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Camping with Kids!

Updated: Jan 7, 2021

Being from Calgary AB, the mountains are right at my doorstep. My family took advantage of this often when I was growing up. Camping is a reasonably inexpensive way to enjoy the outdoors, and it is so much fun! I have great memories growing up around a campfire, hiking, ATVing, riding my bike, making friends and roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. I gained so much from those experiences and I have always known that I wanted my children to have the same opportunity.

My hubby and I don’t have a trailer (yet), so we have been camping in a tent. I actually really love tenting, but with two young kids, this is not an easy task!! My kids (Georgia 2 years and Charlie 8.5 months) are very good sleepers at home. They go down easily and sleep 12 hours basically every night. Guess what doesn’t happen when we go camping?! Sleep lol. There are many things that contribute to this, some are within our control but many are not! I am going to tell you about some of the difficulties that we faced our last few trips, and hopefully give you some tips and things to think about for your upcoming camping trip!

Canada isn’t the warmest place on earth (duh), but we do get some beautiful summer days and nights. Tents seem to hold that heat in and they quickly become like a sweat lodge during the day and evening. Once the sun goes down, it cools off. I like to open the windows during the day to allow air flow so it doesn’t get too stuffy, then at night I close them to keep that cold air out. Of course we want to do our best to make our kids comfortable, and sometimes this means adding or removing layers in the night. This weekend I actually had to put both kids to bed wearing nothing but a diaper/panties, then when we went to bed ourselves and we added a layer to Charlie (sleep sack), and a bigger blanket for Georgia. Be mindful of the temperature, if you are cold or hot, they likely are too!

If your child is young enough (I’d say 1 year or under), you could have luck getting them to nap outside the tent! I managed to get Charlie to nap in the shade under a tree, which was far more comfortable than being in the tent in the heat of the day! Actually, any time that Charlie was awake, I would bring her playpen outside! Charlie isn’t walking yet but she crawls a ton! So to avoid her getting covered in dirt, not to mention eating it lol, it was very helpful to be able to set her down in the playpen. You might notice as well that I put an SFP bug net over top of her playpen. I highly suggest getting one of these bad boys! They are super cheap and great for the stroller too! Just be sure that all the mosquitoes are out BEFORE you close it... I may or may not be speaking from experience lol 😬 we also always bring an extra tarp (canvas is best) or mat/blanket to lay down as a play area!

Probably the most difficult obstacle we faced was the SUN ☀️! The sun doesn’t set until 10pm or so in the summer. The sunlight has a huge impact on our natural circadian rhythm. It’s not until the sun goes down that our body starts to release melatonin, the natural sleep hormone. This is why it is so important to have blackout blinds in your child’s room. So of course when the sun is still up and you have no way to make it dark for them, they will struggle with falling asleep. To them, it’s still daytime!

For Charlie, I put her down in a playpen (pack and play for my American friends!) so I like to drape a thin blanket over it to create some darkness for her. The playpen is fully mesh so there is still a lot of airflow, so long as you don’t cover every side. At her age, she still manages to get a decent sleep and wakes minimally once she finally does fall asleep.

Georgia on the other hand, is a whole different story! Toddlers are difficult creatures at the best of times, so this environment can be tougher for them to adjust. There is really no way to create darkness for her without spending money (I will mention a product at the bottom that I highly recommend). Typically both kids go to bed at 7:30pm, Georgia was falling asleep around 11pm…. The methods you would use at home are much more difficult to put into action in a tent! A few times we caught her climbing into the playpen and waking her sister 🤦🏼‍♀️ She got up several times and quietly went through our bags, at one point she managed to get into her dads toiletry bag and emptied a bottle of shampoo into her bed 😩 She would also just straight up leave the tent whenever she wanted, I think she struggled a lot with FOMO (fear of missing out). She could hear us outside the tent so it’s understandable that she would have a thought time going to bed, she would rather be outside with us! We resorted to giving her an iPad and putting a show on, this did help keep her in bed for the most part, but a screen would never even cross my mind at home! I wish I had more tips and tricks for kids around this age, but as anyone with a toddler will tell you, they are very difficult to reason with! I resorted to bribing her a few times lol. And after the first night went pretty horribly, I made sure that she expended a ton of energy throughout the day to ensure she was tired come bedtime. Of course she still had a nap and I still tried to keep her normal schedule in place as best I could.

The next struggle we had with Georgia was co-sleeping, something we have never done at home before! We have not shared a room with our kids since they were younger than 6 months old, so being in the same tent was difficult fo Georgia! It took some time for her to understand that just because we were there, didn’t mean she could join us. She eventually got the hang of it with some reinforcement, but the first night was pretty comical. She probably came into our bed about 20 times, asking (more like demanding) that we make the dirt bikes come back. Logical, I know (eye roll.) We have a divider that we can hang so she can’t see us, I would try to hang a blanket or sheet if you don’t have that option. Removing the visual will help when they wake in the night. Some of you may just decide to let your child come into bed with you, and that’s totally fine! For us, the blow up bed is difficult enough to get a good sleep on haha. There is also a TON of regression that happens when you get home from a holiday, due to the lack of routine and consistency. So the more you can keep things similar to at home, the less resistance you will get once you return from your vacation. The first night or two will be the hardest as they adjust, but don’t give up and go home or put them in the trailer with the grandparents (I mean, that doesn't sound awful...🤔) The more they camp and sleep in the tent, the easier it will be for everyone!

As a side note, I cannot stress enough how much better a CABIN tent is than a normal tent, when you have kids. Being able to stand up is a luxury I would not go without! Putting my own pants on while laying down is trying enough, I don't want to imagine how much difficult all of this would be if we were sharing a tiny 4 person tent that’s only 4 feet off the ground! Of course it's possible and many people do it, I am not those people lol. Something to consider if you have not purchased a tent yet!

With all this being said, there are many experiences with camping that happen after 7:30pm! The main one being the STARS!! It dawned on me that she hasn’t had many opportunities to see the stars, especially with no city lights to interfere. So we did allow her to have that experience, and it was kind of magical to see her eyes light up. “WOOOOW” (imagine Owen Wilson’s voice lol). There are some things that outweigh the importance of sleep. If we get too caught up in the schedule and rules, we can miss out on the little things that matter most. We aren’t out there to sleep after all, we are out there to enjoy each other, to learn new things and teach our children about the bigger things in life. So go easy on them and don’t lose sight of why you are there <3

Do you have any tips or tricks when you go camping?! Please comment below and share your knowledge with the rest of us! 😊

Jane Anderson

Founder of Counting Sheep

Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

**There is a product is highly recommend, though I haven’t made the investment myself yet. It’s called a Slumberpod, it’s a small tent that fits a playpen inside and is completely blackout. It is made specifically for travelling and it takes out the issue of the daylight and environment change, allowing your child to rest much easier.**

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