Picture this: you are snuggled up next to a campfire with your toddler, watching the fireflies and a sky filled with endless stars. You head into your tent to curl up in your sleeping bags and drift off to the symphony of crickets welcoming the darkness. 

If these are the memories you want to have with your toddler, I’m here to tell you that camping does not have to stop when you have kids! In fact, camping with my kids has made the experience even more enjoyable! 

Camping season is upon us and if you are preparing to take your toddler on their first camping trip, this is the article for you! 

Maybe you are a little worried about dipping your toes into the water of camping with toddlers, but rest assured, it can be an incredible and fun experience for everyone involved. Planning and preparation are key for any successful outdoor adventure with kids and tent camping is no different.

To keep things easy for your first trip out with a toddler, I would recommend sticking to a designated campground. We absolutely love dispersed camping, but if you haven’t camped in a while and want to get back in the groove, an established campground with extra amenities can be a nice way to ease yourself back in. 

It is a privilege that we have a car and access to a couple wonderful campgrounds within a couple hours of us; however, I recognize that accessibility can be a barrier to some families who want to start camping. Another alternative would be to have a camp out in your own backyard! It eliminates the stress of making sure you have everything packed and can be just as fun and memorable for your family. Here is a great place to get started planning your first backyard family camp out! 

Safety first

One of the first things to do when arriving at a campsite is to evaluate safety. Make sure to look for different safety hazards around your campsite, like bodies of water/creeks, poisonous plants, etc. We give our kids a clear idea of where they can and cannot go (they have to stay in the campsite, off the road, out of water, etc). We also take a safety walk with them to highlight any potential dangers. Giving clear expectations and setting boundaries right from the start is helpful in keeping them safe on your trip. 

Another thing that is helpful is to write your site number on the back of your child’s hand, in case they wander off to check something out!

Preparation and Protection

Before we do anything at camp, we start by applying sunscreen and bug repellent on our kids if needed. There is nothing worse than having a bug bite or sun burn within the first few hours of your camping trip and these are easily preventable! 

We prefer to use Picaridin versus DEET products because it lasts longer, it’s safer for your skin and doesn’t feel as greasy. It’s also safe for kids who are over 6 months and pregnant women!

A small bit of prevention will help your camping trip go a lot smoother! 

Involving Kiddos in Camp Chores

You might be thinking “What do I DO with my toddler when I’m trying to get camp set up?” Even for the most experienced, setting up camp takes a bit of time. So how do you keep your toddler safe and entertained while you get things set up? Involve them! 

I get it, this might not always be possible. Maybe you have a toddler who elopes, a young toddler who eats everything (this was us for a while!). Depending on age and ability, sometimes it is better to set your child in a safe place, like a Pack’n Play or fenced area while you set up camp, if they will be needing your full attention.

Here are a few of the reasons that you should allow your toddler to help:

  • Learn proper camping etiquette
  • Responsibility
  • Self Confidence
  • Improve gross and fine motor skills
  • Encourage independence
  • Connect with family
  • Learn to respect nature
  •  Sense of pride and belonging

Toddlers love nothing more than helping in the family, so take advantage of it while they are little! The more they are encouraged to help when they are young, the more likely they are to continue to help as they grow older. 

Is it going to save time having them help? Most certainly NOT! If anything, it’s going to make setting up camp take even longer. Working with them while they are little may take more time now, but it will definitely save time down the road. As they get older, they will surprise you with how many camp chores they can help with, without any assistance from you! 

Also, getting them outdoors to appreciate nature when they are kids will inspire them to take care of it and protect it as they grow older. It is never too early to start teaching them the principles of Leave No Trace and how to recreate responsibly! 

We can’t expect our kids to care about something they haven’t experienced, so I fully believe outdoor experiences are incredibly important to raising a generation of planet protectors.

Camp Chores for Kids

Settling In

Not all tasks are appropriate for a toddler when setting up camp, but here are a few of the ways that we love to get our toddlers involved with camp set up at the beginning of our trip:

  • Moving rocks from where the tent will be set up
  • Setting up the tent- they can help by putting the poles together or pounding in stakes
  • Spraying Permethrin on the tent- this is especially important if you are camping in an area where ticks are prevalent!
  • Blowing up sleeping pads, if you have mattresses that need inflation
  • Setting up camp chairs 
  • Gathering twigs and kindling for a fire
  • Making sure headlamps/lights are accessible for night time
  • Putting covering on camp table 
  • Carrying sleeping bags from car
  • Taking the opportunity to review the principles of Leave No Trace 

All of these jobs can be scaled depending on your toddler’s ability and interest. On your first camping trip of the season, they will probably need some help with these different chores, but you may be surprised at how well they do without a lot of intervention. Your toddlers will feel very proud of the work they have done to help the family!

Daily Camp Chores

After camp is set up, there are other ways your toddler can be included in the daily camp chores that need to be done. Some of our favorites for toddlers are helping to cook meals, filtering drinking water, washing dishes, carrying the trash, and sweeping the tent. These are all great learning opportunities for your toddlers in learning proper outdoor etiquette and a wonderful way to involve them in the experience. 

It can feel like a lot of work to take your toddlers camping, but their big grins and the memories made are more than worth it. When you include them in the experience, it gives them a greater sense of purpose and pretty soon, it doesn’t feel as hard to get out the door to camp! So get out there this summer and give it a go!


May 20, 2024

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Katie Demme

Katie Santos, from Mamas and Mayflowers, is an outdoor enthusiast and advocate, helping families with young kids get out in nature on both big and small adventures. She is passionate about raising kids outdoors and if she's not out on the trail with her kids, you can find her road tripping around the country to visit the National Parks with her family and finding hidden outdoor gems around the US.




Sawyer has an alternative [to DEET] made with Picaridin, which works just as well without spoiling your clothes.

James Wong
Freelance Writer


Zinzi Edmundson, the founder of Treehouse newsletter, who gardens in Maine, suggests spraying your shoes, especially (she uses Sawyer’s permethrin).

Laura Fenton


I carry bottles of water, but I also have a Sawyer squeeze water filter. Also, if it’s cold, make sure you sleep with your water filter in your sleeping bag, so it doesn’t freeze.

Shilletha Curtis