Car Camping with Toddlers Gear Guide

May 20, 2024

Car Camping, Guides

In my opinion, few things beat a good car camping trip with the family. Camping with toddlers can be an absolutely wild ride (IYKYK) but I’m here to help you with your packing and planning so that you have one less thing to worry about!

Car camping is defined as a version of camping where you drive to your campsite instead of walk. So here, I talk about about when we go camping and drive to a campground or public land and set up our tent by the car to camp. It can also be called front country camping (as opposed to backcountry camping, where you walk in to your campsite carrying all your gear in backpacks).

The magical thing about car camping is that you don’t need a lot of technical gear or fancy things to get you started because you can basically bring whatever fits in your vehicle and you don’t have to worry about weight. There’s an abundance of entry level gear and things you can bring from home to get you started and then you can accumulate things over the coming years. I can be pretty thrifty and I LOVE a good deal so I know firsthand that you can find a lot of great lightly used gear on local buy and sell sites and used gear stores.

The following is what I bring and what has worked well for us. I’ll also include some beginners options that have good reviews (but please note, I have no personal experience with those items).

toddler in blue PJs holds cup of milk and has a baby tucked into a headlamp around her neck while car camping

If you are looking for some more information on how to camp with babies – check out my ultimate guide to camping with babies. There are some different considerations when camping with babies because of safe sleep needs.

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links, should you purchase anything from these links I may receive a small percentage commission at zero cost to you. This helps support the blog and allows me to create new content for you all. I will never recommend or link to products that I have not personally used or have experience with.

Car Camping with Toddlers: Shelter and Sleep Set Up


MSR Habitude 6 (US Link | CA Link)

I love this tent because it’s HUGE. My husband is just shy of 6 feet and can stand up fully in it. It’s got room for a pack and play and lots of space for the dogs. And room for activities if it’s raining outside. It’s also easy enough that I can set it up on my own if I go out with just my toddler and dogs.

Obviously, this tent is a big investment so here are some great more affordable options to check out:

  1. Coleman Skydome Dark Room 6 Person Tent (US Link)
  2. Eureka! Kohana 6-Person Tent (CA Link)
  3. MEC Base Camper 6-Person Tent (CA Link)
  4. Cabela’s® Outback Lodge 6-Person Tent (US Link | CA Link)

toddler in fleece suit and blue hat looks out at the sun coming through the trees while standing outside of a blue tent while camping

Sleeping Pads

Therm-a-Rest Mondo Kings (US Link | CA Link)

Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite (US Link | CA Link)

We couple two of the Mondo Kings together with a Therm-a-Rest Synergy Coupler (US Link | CA Link) and it’s big enough for my husband, my toddler, and I to sleep together comfortably. I recommend bringing an air pump for these bad boys. Try this one. We always bring a Z-lite to sit on at camp or have in the tent also for some extra padding at the front (and the dogs sleep on one!).

Here are some other double sleeping pad options:

  1. Sea to Summit Comfort Plus – Double (US Link | CA Link)
  2. Big Agnes Divide Insulated Double Wide (US Link | CA Link)

Car Camping Sleeping Gear

Therm-a-Rest Corus 20 Quilt (US Link | CA Link)

Therm-a-Rest Vela Double Quilt (US Link | CA Link)

MEC camp pillow (CA Link)

Portable sound machine (US link | CA Link)

We love to bring our quilts on car camping trips. The weather is usually a bit warmer but it can still get cold overnight in the Rockies. But this is where you can definitely just bring what you have at home. I’ve been known to just grab the duvet off of our bed and bring that along. Throw it in a rubbermaid along with your pillows and you’re set! Of course, check the night time temperature lows and make sure you bring enough blankets so that you’ll all stay warm.

We co-sleep as a family, so we don’t have a separate sleeping pad and sleeping bag for my daughter at this point. I assume that we will get her something as she gets a bit older but this works for us now. For backpacking, she does have her own sleeping bag (a Morrison Outdoors kids sleeping bag – with this link you get 10% off) that keeps her really warm. For more information on what we bring backpacking – check out this Gear Guide from our Jan De Fuca Trail backpacking trip in 2023.

I don’t bring any baby monitors while camping with our toddler. We usually just go to bed all together or else if the stars align and the camp fairies bestow upon us the magic we need to get our toddler to sleep in the tent without us, we are just outside the tent at the fire so we can hear her if she wakes up and needs us :).

car camping with toddler and kitchen set up on picnic table

Car Camping With Toddlers: Kitchen Essentials

Car camping is the best because you can bring a lot of delicious food that you couldn’t bring backpacking. I love to preplan meals and do as much prep at home as I can. I always cook and shred chicken to bring for easy nachos or enchiladas for dinner. I’ll link some of my favourite recipes and some more ideas below. I keep most of the kitchen specific stuff together in a big tote that stays packed so it is super easy to just grab it and put it in the car whenever we want to go.

