Camping with Toddlers Checklist
Camping with toddlers seems like a scary thought. And a lot of work!
With proper planning, you can make it a comfortable and memorable experience.
Here’s what’s on our toddler camping essentials list – and what we’ve heard other trusted sources use and recommend for:
- Gear including the toddler camping bed
It’s a long article! I’ve tried to include essentials for many different preferences and situations. This list applies whether you’re camping in a tent, trailer, RV, cottage, cabin or even your backyard!
I’ve also included what we don’t recommend bringing, but often see on other toddler camping must have lists.
Toddler Camping Activities, Games and Toys
How do you entertain a toddler while camping?
While camping itself will be entertainment, it’s still good to plan activities and bring a few toys to enhance their experience.
Having a mixture of indoor and outdoor activities provides fun times for rain or shine! Here’s a list of camping toys and activities for toddlers I recommend.
Go on a walk or hike and point out things in nature: This is an opportunity for your little one to get exercise and education! You can point out simple things in nature like different trees, leaves, rocks and animals. If you bring along plastic containers, you can store all of your toddler’s treasures like favorite rocks, leaves and seashells they find on the trip. To save space, you can store food in the plastic containers initially. As you eat the food, you can use the containers for your toddler’s finds.
Make a scavenger hunt game: If your toddler’s older and familiar with many things in nature, you can make a scavenger hunt game. Write down a list of things (e.g. bird, log, insect etc.) your kid’s likely to find at the camp site. Watch them run around and try to find what’s on the list.
Play with bubbles: These big bubble wands are a hit with my little one AND my husband. It’s a good thing this comes in a pack of 12 so my husband and daughter can each have their own! They make several bubbles with a single blow. These wands are now permanently in the diaper bag for park and beach visits. I’m planning on using the extras as loot bag gifts for an upcoming birthday party!
Kick around a ball: What I love about beach balls are that they’re a space saver! You can inflate them when you get to the camp site. You don’t have to use them at the beach – they’re fun for the camp site and at home!
Use beach toys: If you’re camping near a beach, beach toys will provide hours of exploring in the sand and water. This 14 piece beach toy set includes a dump truck, bucket, shovel etc. It also comes with a bag for storage.
Push your little one around the camp site in a wagon: I didn’t initially think bringing a wagon would be necessary for camping with toddlers. My husband’s aunt brought it to the camp site for my daughter and I’m so glad she did! It was a great way to transport her around the camp, park and beach. She loved riding in the wagon! Whenever she would get bored and start fussing, we would pop her into the wagon to mix things up!
With all of the gear you need for camping with toddlers, having a folding wagon is a great way to save space in your car. There are 2 folding wagons that have many good reviews on Amazon. Neither come with a canopy, but you could always put a hat on your toddler.
- Pros: easy set-up, heavy duty frame, durable fabric, rubber wheels
- Cons: not structured to transport kids – no safety belt or padded seats (Use it with caution and common sense. You could also put a foam pad down to make it a more comfortable ride.)
- Pros: thick padded seats, additional settings including a bench mode and area to haul a cooler, seatbelts for added safety, recognizable brand for kids’ wagons
- Cons: material and construction are not as sturdy (For example, there are high density foam wheels, which is better than plastic, but not as good as rubber.)
Read books by the camp fire: When it starts to get dark out and you still want to stay outside, you can read a book by the camp fire. Use a flash light if you need the extra light. Here’s a list of camping-themed books for kids on Amazon that would be fun to read. This activity also works for indoor use.
You could also bring a plastic waterproof book. It’s ideal not just for bath time, but for outdoor use as well as it’s durable and easy to clean. This set of 4 plastic waterproof books teaches toddlers how to say thank you, please, sorry, hi and bye! It comes with 4 bath crayons.
Sing songs around the camp fire: In between roasting marshmallows, you can sing your toddler’s favorite songs like Wheels on the Bus, Baby Shark, or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
Play with glow sticks: These are a blast in the dark! If you put a bracelet on your toddler, it’ll help you keep track of where he or she is at when the sun goes down. Just make sure you get the non-toxic and non-leaking glow stick variety.
