Camping with Toddlers

Summertime meant camping when I was a kid.

Camping was always fun: sleeping outside, getting as dirty as can be, and eating all the sugary food my parents packed but normally never ate at home. I met so many different people when I camped and was introduced to new things. When I was a toddler I wasn’t into soda (“too peppery” was my response according to my mom), but a kid named Chris from a campsite over reintroduced it to me and I became a fan into adulthood.

I learned how to play pool from another set of kids on a different trip and made friends with some raccoons that invaded our campsite on yet another. One trip saw us sleeping in the car one night because it rained so hard our campsite flooded.

Camping was such a fun part of my childhood that right after Ash proposed I added a bunch of camping supplies to our wedding registry. He was never a big fan of camping, but he’s such a good sport that he went along with my interest to get back into camping once we were married.

We went once.

It was an ordeal, something to discuss in a future post, but it took us six years before we’d attempt it again. The takeaway from the trip: it was fun but extremely eventful. Fuel for family stories for years to come.

Jai’s First Trip

Once I got pregnant I knew I wanted to take my child camping as soon as they were old enough. I know we could have taken Jai right after he was born if we were super dedicated campers, but we’re not. We’re extremely casual, but not to the point of an RV or camper.

I decided that once Jai was able to walk it would be a good time to go. Unfortunately, his birthday is at the end of the casual camping season here and he didn’t start walking until he was 13 months. So we’d have to wait until spring/early summer to try our first trip.

We planned a trip for early-June at a campground not far from where we lived. Ash, Jai, and I went with my parents which helped the trip go smoothly because Jai had some adult available at all times to take him for a walk or follow him around the campsite to make sure he was safe.

Overall, the trip was a huge success with Jai in love with the outdoors (more than before). Able to spend 48 hours outside, including sleeping out there? All the dirt I can play with? All the walks I can take? We have a fan. He was slightly grumpy for a few days after we returned that I suspect it had to do with the fun ending and no longer having 24-hour Grampy access.

Admittedly, it was an easy-going trip because we only got a few sprinkles, four adults to watch him, and a relatively private campsite for the few crying sessions. I know not all of our trips will go so smoothly, but it was a fantastic way to jump back into the yearly trips with our little one.

Planning Ahead & Quick Tips

What helped the trip go smoothly was all the planning ahead we did.

I looked for camping lists and cobbled together my own list to bring everything we could possibly need. I also tried to keep the list to the bare minimum so we didn’t overstuff the car. I remember having to squeeze in next to coolers and tents in a much smaller vehicle as a child. It was fun, but as I got older it was hard to stretch out on the longer trips to campsites.

While we didn’t know what the site was going to look like ahead of time, we were able to confirm water & power hook-up and there would be bathroom facilities close by. We wouldn’t need to lug water for cleaning back to the site and we also didn’t need to stress over making our own bathroom.

We also made sure to check for activities at the location. Where we camped was near the Appalachian Trail, so there were easy hikes, falls, playgrounds and other activities to keep Jai occupied if there was a need.

Other things that helped the trip go smoothly:

  • Making use of plastic totes to hold camping supplies and food. Allowed me to move the food back into the vehicle with ease at night to prevent bears and other pests from getting into the food.
  • Air mattresses. We’re causal campers, so lying on the ground isn’t appealing, and we wanted to make sure Jai was comfortable. As he gets older we can let him have the pleasure of sleeping directly on the ground for a night.
  • Bring “special” toys, but keep the toys to a minimum. I have a child backpack filled with trip toys and activities that are only there for trips like this. By keeping them set aside, they are always “new” and exciting to play with, though he never once cracked into that backpack during the trip. Why? Because he wanted to play with all the dirt, sand, and twigs he could find.
  • Accept the dirt and settle for wipes. We kept the trip short (which was equally helpful) so the need for a bath or shower was minimal. Jai loves his nightly baths, but because there was so much to do during the day, he didn’t miss it when it was bedtime due to exhaustion. Camping is such a wonderful opportunity for them to get dirty without repercussion. A quick wipe before bedtime was enough to make me feel better about his cleanliness.

I created a packing list to share from our trip. Download your copy below.

Camping with Toddlers Packing List

Possible issues or concerns:

  • Sleeping at night. He slept just fine at night, which was good, but the major concern we had was him being in the tent alone (we stayed close by at all times with the door in sight). It was harder for him to fall asleep at night because there was no way to dim the tent and he could easily hear us just outside. Keeping him up later wasn’t a real possibility for us because he was already hitting his threshold and I didn’t want him to be overtired and unable to sleep.
  • What to do in case of rain or stormy weather? We didn’t have bad weather during the entire trip, but I suspect if it got really bad, I would have sent Ash home with Jai while I held down the site until it was time to strike camp. This may not be a luxury for everyone camping with toddlers, but we kept it in the back of our minds in case something happened.
  • Wildlife encounters. There was a real concern for bears while we were camping with signs posted all over the place warning campers about leaving food out. My mom caught a raccoon looking for scraps at night, though there was absolutely none to be had (we packed everything away and into the vehicles). I think we would have stayed in the tents until it was safe to leave if there were any major issues.

Overall, there wasn’t any major issues or concerns for the entire trip. I think a lot of it had to do with staying flexible and not stressing over anything.

Keeping it Fun and Flexible

The most important thing is to keep it fun and flexible.

If possible, select a site that is within driving distance of your home. It relaxed us knowing that if Jai did not enjoy his time, we could drive him home so he could sleep in his own crib for the night.

By keeping it flexible, it kept our stress level down and therefore his stress level down. We had no set plans beyond making and striking camp. If we were going to spend the entire day at the site watching him play with dirt, then we’d find something relaxing for the grown-ups to do while he did that.

I certainly enjoyed this aspect of it because it allowed me to take a 72-hour break from my social media and electronics. I still checked stuff from time-to-time for professional reasons, but I took a temporary electronic detox (again).

It was important to me that his first trip be uneventful and fun, which I believe we were successful in doing. We are going to try to take him out a couple more times this year before the end of the season to keep him used to the idea and help get him excited for next year. I anticipate each year will grow more and more exciting for him as he gets older. I want him to look back on these trips with the same level of fondness and nostalgia as I do now.

How early did you take your little one out for camping? How well did that go? What suggestions or stories do you have to share? Leave your comment below.


Like this post? Make sure to follow me on your favorite social media platform and show some love by sharing it. Links found below.

Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography

11 thoughts on “Camping with Toddlers

  1. Love this. We took our little monster camping at 7 months, just as she started crawling. That was a fun trip as she was just starting to explore the world – it was also only my 2nd ever camping trip. We took our choc lab and my brother with his two kids too.
    Next weekend we are planning to go camping again with our now 20 month old… this time she can run around, climb, unzip things and get into all sorts if trouble – so it will be interesting!!!
    We will have the dog too, but no extra adult tgis time to help us.
    Thankfully no bears in the uk… or any threatening wildlife to contend with!

  2. Pingback: A Berry Picking Time | MS//Mommy

  3. Batiste Ladonna

    You gave some great tips for camping. I love how you shared your memories of camping as a kid. Your tip are very useful.

Leave a thought on this post

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.