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Some might call me crazy (and indeed they do), some might call me brave. Perhaps even a sucker for punishment. To all of this I say — I just love (and crave) a good challenge. I also actually like camping and outdoor adventuring as does my partner. These are traits that we hope to pass onto our kids. If you’re not down with peeing in the woods, or bugs, or any of that action then you probably aren’t reading very much farther past this line, right?
For each and every extra responsibility and chore that comes from camping with toddlers, there are the following: evening bonfires under a magnificent star-lit sky, endless dips in the lake and frolicking on a beach shore, the sticky-sweet promise of s’mores and toothy, gaping grins, falling asleep to the sound of water kissing rock and trees swaying with the gentle breeze. Oh, and the promise of doing nothing but spending some quality family time together.
Of course, it could rain. And then you might realize that you didn’t bring a tarp, forgot the s’more ingredients, and the bug spray too. Then you’re pretty much doomed. I’m all about avoiding those avoidable catastrophes and enjoying the beauty and splendor of camping off the grid, getting back to basics, and challenging your spirit a bit. It really is good for the soul. Yours and your littles.
Here are a few of my top tips for camping with toddlers without losing your mind … and actually enjoying it!
1. Safety Precautions
Talk about all of the new things you’ll be doing and the new environment you’ll be in before and during; activities like hiking, or having bonfires, or seeing snakes and lots of bugs and spiders, coming into contact poison ivy, oak, and sumac. Basically what not to touch without asking first. Talk a lot. By the end of our trip everything was poison ivy according to Abby and Wyndham was perhaps overly cautious, which is fine by me. Remember to pack a sensible first aid kit with Band-aids, after-bite, hydrogen peroxide, Polysporin, arnica, your teething/fever medicine of choice, gauze, Q-tips, tweezers, etc.
2. Remember the Goop
Pack LOTS of bug spray, sunscreen, after-bite and aloe vera gel. Imperative or else SITUATION.
3. Think in Layers
This is what you have to keep in mind when packing. No matter what the Weather Network calls for, Mother Nature will have her unpredictable ways. Lots of comfy t-shirts and shorts, lots of wool socks, sun hats and wool hats, lots of jogging pants and long-sleeved pajama sets and comfy shoes. Water shoes if you’re doing lots of beach action.
4. Comfy Beds
Some say single air mattresses, but I am an advocate of the toddler cot or toddler sleeping mats. If you’ve done any camping you know that air mattresses deflate often and easily. Make it easier on yourself by only having to refill your own.
5. On Food and Purchasing: Club “Pack Everything”
Mainly wipes. Wipes will be your go-to-washing system if you’re truly camping off the grid. (That and the lake.) But also diapers, cereal, oatmeal, snacks, sausages, bread, peanut butter, jam, eggs, almond milk, water (we camped where there was no running drinking water), you get the drift. As for food—well, I love challenging myself in that department. Being a culinary nerd, I get freaky about planning our menu for camping trips. That said, I think it’s a fantastic idea to make a few things ahead of time. Chili, pasta sauces, slow-cooker fajita filling, slow-cooker anything really. Anything that freezes well and can defrost throughout the day for easy heating up at night!
6. Fun and Games
Bring a new toy or book for each of your kids and their own personal flashlights. Keep it simple and cheap! I brought a new book for each of ours and a couple of DIY projects (glow-in-the-dark hula hoops and Waldorf dancing rings), to gift them with for outdoor play. If you have room for it and are going to the right environment, bring their balance bikes or trikes. I made little art bins for each of them with their pencils, pastels, crayons, markers and a couple of big multi-media art pads. I pre-organized some easy craft ideas to do with them throughout the week and packed up a bigger art basket with all of that stuff. Activity/learning/skill books on nature, wildlife, bugs and weather went over well to go along with the camping theme. Glow-sticks, sparklers and bubbles should be mandatory. Stuff for an outdoor treasure hunt from the Dollar Store. LOTS of matchbox cars. Camping is a great time to make roads and hills and play-scapes using items found in nature.
7. On Potty Training and Diapers
One down (fairly recently) and one to go over here, which means getting Wyndham to be comfortable going to the washroom in an outhouse on our campsite and in the woods when we’re hiking and adventuring. I highly recommend bringing a potty if you are in the throes of potty-training. As for diapers, extra large Ziploc bags my friends. You’re going to want to keep that stench at bay until you get to dump them in a garbage.
8. The Necessary Toddler Gear
If you’re going to be doing lots of adventuring, I recommend bringing a wagon and a shade tent for days at the beach. We camped right on the lake next to my elder’s full cabin and went to the beach almost everyday. So towels and swimsuits and swimming diapers (for Abby) and a shade tent were imperative. As were insulated thermoses to keep drinking water cool when out and about.
9. “Glamp” It Up
Get a two room tent (or more depending on many kids you have!) One that you can stand up and walk around in. I know! That’s why it’s called glamping! Look for features such as excellent mosquito screening and well sealed seams and lots of screened “windows” for good air-flow when it’s hot. (Usually in the morning at the crack of dawn.) Bring your favorite pillows and lovies, theirs too. Wool blankets and down sleeping bags. Heck, we bring our down duvets. Why not? Bring a folding table to set-up an outdoor kitchen. To that effect, LISTS. They are your friend. I started prepping for our camping trip about two weeks before we left. Menu planning, appliances, bare minimum cooking gear and utensils, food and clothing lists. All of it. We’ve slowly invested in our camping gear over the years since we prefer camping in comfort and style. Comfy chairs for them, comfy chairs for you.
10. Invest in the Right Camping Gear
I already touched on the importance of investing in a good tent. Always lay a tarp under your tent. We have a ridiculously huge one that gets folded over for extra layering. I also recommend bringing an extra tarp to tie from tree to tree to make a barrier over your tent if the weather calls for rain before you go to sleep at night. You’re welcome. Lots of good quality lanterns and your kid(s) nightlight if they favor one of those. Ours are very attached to their turtle constellation lamp. I also spoke a bit about cooking gear so above all else I recommend getting a good propane camping stove. We are a fan of this Coleman one and it’s lasted quite a few years, purchased pre-kids even. Plan for rain aside from the tarps and bring rain boots and raincoats. I LOVE the Tuffo rain suits for toddlers, that’s what we use for all festivaling and camping.