Camping is one of my favorite activities. I knew well before I was pregnant that my husband and I would eventually be camping with a toddler whenever we had kids.
It didn’t strike me as unusual, since my family camped with children of all ages growing up. My husband was uncertain if he was comfortable camping with a toddler or baby. We started out by camping close to home in case we had to leave early and go home, but our daughter does great.
While a lot of it can be attributed to her chill, curious personality and our previous experience camping, there are a few key products that made it so much easier.
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I’ll probably write a separate post on camping with a baby. While a lot of the tips and gear are the same, there are some differences due to their variance in size, mobility and skills.
- Pop-up beach tent with mosquito netting
We tried two different types of baby tents and liked this one the most. While we ultimately went with the PLCEO pop-up tent, it is 43 x 27 x 20 inches when opened. It fit our daughter perfectly when she was a baby. Now that she’s a toddler, she still sits in it for the shade but it is getting a little small for her.
The Kilofly toddler tent is 52 x 33.5 x 23.6 inches, making it a little roomier for toddlers. In full disclosure, we did try a smaller Kilofly and noticed that the stitches were coming out in some areas, so we returned it and opted for the PLCEO. But check out the reviews– many people experience no problems with it, so we may have just gotten a dud.
With any baby/toddler beach tent, you may want to check the stakes they come with. They’re often short and plastic, and may easily break or not be adequate to hold the tent in the ground if there’s a breeze. My toddler loved having a spot out of the sun when we were at the beach this weekend, and has used it before in the woods since it provides a safe place we can watch her while we cook or set up the tent. The mosquito netting lets her watch us and keeps her from getting eaten by bugs.
- Rash guard or full-coverage suit Keep your little one protected from harsh rays with a rash guard. Little girls’ swim suits are adorable, but generally leave the kids’ skin exposed. You can find rash guards for boys and girls. Some, like this adorable “Part Mermaid” suit, have a two-piece rash guard and bikini bottom set. Others, like this Nozone suit, offer even more coverage.
- Sun hat with a chin strap My daughter loves hats and has everything from a vintage-style bathing cap to a crochet dinosaur winter hat. While the bathing cap offers some protection, it doesn’t have a brim. If it’s not windy, she wears a straw hat I found for $1 at a local dollar store, but if we’re near water or there’s a breeze she wears a cotton hat with a wide brim and a chin strap. Hats like these offer good protection from the sun.
- Stretchy mosquito netting for a stroller or pack-and-playThere are several options, but we bought this one soon after having our baby. If you use a stroller or pack-and-play you may want to consider stretching this over them to protect your toddler. Camping (especially in the summertime) can expose your child to more spiders, bees, wasps and mosquitoes. This lets them stay safer while you walk, cook or set up the tent.
- Safe bug repellent or a bug-repellent braceletIt can be difficult to find a bug repellent that’s safe yet effective. I like that these don’t have many chemicals added. With a bracelet, you avoid spraying an aerosol around your toddler’s little lungs.
General gear for camping with a toddler
Luckily, a lot of the gear for camping in general overlaps, though there are some things we’ve found that specifically help with particular regions.
Some items that we like for camping with a toddler in any area are:
- Baby-to-toddler sunglasses in a hard protective caseThese Tuga sunglasses are one of the best purchases I’ve made for our toddler. While they’re a little more expensive than the cheap kids’ glasses you see at the store, they fit much better due to the stretchy headband. They also fit either babies or toddlers, since they come with two separate straps. I also love that they have a hard protective case.
Our toddler sometimes rips these off, but normally will keep them on if the sun is in her eyes. I think it helped that we started putting them on her when she was very young in order to get her used to wearing them.
- Toddler PFD
Whether you’re camping at the beach, in the mountains or somewhere in between, a PDF is a great safety item to tuck away in your car.
