Pitching a tent can be tricky at the best of times, but throw one or more toddlers into the mix and it could take all day to get your tent up.
I’ve found that with a bit or preparation, practice and planning before you go, it can actually be fun to pitch a tent with a toddler!
So how do you pitch a tent with a toddler? Get to the campsite early, make sure your tent is easy to find in your boot and either keep your toddler entertained with snacks, toys or an iPad in the car, a play pen or strapped in a pushchair, or get them involved by giving them jobs to do to help you pitch the tent.
Sounds simple, right? Well, it can be! I share some of the things we’ve tried, or have seen other people try, that have lead to successful, happy tent pitching.
Let your kids practice pitching a tent before you go
If your kids have never seen a tent before, never mind tried to help pitch one, then let them practice before you go, so they have more of an idea of what you’ll be doing and how they can help. You don’t have to pitch a huge family tent in your garden, just choose a small, cheap tent that they can pitch and play in outside.
Let your child look at the pictures on the instructions and talk them through what you’re doing, this should help create a sense of excitement as they’ll know that once the tent is pitched, they’ll have an awesome new den to play in!
If you have the space, then it’s a good idea to pitch the tent your taking with you before you go, or at least check the tent is complete, especially if you’re borrowing a tent. I remember going on a camping trip when I was little and my parents had borrowed a tent from the local Cub Scout group. My poor dad spent the entire afternoon attempting to put the tent up, only to realise that some of the poles were missing! We had to spend the night in a tiny caravan instead.
Arrive at the campsite early and time it right for naps and meals
The last thing you want to do is arrive at the campsite in the dark, when your toddler needs a nap or if they’ve not eaten for a while. It can take around 1-2 hours to pitch a family tent, so arriving with a cranky, tired and hungry toddler is going to make the process very painful, and take much longer.
If possible, see if you can time your journey so your toddler naps in the car on the way, or arrive early enough to they can take a nap after you’ve pitched the tent. Arriving early means that if there’s more than one adult, they can take your toddler to a local cafe or restaurant for lunch while you concentrate on pitching the tent.
If the tent needs two people (which, let’s face it most family tents do) then bring a packed lunch and strap your toddler in their car seat, highchair or pushchair so they can watch you pitch the tent while eating their lunch. Just make sure they’re in the shade if it’s a sunny day.
How to put a tent up with toddlers in the rain
It’s every campers nightmare, but pitching a tent in the rain is a very real possibility, especially if you’re camping in the UK, so it always worth being prepared.
Here are some quick tips to help you cope with pitching a tent in the rain with a toddler:
- Pack your tent in the top of the boot so you can easily grab it.
- Wear shorts, t-shirt and waterproof shoes, such as Crocs, or, if your kids are helping and it’s not too cold, put them in their swimming costumes.
- Put the outer tent up before the inner tent and leave the inner tent in the car where it’ll be dry.
- Pack a change of dry clothes and towels for every member of the family, so you can quickly get warm and dry without having to unpack the rest of the boot to find your clothes.
- Kids can still help, but make a judgement call on the day, if it’s pouring down, it might be best to leave them in the car while you pitch the tent. If there are enough adults, then another grown-up could take them to on-site facilities such as a play centre or cafe (provided these are available) while you get the tent up.
Get the kids involved…or don’t!
A lot of advice on camping with toddlers suggests that kids should get involved with pitching the tent. While this is a nice idea, I think it completely depends on the age and temperament of your children. My three and a half year old is OK helping at first but then she gets bored, starts wandering off, or trying to unpack things and generally isn’t much ‘help’ after about 15 minutes!
If your kids will enjoy helping then try these tips to get them involved:
- Little kids could hold the mallet for you and pass you this when needed (obviously exercise caution if they’re prone to bashing things!)
- You could ask them to pass you tent pegs or hold tent poles for you
Other than that, we’ve not found many ways to get our two involved without them making the process much harder!
This used to bother me as I liked the idea of being ‘happy campers’ where the whole family takes part in pitching the tent. But in reality, your toddler may not be feeling it, if they’re tired, hungry, desperate to explore then the last thing they’ll want to do is help you pitch a tent.
If this is the case, then try these tips for keeping toddlers entertained while the adults put up the tent:
- Bring a cheap pop-up tent with you and create a den for your kids by popping some pillows, toys, snacks and non-spillable drinks in it.
- Have a designated ‘childminder’ so one adult is responsible for watching the kids, and coming and helping with the tent when needed, provided they can still see the children. There’s a temptation to get everyone to help to get the tent up as quickly as possible, but that can mean no one is keeping an eye on roaming toddlers who’ve decided to explore.
- Keep your kids strapped in the car with snacks, drinks and iPads so you can concentrate on pitching the tent. Whether you do this or not will depend on how hot it is, so make sure you check the temperature and open all the car doors if it’s warm.
- Create a playpen out of windbreaks or a travel cot if you’re bringing one. These will only take a few minutes to set up and will ensure your kids can play safely and out of the way while you pitch the tent.
Choose a campsite with pre-pitched tents
It might feel like cheating, but if it’s your first camping trip with your toddlers then choosing a site with pre-pitched tents, huts, yurts or teepees might be a good idea if you want to get them used to being outdoors, without the hassle of buying, packing and pitching camping gear.
Some are very basic – essentially huts that are ‘shells’ where you’d need to bring everything you would for a normal camping trip, just not the tent. Some are pre-pitched tents that have everything you need for a camping trip, including cooking gear and camp beds, and all you have to do is bring bedding.
Do campsites help you put the tent up?
No, most campsites won’t help you put up a tent as this isn’t included in the service you’d get at a standard campsite. However, you’ll probably find that other campers will be happy to help if they see you’re struggling and members of staff may lend a hand if they’re not busy.
If you think you’re going to need help putting up a tent then you could ring ahead to see if any member of staff would be willing to help, but you may have to pay them for their time and effort. Alternatively, try a campsite with pre-pitched tents, or invest in a large pop-up tent which will be much easier to erect.
If you’re unsure whether you’ll be able to pitch a tent on your own then practice before you go by putting the tent up in your garden and seeing if you can do it alone.