6 Tips for Camping with a Toddler

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I grew up spending my summers camping with my family, sleeping in a tent at Girl Scout camp, and having campouts in the backyard. Since Jacey came along, we’ve continued our effort to camp 2-3 times a summer.  Here’s some tips I’ve learned along the way about camping with a toddler.

1) Be ready to be active.

Whereas we (as adults) are content to eat dinner, then hang out at a campfire for hours, that doesn’t work for Jacey. She wants to be active – nonstop. So we’ve started bringing even more fun and games with us, from frisbee to bocce ball, from crayons to books. We haven’t yet broken down and brought out the Kindle, but I’ve got friends that use it as a last-resort way to keep their kids entertained on a wet day in a tent.


2) Build it up.

For the few days leading into the trip, we talk it up. Where we’re going, what we’re bringing, where she’s sleeping, etc. etc. Getting her psyched on the trip definitely helps her stay engaged as we pack, load, and travel. We also let her pack some of her favorite books, toys, and games.

3) Choose your site wisely.

We aim for sites relatively near the restroom, away from flowing water, and with a LARGE open space nearby to play in. On a recent trip to Baxter State Park, we picked a site with a pavilion over the picnic table – what a good move! When we reserved the site months ago, we had no idea it would rain. (Ok, we did know it would rain. It rains every time we plan a camping trip.) But having a dry place to eat and play (and to pitch our tent under) made a world of difference. Earlier in the summer, we chose a site at Bear Brook State Park right near the ball fields. Great place for Jacey and her friends to run around, and easy for us to keep an eye on her.

4) Routine may be important, it may not.

Jacey has always been a flexible kid, she doesn’t mind having her routine changed. In fact, we lose routine every weekend. Some kids, though, thrive on it. We went camping with friends this summer, and had a whole mix of kids. Some with no routine, some with a strict routing, and some in the middle. And every kid had a good time. If your kid is on a routine, stick with it where you can. If not, relax and go with the flow. Do what’s right for you and your kid.

While the outdoors provides plenty of things for kids to do, it's always wise to pack plenty of kid-friendly campground activities.

While the outdoors provides plenty of things for kids to do, it’s always wise to pack plenty of kid-friendly campground activities.

5) Make it special.

Whether it’s bringing a special treat (marshmallows, anyone?), a new book, a new sweatshirt, or even just letting her go to sleep in our sleeping bag, we try to make camping special and different. Yes, I’ll admit, it’s selfish on my part. If she likes it, I can do it more often.


We let Jacey play around with her kid carrier four days before this trip so she was comfortable with it and happy to climb aboard Mike’s back.

 6) Pack a lot.

We have a big Rubbermaid tub FULL of random camping gear – pots, pans, paper towels, camp stoves, water filters, etc. etc. You never know what you’ll need. For the three of us to camp for a weekend, we fill my CR-V AND the Thule box. But it’s better to have extra clothes, extra toys, extra sleeping pads, extra tarps, extra cook and dishes, extra everything.

Those are some of my top suggestions for camping with a toddler. Please add your tried and true tactics to help other families have more fun outside!
Beth Marchand

Beth's love of skiing and summer camp led her to a career in the outdoors. After spending 13 summers at Girl Scout camp on Lake Winnipesaukee, obtaining degrees in wildlife & environmental education, and working 4 years with NH Project Learning Tree, Beth joined Eastern Mountain Sports. As marketing manager, she handles media & advertising, events & sponsorships, new store openings, conservation projects, and more. On the weekends, Beth and her husband, daughter, and dog can be found roaming the mountains, waters, and woods of Northern New England.

1 Comment

  1. Mike
    September 29, 2013, 11:54 am

    Great post, will be taking our son camping! No reason not to. The bin in the car is a great idea to carry odds and ends instead of a backpack or bag.

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