Your sleeping options when camping with a co-sleeping toddler

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Many parents and children like the closeness and sense of security co-sleeping provides and this same night-time setup is possible in a tent when camping. All you need to do is make sure you pack the right sleepwear and equipment for the whole family to be comfortable, warm, and secure when co-sleeping in a tent.

So what are the sleeping options for co-sleeping with a toddler when camping?

  • Share a large sleeping bag with your toddler and share the same sleeping mat
  • Put your toddler in a thick snowsuit or similar clothing outside your sleeping bag and give them their own sleeping mat or take a large one to share

There are pros and cons to each option and we’ll share our experience below. Our daughter loves co-sleeping and always has, whereas our son thinks sharing a bed means it’s playtime, so we had to adapt the options to suit both kids.

Sharing a sleeping bag with your co-sleeping toddler

The advantage to this is that your toddler is right next to you and is going to feel secure if they’re used to co-sleeping, if they’re not, then the close proximity maybe too much for them. I know if we did this with our two-year-old, who has never co-slept with us, then he would spend the whole night poking my face, pulling my hair, singing, giggling and doing anything other than sleeping.

The downsides of sharing a sleeping bag range rom the disgusting – a poo explosion in the middle of the night, to the dangerous – your toddler wriggling to the bottom of the bag and is in danger of suffocating.

Adult sleeping bags are much larger and thicker than toddler sleeping bags, so there’s a risk of overheating and suffocating. However, this shouldn’t be a worry for older toddlers, although they’ll take up way more room in your sleeping bag!

Another issue is that if you’ve ever tired to sleep in an enclosed space with a toddler then you’ll know that they wriggle a lot – so expect to be woken up with elbows and feet in your sides. There’s also the issue that if you need to get out of bed for anything (or even turn over) then you run the risk of waking your toddler up.

Breastfeeding and co-sleeping in a tent

If you’re breastfeeding your toddler and they still feed at night then this can pose some problems with keeping warm in the same sleeping bag. To feed them laying down, you’ll have to move your torso out of the bag so your boob is at the right level for your child. This means your top half is highly likely to get very cold, very quickly, plus if your tent isn’t very long, your head will be squashed up against the tent wall. The alternative is to sit up and take your toddler out of the sleeping bag, but in this scenario, you’ll both get cold.

If you’re breastfeeding a toddler, then it’s a much better option to keep them outside of your sleeping bag, in their own sleeping bag or snowsuit. This way you and your toddler can stay the same temperature when they’re breastfeeding. Just make sure you wear a warm top with an easy opening front.

Putting your co-sleeping toddler in their own sleeping bag

Putting your toddler in a snowsuit or their own sleeping bag will give them the freedom to wriggle all night with much less chance of waking you up.

We’ve never tried putting our two in snowsuits to sleep in, as our youngest in particular loves being outside and exploring, so putting on a snowsuit would be a signal to him that it’s time to play and not time to go to sleep. Other parents swear by this option though and if you’re now to camping and are trying it out, it’s one way you can save money investing in a toddler or junior sleeping bag.

Both our kids have their own junior sleeping bags now but when Evan was under two, we popped him in his usual group-bag style sleeping bag with a vest, PJs, and fleece all-in-one on. This worked out better for him as he’s not keen on co-sleeping anyway so making too many changes when he was younger would have meant many sleepless nights in the tent. The bonus of grobag-style sleeping bags is that toddlers can’t wriggle out of them!

What to sleep on when co-sleeping in a tent with a toddler

The options for what to sleep on include:

  • A double airbed – this can be tricky as you’ll obviously weigh much more than your toddler and this uneven weight distribution will mean they’ll roll towards you. With small toddlers, this could even be dangerous as there’s a risk of laying on top of them.
  • Two single self-inflating mats and a separate mat for your toddler – this is probably the best option as it means everyone has their own bed and there’s much less risk of rolling on top of your toddler.

If you don’t want to invest in a self-inflating mat for your toddler then just bring their travel cot mattress or even their cot mattress from home. Although, if you’re trying to pack light, then a toddler-size self-inflating mat will be lighter and smaller than a cot mattress. Another option is to buy a double self in floating mat for you and your toddler to share.

If you’re worried about your toddler being comfortable on a self-inflating mat, then lay out all the mats, cover them with a fitted sheet to keep them together and pop a duvet on top or an extra layer of comfort and warmth.

Obviously, if you have a small car then packing an extra double or kind-size duvet might not be an option. In this case, just pack your toddler’s usual cot duvet and cover the self-inflating mat with this so they have an extra layer under them.

More tips for camping with co-sleeping toddlers

  • It might take a few goes to get the best sleeping arrangements for your toddler and your family. To try things out, camp locally and take a variety of bags, blankets, duvets and mats to see which option gives you the best sleep!
  • Try out your sleeping options at home before setting off to get an idea of what’s best to sleep on. Obviously, you can’ recreate the cool night temperatures very easily, but you can get a good idea of what’s comfortable and what’s not.
  • We found that if we try and sleep all in one space together, sometimes the kids mess about a lot so if the kids’ aren’t settling, we’ll split them up and have one adult and one toddler in a separate part of the tent. ¬†This works much better when they’re more in the mood to play then sleep!

Further information

Can you buy infant camping beds?

You can buy infant camping beds – the range from self-inflating mattresses (SIMs) to large airbeds with inflatable sides. If you don’t have a lot of room the opting for a SIM is best as this packs small and light and will still be comfortable for your toddler.

Toddler camping airbeds with sides are very large and take up a lot of room inside the tent, the sides also mean that they aren’t a great option for co-sleeping toddlers. The advantage is they have sides so your toddler won’t roll off the mat, something which might happen with a SIM.

‘Ready beds’ are another option for infant camping beds but these tend to come with a thing built-in cover which is very unlikely to keep your toddler warm. Some of them are also not a great choice for co-sleeping toddlers as they can have small inflatable sides around the head area, depending on the design.

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