Camping with a Toddler: 5 Things I Wish I’d Packed

Our car was ridiculously full. In fact, it was so full we had to leave our Ford Focus at home and borrow my sister in-law’s SUV. We packed everything we could possibly need.

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Tents, sleeping bags, air mattresses, a hammock, plenty of food including the ingredients for salads (who eats a salad while camping?), and a tricycle.

The problems started to arise after we arrived.

The first thing I wish I’d packed was a rubber mallet. There was a hammer in the tent bag, but when using that to bash the tent pegs into the ground, it just destroys the pegs before making an impact on the dry, rocky, tent site.

We were camping with some friends of ours, who also have a toddler. What I hadn’t planned on was that they would both want the same thing at every opportunity. It didn’t matter what it was, they needed the same thing. Whether it was a stick of equal length, a particular rock, a kite, or my daughter’s tricycle.

I should have packed two of the main activities; kite, tricycle, selection of shiny rocks.

Next is an air mattress that stayed inflated. My daughter’s one was great. She found it super comfy and was able to sleep through the night. Ours, however slowly deflated on the first night, so much so that if either my wife or I got up, the other hit the ground. On the second night, it only held the air for about 30 minutes before it was little more than a rubberized sheet between us and the tent floor. Not comfy. Not comfy at all.

I’ve heard some amazing things about the Thermarest camping mats which are designed to be insulating and provide support rather than a simple air bed (granted, I bought the cheapest one last time) which just stops you from touching the rocks under the tent.

Another option is this ‘best toddler travel bed’

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Therm-a-Rest lineup

I’ll also be thoroughly testing some much better quality air mats during the next 5 Dads Go Wild trip in September.

As the two Dads of the group took the kids for a nice long walk through the woods to find the campsite’s welcome hut and ice cream seller my daughter wanted to be carried.

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This isn’t unusual but this time it felt particularly taxing as she’s getting too big and the hike felt like it would never end. I really need to get a Piggyback Rider that acts as a more comfortable way to carry a child.

Lastly, I’d have packed a much better coffee pot. Again, I cheaped-out and picked up the lowest price one because I assumed it’ll probably do. While it looked nice perched above our little firepit, the percolator part didn’t seal so coffee grounds bubbled into the main pot and made for a very crunchy morning cup.

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I should have opened up the 48 oz Classic Stay Hot French Press from Stanley PMI that lives in my cupboard, but I’ve put it away until we give them out to the Dad Bloggers at the 5 Dads Go Wild trip. I know it’s in there and I can’t wait to start brewing in it on a cold morning in the last weekend of September.

Did I miss anything? What must-packs do you have on your list for family camping?

It’s all about priorities, really. We had a great time outside and had plenty of fresh air, trees to look at, birds to listen to, slugs to investigate, and marshmallows to burn. Although I still maintain that they’re at the best after they’ve ignited.

marshmallow, smores, s'mores, burning marshmallow,

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  1. Philip

    August 21, 2019 at 6:52 pm

    Great post. This summer, my wife, 3 kids (6, 4 and 2 years old) embarked on a “National Lampoon USA Roadtrip” from Florida to the Grand Canyon and back. Three kids, one minivan, one tent, 10 states, and almost 5 weeks. It was awesome! I did lots of research before going (even remembered the rubber mallet!). Our biggest tip is the Walmart Grocery App, which allows you to shop for food and supplies, then delivers the groceries TO YOUR CAR IN THE PARKING LOT. Before entering a new state and campsite, we did our grocery shopping on the app, swooped into the Wal Mart closest to the park, and then set up like modern-day pioneers at our campsite. It made me feel like I was a flying an F-16 fighter jet that was being refueled midflight, then proceeded on to its top-secret mission.

  2. Lucille A Lediaev

    September 3, 2019 at 11:11 pm

    480 ounce coffee pot? Wow! Almost 4 gallons of coffee–that should provide coffee for the whole crew.

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