Camping With Your Tykes

Outdoor Kids

Submitted by Melissa Edge

Feedback from my readers is always motivating, inspiring, encouraging and great tips are always shared. When I asked for tips and ideas for camping with a toddler the responses were no different.

melissa and jman

We did NOT have a fire!

Here’s what my readers shared…

“We brought lots of books for down time and the only 3 toys a toddler boy needs outside; a pail, shovel, and small dump truck. They can be used with water, sand, rocks, or even dirt.” – Their favorite books will help with bed time, down time and give some familiarity of home.

“Sunscreen, bug spray, band aids, Bactine and sun hats are important. Sand toys are great in the mud or dirt too. I look up craft ideas that involve nature before the trip.” – Sunscreen and bug spray for sure along with a first aid kit. Your tyke will be so miserable from a sunburn or bug bites.

“Go with good friends and protect your sanity! The more eyes and hands on board means the more “time off” for parents.” – Definitely a good idea to have some down time and adult conversation.

“Bring a net, bucket and magnifying box of some kind. You cannot believe the hours of entertainment a young child can have just catching things, building homes for their pet and then letting them go again. A GREAT camping past time.” – Shovel and bucket are definitely key to playing in the dirt. What tyke doesn’t like dirt?

“We always have special food that they dont’ get anywhere else (s’mores, foil dinners, etc.) and we bring a lantern-type flashlight for playing fun tent games (or reading books!)” – Yes! Special food is always a great idea. J-Man only gets marshmallows when camping and associates them with camping.

“Make sure you have a plan of what to do where you are, when you want to do it, communicate with kids.” – Communicating with your tykes can help them feel comfortable about the experience and what to expect.

 “Pack some items to spark your childs’ imagination while camping.”- We have provided J-Man with is own camera.

Here’s a link to a great post from Arrows Sent Forth: Things I learned While Camping With A Toddler

These are all great ideas and tips!

I would like to add:

Buy your tykes some of their own gear. Backpack, hydration pack, flashlight, water bottle, camera or anything else they might be excited about using.

Leave your expectations at home, bring along more patience and more importantly have FUN! Camping should be about getting out in nature, enjoying each other’s company and leaving stress and worry at home.

Do you have any tips or ideas to share for parents camping for the first time with their tyke? How did your first camping experience with your tyke go?

For all of Melissa’s columns on raising outdoorsy kids, click here.

Last modified: January 2, 2014

30 Responses to :
Camping With Your Tykes

  1. Kristin Breheim says:

    I am sure you hear this too: “Can’t go camping. I have kids.” Or “What would we do without the TV?” Or even, “Gross, there are bugs out there…” I really appreciate all the advice you shared. I believe because of you, more little monkeys will get to enjoy the great outdoors!”

  2. Lucy Skalbeck says:

    Bring a cookie sheet that has sides (aka jellyroll pan)… you’d be amazed how helpful it is! All magnet games are a cinch – even regular puzzles work because the lip stops pieces from sliding. This also provides a flat, hard surface when needed for coloring, snacking while sitting on the ground or in a camp chair, in the tent….
    This works for long car trips also!

  3. Tiffany says:

    Bring glowstick necklaces for your kids to wear at night, a different color for each child. Kids get so excited about wearing them but they also help you keep track of them in the dark. And don’t forget to bring the antidote for meltdowns- bubbles!

    1. Christina says:

      Also….we learned that glowsticks are great to mark tent lines so no tripping in the dark.

  4. Cassyt says:

    We spent most summers camping with friends and the first thing we always did, before putting up tents or anything, was unpack the “rock rope”. Tied between two trees, kiddos could safely throw rocks aver it. Don’t know what it is abut kids and rocks, but this usually kept them occupied for a good 20 minutes.

  5. Shelly says:

    If you have room take a playpen for your child to sleep in at night. Prevents them form rolling against the side of the tent and getting damp and from wandering out if they get up before you.

  6. Jennifer muse says:

    Just remember….It’s not a job…it is an adventure…

  7. Sharon says:

    I always brought a small 2 man tent and set it up with toys and books so the kids had a clean place to play and little toys wouldn’t get lost in the sand or the grass.

