My husband and I are avid tent campers. In our first year of dating, we went camping 13 times! Naturally, we were excited to share our love of camping with our daughter. This article contains everything you need to know about camping with a toddler.
We started camping with our daughter when she was 4 months old. At that age, she would hang out with us in her bouncer around the campsite, or I would front carry her on walks and short hikes. We couldn’t do a whole lot of activities, but it was still nice and relaxing to be out in nature.
Most toddlers love nature, exploring, and being outdoors, so camping is right up their alley.
Sometimes, toddlers can be super unpredictable in what they like or don’t like, so taking your toddler out to camp can seem intimidating. Let me tell you, it’s not at all. My best advice is to try it out, roll with the punches, and see what happens.
So, here is your full guide for camping with a toddler.
What is the best toddler age for camping?
We’ve had many experiences camping with our toddler at 1 year old and 2 years old. I will say that camping with a 2 year old is so much easier than camping with a 1 year old toddler.
Camping with a one-year-old toddler isn’t horrible per se, but there is a lot more hands-on involvement with a younger toddler. You’ll definitely have to keep a watchful eye on them, carry them around more, and be extra cautious.
A 2 year old is a little more independent. They have a deeper understanding of what is going on around them. They are also at an age where they might truly appreciate and be excited by the concept of camping.
If camping really isn’t ‘your thing,’ then I would wait to camp until your toddler is two to three years old. At that age, the whole family can really enjoy nature and being outdoors.
No matter what, camping with a toddler of any age can be a lot of fun.
Best time of year for camping with a toddler
The weather in New Mexico lends itself to year-round camping. Although we do have a winter season, it’s relatively mild with warmer temperatures in the South.
We usually camp with our toddler in New Mexico from early May through the beginning of September. If we head to Colorado, which has way cooler temperatures, we go in June or July.
The absolute best time to tent camp with a toddler in New Mexico would be May or the end of August. You don’t want to face scorching heat during the day and you also want to be comfortably cool at night.
Dipping your toes in camping
If you’re hesitant about camping with a toddler, I highly recommend dipping your toes in first. This means camping in your backyard or closer to home for a night. Even REI recommends ‘practicing’ camping at home with kids.
We actually did this the very first time we went camping with our infant. Although we were experienced in tent camping, we were first-time parents and had some jitters about taking our infant camping. So, we spent one night at a site forty-five minutes from home to try it out.
Everything turned out just fine, but it was nice to know that we were relatively close to home.
On your first camping trip, you’ll get a feel for whether your toddler likes being outdoors and can easily spend a night away from home. It would be pretty miserable to commit to a week-long camping trip and find out the first night that your toddler despises it.
Even now, our normal camping trips with our toddler are 2-3 nights max.
What to bring when camping with a toddler
Surprisingly, toddlers don’t need much to go camping. We pack our toddler’s bag like a normal weekend getaway and throw in a few extras like her camping chair, outdoor toys, and extra layers for nighttime.
Camping list for toddlers
- Sleeping bag and/or bedding supplies
- Outdoor toys
- Toddler seating
- Clothing layers
- Toileting supplies
- Sunscreen and hat
- Hiking pack
- Drinking vessels
This is the camping chair we use for our toddler from Amazon.
Inevitably, your toddler will get dirty, so I recommend packing some extra sets of clothes. I don’t mind my toddler running around with dirt on her clothes, but I will change her if she’s wet or extremely dirty.
One time, she got soot all over herself and it was rubbing off on everything, so she definitely needed to change.
For toys, I recommend bringing balls. On our last camping trip, we brought the Little Tikes soccer ball, a knobby football, and a tennis ball. That’s all we needed for the trip.
Toddler camping activities
There are so many activities to do when camping with a toddler. Activities in nature require a little bit of imagination and independent play. If your toddler likes to explore, they will be busy for hours.
These are our favorite camping activities with our toddler.
- Counting stars at night
- Picking pine cones
- Playing with rocks and dirt
- Gathering firewood for a campfire
- Marshmallow roasts
- Nature walks
- Imaginative play
- Taking pictures
- Throwing rocks in streams or lakes
We stayed at a developed campsite on our last trip and there was a large loop that went around the entire site. The loop was the perfect walking length for our toddler. We ended up walking this loop a few times on our trip.
There was a family at the site next to us with toddlers. They brought tricycles so their toddlers could ride around the campsite. I thought that was pretty cool and something we might consider on our next trip.
- Additional reading: Radio Flyer 4-in-1 trike review, great despite flaws
How to tackle naps and bedtime when camping
Sleep is our biggest issue when camping with our toddler. At this age, sleep can already be pretty elusive. When you throw in a tent, a different routine, and a new environment, it can get pretty tricky.
Tacking naps during camping
At home, we have a pretty solid routine and our toddler goes down for a nap at the same time every day.
Since there aren’t any set routines or schedules for camping (there shouldn’t be!), our toddler will nap when she naps. Sometimes, it’s early and sometimes it’s really late.
She rarely takes her full 2-hour nap, but will sleep from 45 minutes to an hour. That’s completely fine. It’s enough of a nap for her to be refreshed when she wakes up.
- Additional reading: How to establish a solid bedtime routine for a toddler
Sleeping in a tent
My toddler used to have a lot of difficulties sleeping all night in a tent. When she was a year old, my husband used to drive her around until she fell asleep. Then we would transfer her to the tent.
Now that she’s a little older, sleep is less of an issue thankfully.
First, your toddler probably won’t stay in a sleeping bag all night. We bought the Morrison toddler sleeping bag and our daughter refuses to sleep in it.
The Morrison outdoor sleeping bag for toddlers is actually really cool. My only complaint is that our version came with closed cuffs, meaning my daughter couldn’t access her hands. On the latest version of the sleeping bag, you can open or close the cuffs.
I know other toddlers who start out in a sleeping bag and wiggle out of it in the middle of the night. This is why I recommend lots of warm layers for nighttime.
Tire out your toddler. Let them stay up as late as you do. We used to try to get into the tent around my daughter’s bedtime to put her to sleep. This never worked. She would jump around in the dark and try to do everything but sleep.
We find it much easier for her to hang out and stay up as late as we do. She usually falls asleep much quicker this way.
Final thoughts on camping with a toddler
Camping with a toddler is absolutely amazing. It offers them a full, sensory-filled experience with many opportunities to learn and explore the world around them.
While camping with a toddler takes a little bit of preparation, there’s no need for it to be stressful or overly complicated. Toddlers really don’t need much outdoors.
Sleep is going to be different for every single toddler. Even though we have a great sleeper at home, our toddler did not adjust easily to sleeping in a tent at all. Fortunately, with time and practice, we’re finally in a place where she can get some decent sleep while camping.
Hope you enjoyed the article and comment if you have additional camping with toddlers tips!