This toddler camping checklist will help your family camping trip go smoothly whether you’re sleeping in a van, tent, or camper! Make sure to read to the bottom for your free printable camping with toddlers checklist.
Although people are quick to tell you that your camping and travel days are over once you have a kid, we don’t believe it! Today I’m essentials for camping with a toddler and a toddler camping checklist. Make sure to read to the bottom for a free printable checklist! I hope you enjoy.
Some toddler camping essentials posts I’ve seen advocate purchasing and bringing a laundry list of items that seem like a good idea, but make me wonder whether or not the author has actually ever had a child.
Safety whistles, for example, might do well enough for an older child but (to me) make no sense for a toddler. My daughter loves her train whistle, but most safety whistles are too small for children under three and there’s no way she’s understand that she should blow it if she was in danger. That’s why today I’m sharing a toddler camping list with must-have essentials for camping with a toddler!
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My family did a lot of camping when I was a kid. We camped an average of 2-3 times a month for several years, even when my younger sister was a toddler and preschooler. It was a family tradition – my grandparents used to belong to multiple camping clubs so they always had a group to take my dad and his siblings out with virtually every weekend.
Our LG absolutely loves nature. I’ve never seen her actually want to go indoors, no matter the weather. This was a major motivating factor behind our recent decision to buy a van and commit to taking regular family camping trips!
We are making our camping friendly (we’re not doing a full-on van conversion at this time, though we may have one done professionally in a few years) so that it’s easy for us to pack our things and head to the mountains whenever we have the chance.
Spending time in nature is incredibly important for children, and something that’s becoming all too uncommon. A couple years ago I read The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. It was a fascinating read that discusses the problems caused by “nature deficit disorder” and how we can help children experience more of nature. Louv did an interview with NPR back in 2005 that you can listen to if you want to find out a bit more!
I hope this list of items you need for camping with a toddler is helpful and practical, especially for folks with a younger toddler and helps you spend more time outside with your little one! (As a quick note – this is a list of items to bring camping for a toddler, not a full camping packing list. If you’d like to see a family camping checklist post in the future, please let me know!)
Camping essentials for toddlers
A safe place to sleep
This is true whether you’re van camping, like us, or camping in a tent. A major reason we decided to van camp is that our daughter can use zippers. I know she would unzip the tent and wander out if she were just on an air mattress on the ground!
If you have an older toddler, a child sized air mattress, camp pad, or cot might work, but if you have a younger toddler I highly recommend playing it safe with a portable crib.
People usually recommend a Pack n Play. I personally don’t like it (we had a hand me down and I donated it!) We’ve used the Guava Lotus as LG’s bed since she was 3 months old. It’s similar to a Pack n Play except its sturdier, lighter, and easier to transport. It also has a zip-down side (with a clip to latch the zipper and prevent escapes) and you can buy a sunshade top or a bug netting for the bed!
Warm layers for mornings and sleeping
Even in the summer, many favorite camping spots can be cool at night. A wearable blanket that allows for walking is a good way to add a layer for active toddlers. My daughter hates blankets, so we always have to dress her in multiple layers for sleep. If your child sleeps with a blanket, bringing along a favorite can give them a sense of security and warmth.
You’ll probably also want to bring some warmer daytime clothing for mornings and evenings.
Pants, long sleeved shirts, and light jacket are helpful even in summer, but you may also want something a little heavier. Check the weather forecast before heading out! At our place in West Virginia, it’s not uncommon for overnight temperatures to dip into the 50s or even 40s, even in the middle of summer on days with hot afternoons.
As a general rule, I like to allow for two full sets of clothes for each day (and maybe a couple extra pieces, just in case!)
I know many of us balk at spraying our little ones up with chemicals, but using some type of (effective) bug repellant is important for your toddler’s health.
I am paranoid about ticks. They gross me out and can carry seriously nasty diseases. That’s why every summer I treat a couple full outfits for each of us with Permethrin. You can also buy insect replant clothing that already has Permethrin.
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Make sure to plan ahead and spray outfits ahead of time – they have to dry fully before being worn. Do not spray your skin with Permethrin – it is only for your clothing!
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The treatment, both self-applied and professionally applied, will eventually wear off, so make a note of how many times you’ve washed garments you’ve sprayed and retreat them as necessary. (It’s only a few washes for self-applied, but the bug repellant in a lot of commercially available clothing lasts for 50-70 washes.)
When it comes to spraying repellant on your toddler, use whatever you feel comfortable with and wash it off when it’s no longer needed.
