Camping with a Toddler

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camping with a toddler

For the May Long weekend this past weekend we headed out for our first camping trip in far too long. Last summer was the first year I didn’t have a single camping trip. I love being outdoors with my Z, and camping was yet another fantastic first experience with our little one.

As always, attempting something you’re familiar with pre-baby, but have yet to do with the wee one, there are a few things to consider and adapt to the new situation. You may not get to enjoy the great outdoors in quite the same relaxed state as you’ve been used to, now, but with the right forethought and a properly selected campsite, you can settle in for a good time. For anyone getting ready to pack up and head out of your own camping adventure with a toddler, here are some things to make it easier.

 

* Make sure to pack lots of easily munchable toddler snacks. Having food ready to go and easy to hold and eat was very helpful for keeping the little one fed and happy. As we usually do for ourselves, we splurged a little and compromised on eating habits for the two days we were at camp. For little Z I brought lots of crackers. The list included her favourite multigrain goldfish crackers (that I said I’d never feed her…), freeze dried fruit and veggie “crisps”, squishy packs a plenty (I opted for prepackaged ones this time as I didn’t want to worry about washing the reusable food pouches this trip), blueberries, strawberries, tofu veggie dogs and toddler pancakes I made ahead of time.

camping with a toddler
Even with a ton of toddler-safe options, they’ll still want to gobble up your smores. Tucking the toddler camp chair under the picnic bench made a perfect toddler table, and kept her contained while she ate.

 

* Pick a campsite with barriers. We circled the whole campground and chose a particular spot for it’s toddler-friendliness. It had logs and bushes all around the three sides of the spot, to define the space and keep little miss from wandering, and we parked the truck at an angle across the opening to the site and positioned the cooler next to it to act as a gate from our campsite. This made life way easier than having to constantly chase our toddler back from leaving and walking out onto the road.

bubbles and ball while camping with a toddler
That space behind the truck was the only place we could enter or exit the campsite. With our cooler blocking the pathway, it made for a great big outdoor playpen, and made our lives easier.

 

* Avoid sites close to water. Where we went, the camping ground was on a large lake. Before children we would have done our best to get a lakeside spot, but the last thing I wanted to do was to constantly be on guard for a toddler trying to go swimming. Besides being dangerous (drowning can and does happen), it’s just plum annoying. Another plus side to choosing a site well away from the water was that the wind coming off the lake was strong and cold at the edge, but basically non-existent where we were, further in land and in the trees.

camping with a toddler
It would have been insanely stressful keeping our little water baby from heading into the water if we had set up at a lakeside campsite.

 

* Bring a blanket for a baby base camp. It was great to be able to put some books and toys down on a blanket where we could direct the little one to go sit down and hang out. A defined and easily identified space is a lot easier for a toddler to find and be drawn to than “over there”.

camping with a toddler
Investigating a caterpillar we found on Z’s blanket.

 

* Baby bedding. When it’s just me and the hubby camping, we tend to make one big bed to share, rather than separate sleeping bags. With a little one who kicks and writhes and moves around in her sleep, though, this wasn’t going to work for us to all stay warm and covered. We were fortunate to have a tiny tent set given to us for the wee one, which included a sleeping bag and thermarest in the perfect toddler size. It worked very well, set up in between our adult-sized thermarests, and I would definitely recommend something of the sort to keep everyone comfortably sleeping.

* Warm clothes. I always seem to forget how chilly it gets when you’re outside after dark, or even just on a breezy day. Always bring fleece, and enough long-sleeved, full-panted, head-warming clothes to account for the water and food that will inevitably squish out of that little mouth, or miss it entirely.

* Don’t worry about packing too many toys. There is so much out there in nature to explore and investigate. You can help to point out natural materials to play with, and can offer suggestions for how to use the materials. Sticks, rocks, grass, sand and so much more make for high quality explorations of space, texture, weight and more.

natural toys for camping with a toddler
Z stacks wooden sections from a branch we cut.

wood stacking blocks

 

* Wipes or cloths. If you think your child gets dirty constantly, camping will bring out a whole new level of “what is on your face?”. Be prepared and have enough wipers to mop up all kinds of wayward food, etcetera.

* Toddler-sized camping chair. Again, similar to the blanket idea, it’s nice to be able draw them in to a place where they can sit still – even if for just a few moments! Having her own child-sized camping chair, that she could get in and out of herself, little Z would sit and sip a drink or chow down camp food with us.

camping with a toddler
Sitting around the campfire with Dad, munching on a cob of corn – a perfect toddler camping food.

 

* Give out toddler tasks. Instead of getting frustrated by your busy toddler trying to run off, climb, and get into everything you’d rather they didn’t, giving them a task is a fantastic way to keep everybody feeling more at ease. Being included in what the family is doing will keep that little person busy and help them feel like they are helping out with their “job”. Fetching wood was one of the favourite activities for little Z, who would search around the campsite for any twigs, and come walking through the campground with us to gather little bits of wood. Carrying items to and from the truck to the tent or the table was another useful way to keep our toddler involved and engaged in a positive way.

 

I can’t wait to get out camping with our little family again. If the great outdoors is your thing (and even if it isn’t) I encourage you to take advantage of a weekend spent unplugged and wholly devoted to being with your family camping. I hope my tips have helped you prepare for your own adventure!

 

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