Seattle's Child

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camping with toddlers

(Photo courtesy of Ellie White)

What to know before you camp with toddlers

With babies on the move, you have to stay on your toes!

Car camping with walking twin babies: Tips for a successful trip

Our first camping trip with two WALKING babies — this would certainly be different from our first camping trips when the babies were immobile or crawling, or only one was walking. Our love for getting outside (and the company and encouragement of our amazing parenting group) made the decision easy. We would take on the challenge of a three-day car camping trip with our 1-year-old twins! 

Friends, friends, friends 

We wouldn’t have gone on the trip solo as a family. The ratio of two babies to two adults becomes much more tenuous when surrounded by open, wild spaces. But a ratio of six babies to ten parents? Much more feasible. 

While there were lots of trustworthy parents on the trip, we obviously were still the sole caregivers for our babies. And all of the other parents certainly had their hands full keeping their own babies safe! 

But having other adults around was key to us not focusing 100% of our time on logistics and safety, and just made the trip more fun. One family found the campsite and made the reservations. Another family had extra space in their vehicle and brought our firewood and a large canopy for the group to share. We brought a play yard that other families utilized for occasional baby-containment, and we all planned and shared meals throughout the trip. With six babies on the loose, many hands were needed to keep things running smoothly.

Tip: When possible, go camping with other families with babies! 

Camping with toddlers: Packing takes forever, and a few modifications 

We have become those people that we never thought we’d become: absolutely packed to the gills with all kinds of baby and camping paraphernalia. You think, “We’ll only bring what we absolutely need,” and that turns out to be what looks like enough for a monthlong vacation. 

Until we invest in a larger car (which will happen someday), we have to pack our car as if we’re putting a puzzle together. Thankfully, my husband is gifted with spatial reasoning. He constantly amazes me with how much he can fit in (and on!) our car. 

We have a canvas bag for extra storage on top of the car. On this camping trip, my husband also strapped our camp chairs and play yard panels to the top rack with bungees, just under the canvas bag, to create even more space. We got everything to fit, but needed some creativity along the way! 

Regardless of packing skills, packing still takes a long time. We planned our packing list for weeks before the trip, and by the time we rolled out of our house at 3:30 p.m., we had spent so much time preparing and packing that it felt like our trip had already come and gone. We’d been so focused on preparing and packing that neither of us had considered that we were leaving on Friday. In the summer. In the afternoon.

Needless to say, it took us a long time to get through traffic and out of the city, and eventually to our campsite. 

Tip: Build in plenty of time for packing. The trip will be worth it, but it will take a lot of time to pack! 

Simple, simple meals 

We had group meals for breakfast and dinner, and we were on our own for lunches. My husband and I got fancy when the babies were napping and made tuna and macaroni and cheese for lunch each day. Delicious. 

But the babies? They got food that did not need to be cooked or heated or elaborately prepared. They got tortillas and nut butter, oranges and granola bars, string cheese and bananas. Some other families chose to cook hot lunches for their babies, but we decided to keep it simple. After all, isn’t looking after two babies in the forest enough work without adding hot meals? 

Tip: Look for ways to simplify your trip. For us, this meant simple meals for our babies. 

Create contained (safe) spaces when you’re camping with toddlers

It felt incredibly ironic (wrong? strange?) to have a fenced-in play yard in the middle of a forest, with trees towering all around. Yet we were so very glad that we strapped our play yard panels to the car and drove them to the mountains. We set it up in the middle of camp so the babies could observe all of the activity going on around the campsite when they were in the play yard. And they were never in it alone. One of us was in it with the babies as the other parent did necessary tasks like setting up the tent, cooking meals or unpacking. 

I can’t imagine our babies would have had nearly as much fun if only our family went camping and we needed to keep them in the play yard so much. (Or if one of us wasn’t in the play yard with them). But having the play yard meant that one parent could safely watch two babies at a time, and other parents were able to take little breaks by putting their babies in the play yard. 

When we both were free, we could let the babies wander free-range. They loved toddling/stumbling/walking up the gravel road that led to our campsite. They climbed over tree roots, ate huckleberries and got filthy. Watching them explore was a highlight of the trip, but having the play yard was critical for us to keep the babies safe while getting required tasks done. 

Tip: Consider bringing a safe, contained space for your babies. 

Have few activity expectations. Don’t rush … and don’t go too far.

Camping was the goal. Not hikes, not games, not particular sites to visit — not anything in particular. The agenda was to get through the day safely and to make sure everyone stayed warm and fed. 

Low bar? Yes. Realistic? Yes. 

Our agenda for camping was, just that — camping. Doing all of the things that make up life is challenging enough when you’re at home with your babies. In the forest, everything takes longer and is less convenient. 

So when we had the opportunity to have add-ons to the trip — score! During one nap, I went down and sat by the river while my husband stayed at camp with the babies. We also got out on a real hike one afternoon with the babies in our packs. And all the babies did their duty and went to sleep well, so all of us parents got to log some evening hours chatting and roasting marshmallows. 

Tip: Have low expectations and enjoy the extra activities and adventures you get to have! 

Tents get hot! 

We learned this lesson the hard way. (Thankfully, not too hard.) 

All the babies were napping and camp was quiet. The sun had come out, but our campsite was still mostly shaded. 

Our babies started rustling a few hours into their nap. When my husband went to check on them, he opened the rain fly and was greeted with a blast of hot air. The tent was like an oven, and the babies were sweating. 

We were horrified that we’d not even considered the tent heating up as a possibility. After all, we were in a shady grove of trees. We quickly pulled the babies out of the tent, got them in the shade, took some layers off, and encouraged them to drink water. 

They were just fine, but what a lesson learned. Always be aware of how different environments react to changing weather conditions, and check on those conditions during babies’ nap time. 

Tip: Stay mindful of how conditions can change quickly, and monitor your babies closely. 

Bring bug repellent

By the time we got into the packed car to head home, our babies looked like they had chicken pox. Seriously. 

Thankfully, they didn’t seem to be bothered by the bites, and although they looked worse for the wear, they were still happy campers.

During the trip, we borrowed a few different bug repellents to try on the babies. I couldn’t notice a big difference with or without the repellent, but I was happy to learn about natural bug repellents that some other parents use. 

Mosquito bites don’t usually bother me too much (I know, I know — I’m sorry!), so I don’t usually think about bringing bug spray. But from now on, our camping trips will always include nontoxic bug spray for the babies. 

Tip: Mosquitoes like babies. Bring insect repellent! 

Perhaps my favorite moments and memories from the trip were alllll the time the babies spent just roaming around. My daughter had learned to walk just weeks before, so we weren’t sure how she would do on the gravel pathways and uneven terrain. She thrived. Walking up and down the gravel path to our campsite was her favorite. Both of our babies had lots and lots of tumbles, but no one ever got upset. They just kept embodying the age-old adage “Dust yourself off and try again.” Over and over. 

It is these moments that I love. The moments when there are no agendas or boundaries, nothing to break or be constrained by, moments when the babies are truly exploring, experiencing, touching, wondering and discovering.

And these moments are all very achievable when camping!

More on toddler parenting

Exploring (and expanding) the world on toddler walks


About the Author

Ellie White

Ellie had the privilege of growing up in our beautiful Pacific Northwest. She currently lives in the Green Lake neighborhood with her husband and twin toddlers.