Camping is an enjoyable family activity that is sure to create lifelong memories. Not to mention being outside is healthy, calming, and re-invigorating for all involved. However, camping with youngsters does present its own set of challenges, especially when it comes to sleep.
So how do you get your toddler to sleep while out camping? The best way to get your toddler to sleep while camping is to make sure they are worn out in advance, then put them to sleep in a special travel bed and make sure they are warm enough.
Here’s what we will cover to help ensure they sleep tight.
- Get them tired
- Comfortable bed
- Regulate their temperature
- Keep a routine
- Bring some familiar items
- Keep the right attitude
- Camp at home and do a practice run
- Take preventative measures during the day
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Get Them Tired
All parents know the many benefits of getting their kids outside in fresh air and sunshine for some exercise to help them be calm and sleep well later on. This shouldn’t be too hard to do while camping because you’ll probably be spending the entire day in the great outdoors.
Be aware though that a long hike might not be possible for a toddler and you may end up carrying him or her for quite a while. While you may be exhausted after the hike, your toddler will still have a lot of pent up energy!
So provide plenty of activities suited to toddlers so they can move around, explore, and wear themselves out. Even if they aren’t able to be as active as you’d like, the fresh air and sunshine will also go a long way to helping them doze off when the time comes.
What’s the Best Travel Bed?
There are several options for portable travel beds that will contain your toddler both at night and during naptime. One of the most popular travel beds that almost every family owns is a pack-n-play.
Because you already have it, there’s no need to buy anything extra. However, depending on your vehicle and how much you have to pack, it may take up too much room. Some find them unwieldy and difficult to set up also.
Nonetheless, your toddler will already be familiar with the pack-n-play from home. Not to mention it’s a great way to contain them while you are busy with other activities like cooking or setting up the tent.
And, you can put the pack-n-play inside a large family-sized tent where they will remain safe and out of the elements.. They can play there until they fall asleep and then take their nap or stay there throughout the night without having to wake them up to be moved.
If you don’t mind buying something specifically for camping, one of the most recommended items is a travel bed. A travel bed is a like a mini tent that your toddler can sleep inside. Many have sun and mosquito protection and can be placed inside your larger tent.
One of the primary benefits of the travel bed is that the child will be enclosed in it which is safer in case they wake up. Then they won’t wander away from the campsite and get lost or hurt.
Highly Recommended Travel Beds
Several popular and well-rated travel beds for toddlers include the following:
–Koo-di Pop-Up Travel Bubble Cot
–Bend River Portable Baby Travel Bed
–Hyindoor Baby Tent
–Pea Pod Travel Bed
Regulate Their Temperature
Making sure your toddler is warm enough on cool nights is essential to them getting a good night’s sleep. Because temperatures may drop quite low during the night, you’ll have to make sure your child is not only warm enough but wearing the proper layers so they don’t remove layers while sleeping.
First start with a thin layer such as a onesie, then cover with a long-sleeved shirt and pants. Alternately, you can dress them in footed pajamas, or even include these over pants and a top for extra warmth.
When it comes time to sleep, you can add socks and a hat. Just make sure the hat has a tie or chin-strop so they can’t take it off themselves. For an additional layer, put them into a snowsuit or ski
Although you want your toddler to be toasty and warm, you will have to be cautious of overheating, especially once they fall asleep. You can monitor their temperature by being aware of the following signs:
They are warm when you touch them.
Their skin looks pinkish or red
They begin sweating
They have a rapid heartbeat (source)
What About a Sleeping Bag?
While sleeping bags are usually the go-to method for sleeping while camping, they aren’t ideal for toddlers. The sleeping bags made specifically for babies often are not warm enough, and many toddlers get tangled up in them.
Another sleeping bag option is to get a bigger sleeping bag and sleep together with you and your baby inside. However, many parents notice their children getting tangled in the sleeping bag or not liking the enclosed space.
An alternative to the traditional mummy sleeping bag is a quilt sleeping bag which does not have a zipper and can be used as a blanket. You can put a pad down underneath and drape it over you and baby while you sleep together or with your baby between you and your partner.
