13 Ways to Help Kids Sleep While Camping

The number one question we get about camping as a family is how to get babies and kids to sleep. Parents of young children are usually sleep deprived to some degree even at home, so thinking about adding extra challenges to getting sleep can be a huge barrier to overcome to get out and camp as a family.

Before we get to the details of how to help kids sleep while camping, remember that your mindset as mom or dad sets the tone for the camping trip. When friends ask how we adventure so much with our kids I always tell them, “There’s not really a version of life that’s easy when you have little kids. Going to the store with little kids is hard, so I figure we may as well do the fun, adventurous thing!”

It is SO worth the thought and prep to help your kids sleep better while camping but, truth be told, even if you do all the things, you will inevitably have awful nights. Do your best not to get discouraged about this!

You may pack it in in the middle of the night and head home. Or you may wake up to fresh air and birds chirping, drink an extra cup of coffee, let the fresh air refresh you, spend the day exploring nature together, forget the whole sleep disaster and commit to it over and over again.

All camping families have been in both situations and everywhere in between! Here are our top tips to help kids sleep better while camping.

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Before You Go

Helping kids sleep well while camping starts before you go. Here are a few general tips for setting up a good sleep environment that you can consider when planning your trip.

1. Plan to Stay More Than One Night if You Can

Before you convince yourself that this “tip” is definitely not meant to help you, hear me out.

It is logical and tempting when camping with kids for the first time (or the 50th!) to plan short, one-night trips and ease them into it. It is also easier to commit to one potentially horrific night of sleep for yourself, than to commit to more than one.

The thing is, not all nights are the same! I’d say my young family is fairly experienced with tent camping, with a 4 1/2 year old that has spent 54 nights in the tent, and a 2 year old that has spent 24 nights in the tent. Plenty of those nights have been less than great, but the pattern I see often is that the first night tends to be the hardest if any of them are hard.

If you can stay more than one night, kiddos have a chance to get the hang of it a bit and ‘practice’ again right away with another night of camping sleep. For us, this often makes subsequent nights easier.

2. Try Dispersed Camping if You Can

This is another tip that feels a bit counter-intuitive. Campgrounds feel easier with kids in the sense of having more amenities, like bathrooms, water, and a picnic table.

Dispersed camping, not to be confused with backpacking, is car camping without the campground. For more details, read up on our dispersed camping with family hacks.

A child stands in front of a tent on the beach.

Though the campground amenities are helpful in other ways, what dispersed camping does for kid’s sleep can be magical, for two reasons.

First, it completely takes away the stress that parents are guaranteed to feel about disturbing other campers if babe is fussing at 1 a.m. The less stressed we can be at 1 a.m. the more patient and creative we are going to be with finding the solution our child needs in the moment so we can all get back to sleep.

Second, it eliminates noise that can easily startle a child awake. This might be generators that stay on until 10 p.m. and come back on at 6 a.m., cars kicking up gravel as they drive by, dogs barking, other kiddos playing, and music or noise from other campers.

3. Consider Blackout Gear

If dark sleeping spaces are vital for your child sleeping at all, there are a few types of blackout tents you can consider investing in.

Sierra Designs carries an Alpenglow 6 person tent that blocks more sunlight from coming into the tent. Plus, this is a large tent, so perfect for any extra sleeping gear that your child may need. If you have the space, you can consider a Slumber Pod blackout sleeping tent for your kiddo. If you are bringing a travel crib, check out the blackout covers that go with it.

4. Invest in Quality Sleep Gear

Keeping kids (and ourselves!) warm and cozy while sleeping out in nature is an obvious step to getting good sleep.

Think from the ground up.

Find the right sleeping pad for your family. An air mattress is not a substitute! All that air flow in the middle will leave you and your kids shivering. As for baby and toddler sleep setups, know that a pack n’ play is not the warmest option because it does not sit on the ground. The air flow underneath can make nights chilly for a baby or toddler. Consider a travel bassinet, Kid Co PeaPod Tent, or travel crib that sits on the ground and opens at the side (a big bonus for nighttime access to your kid!)

Check out our full review of the KidCo PeaPod Review.

Next, find great sleeping bags. A big thing to remember is that adult bags will not keep kids as warm as bags made for kids because of all the extra space. You can also consider wearable bags from Morrison Outdoors.

Choose pajamas and well-fitting hats. My family has spent nights in the tent with temperatures of 32 degrees. Fleece footie pajamas are our go-to, with one added thin layer underneath for a young baby.

Finally, bring extra blankets. I always bring one small fleece blanket per child, and one for us adults. Kids may wiggle out of bags during the night, or need an extra layer of warmth. I set up the blankets at the end of everyone’s sleeping bags so we can easily pull it up in the night when needed.

Smiling kids wear sleeping bag hoods in a tent.

