If you have any experience with car camping you probably agree that car camping involves a lot of packing. Having camping-specific storage bins can help reduce the amount of pre-packing required, but it still feels like you are bringing a lot of stuff as you pack it into your vehicle. When children are added to the mix, the number of required things increases again. 

The last thing you need is a list of relatively unnecessary items to add to your car camping list. So, I’m here to share a few items that I consider either fully necessary or items that make a big impact on your experience but don’t take up a lot of space.

This gear guide is focused primarily on camping with toddlers.

Comfort Items

This will look different for every child. Maybe it’s a blanket, a lovie, a stuffed animal, a pillow. You will need at least one or two of these comfort items to help promote a sense of safety, especially if this is the child’s first time spending the night outdoors. Consider letting them choose which item. Also, make sure that whatever items they are allowed to choose from are washable because they will certainly be dirty after the trip.

Medicine Kit

This one is non-negotiable. You need to make room in your belongings for a med-pack for your child. This looks different from household to household, but some items that I suggest putting in your kit are the following: 

  • Children’s Tylenol (acetaminophen)
  • Children’s Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
  • Children’s Motrin (ibuprofen)
  • Band-Aids
  • Saline spray (for congestion or wound treatment)

One other item to consider adding to your kit is admittedly controversial: a sleep aid. The first time I took my son camping he refused to go to sleep. The nighttime routine involved a lot of crying, tantrums, and repeated awakenings. The next time we went, I gave him a very small dose of children’s melatonin sleep aid about an hour before bed (we used Zarbee’s Naturals Sleep with Melatonin) and it helped him fall asleep without the fuss. The experience was much less stressful for both of us and we woke up refreshed. If using a sleep aid makes you feel uncomfortable don’t do it. This is parenting – choosing what works best for your family.


Allowing a child to have their own, special flashlight helps them feel independent and safe. Plus, it keeps them from using your nice, 1500-lumen flashlight as a toy. We bought our son a large, green one covered in a rubber shell that’s easy for him to hold and he got to pick the color. I highly suggest an LED flashlight as children will certainly forget to turn it off when not in use or may even want to keep it on next to them at night. My son can leave his LED flashlight on for several nights and it doesn’t run out of batteries.

Portable Toilet

If you are currently parenting a toddler, chances are high that you have a small portable toilet. These are the little ones that can sit on the floor or in the back of the car or boat for emergencies. They are so handy to have around if your toddler is struggling to poop in the woods. Also, camping bathhouses can be located far away from campsites and short toddler legs may not make it in time. 


Of course, snacks made the list. Is anyone surprised? They are worth mentioning because not all snacks are created equal. Snacks that do not require refrigeration are ideal. Snacks that pack protein are even more ideal. But nothing beats a carbohydrate-loaded kid snack at a campsite. If they are struggling to enjoy themselves outside, some goldfish or chips may be just what they need to settle into a camping chair and relax for a bit. And if you bring items to make S’mores, best wishes. 


Alongside comfort items, a couple of toys from home can go a long way in helping a child settle into their new space. I don’t suggest bringing the whole toy bin, but a couple of matchbox cars or sand toys will do nicely. Again, letting them choose one or two toys to bring will help them feel more involved in the experience.

Sunscreen and Bug Repellant

These items are important for sun and woodland safety. Not only will they prevent sunburn and potential viruses passed from bugs, but they will also help your child sleep soundly if they are not suffering from itchy sunburnt or bug-bitten skin at night. 

Other Items to Consider

The following items are not considered necessary by me, but they may be very helpful. First is a small shovel or spade. Toddlers love to dig in the ground and gravel. Bring along a special shovel that they get to use. But be aware that this is not appropriate in “leave no trace” areas. We let our son use his shovel in the gravel on the camping pad or in the sand down by the water. Another item to consider is a portable sound machine. If your toddler is used to sleeping with a sound machine or noise maker, they may struggle to sleep in the wilderness without it. Or, if you are camping in a crowded area where you have neighbors who enjoy late nights by the campfire, the sound machine can help drown out their noise. Lastly, if your child is still in a crib at home, consider bringing a small pack-n-play and setting it up inside your tent. Camping is not the time for your child to test out newfound freedom for the first time. You can rest easy knowing that your child is contained in some fashion and won’t go wandering out of the campsite at night. 


When packing, remember that a gear guide is only that – a guide. None of the items above are absolutely necessary, but in my experience, they are incredibly helpful. If you have any items or packing ideas that you use to make your camping trips with toddlers more enjoyable leave them in the comments below!

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