Is Camping Safe for Toddlers?

a toddler sitting in the woods by himself

When we decided to take our two toddlers camping, I was terrified that it wouldn’t be safe for them. I still wanted them to experience all the fun of a camping trip though, so I decided to look into how to keep them out of danger when camping and still enjoy the great outdoors.

So, is camping safe for toddlers? Yes, provided you take a few precautions and plan ahead, camping with young children can be safe. Just make sure you:

  • secure the tent properly at night
  • store dangerous equipment correctly
  • be vigilant when children are near water or fire
  • protect them against insects, wildlife and dangerous plants

The tips I’ve put together below are simple to follow and have given me peace of mind that my two toddlers will be safe when we go camping.

Secure the tent properly to keep toddlers safe at night

This was one of things I was most worried about as I was convinced our curious kids would go wandering at night while I slept. The easiest way to help keep kids safe at night in a tent is to sleep in between your kids and the door. Tents are pretty cramped so sleeping by the door will mean they won’t be able to escape unless they clamber over you, which is going to wake you up.

Most tents have two zippers on each door so close these at the top so even the most determined toddler won’t be able to reach them. Some people suggest padlocking the zips together but I decided not to do this as it would be dangerous if we had to get out of the tent quickly.

It’s unlikely you’ll fall into a deep sleep when camping as noises, temperature and not being in your own bed may make you a lighter sleeper. This is a good thing though, as you’ll probably wake up if your children start moving around too much. If they’re super determined and do manage to reach the zip, then the sound of a zip being undone will seem pretty loud if it’s right next to your head.

If you have to leave the tent at night to visit the toilet, let your partner or whoever you are sharing the tent with, know so they know to be extra vigilant with the kids. Make sure you zip the tent up behind you. If your kids are asleep in the tent and you’re sitting outside, secure the zips at the top of the door and stay close to the tent so you can hear them if they wake up.

Store dangerous cooking and camping equipment safely

Store knives and other sharp cooking equipment in a box with a secure lid when not in use. Choose a plastic box with handles that clip upwards onto the lid to help stop toddlers from opening it.

If your tent is big enough then put all of your cooking equipment in a designated compartment with a zipped door and padlock the zips together for added security. If you’re not using your car day to day then your car boot  or roof box is a safe place to store dangerous camping equipment as a toddler won’t be able to open it.

As well as obvious dangers such as knives and camping stoves, keep the following items out of your children’s’ reach during your trip as well:

  • Medicines, insect repellent and sunscreen
  • Tent pegs and mallet
  • Camp axe
  • Matches
  • Batteries

A less obvious thing to keep out of your children’s reach is food! You’re kids are going to get hungry playing all day outdoors but make sure you store food correctly and know what they’re eating. Anything non-perishable is fine, but perishable food should be covered and stored in an ice box or fridge, out of your toddlers’ reach. Perishable food that’s not been stored probably can cause can upset stomach.

Be extra vigilant when children are near water or fire

Don’t camp near enough to water so that your kids can easily toddle there and explore. Camping far enough away from water means they can’t see it (to avoid temptation)and can’t easily walk to it. Keeping your tent away from the water’s edge will also help avoid too many mosquitos.

If you take your toddlers to play in a lake or stream then supervise them at all times, even in the shallows and consider popping a life jacket on them if you plan to stay at the water all day, rather than having a quick paddle. While this isn’t a substitute for supervision, it will give you extra peace of mind and mean that if anything does go wrong, at least they’ll have some extra support in the water.

If your children are old enough to understand, tell them they shouldn’t drink water from a lake, stream or river. Fresh water can contain germs that can give children (and adults) an upset stomach. Again, supervise children closely to make sure they don’t drink any of the water when they’re playing. If they want to collect drinking water then make this into an educational activity by showing them how to sterilise it, either with water sterilisation tablets or by boiling.

Campfires are part of the fun of camping and older toddlers will love roasting marshmallows on them. Campfires are also one of the most dangerous things on a campsite. Keep children back from a fire and consider letting younger children play in a portable play pen while the fire is lit. Or waiting until they’re asleep before lighting it.

Keeping kids away from a fire can be stressful so we plan to have set times when we have a fire and only let it burn for an hour. That way the kids can experience the fun and excitement of a real campfire, without us spending all evening worrying they’ll get hurt.

Protect them against insects, wildlife and dangerous plants

A camping trip in the great outdoors often means unwanted visitors on the campsite, so make sure you do what you can to help avoid insect bites:

  • insects are most active at sunrise and sunset so during these times make sure your kids wear long sleeve tops and trousers
  • avoid camping near water, especially stagnant water
  • keep your tent zipped shut at all times
  • apply insect repellent, look for brands that are safe fro use on children’s skin and also that contain DEET (diethyltoluamide)

As a rule of thumb, if you take your kids for a walk in the woods then dress them in long sleeves and trousers, with trousers tucked into their socks and closed shoes.

Take the time to identify what poisonous plants look like (we plan to do this with the kids so they can learn with us) so you can keep an eye out for them when your kids are exploring. Explain to your kids that they shouldn’t eat anything they find in the woods that looks like food.

Wearing long trousers, tops with long sleeves and closed shoes in the woods should help prevent stings and rashes from nettles and poison ivy.

Make sure your children know not to pet wild animals. Even seemingly harmless animals, such as squirrels, can carry diseases. other animals, even small ones, may defend themselves by biting or scratching if approached by a human.

Most wild animals will run away at the first sign of danger so it’s more likely that toddlers may come across injured or baby animals. injured animals in particular may lash out or behave irrationally if approached.

Obviously if you’re supervising your toddlers they won’t come across any wild animals without you knowing, but if they do, make sure they know not to touch them and instead tell you what they’ve found.

Related questions

Can you go wild camping with toddlers?

Wild camping means camping not on a campsite and with no access to facilities such as clean water, electricity, toilets and showers. While technically you can go wild camping with toddlers, it’s not a good idea as if something bad was to happen, such as your child getting sick or injured, you could be miles away from help.

If you live in the UK, then the only place you can legally camp in the wild is Scotland.

Is it safe to take kids hiking?

Yes, provided you take a few precautions including:

  • make sure they wear sturdy, covered shoes with high grip soles
  • dress them for the weather and if it’s hot, pop a sunhat on them
  • don’t let them wander ahead in case of dangers such as sharp drops
  • keep your kids in sight at all times
  • plan your route in advance and don’t choose a long hike as you may end up having to carry your toddler all the way back to the campsite
  • only hike with kids in dry weather and when it’s not too hot
  • take plenty of water, snacks, suncream and insect repellent
  • invest in a back carrier so you can carry your toddler more easily if their legs get tired

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