Play with reusable coloring books: These Melissa and Doug activity pads are perfect for road trips! You fill the pen with water. When the pen touches the paper, a color appears. When it’s dry, the color disappears! There’s no messy ink hands! It can be reused for hours of play! There’s no screen time involved! While they’re meant for ages 3-5, my young toddler can play with them. I often supervise her when she’s playing with it as she sometimes likes to color the non-coloring areas.
Bring a small box filled with your toddler’s favorite small toys: Things like cars, figurines, blocks, chewable toys if teething etc. Prioritize ones that are easy to clean! These are great to have on hand when you want your toddler to have quieter play time. For example, in the morning before people get up or at night when everyone’s sleeping and your little one can’t quite get to bed.
Bring your toddler’s favorite pacifier or security blanket: This beloved item will be especially important to help with their transition to sleeping and being in a new environment
Toddler Camping Gear
I’ve separated this section into different categories:
- Hygiene and Safety
- Toddler camping bed
Some of these are more essential than others. They’ll all help you make your experience with camping more comfortable and fun.
- Extra baby wipes – not just for diaper changes, but for cleaning surfaces etc.
- Diaper cream or Vaseline
- Potty seat if your kid is potty training
- Trash bags for diapers
- Portable dirty clothes bag for day trips away from the camp site
- Sippy cup (we use the Munchkin Miracle 360 cup which simulates an actual cup)
- Bottles and nipples if you use them
- Portable high chair: If you have a younger toddler (under 3 years old), a portable high chair works well to feed as well as contain your kid when you’ve lit the camp fire. We just brought our plastic white high chair from Ikea. If you’re planning on doing a lot of camping, this high chair is built for travel and eating outdoors. This chair is durable, light, easy to set up and fold up, and safe. The tray has a plastic covering so it’s easy to clean. There is one flaw to it – when your toddler is sitting in the seat, the tray slants downward so food falls into the child’s lap. However, you can get around this by putting a silicone placemat with suction cups on top. The placemat bowl will keep the food on the table.
Hygiene and Safety
- First aid kit: You can bring a standard first aid kit, which includes all the main needs or DIY it. Put together a first aid kit bag with assorted bandaids, antiseptic wipes/spray, tweezers (to remove ticks), and aloe vera gel for itchy mosquito bites.
- Sunscreen: Especially when you’re lounging at the beach or outdoor pool, it’s a good idea to always have a baby sunscreen in your diaper bag. Getting a mineral sunscreen for babies (made without oxybenzone, parabens or added oils and fragrance) is better than a chemical sunscreen. Here are a host of benefits detailing why mineral sunscreen is better than chemical sunscreen. One big reason is that it works as soon as it applies. Chemical sunscreens take 20 minutes to be absorbed into the skin before it starts working.
- Insect repellent: I did a lot of research to find the best insect repellent for my toddler before we left for our camping trip. The amount of information is overwhelming! I’ve tried to include only the important, relevant information here.
Forewarning: I didn’t find a perfect solution. There are risks and cons to each insect repellent I came across. You know your child and what would work best in your situation! Here’s the research I uncovered.
- You can apply up to a 10% DEET insect repellent only once/day for children 6 months to 2 years old and 3 times/day for children 2-12 year olds. For children under 12, you shouldn’t use a DEET product on a daily basis for more than 1 month.
- Products with citronella oil should not be used on toddlers.
- P-Menthane-3,8-diol products should not be used on kids younger than 3 years old.
- Insect repellents with a mixture of lemon, eucalyptus, pine needle, geranium and camphor essential oils should not be used on kids younger than 2 years old.
I’ve also read not to use an all-in-one sunscreen-bug spray as sunscreen needs to be reapplied frequently.
If your toddler is younger than 3, the best insect repellent I found (and used for my daughter) is the OFF Family insect repellent with 7% DEET. I only used it once per day.
I tried to time the use for later in the afternoon when the mosquitoes were rampant. It worked well! The rest of the time, I kept her in a mosquito net or watched for mosquitoes on her. It’s not an ideal situation, but I couldn’t find a non-DEET, natural product that is recommended for her age category.