    1. ivy says:

      Way off topic but I have to have bicycle shaped pasta! Where did you get it?

  8. Jules Fetchak says:

    LOVE the other ideas! We like to also bring like a LeapFrog with games and DVD player for those nights that you’re stuck in the tent (rain). Our son is almost 7 now, so we also bring all his fishing gear and a canoe for going up river and swimming for the day. We make him ‘help’ get firewood and carry things from the car so he feels like a part of our team. We camped for many, many years before Ben and plan and hope to camp for many years with him!!!

  9. Alli Noland says:

    If camping near a lake, in addition to the fun sand toys, sunscreen and bug spray, bring a PFD (lifejacket) for your wee one if they’re not competent swimmers. They’ll have more confidence and be able to play more, and you’ll be able to relax and maybe even read a book without worrying about looking away for one moment.

  10. Suzanne Bishop says:

    Yes! Take them camping! I took my 2-year-old camping several times last summer -just the 2 of us! I only brought a few toys and books to read in the tent. My advice is: bring only what you need, and keep it as simple as possible. That way you are more likely to do it more often. Now my daughter is 3 and she can’t wait to go camping this year. Many happy memories. 🙂

  11. Aspen Hilbelink says:

    if they are little and need to sleep in a Pack-N-play have them sleep in it a few days before you leave so they are used to it. Have them play in it too if they are little do you can get stuff done. Bring their favorite lovey, and book to read them goodnight. Bring minimal toys because outdoors are so fun. Bring yummy snacks. Camp close to home the first time in case it doesn’t go well or gets really cold. Be flexible and don’t expect much relaxing!

  12. Anne Weater says:

    We first took Jane camping at 8 months. We found a portable exersaucer, called a GoPod, quite useful for playtime and feeding. We were also able to string her doorway jumper between two trees. She seemed to love her first camping experience.

    1. Eileen says:

      We just got back from our first camping trip with our 10 month old and LOVED our GoPod. We find we use that thing mulitple times per week. All we need is the GoPod, some cheerios and a few toys and we’re good to go. Also brought along a small pack n play which we used for play time and sleeping. We got some great photos of our baby bathing in her counter/sink top bathtub. Great trip!

  13. Liz says:

    Camp close to home so that you can pack it all in and flee if you need to. I talked a bunch of moms into a mom and kid camping trip that started when our kids were 4 and 2, we stayed close to home at first. Eleven years later we are still camping and able to go father away. It is a great experience for the kids to see that “Mom Power” in action.

  14. Erica Gladman says:

    We got one of those hexagon shaped, snap together, bottomless puppy/child pens at a second hand store. It’s bulky, even stacked flat, but it was a life saver! Between our two camping families, we have 4 adults and 9 kids. During the day, we set it over a picnic blanket with the little kid toys in it for a clean place to play while the grown-ups set up camp or prepare lunch. At night, we set it around the fire pit. Boy does it help! No panicking that a little one is getting too close or even that a bigger one might trip near the fire. Such a load off!

  15. Sara Dusbabek says:

    With our second child we did not delay when it come to getting him out camping. At six weeks we brought him. Our daughter was two and already loved spending outdoors and camping. Being I was nursing Colt it was a cinch, no bottles, formula, etc., to worry about. The tent was fine, we brought a small contraption we called the clam shell for Colt to sleep in. It had a mesh cover over the top so he was not eaten alive by the bugs at night.

    When he was 2 we brought him on our first family trip to the BWCA. His sister had been on her first trip as a three year old the previous year. We were worried about long days in the canoe and on portages. We bought both the kids mini paddles so could “help” paddle. They were content to hang long pieces of grass off the side of the canoe to “fish” with along the way. The portages went well. Each of the kids had a small backpack to carry so they were helping out haul gear. Making them an integral part of the trip was helpful. We also provided treats at the end of each portage. (Raspberries or blueberries picked along the way provided great resting opportunities for little legs. We called the berries portage candy. )

    Giving the kids camp chores was important. Helping filter water, set up tents, haul wood, etc… One small chore was enough to help them realize what all goes into a BWCA paddling trip. Most days at camp my kids were content to throw rocks into the lake, playing the mud, fish, and create toys out of necessities we brought along. (A leech bucket to haul bait for fishing became their dog Boxer when tied to a rope.)