If your toddler is old enough to have a sleeping bag, then one tip is to let them pick out the sleeping bag in their favorite color. Then let them sleep with it, either in their bedroom or out in the tent in the backyard so they can become accustomed to it.
Stick to a Routine
Like all parents, you already know the importance of having a routine to help your little one start to calm down and get ready for sleep. If you can incorporate as much of your usual routine as possible while camping, it will help your toddler stick to their sleep schedule.
Although some aspects of a bedtime routine, such as taking a bath, may not be possible while camping, there are others that transfer over quite well. You can start to calm everyone down around a particular time, for example after dinner.
While the rest of the family is relaxing after a meal, this will signal it’s time for quiet activities around the campground. You can also keep routine activities like reading storybooks, getting pajamas on, and having a bottle or snack before brushing their teeth and getting into their travel bed.
Bring Familiar Favorites
In addition to sticking to a routine, it’s helpful to re-create your child’s at-home sleeping arrangements as closely as possible. Although the exact replica of their crib or bed at home might not be possible, bring along some familiar items to help them feel calm.
Anything from a favorite blanket to a beloved stuffed animal or another toy can make a huge difference. If they have the same juice in a bottle every night before bed, remember to bring some along.
Depending on where you’re camping and the season, you may have additional problems such as noise and extended daylight. During the summer months in the Northern hemisphere, the sun may not set until quite late.
If your little one needs dim lights to start winding down as part of their nighttime routine, this could become problematic. Not to mention if they are used to a darkened room at night for sleeping.
One solution is to go inside your tent and keep minimal lighting from a flashlight or small battery-operated lantern. If they are sleeping in their own travel bed, you can drape a blanket over it to keep out the light.
Alternately, you could be camping somewhere remote and the lack of artificial lighting might cause some children to be scared of the dark that’s suddenly darker than usual. In that case, a small, portable nightlight inside the tent can alleviate nighttime fears. One other fun idea is to use glow sticks in the tent for lighting.
If your toddler is a bit older, you can get them their own mini flashlight to keep with them so they feel more confident sleeping alone. Also, if they wake up afraid in the middle of the night, they can switch it on and be able to see inside the tent to find parents sleeping nearby.
Another possible camping challenge is dealing with the noises of nature. Common sleep interrupters while camping include the sounds of water near the campground, cicadas or other insects, and even birds who wake up earlier than is ideal.
One remedy for loud nature sounds is to bring along a white noise machine. If your toddler sleeps with one at home as well, then bring it along to aid with familiarity and block disturbances.
Another option is noise-canceling headphones which are sold for babies and toddlers to wear at noisy at sporting events, concerts, parades, during fireworks, or at any rowdy party. Many infant headphones have soft padding and are comfortable to wear and also allow in some ambient noises so they aren’t in total silence which may have the opposite effect of calming a young one down.
Noise-canceling headphones are also great not just for sleep time, but also as part of a routine to start calming down and preparing for sleep. If your toddler isn’t quite ready to sleep yet, you can put on a pair of headphones and snuggle them by the campfire while the adults chat and have some post-dinner drinks.
Keep a Positive and Optimistic Attitude
Kids are notorious for being able to pick up on the emotional state of their parents and the other adults around them. Because of this, try to keep your own stress to a minimum because it will cause them to react negatively.
And a grumpy, stressed out toddler is a sure-fire recipe for disaster, especially when it comes time for naps and bedtime. If you have a positive attitude and are genuinely excited and having fun, this will be contagious for the kids.
One way to do this is for the parents or other adults to take turns watching the kids. That way no one gets burned out doing either task and everyone gets a chance to have some fun. By making the trip an exciting adventure, the kids will naturally start to feel the same.
Alternately, if something scary happens, try not to show fear to your child. Instead, remain calm and take action to ensure everyone’s safety. But there’s no sense worrying your toddler about a situation or making them fearful of their surroundings when they are actually safe.
Try not to take the camping trip too seriously and just do your best. It might not go exactly as planned and your campsite may not look Pinterest perfect, but that’s okay. The most important thing is bonding as a family and creating fond memories.
Camp at Home First
One of the best pieces of advice from veteran camping families is to set up your tent in the backyard first. That way your kids can get used to sleeping outside and spending time in a tent.
