Camping with toddlers? Are you c-r-a-z-y? With all the things you need to bring with you, sleep in a tent above all rest?
Believe me, I hear you!
It seems like an insane idea but trust me, it’s absolutely possible!
Plus, with this ultimate packing list you can’t go wrong!
Our son Ethan, who’s 19 months old, is ready for the adventure. In a couple of weeks we’ll celebrate our wedding anniversary and a friend’s birthday who’s invited us to go on camping on a piece of land on the lake he owns and where he keeps his boat.
Needless to say that it’s a beautiful location! I’m both super excited and very worried that Ethan might have issues sleeping in the tent, ruining the night to everyone.
After all, if you don’t try, you’ll never know, right?
So my husband Scott and started discussing if and how we can make it happen and what extra tricks or precautions will be necessary for Ethan.
We used to love going on camping, but then we got pregnant (he’s still expecting twins though) and we had to set the idea of camping aside for a while.
But now it’s time to sweep the dust off our gear and go on to the adventure!
What kind of “camping” are more appropriate for toddlers?
Scott, who’s way more expert than me on the matter, tells me that there are different kind of camping and not all of the are good for camping with toddlers.
First of all let’s separate camping in paid facilities or free camping. The first is way more popular in Italy, where I am from, whereas the second is the favorite here in the US where there’s a lot more space. Useless to say which one will be our option, right?
Although, even free camping can be divided in different options:
- Car-camping where you take advantage of the support of a vehicle. It could be a car, minivan, RV, Trailer, etc. This solution allows to bring a lot more stuff with you
- Hike-in. In this case you leave the car a little behind from where you decide to pitch your tent. After you leave the car you hike to the place where you want to spend the night. This type of camping is for those who want a little bit more challenge because it forces you to lighten up your bag. But the car is still at a reasonable distance (let’s say 20 mins walking at the most), which means that you can still use the car as an extra storage for less important things.
- Tent-free camping which also requires to sleep far from the car but also under the stars. Camping with a toddler like this? Yeah, right!
- Hike-through. This is the most challenging of all. You start from point “A” to venture in a long walk or hike and camp once you get to point “B”. In this case you clearly bring with you only what’s strictly necessary to avoid excessive weight on your shoulder.
And for the category “Camping with toddlers” the winner is…
Have you already forgotten that you’re bringing with you a less than 2 years old kid?
We are totally going to avoid toys or things like that. He’ll have plenty to play with and explore in the nature. Besides, if the weather is good enough, we might also be able to go for a swim in the lake.
But can you honestly imagine fitting diapers, bottles, play-pen and what-more in your back pack? Plus you can’t really stress him out with long walks, unless you’re Schwarzennegger’s sister and decide to hold her the entire time.
Good luck with that mama!
In that case you’d have all my respect, but I believe that after a while it’d be slightly boring for your child too.
For what concerns us, I believe that it’s already adventurous enough as it is without going for more extreme situations.
But now… The real question!!
What to pack when camping with toddlers?
Before choosing you need to ask yourself this fundamental questions:
- Will you have access to potable water? If your answer is “yes”, than you won’t have any problem. But if the answer is “no”, you’ll have to bring enough water for all of the family members, not only to drink, but also to wash your teeth, etc. Then multiply that daily amount for as many days you decide to stay and add some extra (just in case). And water is very heavy to transport.
- What will the weather be like? Depending on what kind of activities you’re planning on doing, you might want to choose a season when the weather is cooler or warmer. Since it’s spring time, I won’t waste time listing extra things for cold weather.
In our case we do have access to potable water, but we decided to bring some with us anyway. It’s always good to be prepared.
While the second question is a little trickier. We truly hope it’ll be warm enough to go swimming without risking to be found in 300 years hibernated like mammoth. But since it’s not summer, we need put in account that it’ll be chilly at night.
This being said…
The ultimate packing list for camping with toddlers
The main things that you can’t forget are:
- The tent. For the first time we’ll have to use a bigger tent. Our is REALLY big since my husband is 6’4″ and doesn’t love folding like a napkin each time he enters or exits the tent. Plus we have Ethan who, for safety reasons, will need to sleep in his playpen which means that we’ll definitely need more space.
- Sleeping bags and isolating mats. Since we know it’ll get cold at night, we’ll need to cover the bottom of the tent with mats in order to avoid that the floor absorbs all our body heat.
- personal hygiene products such as toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, bugs repellent, itch-relief stick, triple antibiotic, etc. Clearly all in mini-travel size. Ah, let’s not forget sunscreen for the little monster and his father who’s Irish skin. I don’t get burn even if I try to, but it’s always good to keep the skin hydrated, right?
- A small bag with camping tools, such as Swiss Army knife, a flashlight, a small ax for the wood (still in mini-size) and other small tools to pitch or fix the tent in case it gets damaged. It’s important you separate this small tool bag from everything else and kept away from children. Remember that when you go on camping with toddlers safety is very important. Since you’re car-camping you can leave it in the car, or if you want to keep it closer, you can hang it to a tree branch.
- Small cooking tools.
- Change of clothes for the everyone and, in our case, bathing suites and towels.
- A small cooler to store food, water and drinks (you finally go camping and you don’t bring some beer? naaah!)
- Personal items such as phones (but honestly only to take some good pictures and for emergencies), maybe a book to read in front of the camp fire (I play romantic here but I’ll probably bring my kindle which takes less space)
This is what you would need whether you go on camping with or without toddlers.
However we do have a little monster with us, so we’ll need to add a couple of things.
When camping with toddlers, add these items to your list:
- Play-pen. Especially for kids under 2 years old, I strongly recommend it for safety reasons. Our playpen is not heavy to move around, easy to open and close and comes with its own bag.
- Baby bag for her imperial majesty with diapers, bottles, butt-paste,snacks and whatever you usually put in your diaper bag.
- Life jacket if you plan on being close to the water or go swimming like in our case
- His favorite stuffed animal to help her sleep at night
- We also chose to bring a bed-time story book. Bed-time story has been part of our son’s routine since his first weeks so we need to try to keep it that way even in the tent.
On a side note, I finally have the chance to use the Harry Potter Magical Film projection book!!! (Neeerd!! Yep). If you have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s a small book where instead of the pages there are screenshots of the movie on translucent paper. You point a flashlight at it and it’ll project that image on the wall while you also read the story. Now imagine the effect inside a camping tent. I can’t wait and I won’t miss to let you know how it was, I promise. (Yes, a shamelessly love Harry Potter saga!)
You’re probably thinking “So much for the strictly necessary!”
Trust me, without stuffed animal and bedtime story we can say goodbye to our sleep, so they ARE necessary. In your case it might be something else, so adjust accordingly.
If you already read my article on how to save money on baby shopping, you should know that I’m very minimalist on what young kids really need.
Camping with toddlers might seem like you need to bring endlessly items with you and car-camping will tempt you to do so.
But trust me, you will not need more than this, unless you plan on staying longer than few days.
The difference between camping as a couple and camping with toddlers in not so big.
After the trip I’ll let you know if:
- we survived
- we ended up calling Bear Grylls to help us getting out of quicksand
- the experience was after all enjoyable
But most importantly, if we managed to pack everything we needed or not.
So stay tuned because the story continues…(dramatic exit..)
P.S= if you liked this article don’t forget to share it! 🙂