Should A 2-Year-Old Sleep In A Sleeping Bag? Is It Safe?

a two year old toddler with parents camping in mountains

Keeping your kids snuggly and warm when camping means the whole family is more likely to have a rested and relaxed trip. But knowing what kids should sleep in, especially if they are young toddlers, isn’t always straightforward. Whether toddlers can sleep in a sleeping bag is something many parents worry about, on this page we take a close a look at the potential dangers and the alternatives.

2-year-olds should not sleep in a sleeping bag when camping. Children under 3 can wriggle down a sleeping bag and suffocate. Toddlers over 3 can sleep in children’s sleeping bags which are shorter. 2-year-olds can sleep in a sleep sack which fastens over the shoulders so their head can’t be covered.

Below you can find out everything you need to know about what 2-year-olds should, and shouldn’t, sleep in when camping.

Should children use adult sleeping bags?

It’s dangerous for young children to sleep in adult sleeping bags. There are three main reasons why this is a bad idea:

1. Your child could suffocate

This may sound a bit dramatic but when it comes to toddler sleep safety, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. An adult sleeping bag will be way too big for a 2-year-old and, as many parents will know, 2-year-olds can be extremely wriggly sleepers!

If a young toddler was to wriggle too far down a sleeping bag, they may not have the strength to find their way out and could become distressed or even suffocate. According to the Child Accident Prevention Trust, asphyxia is the third most common cause of child accident deaths.

2. Your child will be cold

The only thing worse than being cold at night in a tent, is being next to a wideawake toddler who’s too cold to go back to sleep!

Adult sleeping bags don’t keep small children warm. There’s so much space around the child that the sleeping bag won’t retain any of their body heat and they’ll be chilly. When a toddler is in a sleeping bag which is the correct size, their body heat will heat the space sufficiently and they’ll stay toasty warm.

3. Everyone’s sleep will be disturbed

If your kid isn’t comfortable, then no one is going to get a restful night’s sleep. By choosing suitable sleepwear and a child’s sleeping bag, the whole family’s sleep quality will improve.

Can a child suffocate in a sleeping bag?

If a child is in a sleeping bag which isn’t the right size for them, then there’s a chance they could suffocate. Sleeping bags with hoods, draw cords and buttons that could come loose pose the biggest risk of suffocation or choking.

an empty sleeping bag on the floor
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Although there are no studies that specifically focus on the risk of children suffocating in a sleeping bag, it’s common sense that if a toddler wriggles under a thick material and can’t get out, then they could be in danger.

One study that looked at the most dangerous sleeping environment for infants revealed the following:

“Several elements contribute to an unsafe sleep environment, including the following: sleeping in something other than a crib (e.g., sofa), bed-sharing, soft bedding, bumper pads or other items, and sleeping in the prone position [sleeping on your stomach].”

Although this study looked at children 12 months old and younger, children who are older could still be at risk from a dangerous sleeping environment. Sleeping arrangements when camping can be particularly risky, as bed-sharing and co-sleeping (where a grown-up or sibling sleeps next to a younger child) are common, as is soft bedding.

If you’re a fan of co-sleeping with your kids, then read our guide for your options to co-sleep when camping.

Below we look at how you can choose a sleeping bag which will be safe and warm for your toddler on your next camping trip.

How to choose the best camping sleeping bag for your toddler

1. Buy a suitable size sleeping bag

If you don’t have a sleeping bag for your toddler yet, then our guide to buying the best toddler sleeping bags is a good place to start.

Always choose a sleeping bag that is the right size and age range for your toddler and the right thickness for your trip. No one knows your kids better than you though, so also bear in mind how big they are for their age and how they like to sleep (some like more room to move around, whereas others prefer to feel like they’re swaddled).

Every child grows differently, our 3-year-old is the same size as our 5-year-old, as the younger one is big for his age and the older one is small for her age! This means that when we bought them sleeping bags, we used their age as a guide, but we actually measured their heights as well, so we knew exactly how well they’d fit into their sleeping bags.

2. Buy a sleeping bag with a suitable thickness

The thickness of sleeping bags for camping is determined by seasons:

  •       1-2 season sleeping bags are ideal for warm weather but are thick enough to also see your kids through milder spring or fall camping trips. These also pack really small, so are a great choice of you don’t have a lot of room in your car or backpack.
  •       2-3 season sleeping bags are a little bit thicker and are ideal if you plan to camp at the end or beginning of the season when it will be cooler. If you plan to do a lot of camping, at different times of year, then your kids will get the most use out of a 3 season sleeping bag.
  •       3-4 season sleeping bags are ideal for really cold weather, but not so great if you plan to do most of your camping during the summer.

As a general rule, stick to 2-3 season children’s sleeping bags for camping trips with toddlers, unless they’re really small, in which case, they might be better with a sleep sack.

3. Choose a sleep sack for younger toddlers

A sleep sack (which are confusingly also known as sleeping bags), is like a mini sleeping bag where the fabric at the top fastens over both the shoulders, so the child can’t wriggle down the bag and cover their head.

They are usually used for crib sleeping at home but can be used for camping trips as well.

The main downside of sleep sacks is that most of them don’t cover the arms or hands, so you’ll need to dress your toddler in a warm, long-sleeved top with integrated mittens. Many romper suits and baby-grows are available up to age 3 and many of these have integrated gloves, so are ideal for keeping your little one’s hands warm.

Some sleep sacks have removable arms which will make them perfect for keeping your child warm during a camping trip in cooler weather.

In summary, it’s not safe for a 2-year-old to sleep in a sleeping bag. Instead, a sleep sack is the ideal way to keep young toddlers warm, and for older children, choose a sleeping bag designed to suit their age and size. 

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