Prior to purchasing a tent or setting up in the backyard, you can also get children’s books about camping and the outdoors to read together. Another idea is watching nature or camping videos to get your child excited about the experience.
Some kids may have so much excitement the first time they get to play in a tent. If that’s the case, you’ll want to give them a chance to get all that excitement out of their system. Then, the first time it’s crucial for them to spend the night there, the novelty of it all won’t keep them up all night.
Other toddlers might actually be scared to go inside a tent, much less sleep in there. In that case, they will need time to get accustomed to it while in a familiar environment. You can keep the tent set up in the backyard for several days or more, including in the daytime.
If your child is able to play in the tent during the day when there’s nothing scary, they will soon be able to transition to spending time there in the evening when it’s darker. You can also set the tent up as a play space and include lots of fun toys so they create positive associations.
Not only should your child get used to the tent and have it become a normal place to sleep, but it’d be great to actually sleep out in the tent a few times before going camping. This will help them get used to sleeping outside in fresh air as well as get acclimated to different noises.
And, if you know that camping is in your toddler’s future, you can have them take naps outside as often as possible, starting from a young age. Start by going for a walk with them in a car seat or stroller and they will fall asleep outside. When you get home, you can let them finish their nap on a balcony, deck, or even sunroom with the windows open.
Do a Test Run
After you’ve set up your tent at home and got your toddler acclimated to sleeping outside, it’s time to put camping to the test. Start out with a day or overnight trip at a campground close to home that is affordable in case you have to leave early.
Try to stay at a family friendly campground with lots of creature comforts and amenities to prevent you from getting too stressed out the first time around. If you can rent an RV or camper, that would provide a great back-up in case sleeping in a tent doesn’t work out.
Do your research well in advance to take into consideration the location, weather, sunrise and sunset, and any other essentials you’ll need. Make a thorough packing list and make sure you are well prepared.
Because it’s your first time, don’t worry if you’ve forgotten something. Just make a note of it to remember for next time.
And, most importantly, don’t be afraid to cancel the trip early and head home. If it’s just not working or your child gets sick, suddenly starts teething, or has some other unexpected event, then don’t feel like you have to push through.
There’s no shame in giving up and trying again another day. After all, there will be many more opportunities to camp as a family and you’ll just get better and better each time you do it. Soon other new parents will be coming to you for advice!
Bring All The Essentials (and More)
Your packing list should include all the necessary items for a day of outdoor activities and fun. Of course, you’ll remember to bring along clothes, food, and diapers, but you may be surprised at how much you need.
Young toddlers will invariably get very dirty and possibly even wet while out camping and hiking. They may need several different changes of clothes throughout the day, so make sure to bring extra so there’s no fear of having to sleep in a damp, dirty, or itchy outfit.
And diapers are a must-have because you never know how many they’ll go through or if they’ll get wet from playing in rivers and lakes. Plus, the nearest store that sells the exact ones you need may be miles or even hours away. So always take many more than you think will be necessary.
By eliminating any basic needs that could interrupt sleep or cause discomfort to your toddler, the chances of them (and you) getting a good night’s sleep will increase exponentially!
Take Care of Necessary Needs
Being outdoors for extended periods of time brings challenges that affect not only adults but younger campers too. Because your daytime adventures are full of fun new places to explore and adventures to have, it’s easy to forget about the necessary needs that arise from exposure to nature.
Make sure to take good care of your toddler while they are outdoors by preventing sunburn, bug bites, and dehydration which will cause them to become uncomfortable when it comes time to sleep. Ensure they are drinking enough and have adequate clothing protection or infant-appropriate sunscreen.
Don’t give up on naps just yet either. If your toddler is used to having a mid-day or post-lunch nap, try to continue this routine even while camping. This might mean having to come back to the campsite mid-day, but it will be worth it and make the overall trip a more positive experience.
It’s completely normal for parents to be hesitant about taking their toddler camping. However, with some advance preparation, the experience can be very positive for everyone. Not only will you be helping your child become acquainted with nature, but they will start building skills that will last a lifetime.
Want to help keep your toddler warm while sleeping? Try having them sleep with a beanie. Most of the heat is lost through the head and this will help keep them warmer at night.