If your toddler is older than 3, the best reviewed natural insect repellents I came across on Amazon were:
- All Natural Mosquito Repellent (contains citronella oil which WebMD says might cause skin allergies. There are also reports of poisoning in children if ingested.)
- Murphy’s Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellent (although this one doesn’t ship to Canada if you’re Canadian)
Toddler Camping Bed
We co-slept while camping. If your toddler is not co-sleeping with you, there are a few options for toddler camping beds.
If you have a small tent, you will want to get a toddler camping cot. Here are the best reviewed toddler camping cots on Amazon. They each have their pros and cons.
- Regalo My Cot Portable Toddler Bed Including Fitted Sheet: Light, folds down small, has a steel frame, cheapest option, BUT the middle seems to be higher than the rest of the cot making it a bit uncomfortable. It seems best for short-term use only.
- Milliard Portable Toddler Bumper Bed: Comfortable, has bumpers to help keep your toddler in the bed, can store items inside when folded like a small blanket or stuffed animal, BUT it’s quite large when folded (25″ x 27″ x 14.5″) so it’s not ideal if you have space restrictions.
- hiccapop Inflatable Toddler Travel Bed with Safety Bumpers: Rolls up small, Includes electric turbo pump and travel bag, inflates in under 30 seconds, includes a lifetime guarantee, BUT some reviewers have reported leaks
If you have a large tent, the Lotus Travel Crib seems to be the best choice. Not only does it work well in a tent for camping, it’s worth the investment if you’re a frequent traveler. It can be easily folded into a backpack for carry-on. It’s very light at only 13 lbs and quick to set up! Instead of bending down to put your toddler in the crib, there is a zipper opening on the side so you can comfortably transport a sleeping toddler from the ground position. It includes a GreenGuard certified, non-toxic, firm, thick mattress.
Make sure you practice using it before camping! You want to make sure your toddler is completely adapted to sleeping in the crib and not trying it out for the first time on your first night camping!
If your toddler’s not walking yet, this bed can also be used as a play pen during the day. You can place the crib outside of the tent in the shade and place a pop up mosquito net tent around it. This will save you from having to apply insect repellent with DEET on your toddler’s skin.
If you need mosquito netting when you’re sleeping or lounging outdoors, you can also place this on your bed or around your chair.
This mosquito netting is something I wish I placed around our bed when we were sleeping. We camped in a trailer, but when we were entering/exiting the trailer, we inevitably let mosquitoes in. Even though I would spend a good amount of time each night looking for mosquitoes in the trailer with a fly swatter in hand, I would often wake up in the morning to find 20 more bites on my little girl!
Other essentials for sleeping and naps include:
- Sleep sack or wearable blanket as your toddler’s camping sleeping bag
- Night light that’s battery operated if your kid needs one
- Sound machine that’s battery operated if your kid needs one
When I was walking around other people’s sites, I noticed they would often have a large screened canopy tent. I love how this would give my toddler a larger play area while providing protection from bugs, UV rays and the camp fire. You can also use the additional space for preparing and eating food. I’ve seen people put chairs and tables within it. This is definitely on my to get list before our next camping trip!
If you want something more portable, this pop-up tent provides shade and a play area for your toddler.
It’s handy if you’ve set up camp in one area, but plan on going to the beach or another site regularly. You can easily just pop this up and use the screen setting in the late afternoon to prevent bugs from attacking your little one.
Other essentials for lounging include:
- Beach blanket or tarp for your little one to sit and play on
- Toddler camping chair: This is not entirely essential, but I’m glad we had it with us because my daughter loved it! Not only was she sitting in it, she was dragging it around the camp site like it was her best friend. This kid’s chair with an umbrella has the best reviews on Amazon. It’s a bit of a splurge. I’m not crazy about Paw Patrol, but I love the big canopy with 50+ UPF protection. It supports up to 75 lbs so it has a long lifespan.
- Carrier: I just brought along this Ergobaby Carrier for walks around the site. It’s more compact and easier to use than a stroller. If you’re going hiking for an hour or more, you might want to get an actual hiking baby carrier for a more comfortable experience.