Plan Days that Help Your Nights

5. Don’t Skip Nap!

When you are thinking about the timeline of leaving for your camping destination, plan to drive during kiddo’s naptime if you can and if your child is a good car sleeper. This will ensure that your child is well-rested going into night one but you still get to camp well before dinner and bedtime. For my family, it helps to push nap a tad later if we are planning to drive during nap.

As for achieving the camping nap while you are out there, it’s time to dig deep for some patience and creativity! And, don’t forget to adjust your expectations. Camping naps may not be the hour and a half or two hour nap of home, but getting your baby something during their naptime(s) will help the night go so much smoother.

Baby carriers and packs are an awesome way to help your baby or toddler sleep on the go. Just as you did with the driving nap on day one, plan walks or hikes at naptime during your camping trip.

But…

Also have a few more tricks up your sleeve if you will be at camp for nap!

A baby sleeps in a travel bassinet outside.

First, you can try the tent nap. It is do-able to achieve a nap in the tent! One big factor for this being safe and comfortable can be heat. Consider bringing a small portable fan that can hang from the top of the tent on one of the storage slings, and unzip windows and doors (if bugs aren’t an issue). If your child is in a travel bassinet, PeaPod sleeping tent or travel crib, take it out of the tent for more airflow.

If you try the tent nap and it fails, try a hammock nap. Laying with your child in the hammock while you (or your partner) gently swings it can put a little one out. Enjoy the sweaty snuggles!

If the hammock fails, you can try the carrier or pack and walk around the area even if you didn’t have a hike planned.

If that doesn’t work, take a drive. Hop in the car with your partner and drive around and explore the area.

If none of that works, and sometimes it won’t, you are not a failure! It’s okay. We’ve all been there and it all works out!

6. Encourage Movement and Exploration

While this is an ‘always’ tip from the Tales of a Mountain Mama team, it is definitely one of the best things about camping, and a great way to prep little bodies and minds for a good night’s rest. All that fresh air + playing + exploring not only creates great nature connections, and family memories, it helps kids sleep easily and deeply!

Need some ideas? Check out some of our ideas of fun things to do while camping and best outdoor toys for kids.

Kids race pine cones down a rock.

7. Eat Well, Hydrate, and Limit Sugar

It can be so easy to throw out the meal and snack standards of home when it comes to treats while adventuring.

If your kiddo wants to enjoy a s’more, don’t freak out and think this means your night of sleep is doomed. Just make sure to pack in lots of wholesome snacks and meals too. Bring extra since kids are always hungrier outside.

And don’t forget about water! A child that is busy and preoccupied with exploring might forget to stop and drink. We want our kids drinking lots of water when adventuring to avoid problems from dehydration, to help with heat management, and to avoid waking up all night asking for water.

Try to give them plenty of reminders throughout the day to drink water so that you aren’t packing it in at bedtime and up all night for bathroom trips.

8. Stay Up (a little) Later

Bedtime while camping is guaranteed to be later than at home. Even if you don’t want to wait until it is completely dark to put the kids to bed, embrace the chance to spend some extra time together, enjoy a campfire, and play games.

A family sits around a campfire.

When bedtime arrives, be prepared to move a little bit more slowly. Read extra books and sing a few more rounds of your favorite lullabies or, for older kids, let them read and listen to a podcast or audio book while cozy in the tent.

When Bedtime Arrives

Before you jump into your camping bedtime routine, take a few minutes to gather some patience, adjust your expectations, and smile! This will shift your mindset to one of flexibility before you take this big step.

9. Imitate Your At-Home Sleep Space

Bedtime is going to look way different than at home. Kids might be silly, giggly, jumping on sleeping pads and pushing into tent walls. They might be overtired and whiny. They might be perfectly wound down and near dozing already. If so, high five and please tell us how you achieved such a miracle!

Wherever your kids are at in this range, having some familiar bedtime items from home will help bedtime while camping.

For my family, this means bringing familiar pajamas, favorite stuffed animals, a pillow, books, and a portable white noise machine plugged into an external battery (because white noise dying in the night is the absolute worst!).

For babies, a travel bassinet, KidCo PeaPod, or a travel crib that is low to the ground can add familiarity and safety.

I have also found it helpful to periodically let them nap or sleep at home with some of the elements they will experience camping. The biggest way that I do this is opening black out curtains a bit at home sometimes so that they get used to having some light coming in while sleeping. You could also have them sleep in their travel bed or on their pad with their sleeping bag once in a while.

Some mamas on the Tales of a Mountain Mama team have also found adding children’s Melatonin to the camping bedtime routine to be a helpful tool. Double check with your child’s doctor first if you want to try this out for an extra calm bedtime while camping.