    The diapers were really the only truly stinky part of bringing non-toilet trained little ones on a trip of this sort. We brought disposable diapers because there was no place to rinse out cloth diapers. (Can’t do this in the lake.) We brought large heavy duty ziploc bags, and dumped any unsavory contents into the latrine before placing the spent diapers in a double bagged ziploc.

    My children are now 10 and 12, they have paddle the BWCA nearly every summer of their lives and camped throughout N. America. The older they get, the easier it is, They are able to set up a tent,. filter water, operate camp stoves, saw firewood, and even make dinner for us. What we may think of as work around camp, they think of as fun. I am happy they want to be a part of the entire camping experience.

  16. Melissa says:

    Thank you all for the comments and for sharing! So many great tips and advice. Love it! It’s wonderful to hear other parents are getting outside with young tykes.

  17. Deb says:

    We practice first by setting up a little pop up tent in our son’s room. We all sleep in his room and have the flashlights and camping books to read every Saturday night. Then, we transition to the backyard where we can add a campfire and bbq and then the big adventure away from home…. It helps it all to be a little more familiar when we sleep this way at home first.

  18. Caitlin Robinson says:

    The best thing we did was invest in a tent that my husband could put up by himself in literally 30 seconds. Then I could put our son inside with some toys while we set up the rest of our campground. Wish I could think of the brand off the top of my head… But it has this spring-loaded type mechanism that you pop into place. Awesome! We took our son on a camping road trip at 8 months in this thing. The following summer, we did a 3 week camping road trip up in the northeast, and then down the east coast. It was truly the best trip we’ve ever taken. Love, love, love camping, and couldn’t imagine not taking the little guy!

    1. Melissa says:

      That tent sounds pretty cool and a great idea to keep your tyke occupied while getting the rest of camp set up. It’s amazing how the littlest things make a difference and make it easier to camp, such as an easy tent.

      Thanks for sharing!

  19. Crystal says:

    I plan to take my son camping soon, and hopefully often. I’d like to know what kind (brand, etc.) tent is in the picture.

  20. Melissa says:

    Have fun camping with your son. Please share your experience. Would love to hear about it.

    The tent in the picture is the REI Kingdom 6. They do make a Kingdom 4, which is a bit smaller.


  21. LoriLynn says:

    antibacterial wipes are great too! For bath time I take a large Rubbermaid tub and let the little one have at it! We always go buy new flashlights and chalk for writing on the concrete (we camp at a r v park) My kids enjoy a bug hunt too and we take photos of our finds! To remember our trip camping we always find a special rock and bring it home with us! Last year’s rock had a heart in it ( my hubby found it) I try to keep a small bag that I can carry while we go walking or fishing that has germ x, wipes, water, small snack, and dry change of clothes for my child! My boy does not like to be wet for long!!! happy camping!!!!!

  22. Chrissy says:

    We just took some sidewalk chalk on our camping trip and the 2 year old and 3 year old had a blast with it. Drawing on tables and trees…super fun and eco friendly!

  23. Chelsea says:

    We learned the hard way camping in the rain…the cheap tile foam flooring that you can buy at Walmart waterproof the floor of the tent and provides a more solid and even ground during those damp days.

  24. Betsy Castle says:

    I love all these ideas. I remember always having a deck of Go fish cards or memory cards that would work nicely in the cookie sheet. My kids are now 8 and 12 and the ultimate game for them now is the glow in the dark bocce balls!! we have spent hours throwing them through the tress, down hills and even into the tents! You can find them online, also glow in the dark badminton.

  25. Katie says:

    Take Benadryl, Claritin and Burn Gel! After years of camping I have learned to alway have these in my first aid kit.

  26. Katie says:

    Take Benadryl, Claritin and Burn Gel! After years of camping I have learned to alway have these in my first aid kit.

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