25 Best Tips to Help Kids with Sleep While Camping

Sleeping at camp can be one of the most challenging parts of camping with kids. The new environment can often lead to long nights and frequent wake-ups. We’ve had our fair share of these situations while camping with our kids too. Most of our worst nights’ sleep while camping happened when I tried to stick to our typical bedtime. Young kids just don’t always adjust easily to new situations. 

On one of my first solo camping trips with my little ones, I found myself trying to keep from yelling at my kids as they were  going nuts in the tent. My voice was sounding more and more like Darth Vader as I whispered “please lay down.” My daughter’s screams were becoming deafening. I was ready to pack up the tent at that moment. And it wasn’t until nearly ten-thirty that things finally calmed down. So yeah, I’ve been there. 

But, I still believe the reward of going camping with your kids can outweigh the risk of lack of sleep. Things have improved since that awful trip! (Fortunately!) We have found a few basic strategies that can help with a better night’s sleep for the whole family. These strategies have worked for my family, and may work for yours too! I know sleep is such an individualized experience and you know your kids best. I will say the more you camp, the easier sleeping in a tent gets! 

Don’t let the fear of a bad night’s sleep keep your family from the great outdoors! Get these tips for the best family camping trip yet! 

This post contains affiliate links, including links from Amazon. If you use these links to buy something we may earn a commission. Thanks for supporting our family!

1. Set the camping trip up for success

The key to a decent night’s sleep while camping begins before you even set up camp! I’ve found that my arrival time and setup directly correlates to the kind of night we’re going to have. Why? Because when we’re rolling into camp 30 minutes before our typical dinner time, things are going to get chaotic.

 I like to get to camp between 1-4, depending on if there is a check-in time at a campground. The earlier the better, really. That gives us time to set up the tent and sleeping system. Hopefully, we can also go on a hike, do some fishing, or play some camp games before I need to start dinner. That scenario I shared at the beginning of this post? That was the time when we rolled into camp AT dinner time. Total. Disaster. 

2. Choose High-Quality Sleeping Gear

If your family plans to camp more than just once or twice a year, be sure to choose high-quality gear that will keep your kids comfortable while camping. This does not mean that you need to spend a lot of money on camping gear (altough there is some initial investment to be made!) Look at the gear you already have. If you were camping before you had kids you may have some gear that you can repurpose for them.  

Both my kids sleep comfortably on adult size sleeping pads. The reason? Somehow we already owned 5 sleeping pads before we had kids! Definitely plan something to keep your kids off the cold ground, whether that is a sleeping pad or air mattress. 

For small children and toddlers, consider choosing a sleep sack instead of a sleeping bag. Little kids can easily wiggle out of a sleeping bag and need help getting tucked back in throughout the night. Morrison Outdoors has the best sleeping bags for helping with toddler sleep while camping.

Read more about my camping gear recommendations for toddlers and young children.

3. Invest in a Blackout Tent

I’ve sung the praises of our blackout tent all over social media and in other posts. But, I promise that purchasing a blackout tent will make a huge difference in your kid’s sleep quality while camping. This is especially true if your kids sleep have blackout curtains at home (like mine do.) Also, if you’re camping in the summer the sun will most likely be setting hours after your child’s regular bedtime. I honestly believe a blackout tent is the best family tent for better sleep!

With our Sierra Designs Alpenglow 6, my kids go to sleep just as easily as they do at home. Being in a dark space is part of their normal at home. A blackout tent has made these conditions possible while camping. We’ve said goodbye to trying to go to sleep in daylight conditions at bedtime and can now do bedtime at a normal time. 

Read my full review about why I love the Sierra Designs Alpenglow 6!

red blackout tent set up

4. Limit Sugar Before Bedtime

There’s such a temptation to stay up late and eat s’mores around the campfire way past bedtime. Believe me, I’ve done it. Don’t be like me. After eating the s’mores my kids had a huge sugar rush that resulted in a 10:30 bedtime and a 6 AM wakeup time. Getting your kids sugared up before bed is never a good idea!

I don’t cut out treats – especially not s’mores. Instead, I choose one afternoon to have an early campfire and we roast marshmallows at that time. By the time bedtime rolls around my kids have already had dinner on top of that s’more and have run off all the extra sugar energy. 

