course sandwiches are always an easy meal!
Pick a cooler that’s lightweight and easy to carry, but will also keep your food ice cold. You can get a high performance cooler for a reasonable price, and it’s worth it so that your food won’t spoil (The Arctic Zone Ultra 50 Can Cooler, $35.95 on Amazon).
Have Positive, But Realistic Expectations
A great strategy is to read and prepare for your trip, so that you have lots of knowledge about what’s going to happen when you’re out. Try these great reads!
- Babes in the Woods: Hiking, Camping & Boating with Babies and Young Children
- Backpacker magazine’s Hiking and Backpacking with Kids: Proven Strategies For Fun Family Adventures
- The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids: How to Plan Memorable Family Adventures and Connect Kids to Nature
You may also like this article: 5 Must-Read Books for Parents
You’ll come home refreshed and feeling great, but only if you have realistic expectations. Don’t expect to spend your afternoons reading under a tree in the quiet of the woods, or that you’ll go on a ten-mile hike. Keep it simple, keep it smart and keep it light! And do be prepared to leave early. It’s far better for you to leave a day early than to press on and set off a meltdown.
Remember that you set the tone for this whole endeavor, and you can really shape the success of your trip if you have a positive attitude! Take time to breathe in the sunshine and your natural surroundings. Camping can be a recharging and resetting experience for your whole family, your toddler included!