Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.

Camping and Hiking With Toddlers

Patapsco Valley State Park, Maryland.

Last weekend we took our 2.5-year old twins camping for the first time. It was only one night but three days later I’m still recovering from lack of sleep – not due to our kids (luckily) but to a baby in the tent next door, dogs, a train, and a nearby highway. But despite the sleep deprivation, which is pretty normal for camping anyway, journeying outdoors to enjoy mother nature with the kids was well worth it.

The kids slept in a tent for the first time.

Good friends of ours did all the planning and reserved several camp sites at Patapsco Valley State Park in Maryland. From the Washington, DC metro area, it is only about an hour drive away, making it very convenient and doable, particularly for families with kids. And even though my husband and I are more accustomed to camping in more remote places like in the mountains of Colorado or the national parks of Utah, Patapsco’s proximity to nearby conveniences gave us a viable back up plan for the unpredictable demands of two toddlers – like on the following morning when our kids woke up at 6am and immediately realized that they had just slept in a tent for the first time and couldn’t contain their excitement while everyone else was still sleeping. We were able to quietly drive away to grab some coffee at a nearby Starbuck’s. Believe me when I tell you that while this breaks all the rules of genuine camping, we were glad to have somewhere to go to give our friends an extra hour of sleep, and we became sudden rock stars after we returned with coffee for everyone back at camp.

View from inside our tent (REI Hobitat 4).

When packing for camping with toddlers, we didn’t bring much outside of the normal camping inventory except that we chose to bring their crib mattresses. It turned out to be the best idea because our kids have never before slept in anything other their cribs or a pack-and-play, and at daycare they sleep on little cots on the floor. So bringing their crib mattresses gave them something familiar to identify with sleeping. I think it helped contain them and soothe them. They knew right away which one was theirs because I brought the same sheets and blanket sets they normally used at school. Of course you would bring their favorite stuffed animal and books.

We also brought a collapsible toddler picnic table and folding chairs, mainly because we had room in the car and thought, Why not? This also turned out to be a good idea because when the kids tried to eat lunch at the picnic table at our camp site, they kept dropping food because they couldn’t sit right up against the table from the bench seat. Once we brought out their little picnic table they were happy eating without the frustration. The folding chairs were just a novelty to them but it also made them feel like one of the adults since we all had one, too. It made them feel like part of the group when we were all sitting around the camp fire.

Hiking with toddlers comes with a lot of whining to be picked up.

Hiking with toddlers is something that I think we’ll have to build up over time. Since we had two kids at the same time, we never got into the habit of carrying them on slings or those backpack carriers. Main reason being my inability to carry both at the same time. Sibling rivalry for mom’s attention started early so carrying only one on my body was never an option, and the fact that our kids are big heavy chunky kids, difficult to carry for long stretches of time. Anyway, since they turned two we started leaving the stroller at home more and more to get them accustomed to walking wherever we go, and they do a decent job of walking on their own most of the time when there are interesting things to explore along the way. I’ve also toned up my arms a bit after they get tired and cranky and I have to carry them. Well it was no different when we went on our hike at Patapsco. We went to the Avalon section of the park where we could have easily hiked up to a suspension bridge, but it was hot and humid and our two kids were in no mood for walking so we didn’t make it very far. Instead we explored the little streams along the trail, picked wild strawberries and watched mountain bikers pass by. To the kids it was all still very fun and exciting. For us seeing everything new through their eyes allowed us to marvel at things we often overlook as adults. The experience wasn’t a wash, just different with kids and still fun.

Off to explore a tunnel.

We found a nice cool stream to play in.

We definitely plan on camping with the kids again and work on their hiking legs as often as we can. Our next hike will be back home in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and after that we’ll be exploring the tropical forests of Laos!

Best outdoor shoes for kids: Keen’s

Best outdoor pants for kids: REI Sahara Convertible Pants (comes in boy’s and girl’s styles)

Our tent: REI Hobitat 4

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10 comments on “Camping and Hiking With Toddlers

  1. Pingback: Happy 4th of July | Abi At Play

  2. Robin Jean Marie
    June 14, 2012

    If it’s not crying babies, barking dogs, or noise from trains or highways keeping you awake, it’s sure to be jet plane caliber snoring coming from the next tent. Ah, the joys of camping! Love that you went to Starbucks–that would certainly make you a rock star in my book. 🙂 And, I’d make sure to bring you along on all my camping weekends.
    Fun post!

  3. travelladywithbaby
    June 14, 2012

    Woohooo, you guys tried it with 2, I bow down to you. I love that they woke up at 6am, mine wakes up at 5 and has more energy than a soccer team, hence the feeling of needing an I.V drip of caffeine!

    • Wanderlustress
      June 14, 2012

      Haha, we survived only one night. We’ll try working up to two nights as we go. Here’s a similar tale about camping with kids, better written of course. I especially love her closing paragraph:

      “No matter how organized you are, packing, traveling, and adventuring with kids will always be a hassle. You will always wish it were easier, you will always wonder why you came, and at some point during the first 24 hours you will become convinced that it will never, ever be worth it. This a good sign. This means you have been beaten down and are on the verge of surrendering. You’re in the flow. And that’s when the real fun begins.”


  4. miojocamara
    June 14, 2012

    Great photos, great memories graphically perpetuated. I specially love the tunnel, going back to my childhood and dreaming I was exploring inside. Thanks a lot a God bless your kids.

    • Wanderlustress
      June 14, 2012

      Thank you. I love having the pictures to peacefully reflect on our time since every moment with kids is a distraction. With pictures I can sit back and savor the memory.

  5. larkycanuck
    June 14, 2012

    your readers will enjoy this post as well.
    Modern Art, Modern Family: Tips for navigating the Big Apple, and its art collection, with a baby

    • Wanderlustress
      June 14, 2012

      Thank you LC. It’s really helpful to read other people’s experiences when traveling with kids, so many good tips to learn. Great article.

  6. Ana Gaby
    June 14, 2012

    This looks like so much fun! The one time we tried to camp with Evan, our 2 year old, it was complete chaos. We will keep on trying, though!

    • Wanderlustress
      June 14, 2012

      It was so fun. I love their little faces when they experience something new. Sometimes the chaos is fun, too!

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