The number one question we get about camping as a family is how to get babies and kids to sleep. We’re sleep deprived as it as as parents with little ones, right!? Why in the world would we jeopardize that even further by taking everyone camping!?! We’ve gathered our best tips to help kids sleep while camping.
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While there are obviously other concerns, if we step back and evaluate, babies are actually really easy at a young age. If they are fed, changed and get sleep, they’re happy wherever you are!
Toddlers and slightly older kids, however, can be a little tougher.
After numerous camping trips with babies starting at just a couple months old, here’s our top tips.
Also, please note that we have definitely had our share of failures. We’ve even thrown up our hands and broken down camp and went home at 3 am before. Life happens with kids while camping just like it happens at home, so we might as well get out there and make some memories!
1. Bring a Baby Carrier
For us, a baby carrier is our number one camping friend. Many a baby has taken a nap in the carrier, and that’s usually how we get them to sleep at night.
Luckily our kids transfer fairly well if we time it right (about 10 minutes after they fall asleep…and after that big “sleep sigh”). We’ve also had some transfer fails and had to try again….but in general it’s a good bet.
2. Use White Noise
Use white noise. We love this Sound Oasis one. It’s small and portable, but puts on some serious sound. Before we had this, we were using a white noise app on our phone. But that always killed our battery and made it so our phones were unusable for us.
The Sound Oasis one will hold a charge for the full night and then we just plug it in during the day in the car via a USB to charge if needed. We depend heavily on white noise to keep everyone asleep, so this has been a game-changer. We also take it with us traveling.
3. Imitate your Sleeping at Home
Bring what they sleep in with you. If your baby sleeps in a bassinet, then bring it with you and let them sleep in it camping too! If they’re used to a pack and play or bassinet, bring that. Obviously this has limitations, but the less changes you can make for camping, the better off everyone will be.
Follow the same naptime routine you do at home. Try to stick to your schedule and routine as much as you can. This might mean hanging out at camp in the afternoon for nap time. You can relax and read in the sun or take turns going on adventures with your spouse.
If it’s too hot for tent nap during the day, you can plan to be driving or hiking during naptime so your kid doesn’t miss his nap. It’s worth planning around naps for everyone to be happy and well-rested.
3. Bring a large tent (if you don’t have a camper)
If your child is still sleeping in a crib, it helps to have a tent large enough to fit a pack and play with enough room for everyone else. Letting your toddler sleep with you when he’s used to sleeping in a crib can mean a night of no sleep for everyone.
If you don’t have a large tent, you can use two smaller ones, too: one for the kids and one for the adults. You can also try a peapod tent for an older baby or toddler. The PeaPod works great until he’s old enough to unzip it and get out. This one also has great reviews!
If you have a camper, having a separate space for your child to sleep is ideal.
An extra sheet to put over the pack and play keeps the bugs out during naps and at night.
4. Put up a barrier for sleep
You can zip a tapestry into a door of the tent and let it drape over the pack and play. Or hang a sheet or tapestry from the top of the tent.
I recommend a barrier like a sheet or tapestry any time you are sharing a “room” with a baby over 6 months old. I know you can still hear each other because you’re just a few feet apart. But there’s something about him not being able to see you that helps him sleep better.
5. Stay Up (a little) Later
Count on a later bedtime. Just embrace it. The sun is out longer, you’re not bringing black-out curtains with you, and there is much more stimulation. Even if you’re a bedtime nazi (like me), chill out while camping and let them stay up late.
6. Make them MOVE!
Wear them out during the day! This is THE best thing about camping. All that fresh air + playing + exploring usually does a great job at making everyone tired enough that they’ll eventually collapse in a deep sleep.
7. Keep Their Head Warm
Wear hats to keep them warm in cooler mountain air. We lose a ton of heat out of our heads, and cold kids won’t sleep well. Wool beanies are perfect (Use code “mtnmama20” for 20% off!!)