10. Keep Them Warm

As you layer up your kids for bedtime, be sure to add a good hat. This will do wonders for keeping heat in during chilly nights, which means one less factor to wake them up in the night. If it is really chilly and they won’t keep their hands tucked into a sleeping bag, fuzzy mittens can help too.

A baby sleeps in a travel bassinet wearing hat and gloves.

11. Lay with your Kids While They Fall Asleep

While your kids might be experts at putting themselves to sleep at home, they will likely need some extra help falling asleep while camping.

Even after so many nights camping with our kids, either my husband or I always lay with the kids and spend some extra time and effort helping them drift off. Oftentimes we put ourselves to bed at the same time, but sometimes we’ll sneak back out and use this as time together by the fire or looking at the stars for a bit.

While we lay with them we will have our Luci Light or a headlight on with red light, have the white noise on and plugged into an external battery, and hum or sing songs and rub backs to get the kids to sleep.

Asleep! Awake…Back to Sleep?

Alright, you’ve thought this through with a prime destination, planning how to achieve naps, investing in great gear, harnessing the power of the outdoors to wear your kids out, feeding them well, and alas, getting them to bed. You’re awesome!

But then….

They wake up in the night.

I only have one tip for you.

12. Do. Anything.

Yes, this is the tip for night waking while camping. I don’t have a magical answer. This is when you dig really deep to get creative in the dark, cold night in the name of waking up tomorrow to make more family memories outside!

Trust me, the wild sleep adventures will be a footnote in these family memories. Not tomorrow. But someday.

Doing anything to get a kid back to sleep while camping might include a bathroom trip or diaper change, giving water, breastfeeding or bottle feeding, readjusting a hat to rewarm a head, readjusting a twisty sleeping bag, settling them back into a sleeping bag they wiggled out of, finding a stuffed animal, getting them back on a pad they wriggled off of, scratching a back, plopping them onto your chest-covered up- where they will remain for anywhere from 1 minute to 5 hours.

As for you handling this, I recommend wearing an extra top layer in your sleeping bag. You will likely have at least an arm out of your sleeping bag in the night to help kiddos and this can get chilly fast for you. I also recommend deep breathing, extra coffee, and your favorite breakfast waiting for you on the other side of a rough night.

13. Go Often!

Finally, make camping “normal” for your kids, and for yourself! I can’t really tout ‘practice makes perfect’ here because kids’ sleep habits change so much when they are young. Honestly, you may get camping sleep down this year only to find that some of your awesome tricks don’t work next year (sorry!). However, a lot of your awesome tricks will still work.

Not only that, your kids will become more adaptable sleepers and you will have an easier time adjusting your expectations, summoning sleep-specific patience, and coming up with creative solutions on the fly.

Five happy kids relax in a tent.

It may never be perfect, but it does get easier the more you go. I am not sure when in our kid’s tent sleeping journeys we realized it, but one day we did realize that they had started sleeping pretty much the same in the tent as they do at home.

Sleep while camping is intimidating for a lot of parents, and with good reason. Sleep is vital for our well-being and our kids’, and when it’s hard at home we assume it is going to be even harder anywhere but home.

Whether you are getting ready for your first night camping as a family, or looking for new tips, just remember that every camping family has been just where you are in regards to helping kids sleep while camping.

Trust me, waking up and seeing your little adventure buddy dozing next to you will renew your determination to give them the outdoors, right alongside you!

Camping with kids is a lot more fun if you actually get sleep while you do it. These tips are our best tricks for babies and toddlers and kids to sleep well when camping.

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13 Ways to Help Kids Sleep While Camping

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Authors

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  • Amelia lives with her husband and five young children outside of Jackson, WY in Grand Teton National Park. As a mom, she quickly learned that the secret to sanity was to spend more time outside where tantrums don't see quite so bad. Amelia started TMM in 2012 to help encourage all families (including her own) to get outside, no matter the weather. Due to the necessity of having to keep so many kids warm and happy, she has become an expert in kids' gear and loves being able to share it with others.

  • Cece Romanyshyn is a Colorado native currently living in Baker City, Oregon with her husband and two sons. She grew up camping and skiing with her family, and kept adventuring through adulthood. She has enjoyed camping, hiking, skiing, and boating in the western United States, hiking in Ecuador, DIY safaris in East Africa, boating on the rivers of Southeast Asia, and exploring nature and culture during Peace Corps service in Mozambique. She loves connecting with her little family on all sorts of adventures from daily walks and river play to ski days to camping road trips, boating, and hut trips. With the confidence, joy, and well-being brought about in these spaces, time outside together has become a parenting power tool for her.

10 thoughts on “13 Ways to Help Kids Sleep While Camping”

  1. 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!

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  2. 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.

    Reply
  3. 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!!

    Reply
  4. 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..

    Reply
  5. 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.

    Reply

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