Our pediatrician told us she sees lots of kids each summer who get bug bites, scratch them, and then end up needing treatment for an infection. She said to spray down our girl when it was necessary, but wash off when we came inside. When you’re camping, this may mean showering in the evening or wiping down with bath wipes whenever you’re going to be in the tent or car for a while.
What about alternative bug repellants, like citronella candles and mosquito repellant wrist bands?
Unfortunately, many of these don’t work well. I love more natural alternatives whenever I can find them, but research just doesn’t back many of the more natural bug repellants. Wrist bands have little to no impact on mosquito bites and citronella candles only reduce bites by about half. Some other more natural insect repellents that work a bit better, like topical eucalyptus oil, aren’t safe for children. (source)
The best all-natural bug repellant mosquitos and other flying insects, like no-seeums, is a fan.
These relatively small and weak insects can’t fly in a breeze! Fans also help disperse the exhaled carbon dioxide that many insects use to locate their prey. If it’s a really still evening, pointing a fan at the picnic table while you eat may reduce bug bites. There are many battery operated and USB fans available. We use these USB battery packs for all sorts of things, including USB light bulbs and small fans.
We’ve also used a larger battery operated box fan in the past. It’s very helpful on hot days when you don’t have electricity!
A good ice chest (and easy food!)
My husband and I agreed years ago that we’d never buy an expensive ice chest. Like many other things, that idea changed once we became parents!
Although you don’t need a super expensive model, you need something that will actually keep food cold for as long as you plan to camp. (Our previous cooler needed ice literally every day – no bueno.) RTIC coolers, for example, are a Yeti alternative that keep ice well. Bonus – it’s bear proof!
Food safety is always important, but it’s even more important when you’re feeding a toddler, especially if your little one is still drinking lots of dairy milk. Children under five are more susceptible than adults and older children to food poisoning because they’re immune systems aren’t fully developed and they have less stomach acid.
Make sure to stock your ice chest with easy food and snacks. Especially if you haven’t gone camping with your toddler before, try to prep as much food ahead of time as you can. It’s really beyond the scope of this (already long) post to go into easy camping meals and snacks, but if you want to see another post in the future please leave a comment!
A portable bathtub
You need a basin, plastic bin, flexible tub, etc. for bathing your toddler. Although many campsites have showers, toddlers don’t always enjoying showers and using a camp shower with a young child can be incredibly stressful. Save yourself some hassle by bringing along a makeshift bathtub for washing the day’s fun off your toddler! As discussed above, it’s also important to wash any bug repellant or sunscreen off your little one once it’s no longer needed.
An extra large Tubtrug works well as a toddler bathtub.
Although you won’t want to fill it all the way (it hold 19+ gallons!), it’s large enough for young children to sit inside as a bathtub. It’s also flexible, which makes it easier to pack than a plastic tote or metal washbasin. You can fill it up at the bathhouse and carry it back to camp or let your toddlers bathe in the shower stall! Plastic storage totes can also work, but are much less convenient to pack in your vehicle.
If you don’t want to bring a tub, at least bring something to use as an in-camp hand washing station. A simple dish pan or collapsable water bin is far better than nothing!
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All the wipes
Even if your toddler is potty trained, you’ll still want to being plenty of wipes!
We’ve always used unscented wipes that are safe for hands and face, but if you don’t you might want to pick up a pack for camping. It’s much easier to wipe down your toddler’s face, feet, hands, etc. with a wipe as needed than to haul them off to the campsite restrooms every time they get dirty.
If normal wipes are too small for your toddler’s messes, pick up a couple packs of bath wipes. My daughter loves playing outside, but she is amusingly upset whenever she notices dirt on her hands and wants it cleaned up right away!
A portable high chair
Before our baby was born, my husband and I thought we’d never buy a high chair. Hahahahaha. Our daughter does use her Montessori-style cube chair a lot, but we quickly realized we needed some sort of “high chair” (we actually use this chair, which isn’t quite a traditional high chair).
Whenever we travel, we bring along this portable booster seat. It is so much easier than holding a squirming toddler who wants to throw your food on the floor! Using a chair with a tray can also help keep you and your toddler slightly cleaner, which is a plus while camping. Our chair needs to be secured to an adult seat (which means it isn’t safe for picnic table benches). If you have one like this, you can spread out a picnic blanket and get everyone down on the ground!
We love our portable “high” chair and bring it whenever we eat at restaurants. I feel much better knowing that we have a chair with a working safety belt and a clean tray instead of relying on whatever the restaurant may have.
If you’re tight on space, you can get a folding portable booster seat. It also needs to be secured to something with a back rest, but it takes up even less space in your car and tent.
