Can I take a toddler camping in cold weather?
Yes! You can absolutely take a toddler camping in cold weather, the trick to a successful trip is, as always, preparation. How cold is too cold completely depends on you and your family – and the weather!
We’ve been camping in August before and been freezing at night so it’s always worth baring in mind just how much the temperature can drop in a tent, even if you’re heading out in summer.
Unless you’ve invested in cold-weather equipment, it’s best to avoid the winter months.
Another thing to remember is that it gets darker much earlier in colder months, so if you do go for a trip during October to March, be prepared for long dark evenings and brush up on your campfire skills!
12 ways to keep a toddler warm when camping
1. Use a cold-weather tent
If you camp in the cold regularly then it’s well worth investing in a cold-weather tent. Cold weather tents (also known as winter tents or four-season tents) aren’t designed to be warmer than regular tents, but they are designed to be ultra waterproof, which will prevent leaks and moisture accumulation that could leave you freezing cold by morning.
Cold weather tents are dome-shaped and tough to prevent snow from accumulating on them if you’re into extreme camping with your toddlers. For most families though, they are waterproof enough to ensure everyone stays warm and cozy inside and windproof enough so you don’t have to worry about your tent being blown down on a stormy night.
Cold weather tents do tend to be pricey so it’s probably only worth buying one if you regularly camp in cold temperatures and wet or snowy weather with your family. Remember, these tents aren’t warmer than any other tents, so if you do buy one, you’ll still need the best sleeping bags and everything else you need to be comfortable when is really cold.
2. Don’t pack light
There’s a lot to be said for keeping things simple and taking the bare minimum of belongings camping, but if you’re camping in cold weather, it’s not the time to pack light.
You and your toddlers are going to need lots of extra clothing and bedding when you’re camping in the cold so plan ahead and pack as much as you can.
It’s worth remembering as well that cold weather can often mean it’s too wet or snowy to do many of the normal actives you’d enjoy, so it’s worth packing extra toys and games for rainy day activities as well.
3. Keep your kids dry, especially just before bed
Toddlers love to get wet exploring rivers, puddles, and playing in the rain, but if you’re camping in the cold it’s really important to keep them as dry as possible. Especially near bedtime.
Wearing wet clothing in cold weather can rapidly lower core body temperature which can lead to hyperthermia. If your toddler does get wet, the first thing you should do is remove their wet clothing and put them in dry clothes instead (source). If they get wet in the evening, remove their clothing and put them in their thermal base layer, pajamas, fleece all-in-one, hat, gloves, and socks immediately. Snuggle in bed with them until they warm up.
It’s best to try to make sure they don’t get wet in the first place though, so bring an all-in-one waterproof as a top layer and wellies. Look for waterproof all-in-one (or trousers if you prefer) which have elasticated straps that go over wellies, this way if they jump in extra deep puddles, no water can get in over the top of their boots.
Wellies are a given in wet weather but don’t forget your toddlers hands either. Opt for waterproof ski gloves or rain gloves (which tend to be less bulky than ski gloves) to keep your toddlers hands toasty.
The drier you can keep them in the day, the easier it is for your toddler to stay warm when they’re getting ready for, and in, bed.
4. Hot water bottles
I was always a bit wary of using a hot water bottle with our kids as I had visions of them managing to take the top off or burst it and scald themselves. But, since camping with toddlers, hot water bottles have become a necessity in cold weather.
To avoid accidents and overheating, we use mini hot water bottles with covers that cover the opening completely, making it harder for kids to loosen the stopper. If you choose a hot water bottle that’s very small, it won’t retain heat for long so bear that in mind. We use smaller ones as our youngest is only two so a normal size hot water bottle would be too much for him as it would be half his size!
Fill the hot water bottle about 15 minutes before your kids go to bed and put it into their sleeping bag straight away. This will help make sure their sleeping bag is super cozy by the time they get into bed.
It might take a bit of trial and error to get the right balance with hot water bottles, unless it’s very cold, some kids might find they get a bit hot and bothered with one in their bed. Always monitor their heat levels to check they don’t get too hot.
5. Layer up clothing
Onesies are very useful for keeping kids warm at night, but if your child is prone to needing the toilet in the middle of the night then they can be problematic. Even if you add a layer or two under the onesie, your toddler still might get chilly if they need the loo in the night as you essentially have to take their top layer off completely. Once they’re out of the onesie, then knowing what to do with the top half can be problematic while they’re on the toilet. We’ve found it tricky not to let it dangle down around the toilet or on the toilet seat which isn’t very hygienic.
An alternative is to layer up with thermals, then normal pajamas, then fleece pajamas on top. Alternatively, there are onesies that have zips that go all the way around the back so they don’t have to take the entire onesie off if they need a wee in the night.
6. Insulate from the ground
Not only is sleeping on the ground without adequate protection uncomfortable, but it’s also a real heat sink too. Not being properly protected from heat loss from the ground is one of the main ways your toddler could lose heat when they’re asleep.