Toddler Camping Clothes
While you can bring any clothing for camping, I’ve found bringing a variety of clothes helps to prepare for the extreme heat, cold, rain and mud. It makes the experience more comfortable and safer for my little one. I also recommend dressing your kid in layers.
- 3 Long sleeve shirts: How do you manage only 3 – especially if you’re having a 1 week+ camping trip? Have your toddler rewear the same shirt the next day etc. If it gets dirty or wet, you can wash and hang dry it and and wear the next one. Having a 3rd one is good for unexpected rips or tears. I like long sleeves because they provide protection from both the sun and bug bites. To not have to constantly reapply sunscreen, you can pack breathable UPF 50+ long sleeve shirts. If your toddler might get wet, get the rashguard version. It’s a good idea to order a size up to get more use (you can always roll up the sleeves).
- 2 Short sleeve shirts for if it’s unbearably hot
- Socks – 1 set/day
- Light, waterproof pants: Especially if you’re taking your toddler hiking through bushes and trees, you’ll want to bring pants. Even if it’s really hot, pants will better protect your kid’s legs. If you anticipate getting wet, you can get waterproof pants. If you’re camping in windier or colder temperatures, there are also waterproof fleece-lined pants.
- 2 Bathing suits
- Pajamas: 2-way zipper pajamas are convenient for diaper changes if your toddler’s still in diapers. If your toddler’s toilet trained, you could bring 2 piece pajamas and add on socks.
- 3 Sweatshirts: bring at least one that’s got a fleece lining for colder nights
- Warm jacket
- Rain coat
- Sun hat with a wide brim to protect the face and neck.
- Toque for chilly nights
- Swim diapers if your toddler’s not potty trained
- Life jacket if your toddler’s going swimming
- 2 Pairs of shoes: You can bring closed toe shoes and sandals for the beach or when it’s hot. If you’re going to a rocky and shelly beach, you might want to get non-slip water shoes to protect your toddler’s feet.
- Rain boots
Toddler Camping Food
Toddlers eat A LOT of food ALL the time! Get prepared for an even larger appetite when they’re running around the camp site and burning calories.
To give you an idea of portions, we brought a bit of all of the below for our 5 day camping trip. We tried to focus more on food our toddler loves that didn’t require refrigeration (although some did) and wasn’t messy.
We pre-cut and pre-cooked as much as we could in advance. All the food was put in sandwich bags, mason jars and storage containers. We also brought along snack catcher so little one could feed herself.
A healthy diet is important to us. We brought a mixture of mostly grains, fruits, vegetables, meat (and alternatives), and milk (and alternatives). These were put together to create different, balanced salads, snacks, sandwiches and meals.
- whole wheat bread
- whole grain oats
- organic puffs (looks like cheese puffs, but is a healthier and fun snack option to mix things up)
- kidney beans
- almond butter
Milk (and alternatives):
- homo milk
- mandarin oranges
- carrot sticks
- bell peppers
- leafy greens
- sweet potato (great to wrap in foil to cook over the fire!)
What to NOT bring camping with your toddler:
I was surprised to see these items listed on a few toddler camping essentials lists.
Every toddler is different. There’s a huge intellectual development range between 12-36 months. Especially for younger toddlers, I would question whether these are appropriate. If you have a highly independent and mature toddler, these might work for you.
- Safety whistle: Your toddler is probably going to understand how to blow the whistle. I know my daughter would not know to use it when in danger. The string is also a safety hazard.
- Head lamp: Unless you want this shined in your face non-stop, I wouldn’t get it for your toddler. If she or he needs to walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night, YOU can wear a headlamp or just bring a flashlight.
- Magnifying glass: While this magnifying glass is a good toy to explore the outdoors, my toddler doesn’t understand how to play with it. This might be something we revisit when she’s older.
Final thoughts on this Camping with Toddlers Checklist
Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom! That was a long list! I hope you found it helpful.
Camping with toddlers might seem like a daunting task! Having all the toddler camping essentials can go a long way to making the experience painless.
Have a great time camping!
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