The best tips for camping with kids

Aug. 11, 2021
Creativity and safety surround most tips for camping with kids. Like this inner tube, which is great for when your camp is by water, but can also be used as a clean playpen on shore.
Creativity and safety surround most tips for camping with kids. Like this inner tube, which is great for when you camp by water, but can also be used as a clean and safe playpen on land. Photo by Kati Blocker, UCHealth.

Enjoying Colorado’s great outdoors is a favorite way for Coloradans to relax and visitors come from miles away to hike and camp here.  Families, though, especially those with toddlers, may find camping with kids anything but relaxing.

Allowing the little ones to experience overnight camping, though, is thrilling for most kids. They can breathe Colorado’s fresh air, see spectacular wildlife and the big benefit: they’ll sleep well.

Preparation is key to an enjoyable and safe camping trip with youngsters. Here are a few tips on how to make camping with young kids a memory to last a lifetime.

Safety first when camping with kids:

  • Put all food and snacks in a secure place at night to keep bears and other critters such as raccoons away.
  • Bring a first aid kit with essentials like Band-Aids, gauze and athletic wraps. The kit should also contain a thermometer, Benadryl, Tylenol (make sure all are age-appropriate), tweezers and a large safety pin (to get those hard splinters out or to fix torn clothing) and a salve to soothe bug bites or a rash from poison ivy/oak.
    young child playing in the dirt.
    Kids will get dirty when you camp so be prepared with wet wipes or extra water and a washcloth for a quick clean-up. Photo by Kati Blocker, UCHealth.
  • Always keep a watchful eye on your children. Make sure to do a visual handoff when passing the supervision of a child to another parent. If many parents are present, don’t assume someone is watching, but rather confirm with a visual or vocal “You have them?” before heading off for a bathroom break or to start dinner. This is especially important if you’re camping by water.
  • If camping by water, have your child always wear a lifejacket. It’s a great habit for them to get into so when they’re older, you don’t even have to ask.
  • Train your son or daughter to sit in a “campfire safety chair” when there’s a campfire. Explain how fire, just like a hot stove at home, could hurt them.
  • Nights can be cold, but don’t pile on too many blankets. The same safe sleeping rules at home apply while camping. Dress your child in layers, such as tight pajamas with footies, and then a sleep sack.

Other safety tips when camping with young children:

toddler sitting on a blanket at a camp site. blanket is a great tip when camping with kids.
Having a clean, safe place for your child to play is essential when camping. Photo by Kati Blocker, UCHealth.
  • Secure a red-light headlamp around your fast-moving toddler (if the light is on their lower back instead of their belly button, they are less likely to mess with it). The light allows you to always see where your child is when night falls.
  • Bring a cheap rug, foam puzzle pieces, pack-in-play or you can even secure a bounce chair to a strong tree limb to provide your child a safe place to play.
  • A folding camp highchair or one that hooks onto a table (if your site has a picnic table) is a great way for your child to enjoy “clean” food when camping. Having a child hold a plate on their lap in a camp chair is asking for disaster. The space between the bench and table on a picnic table is wide and toddlers can easily fall trying to reach their food on the table.

What to pack when heading camping with your kids:

  • Wet wipes. Bring lots of Wet wipes. You’ll need them for everything!
    child holding up toys in a pack in play while on a camping trip.
    Toys that can be easily washed and a Pack N Play are helpful when camping with kids. Photo by Kati Blocker, UCHealth.
  • Bring toys that are easy to clean. The kids – and the toys – are going to get dirty. Be sure to scope out the camp area for items children are tempted to put in their mouth or eat, like poison ivy or berries.
  • Glow stick. These are fun for kids and also a great way to keep track of children at night. And when it’s bedtime, hang one in the tent for a “nightlight” effect. A lantern for the tent is also a good idea.
  • Consider downloading your child’s favorite nighttime songs and play them while your child sleeps so you can enjoy your adult time. Rituals are important and it can help them feel comfortable – that also means don’t forget that special blanket or other sleep-time stuffy.
  • Consider nap times. If the toddler takes naps at home, one will be necessary while camping. If you decide to skip the nap, consider carrying a hiking backpack so your child can rest while you’re on a trail.

Tips for camping with kids: Always preparing for inclement weather

A kids backpack with a resting bar like this allows you to take the packpack off even when the child is sleeping. Great if you're going to hike on your camping trip.
A child backpack with a resting bar like this allows you to take the backpack off even when the child is sleeping. Great if you’re going to hike on your camping trip. Photo by Kati Blocker, UCHealth.

There is a familiar saying in Colorado: If you don’t like the weather then wait 5 minutes.

Make your camping preparations easier by creating a “kid camping kit.

Check the forecast before you go camping

Colorado weather can change quickly and differ from season to season, day to day and hour to hour. Be sure to check the weather forecast before you head out. Don’t forget to consider where you are camping. Temperatures in the mountains are going to be cooler than temperatures at lower altitudes.

Bring the right equipment camping for the weather

Colorado has hot afternoons and cool nights. Make sure you can provide shade in the afternoon and warmth at night.

  • Bring extra shoes, socks, pants and hats and gloves. That way, if your child gets dirty or wet, you can change clothes. At night, consider having your child wear a hat and gloves while sleeping.
    Lifejackets are always important when camping or playing by water, but this child's full-body rainsuit allows him to keep dry and enjoy the outdoors when the sun is not shining.
    Lifejackets are always important when camping or playing by the water, but this child’s full-body rain suit allows him to keep dry and enjoy the outdoors when the sun is not shining. Photo by Kati Blocker, UCHealth.
  • Bring an extra sheet to put over the pack-n-play. A portable crib — as long as they’re not climbing out of it yet — is great to keep your little one contained while you set up and break down camp, while your cooking and for nap time. You can use an extra fitted sheet to go over the top to provide shade while your little one plays or sleeps within the pack-n-play.
  • Bring a rain suit. There is nothing worse than a cold, wet child (well, maybe a hungry one). A rain suit will allow your child to play in the mud – always fun!
  • Tarp for under your tent will keep your tent dry if it does rain.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray. Sunscreen should not be applied to children under the age of 6 months. Instead, dress them in longer, light-colored clothing and hat that provides shade for their face.
  • Consider placing a pad under your child’s sleeping bag at night, not necessarily for comfort, but for warmth. Foam play pads that come apart like a puzzle work well and can be used during the day to make a clean play area for your child.
  • A hot water bottle can help keep your child warm at night. Heat water on the camp stove before bedtime, fill the hot water bottle and place it at the bottom your child’s bed. This is not recommended for very small children who are not able to push things away from their faces yet. An alternative can be a Nalgene bottle.

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.

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