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10 Tips for Fall Camping with Toddlers

Growing up in a scouting and outdoorsy family, I spent many weekends and vacations at a campsite. It started when I was about two years old my oldest brother was a Boy Scout and I spent my afternoons watching him and his friends set up tents. By the time my other brother joined Cub Scouts, with my mother as his leader, I was five years old and helping set the tents up. I became a Girl Scout and my troop spent more time learning to build campfires than selling cookies. We were adventurous and found peace and excitement in the woods. By the time we were in high school, we planned the weekend trips by ourselves, from the menu to the gear list.

We spent a lot of time camping in the summer, when we could dive into lakes and play capture the flag, but our favorite trips were in the fall and winter. Our classmates thought we were crazy, but those 20 degree nights were what we lived for. The Christmas I turned 13, I asked for a high-end sleeping bag and Santa delivered. Now I could sleep comfortably in temperatures down to zero.

While I don’t recommend camping in weather that cold with your young family, I do still adore the cooler weather. Fires seem more cozy and there’s something about being bundled up in the early morning fog that lifts my soul.

This fall will be our first camping adventure with our almost four-year-old son and I cannot wait.

Here are 10 tips for fall camping with toddlers:

  • Going camping this fall? 1 of 11
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    Click through for 10 tips to make your toddler a happy camper!

  • Use daylight. 2 of 11
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    Get to the campsite early. There is nothing worse than racing the sun to get camp set up and you will be so much more relaxed if everything is set up before flashlights are needed.  (Tip: Don't unroll sleeping bags until you go to bed to avoid moisture getting on them and keeping you cold at night.)

  • Plan campsite activities. 3 of 11
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    They don't have to be wild or expensive. Pack bubbles. Create a BINGO nature game for a nature hike. For older kids, grab sticks and teach them to carve s'more sticks. The key is to get away from the iPads and noisy toys and just enjoy the fresh air.

  • Make a potty plan. 4 of 11
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    If there isn't any plumbing, decide where a designated "potty" place is near the campsite. Make sure there are no poison ivy or oak plants near to brush against bums. Keep toilet paper in a plastic baggy. For more serious business, keep a small trowel in a baggy that digs a hole and fills in on top. Then keep said trowel far away from the food table. If this seems like too much, just research campsites that have outhouses or bathrooms with plumbing they are available!

  • Invest in good sleeping gear. 5 of 11
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    Sure, that Dora the Explorer cotton sleeping bag is darling... for sleepovers indoors. But it is going to do nothing for warmth in cold, damp camping. Invest in decent sleeping bags, plus a protective mat to go under the bags. This is partly for comfort, but also for warmth to keep you off the damp tent floor. If it gets below 40 degrees, check your sleeping bag temperature levels and consider a wool blanket.

  • Talk fire safety. 6 of 11
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    Starting a campfire is a fun and sometimes essential part of camping. It's also a GREAT learning opportunity for young kids to learn to respect fire. Go over Stop, Drop, Roll and teach the proper way to put out a fire. (A combination of water, dirt, and making sure ALL embers are black and the fire is no longer smoking before you walk away.) Older kids can learn the various ways to make a fire log cabin style, teepee style, and the different papers and flints to use to start the fire.

  • Pack a warm jacket. 7 of 11
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    Sure, the low may be only 60 but it's going to feel cooler in the damp morning air. Be sure to pack a non-cotton warm jacket for those damp mornings. It may only stay on for an hour, but better to be warm than sorry. Cold toddlers are whiny toddlers and it's an easy thing to avoid.

  • Pack foods he will eat. 8 of 11
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    The only thing worse than being cold when camping? Being hungry! Be sure you pack foods your toddler will easily eat, plus plenty of easy snacks like granola bars.

  • Have an alternate plan. 9 of 11
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    Sometimes things go awry. Like it is pouring down rain the day you're supposed to camp. Solution: Set up a tent in your living room, roast s'mores in the oven, and watch a movie. Or maybe you're supposed to go fishing but the lake is low. Go on a hike! The tip with camping is to enjoy the spontaneity of the outdoors. Don't get bogged down on what you're supposed to do and just enjoy the fun you create that day. Having a low-key attitude will help keep your toddler relaxed, meaning less melt-downs.

  • Pack extra batteries. 10 of 11
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    You know what toddlers and preschoolers love? FLASHLIGHTS. So guess what mandatory piece of equipment will burn out faster than you can say "PUT THAT DOWN, KID!" your flashlight. Pack extra batteries so you can make those 3 AM potty breaks, not to mention batteries for the radio or lanterns. It's better to be prepared than to be without and tripping over rocks in the dark with a toddler!

  • Dress in layers. 11 of 11
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    The fall is a fickle time and any dampness in the air can make a warm 70 degrees feel cool once the sun goes down. Bring layers for everyone. Remember that cotton soaks up moisture and holds it, so focus more on moisture-wicking fabrics. If it's going to be really cold, invest in wool socks for the family. (Tip: Make sure your bag of clothes and sleeping bags do not touch the sides of the tent, where moisture will collect and dampen everything within contact. Pile your bags and clothes in the middle of the tent during the day.)

photos: istockphoto.com

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Beth Anne writes words and takes pictures at Okay, BA! You can also find her on the Twitters and Facebook.

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