Bass Pro Shops 3 Burner High Output Propane Stove (US Link)

Eureka Ignite 2 Burner Camp Stove (CA Link)

MSR Pots (US Link | CA Link)

GSI Outdoors 12 Cup Percolator (US Link | CA Link) (we mostly just use this as a kettle)

Kuju Coffee (US Link | CA Link)

GSI Outdoors Pioneers Table Set (US Link | CA Link)

MSR Alpine Utensil Set (US Link | CA Link)

GSI Infinity Backpacker Mug x3 (US Link | CA Link)

Lodge 6 QT Dutch Oven (US Link | CA Link)

Old Coleman Griddle that I can’t find a link to (but this Camp Chef one looks pretty similar (US Link | CA link)

Kuma Outdoor Gear Bear Buddy Double Chair (US Link | CA Link)

Kid Camp Chair (US Link | CA Link)

Yeti Tundra 45 Cooler (US Link | CA Link)

Cutting Boards from home

Stasher Bags (an essential for all the snacks) (US Link | CA Link)

Car Camping With Toddlers: Meal Ideas

As I mentioned, I like to make some food ahead of time so that right when we get to camp, I can put out a lunch or a snack for our girl to munch on while we get our camp set up.


Pesto Salad from Carlin over at Camp Kitchen
Quinoa Salad with whatever veggies we have in the fridge
Egg Salad Sandwiches


Campfire Nachos in our dutch oven with pre-cooked and shredded chicken we make at home
Dutch Oven Enchiladas
Shrimp Boil Foil Packets


Breakfast Burritos
Eggs & Bacon or Breakfast Sandwiches
Camp stove Chilaquiles


We bring a lot of fresh fruit and veggies
Pepperoni Sticks
Cheese & Meats
Chips (Aster knows that camping = chips and it’s her fave thing)

toddler runs towards tent in the rain while car camping

Car Camping With Toddlers: Clothing

I will start by saying here that we live in Alberta by the Rocky Mountains so wherever we go, it gets pretty cold at night so there are a lot of warm things on this list. And also, we bring A LOT of clothes. Because we also live in bear country, we are very aware that she has clean clothes to change into at the end of each day and a clean jacket and other warm clothes for inside the tent because anything that she has worn throughout the day will go into the car overnight. Camping with toddlers isn’t exactly clean so plan accordingly.

Toddler Car Camping Clothes & Accessories:

Wee Woollies. We love wool base layers for UV protection and to help regulate her temp overnight. We bring enough pairs for a clean set each night.

Carter’s Fleece to wear overtop of her wool baselayers for the night

Jan and Jul Beanie – use domcarson2410 for a discount on Jan and Jul

Jan and Jul Fleece Bunting Suit 

Jan and Jul Thin-lined Rain Suit

Jan and Jul Rain Jacket

Patagonia Down Jacket

New Balance Runners

Rain Boots

Keen sandals (US Link | CA Link)

Jan and Jul Bathing Suit

Jan and Jul Fleece Booties – use domcarson2410 for a discount on Jan and Jul

Jan and Jul Sunnies

Jan and Jul Hat

Jan and Jul Baselayers

Some shorts, pants, socks, shirts, etc for the day that she can get dirty and play in

What to Bring Your Toddler to Play With While Car Camping

For her first 3 summers tent camping, we didn’t bring any toys or pack anything special for her to play with. We are pretty minimal and find that the less stuff we bring, the more imaginative play she has and the more we just talk and she helps out with the camp chores. Of course, you do you and whatever works for your family. Aster is pretty good at entertaining herself with things she finds. We did bring her baby and that’s honestly it. She is 3.5 this year though and I this is what I will be packing for her:

  1. Soccer ball
  2. Bucket and shovels
  3. Bubbles
  4. Colouring stuff
  5. Yoto player (mostly for the drive)
  6. Toddler Camera (US Link | CA Link)
  7. Strider Bike (US Link | CA Link)
  8. Fishing Rod (US Link | CA Link)

Other Gear

Garmin InReach (US Link | CA Link)

Headlamp (US Link | CA Link)

Thermacell (US Link | CA Link)

Mineral Sunscreen (US Link | CA Link)

Portable Fan (US Link | CA Link)

Bear Spray (US Link | Available In Store Only In CA)

Bug Patches (US Link | CA Link)

Medical Kit & a homemade safety kit with kid medicine (tylenol, benadryl, an epi pen, etc)
Toiletries (Wipes, bag for dirty diapers, diapers, cream, toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc)

When Camping with a Toddler Is HARD

I just wanted to note that this experience can be HARD. Expect it to be. Even kids who have spent a lot of time camping as babies and outside as kids can struggle camping. The first trip of the year might be really tough. And subsequent ones too. Just know that you’re doing nothing wrong. Some kids are really sensitive to changes in routine, being new places, having so much stimulation from the environment. If you have to pack up and go home because your toddler won’t sleep, it’s okay. Try again when you’re ready though. There will always be tough moments and it’s okay. You’re a rockstar and doing your very best.

We have hard nights also. We always have. Our first trip of the year is usually chaos at nighttime. For this reason, we try to go camping on public land where there are less people around or pick a campground that is pretty remote and won’t have people. Just for the reason that I’ll be able to focus more on my toddler and comforting her when I’m not worried about other people hearing (not that I should be concerned with that, but I do try to be aware of other people’s experience). And these days, we do always have some low dose gummy melatonins with us in case it’s a big struggle. No matter how hard it gets though, it’s always worth it to me to keep getting out there with her.

I hope that you have the most fun! Please ask any questions, I would love to help! And I would also love to hear about your trips with your kids. Car camping with toddlers can be challenging, but honestly, these trips have been some of my favourite memories with our girl. These really are the good old days and I hope you embrace them <3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *