Camping can be daunting when you add kids to the mix. And if your kids are still in diapers and tend to throw tantrums, you may think, “Why am I even considering taking them camping?” We spoke to camping aficionado, Helen Olsson, author of the Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids, to get her top tips for a successful camping experience with tots.
Pick the right location.
Especially for first-time campers, it’s a good idea to camp close to home, in case you need to bail because your tots just aren’t having it. Running water and bathroom facilities are key amenities when camping with kids. Additionally, when you’re camping with toddlers, you can relax more if you don’t camp near rivers (especially with fast moving waters), reservoirs, lakes, or ponds. You should also think about steering clear of campsites perched on top of cliffs, like Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Assess your children’s ages, personalities, and the potential risk of the natural playground of a campsite.
Keep them distracted.
Make sure you pack their favorite toys and a couple of loveys (in case one goes missing). If your child has a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, or bedtime book, make sure you bring those along as well. You might want to invest in a hot spot gadget, too. Sure, this is about family time, but if your tot is missing Cocomelon, there’s little harm in cueing it up a time or two.
Practice before you go.
Camping in the backyard before camping in the wild is a great way to get kids used to sleeping in a tent. Replicate the scene as much as you can, even going for nature walks and cooking meals outdoors, if your space allows.
Consider the sleeping environment.
A portable crib is key when camping with little ones. When it’s time to nap, you can set the crib up inside the tent. It will create a more familiar environment for toddlers to take a nap, rather than them rolling around in a nest of sleeping bags. Portable cribs can pull double duty—they can be used as a play area or a safe space for your kiddos while you’re setting up camp or cooking meals. You also might want to invest in a battery-powered night-light, small lantern, or glow sticks. If your tot is used to sleeping with a dim light, that won’t change, even if they have the security of mom or dad close by.
Be prepared for hiking.
Be cognizant of what’s on kids’ feet. Sneakers or hiking shoes with good treads are key. Sandals, Crocs, or flip flops are a recipe for disaster on trails with loose gravel (though good to have along for getting to the bathroom quickly from the tent). While your tot might not be going on a one-mile trek by foot, a safe pair of shoes is of supreme importance, even if they are ambling around on the trail or the grounds where you’ve pitched a tent.
When hiking, you’ll need to make sure you’re suited with the proper toting gear to haul tired or cranky kids. Figure out your comfort zone—do you want a hiking stroller or would you prefer to carry your child in a front facing or back facing carrier? Also, be prepared with an emergency kit—snacks, water, sunscreen, and a first aid kit.
Other important reminders:
- Stick to the same eating, sleeping, changing, and play schedules while camping. Keeping on track will lessen the disruption of your child’s routine. If they are used to napping at 2 p.m., do so, even if there’s an awesome camp activity you’ll miss. Meltdowns never make for good memories.
- Be wary of campfires when camping with toddlers. Campfires are tantalizing, but they pose a major risk. When the fire is raging, you need to keep an eye on the toddlers, so they don’t get burned. Have a designated Parent on Duty (POD) to make sure tots stay safe. Also, talk to them, tell them the fire is hot, and that they should stay back. While it’s no substitute for keeping a close eye on them, many children grasp this concept at a very young age.
- Pack a pair of good tweezers and a magnifying glass. Kids can get splinters in their hands and feet while camping.
- Remember to have fun. Point out interesting insects and unusual trees to them. Touch tree bark. Listen for birds. Sing songs around the campfire—make camping an experience they’ll remember.