Even if you don’t plan to go near water, it’s a small and lightweight item that you can bring in case you spontaneously decide to go canoeing or another activity near water. Like the glasses, I think kids are less likely to try to remove them if they’re used to them from an early age.You can almost always rent an adult and older child PFD, but many places don’t rent infant or toddler PFDs. I like to bring ours just in case since it frees us up to go on the water if we decide to.
We use a model I can’t find online, but this toddler PFD on Amazon has fantastic reviews. It’s designed to keep a kid’s head out of the water, and the crotch strap can help prevent it from riding up on them too far. A grab handle at the top makes it easier to remove the child from the water. Be sure to check the size requirements to know if your child needs an infant, child or youth PFD. This is one item that you don’t want to “size up” in since a proper fit is crucial to its success.
- Toddler cot or sleeping bagWhat you get will depend on where you are camping and what the temperatures are like. A cot may help the child sleep better since it’s similar to their bed at home. My mother-in-law doesn’t camp but bought this toddler cot for when my nephew sleeps over. He loves his special bed.
If you feel your child is at the point where they’ll be safe in a sleeping bag, you could try one like this. It can be a special camping arrangement. Be sure to pay attention to the labels. You’ll want to look for one that’s good for outdoor use since indoor ones may not hold up as well and won’t typically be as warm.
You may also want to consider whether it’s a suffocation hazard (thick, bulky material) or strangulation hazard (many sleeping bags have elastics for holding the rolled bag together and/or drawstrings to close the top and the sleeping bag cloth case.)
One disadvantage to both options is that your toddler will eventually outgrow both. The more you camp, the more your cost-per-use of the item will decline. You could also take them on trips out of town even if you aren’t camping.
Our toddler currently just sleeps with me, but my mother-in-law plans to get her a cot for her birthday. We won’t take it on every camping trip, but they can be great when your site has a lot of rocks and roots. There have also been a couple of times I got soaked when a mini flash flood came through, and a cot would have helped! We will eventually get her a sleeping bag, but when we’re camping she prefers to sleep with me.
- Safe sunscreen
Blue Lizard makes a great baby sunscreen and a kid sunscreen. My daughter has never had a burn when using it. It’s the only brand my husband will use!
- Bike trailer
If you plan on doing any biking while you’re on your trip, you might want to put your toddler, some snacks, water and books in a bike trailer so you can both enjoy the ride. My toddler loves it! You can learn more about options and safety for biking with kids here.
- Toddler camping chair
When you’re camping with a toddler– or doing anything with them, really– they want to do everything you do. It can be difficult for them to climb into a full-size camping chair, and dangerous if it tips. Toddler-sized camping chairs are often very reasonably priced. Some models come with a beach umbrella while others come with a tray.
- Ergo 360 or other baby carrier
It’s no secret here that I love my Ergo. I love baby-wearing, and I’m loving toddler-wearing (luckily, my kid’s on the small side!) You can order them directly from Ergobaby (linked above) or here at Amazon.
If for some reason you don’t want to use an Ergo, there are plenty of other models. I favor the Ergo 360 because the one I use has mesh, but is still warm enough for the winter. It also lets my baby/toddler sit on my back, front or hip. Some types of carriers are specifically designed for hiking and have a sunshade.
I don’t want to you spend a cent more than you need (or want) to. While we keep spending low for our toddler in general, we have found that there are some things that are just worth the investment.
Most of these items are ones we use, though a couple are similar to products we have but I couldn’t readily find on Amazon. With care, most of these items will last for a long time (especially if you have multiple children) and some will have a good resale value.
If you’re looking for a nice family tent that’s not too complicated to set up, I recommend the Field and Stream Wilderness Lodge four-person tent. It’s a good size and isn’t very complicated to set up.
We spend a lot of time outside, and quality outdoor gear– for us and our toddler– has been worth the money. Camping with a toddler can be a fun and relatively inexpensive experience for the whole family that introduces new skills for your child (and maybe you, too!)
I’ve already written on how to safely camp with a baby or toddler if you need more ideas as you plan your trip.
What are your favorite things to bring when camping with a toddler?