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If you’d rather eat at a picnic table, get a folding high chair. Some friends of ours have one and they love it. It’s easy to bring virtually anywhere and works like an adult folding camp chair.
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While we’re on the topic of chairs, I’d just like to mention folding camp chairs for toddlers.
If your toddler is younger or shorter, many of the small folding chairs available may be slightly too tall for them to climb into unassisted. I’ve seen a lot of camping checklists that suggest bringing a folding chair for your toddler. They can be great, but they can also be a bust. Try visiting a local store to let your little one try our a chair or two before you buy to make sure they can actually use the chair independently and enjoy it!
A waterproof picnic blanket
There can be a lot of dew early in the morning and it can take a while to evaporate. A waterproof picnic blanket is great for throwing down on the ground, or even on a picnic table bench, when it’s damp.
A waterproof blanket also comes in handy if the ground or benches are wet from rain!
And, of course, a picnic blanket is important if you’re using a portable booster seat that isn’t secure on a picnic table bench.
A portable potty
If your toddler is done with diapers (hooray!) you’ll probably want to bring some kind of potty with you unless you’ve reserved a campsite near the bathroom.
Even then, you might still want to bring a potty because camp bathrooms aren’t always the nicest places! Little people simply can’t be expected to hold it while you track across the entire campground, especially at night. A folding toilet seat cover or disposable toilet seat covers are also good choices for older toddlers (and children, in general.) I love these large disposable toilet seat covers because they have a huge front to keep little legs and hands clean, too.
PS – Please don’t reserve a site next to the bathroom if you want to actually sleep. People will be walking back and forth past your tent at all hours!
Extra socks and shoes
Toddlers love water. Make sure to bring extra socks and shoes!
Hats are important while camping. They can help keep the sun off your little one and they provide a modicum of protection against bugs. I always spray a hat with Permethrin for each member of the family at the start of summer and reapply, as needed.
A backpack carrier
Depending on how much hiking you want to do, you may want a backpack carrier.
Backpack carriers with enough structure and support to be comfortable are an investment, but well worth it if you plan to do lots of hiking or camping. They can last for multiple children, which also means they retain some resale value.
There is a huge difference between back carriers for hiking and carriers like the Ergo that you can also wear on your back. Hiking backpack carriers have a metal frame and better padding that keep you a lot more comfortable. Your back will absolutely feel the difference in a hurry!
A soft carrier or wrap that allows you to back carry a toddler is helpful for walks, but can get quite sweaty and uncomfortable on longer hikes. (They’re still far, far better than nothing, though, so bring one of you have it!)
Unless you’ll be ‘hiking’ only on paved trails, it’s probably best to leave your stroller at home. Even our BOB gets difficult to push on some of our local flat, basic trials.
First aid kit
Toddlers tend to accumulate bumps, bruises, scrapes, and bites. Bring a first aid kit with what we necessities you normally use. Neosporin, Calamine lotion, and bandaids are my three camping must-haves! A small first aid kit is inexpensive and easy to spot (since it’s bright red) and well with the minor investment.
I thought about leaving this one off, but I know how many times my “mom brain” has overlooked something really basic while getting ready for a trip!
- You will obviously need everyday necessities for your toddler, including:
- Clothing (with extra layers, shoes, and socks, as mentioned above)
- Favorite outdoor toys
- Diapers/pull-ups and wipes, if your toddler isn’t fully potty trained
- Specific medicines or vitamins
Don’t worry about bringing All the Things because you think you “should.”
For example, a lot of people recommend getting a toddler a special flashlight or headlamp. If your toddler would like/use a flashlight or headlamp, awesome! If it would just get shined in everyone’s eyes and dropped in the dirt, don’t worry about getting one.
Your patience, compassion, & positive attitude
Travel and new places will disrupt your toddler’s routine. Some children handle these disruptions better than others. Your toddler may refuse to sleep in your tent at first and be up all night, or they may completely zonk after a day of playing outside.
How “successful” your camping trip is also depends on your attitude. If it rains, for example, don’t complain that the trip is “ruined.” Throw on a rain jacket and stop some puddles!
Please remember to Pin this post so you don’t lose track of it!
Free printable toddler camping essentials checklist
I have to admit that I was super tempted to add cute camping graphics to this checklist printable, but I know how annoying it is to use extra ink for no real reason. That’s why I decided to keep this checklist plain and simple!
As a reminder: this is not a full family camping checklist. Make sure to bring other essentials like your tent and flashlights! If you’d like to see a more comprehensive family camping checklist in the future, please let me know!
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