Camping with your Toddler

Do you have an adventurous toddler? Does your little one love exploring new outdoor places and cry when you even consider leaving the park? If you think your toddler is ready for a camping trip, here are a few tips to make the first one successful.

Alan Hiker

Getting used to the tent: Set up the tent in a familiar place before the camping trip. A basement, garage or backyard are great options. Many curious toddlers will want to help with the assembly so find jobs they can do: unrolling, putting together tent poles or sliding the poles through the sleeves. Then allow them to explore the tent at their own pace. Put a few favorite toys in the tent along with pillows and blankets. Reading books in the tent is fun and then of course there are also zippers, pockets and windows to explore. Now for the practice: take a nap in the tent. And then eventually work up to sleeping overnight. If sleeping crib-less is a challenge for your little one, you can set up a portable crib inside the tent. You can also use the same portable crib outside during the day to keep your toddler safe for a few minutes while you cook or set up camp.

Fire Safety: If conditions allow for campfires, and you plan to build one, you'll probably want to talk about fire safety beforehand with your toddler. They really need to understand simple words like, "hot" or "stop" before being around an open flame. And even then, don't take your eyes off them for a minute when the fire is burning. One simple trip over a stick or rock can be very dangerous for a toddler.

Overpacking Encouragement: This is not the time to practice those outdoor minimalist outdoor skills. From one parent to another, you have my permission to pack everything you think you might possibly need. In addition to all the regular camping gear, you'll be much more comfortable knowing you have packed extra wipes, diapers, trash bags, sunscreen, bug repellent, pain reliever, medications, changes of clothes, favorite comfort blankets or stuffed animals, snacks, bibs, sippy cups and sun hats... Even a stroller can duel as a safe toddler chair around the campfire and a high chair for meal times. If you think there any possibility you think you might need something, just pack it.

Keep the Schedule: As much as possible, try to follow the same sleep schedule you do at home. If nap time is important to your little one at home, it will be doubly important in a camping environment where everything new and different. The same goes for food. Try to pack foods that are familiar and favorites. If a toddler is hungry and tired, well, you know what happens then! Just like at home, toddlers who are well rested and well fed are the happiest kind!

Final advice: I highly recommend choosing a campsite that is not too far from home. There is no shame in abandoning ship in the middle of the night if needed. But it is much nicer to have a short ride home than a long road trip. Even camping in the backyard of a friend or relative can be exciting for toddlers.

Best advice: Have fun, take lots of photos and don't worry about getting dirty. The memories created on a first camping trip will last forever!

How old were your children when they camped for the first time? Where did you choose for their first adventure?
Holly Collingwood
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Holly Collingwood
Holly Collingwood is a freelance writer based in Fort Collins, Colo. She loves hiking, skiing, gardening, jelly beans and homemade guacamole. She grew up in Alaska, Montana and Oregon and was completely spoiled by their glorious mountains and wide skies. Find her on Twitter: @WriteColl
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