Image © prostooleh, under a Creative Commons license.
We know what you're thinking. Tents and toddlers just don't mix.
But you'd be wrong! Getting back to nature and camping with the family is an experience every toddler should have, and you'll be pleased to know it's not as tough as you'd imagine thanks to our favourite tips.
You'll want to make your first kids camping trip as memorable as possible but for all the right reasons, but that will take a little planning. When you go camping with toddlers you don't want to leave anything to chance – whether it's packing extra clothes, letting them live off hotdogs and baked potatoes or buying a new sleeping bag, if it makes your life easier, then do it. The hardest part isn't reading through endless tips for camping but making that first step to book your camping trip. So, start your toddler young (and why not, camping is great for all ages – even babies): pack your tent, and then sit down and read our top tips, recommendations from Kidadlers and ideas for fun camping for family groups.
Do A Dry Run
There's nothing like a week camping in amongst the glorious countryside... except at 2am on the first night when your toddler decides they're scared of the tent. So before you go, camp in your back garden and try it out for a night. If it all goes pear-shaped it's a short hop back to the comfort of your own home and you can abandon your camping plans for another year. If all goes to plan though keep reading for more tips for camping for kids.
If It's Your First Time Leave It To The Professionals
Never underestimate how long it takes to put a tent up, especially if it's box-fresh and you've never held a tent pole. Opt to hire a tent that's ready-pitched and save yourself the stress of trying to put up a tent while amusing a toddler.
Don't Splash Out...Yet
Camping with toddlers won't be for everyone but if you're keen to try it just invest in the basics for your first trip. As Kidadler Katie explains "it's probably still cheaper to buy a small tent than pay for glamping, and you'll have a much better choice of places to stay. For the first time, you don't need much: a tent, an air bed for the adults and mats for the kids, you can take duvets rather than a sleeping bag and a picnic mat rather than tables and chairs."
Think Through Tent Options
If you're planning on investing in your own tent try to make your purchase future-proof. Always go as big as you can, no one ever goes camping with toddlers and raves about the amount of space in the living quarters. A tent with a porch is also a really good choice. When they're toddlers you'll have an extra space to deal with nappy changes plus as they get older you'll have somewhere to leave wet coats and dirty wellies.
If your budget can stretch, a blackout lining will mean you may also get a lie-in. Camping with toddlers invariably means you're up with the sun otherwise. If you do have your own tent, Kidadler Natasha raves about Cuckoo Farm Camping in Rutland for its on-site farm shop, spotless shower and toilet block and local stream made for paddling.
Have A Containment Option
Having a playpen or travel cot means you can venture to the bushes to empty a potty or drop rubbish at the bins opposite without dragging your toddler too. The other benefit it that they're collapsable so one won't take up much space and you can be sure that toddlers will be right where you left them in the two minutes it takes you to dash across.
Shine A Light
When you're out in the depths of the countryside it can be a shock just how dark it gets. Make sure your toddler has their very own light to help make the camping experience fun. Take a wind up torch or present them with their very own headlamp.
We can't emphasise this one enough. Always, always pack a first aid kit and make sure it's well stocked. If the kids are running around, helping collect firewood or exploring nature you'll want to make sure you have a good supply of plasters, antiseptic cream, antiseptic wipes, bandages and the like.
Avoid Night Time Loo Dashes
Take a potty with you if you want to avoid stumbling through the undergrowth at stupid o'clock. Also, don't forget a good supply of spare loo rolls and some wet wipes. If your toddler isn't yet potty trained then pack plenty of nappies and nappy sacks and don't forget a travel change mat.
Keep Them Busy
You may worry about how you're going to entertain your two-year-old, but the beauty of camping is they'll be entertained by the experience. What's the point in camping with kids if you're going to bring along their usual playthings and tablets. Let them explore the great outdoors, get them involved in campfire cooking, plan a nature trail or go for short hikes. Take a few books for bedtime and perhaps some colouring and you're all set.
Going camping with toddlers gives them the opportunity to explore the outdoor world so take advantage of it. Do some research before you go and find them easy, family-friendly hikes. If you have a child younger than 18 months you may want to take a baby carrier with you. You can also take along a bug kit to explore the local wildlife or prepare a scavenger hunt. If you're camping as a family you could also pick a campsite that is on a working farm which will keep them occupied for hours.
Don't Skimp On Snacks
A hungry toddler will never be a happy camper so pack more snacks than you think you could possibly need. Bruised knee? All will be forgotten with a biscuit. Missing home? Hand over some fruit. Tent blown down? Hand over a snack... Don't forget a jumbo bag of marshmallows too. Not all campsites allow open fires so check before you go but if you can have one we can all but guarantee all kids will love toasting a marshmallow or three.
Be Prepared For Rain
Do have a backup plan for when the heavens open. Maybe it's a splash suit and a pair of wellies or maybe it's a day trip to the nearest cinema. Go armed with a few ideas so you're not caught on the hop.
Cora Lydon is a freelance journalist living in Suffolk with her husband and two children. She’s also a children’s book author who loves finding activities and place to inspire her children. Her dining table bears the scars of many craft activities attempts (many unsuccessful).