8. Skip the S’Mores
Cut out the sugar. It’s so easy to throw everything out the window while on camping vacation and let them eat 10 marshmallows if they want to….but it usually does nothing but give you crazy kids that won’t sleep.
I’m not saying they can’t have treats, just be aware of when they’re eating them and how much they’re having.
9. Warm from the Ground Up
Make sure you bring sleeping pads. I really love the Big Agnes sleep systems for kids because it prevents them from rolling off their pads (and getting cold). If you missed it before, definitely check out our big post on the best sleeping bags for kids.
Inflatable mattresses actually trap cold air and make you colder, so avoid those if you’re camping in cool temperatures. If worse comes to worse – let them sleep on a dog bed! Anything to get you off the cold ground.
10. Baby Sleeping Bags
I love that sleeping bags for babies aged 6-24 months are really becoming mainstream and easy to get our hands on. If you need just a light sleeping bag for summer months, this one by Baby Dee Dee has removable sleeves and is a little less bulky. Check out this post for an exclusive coupon code for Baby Dee Dee!
For cooler and cold temperatures, we love Morrison Outdoors bags, available in a 20 degree and 40 degree option.
11. Light up the Night
Supply kids with headlamps to make the dark more fun and a small string of lights in the tent if you need/want a night light. These inflatable lanterns are really great too and take up hardly any space/weight (and are solar powered!)
12. Go Often!
Make camping “normal” for your kids. Simple, I know. But, kids that sort of know the routine are going to settle down easier and faster. Practice makes perfect…or at least close to it!
13. Family Sleep
If you have a nursing baby, doublewide sleeping bags are AWESOME. They give you both more room to move and not get cold. They have been a lifesaver for us.
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Wednesday 25th of May 2022
Thank you for this. We are a camping family of 8. We are going to try Yellowstone and Tetons next summer when the kids are 18 month, 4, 5, 10, 11, and 12. I’m okay with the four year old and up, but I’m super nervous about the cold weather for my baby. Thanks for showing how you’ve done it.
Tuesday 21st of June 2022
Totally doable!! Let us know if you have other questions :)
Tuesday 24th of August 2021
Do you have a warm type of sock you suggest for toddlers? So they can wear them to bed to help their toes stay warm! I’m trying to find some wool socks but haven’t found any great ones for a 2 year old..
Monday 27th of September 2021
Sorry for my delay! I liked these ones!
Tuesday 4th of July 2017
Thanks so much!! We use white noise at home and I thought I was a tad crazy for taking it camping with us, but now I feel better!! And that later bedtime is so true. Kinda freaks me out, but #5 helps balance it, right? Thanks so much!!
Friday 7th of July 2017
You're not crazy! Just doing anything you can to maintain sanity like the rest of us ;)
Tuesday 4th of July 2017
I'll add some of our tips... for little ones with car camping we did Moses Baskets to isolate them from getting smooshed with sleeping bags. We also started them out with plush Halloween costumes early on that had hoods so we had monkeys, bears, lions in our tent to keep them warm through the night and add an element of fun through toddlerhood. Per our midwife' instructions we waited before going to higher altitudes until they were a touch older to keep excess pressure and cold away from the Eustachian tube and not chance their comfort.
Tuesday 4th of July 2017
Oh the costumes is such a fun idea! Thank you! And the baskets is a great idea too :)
Monday 3rd of July 2017
These are great! We do all of them except #9. Getting our kids to sleep while camping in Alaska has been a challenge. It might as well be 2pm in our tent even at midnight. We've really embraced the later bedtime and have started having them listen to books on tape (via Audible) while they go to sleep so that we can guarantee some kid-free time for us too.
#10 is the greatest reminder. If only the summer weren't so short!
Tuesday 4th of July 2017
Oh yes - Alaska daylight is awesome for so many things....but not sleeping! I was always just thankful growing up I could see the moose and bears if need-be ;) And Audible while camping is a great idea!