I’m not an expert by any means, but I’ve camped with my two little ones enough that I’ve learned pretty well what not to do. I also have big plans for getting us outdoors and camping at least once a month over the next year. The biggest obstacle is turning out to be the difficulty of getting reservations in California, but I’m working on that.
So what are my favorite tips and tricks for keeping the littlest campers happy? Keep in mind my little campers are 2 and 3.5. 🙂
#1 First Aid Kit
Starting with the obvious here, primarily you will want band aids and rubbing alcohol. Any cuts or scrapes that happen camping will need to be cleaned throughly and rubbing alcohol is a easy and quick way to do that. I also recommend keeping some small treats in with your first aid kit to help quiet the hysterical child. A bouncy ball is a fun thing to provide some attraction and cheap to replace.
#2 Easy to prepare meals
We don’t worry as much about the nutrient content of our camping meals as we do at home, but we just try to make sure we can get food on the table quickly and easily. Classic camping meals like hot dogs and s’mores are always on our menu! Oatmeal in the morning is super easy and cozy to make around the fire. You may want to have some appetizers available if the kids feel meal prep is taking too long and this might be a good time to present them with carrot sticks or celery.
# 3 So many snacks
Many a time I’ve packed a snack and a lunch and we’ve set off on a hiking trail only to find that the kids have devoured everything by 10 am and are hungry again. Something about spending time outdoors gives them a nice hearty appetite and they burn through food. I recommend doubling the food you think you’ll need and bring food that takes longer to eat. Here’s what we pack these days:
- Cheese sticks
- Trail mix
- Apples and oranges
- Fruit snacks (the gummy kind)
- Baby carrots
- Veggie chips
- Tootsie rolls (These are a treat for the kids and they take a long time to eat, plus the kids aren’t allowed to walk while they eat these so we can usually make some good ground hiking while they are sucking on these in the carriers. If you are at your campsite this is a good excuse to make the kids stop running around and sit for 20 minutes.)
# 4 Sand toys
When we first arrive and start setting up the tents, my kids immediately get to work digging holes and collecting rocks, sticks, etc. Little shovels and buckets make them happy and slightly, slightly, oh-so-slightly decrease how messy they get. I don’t let them bring other toys when we camp, but a bag of sand toys is usually enough to keep them happy!
# 5 Waterproof shoes
You’re looking for something that can be worn with or without socks, snug enough for running and jumping, easily put on with little parental assistance, and will dry quickly when your kids inevitably jump in a puddle or wade in a stream. In our family right now the 2 adults and the 2 year old wear Keen’s and the 3 year old wears Plae. We like both brands.
# 6 Travel potty
The worst part about camping is getting up in the middle of the night having to pee, climbing out of the tent, pulling your shoes on, trudging down the road to the restrooms, etc. This is even worse when it’s not your call of nature you’re responding to. So we set up our travel potty so little bottoms can sit in the middle of the night or when the need is especially urgent. The one we have has disposable bags but we’ve also found that gallon zip locks work as well. This is also clutch for road trips!
# 7 Towels
Even if you’re not planning to swim or shower, towels come in handy for sitting on wet picnic benches, drying after puddle jumping, toweling off slides if you come across a playground, using as extra blankets at night, etc. It doesn’t take too much space to toss a couple of them in the trunk, and you’ll always find a way to use them.
# 8 Lots of waters, individual bottles preferred
I know, I know, bottled water is super environmentally irresponsible, but it’s also super convenient. We can throw a couple bottles in before we go on a hike, keep some in the cooler, and keep a couple bottles inside the tents. It also decreases the risk that your entire water supply will be contaminated with rocks, sticks, and dirt when the kids make “soup”.
# 9 Lots of layers
There is no better time for that cute toddler hoody then as the sun is setting on a day of camping. For each kid we bring: a pair of shorts, a pair of tights, a pair of sweatpants, a tshirt, a long sleeved shirt, a hoody, and a jacket. Throughout the day t what they have on fluctuates, but they usually wear everything at least once. The exception would be the jacket in summertime, but even that could get used on a cool night.
# 10 Baby wipes
Even if you’re past the diaper stage (lucky!) these are still a lifesaver to have on hand. From wiping off dirty hands to cleaning off the spoon that just got dropped forthetenthtime, to cleaning faces after a lunch on the trail, these will be a must-have in our family for years to come.
# 11 Toddler carriers or backpacks
Personally I am a big fan of forward motion when I hike, my kids not so much. So sometimes I just have to scoop them up and go. It’s good for my fitness level and it can be a nice time to cuddle; I wouldn’t even consider going camping without our Toddler Tulas these days.
# 12 Waterproof picnic blanket
We keep ours in the car at all times and it always comes in handy. On our last camping trip we were able to unfold it partway and drape across the entire picnic bench. This spared our towels and our bottoms from getting wet. We don’t hike with ours anymore because of the bulk, but we are quick to bring it out of the car at our campsite, when we stop at the beach or park, or if we need to change a diaper on the side of the road.
# 13 Flashlights for each kid
Flashlights are super fun and practical, and if they must be played with (they must) then it’s a lot easier when both kids have one and they can leave yours alone. That way when you need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night or investigate strange noises, you can actually find what you’re looking for and the batteries haven’t been completely depleted.
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