Airbeds aren’t ideal in cold weather as the ground cools the air in the airbed which, in turn, will cool your toddler too. If you already have an airbed for your toddler to sleep in, then one way to help block the heat from the ground is to position the airbed on a blanket or piece of carpet and then lay a blanket on top of the airbed too. If your toddler wriggles a lot when they’re asleep then this may not work as they’re likely to kick the blanket on the floor.
Another option for keeping an airbed warm is to lay a reflective windscreen cover or metallic rollout under their airbed to keep their body heat in and the cold from the ground out. These can make a rustling sound though, so again, not ideal if your child moves around a lot when asleep.
Other insulating materials to try include:
- a cut off of laminate flooring
- a picnic blanket with a plastic back
- a yoga or exercise mat
Camping beds, or cots as they’re also known, are a great alternative to laying on the floor as they are raised off the ground, so are naturally warmer than if your toddler was to be in direct contact with the floor. You might find it takes a while for your toddler to get used to sleeping on a camping bed though, so let them try it out a few nights at home first. To make them as warm as possible, add a blanket or mat under their sleeping bag to help create an extra layer of protection from cold from the ground.
7. Add an extra layer inside your toddlers’ sleeping bag with a sleeping bag liner
Layering up is the key to keeping warm at night when you’re camping and adding an extra layer inside their sleeping bag will ensure your kids are super snuggly. Sleeping bag liners are the obvious choice and are easy to slip into their sleeping bag.
A fleecy sleeping bag liner will keep them even warmer – you can view this Hi-Gear fleece sleeping bag liner here. You’ll probably find the length is way too log but you can always fold up the excess at the bottom, this is a great way to ensure your kids’ feet are super snuggling too!
If you don’t want to invest in a sleeping bag liner then just take a fleecy blanket and line the inside of the sleeping bag with it before your child gets in.
8. Give your toddler a warm drink before bed
A warm drink at bedtime will help calm your child down and warm them up from the inside out. If your toddler is still breastfeeding then breast milk is naturally warm but any hot drink warmed on the gas stove will have the same effect for creating warmth.
Just avoid sugary drinks such as hot chocolate or cocoa or adding sweetners to drinks as these might warm your kids up, but the sugar might keep them awake.
9. Put their PJs on early
It can all get a little chaotic at bedtime when you’re camping with kids, but it’s important to make sure your kids are fully dry and warm well before they actually go to bed. If your kids have been out in the cold and you try to get them warmed up five minutes before going to bed, this probably won’t work and they’re likely to go to be cold.
Instead, plan ahead and get them in their fleecy PJs and sleeping bags a good half an hour or so before they actually go to sleep. This is a great opportunity to wind down before bed as well with some stories and a hot drink in the tent.
10. Make sure they’re warm from head to toe with a hat, gloves and socks
Children’s extremities can be the first areas to feel the cold when you’re camping so it’s a good idea to keep feet, hands, and heads covered.
If you’re worried about your toddler overheating then choose a basic cotton beanie style hat, rather than a woolly hat, such as these cute beanie hats on Amazon. If you do go for a woolly hat, then make sure it doesn’t have any straps that could wrap around their neck in the night. Also, avoid hats with ear flaps or that cover large parts of their face in case your child gets too hot.
Kids’ ski socks work wonders for keeping tiny toes warm in a sleeping bag. We find these work better than fleecy socks as these can easily fall off and are also bulky so can make it tricky to put shoes on in the night if they need to go to the toilet.
Merino wool is a breathable and toasty warm fabric that also avoids the itchiness of regular wool, making it a great choice for socks, gloves, and hats when camping.
11. Don’t wrap them up too warm
This might seem counterintuitive but if your child is so well bundled up that they start to sweat, then the sweat can rapidly cool them down as the sweat starts to cool down. Instead, opt for layers of clothing that can be easily removed.
Encourage them to sleep with their head outside their sleeping bag, rather than snuggling down too far. Not only is this safer but, as with the sweat problem, vapor from their breath can become trapped in their sleeping bag and cool them down.
12. Use a toddler or junior sleeping bag
The better the fit of the sleeping bag, the warmer your child is likely to be. Large sleeping bags won’t help children retain much heat so invest in a junior sleeping bag, ideally a mummy-style sleeping bag. Junior sleeping bags are best for older toddlers of about age four.
For younger toddlers, there are some fantastic sleeping bags made especially for their age group that can vary in price from around £20 to about £70.
If you do decide to choose a junior sleeping bag, rather than a toddler sleeping bag, this will save you money in the long run as you won’t need to buy two sleeping bags. You’ll need to make some adjustments to a junior sleeping bag to ensure your toddler is warm enough. Secure off the bottom of the sleeping bag to reduce the amount of free space (or dead air) at the bottom of the bag and line the bag with a fleece blanket to reduce space further and make sure they’re completely snuggled.
There you go, follow these tips and you and your family will be toasty warm in your tent!