5. Wear them out!

One of the easiest ways to get my kids sleeping better at camp is to provide a full day of action. I like to wear my kids out in a lot of ways. We stay busy on camping trips with a few hikes. We are also into getting out on the water. The kids love swimming, fishing, and boating. 

We also keep them busy around camp. Whether it’s helping out with dinner or playing camp games, we try to stay active at camp!

A great part of camping is exploring and staying busy outdoors. Use this as an opportunity to facilitate an easy transition into bedtime by tiring your kids out!

6. Don’t skip naps

 I should warn you that for my kids (and most kids!) there’s a fine line between being worn out and being overtired. When my kids get overtired it results in cranky kids that DON’T fall asleep easily! Sometimes naps can be difficult while camping. I usually can get my daughter napping with some snuggling in the tent. This has been another great advantage of the blackout tent. It is dark, even during the day! This makes midday naps easy. 

During the early toddler and baby years use a baby carrier to get your little one napping. If that isn’t going to happen I’ll load up in the car for a little drive around the area. That almost always does the trick!

7. Choose appropriate pajamas for camping

Depending on where you live, even summer nights can be cool. In Montana we often have cool summer nights that require a few extra layers to stay warm and cozy. Choose merino wool base layers for pajamas in cool regions. These wicking layers will keep kids cozy and dry while sleeping.

If you’re not sure which brand to choose, check out Iksplor or Wee Woolies. Both are a great option for merino wool base layers!

8. Keep your kid’s head warm at night

An exposed head on a chilly night of camping can make your whole body feel colder. Keep children cozy while camping by bringing a knitted hat along for the camping trip. Even if they don’t want it at the beginning of the night, keep one near their pillow in case they get cold. 

Also, choose a mummy bag as your child’s sleeping bag. The hood will help trap heat on cold nights. 

9. Keep your Kids Hydrated During the Day, but Limit Water at Bedtime

An important part of camping is staying well hydrated and well nourished to make adventuring fun and easy. Something not very fun about camping is needing to leave the tent to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. 

Encourage your kids to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Try to decrease the amount of water they drink about an hour to an hour and a half before bedtime. I like these Contigo water bottles to help my kids stay hydrated. 

Be sure to pack pull ups or diapers if you have potty training toddlers or young children prone to bedwetting. 

10. Choose a tent that’s bigger than your family size

It may make sense to choose a tent that fits your family size. If your family is 4 people, then it seems logical that two adults and two kids would fit comfortably in a 4 person tent. I’ve found this is not necessarily the case. It works fine for backpacking, but it can feel tight when car camping.

 I prefer a 6 person tent for our family of 4. This gives us a little wiggle room and space to keep our clothes. We can technically fit two queen size air mattresses. Instead of using two bulky air beds we use one for my husband and me and two sleeping pads for the kids. 

red tent set up near campfire pit

11. Go to bed (a little) past bedtime

Once it’s time for bedtime don’t worry as much about your typical routine. Most likely the excitement from camping is going to make bedtime a little crazy, so just go with it! I usually do bedtime a little later than our typical time. I also do fewer books and instead tell stories. We sing songs in our camp chairs while my husband plays guitar. Then we brush teeth, use the bathroom and head to bed. 

If I’m camping with my kids on my own I usually get ready for bed with them. I’ll put out the fire before climbing into the tent and just read on my Kindle until I’m ready to go to sleep. 

12. Use white noise

From the unusual silence of dispersed camping to the noisy neighbors camping next door, white noise can block out too little or too much noise! We use the same white noise machine at home as we do when we travel. This adds a sense of normalcy to the tent. Our favorite white noise machine is an adorable owl . We also have the equally cute bunny. We have had ours for over four years now and it’s still going strong – even after nightly use! 

13. Make sure everyone is comfy

Nobody is going to sleep well if they’re cold while camping! There are a few ways I like to approach bedding while camping. If it’s summer and relatively mild outside I will pack sheets, blankets, and an air mattress. These little creature comforts make camping feel a bit more like “home” for me. If I’m taking the kids camping on my own I plan on co-sleeping with them. It’s going to happen anyway so I just go with it from the beginning. I DID NOT co-sleep on an air mattress until my babies were older. On the air mattress, it states that these can’t be used for babies under 15 months. If we’re camping as a family of four then I’ll pack the air mattress for my husband and me plus blankets and sheets. The kids sleep on ThermaRest sleeping pads with sleeping bags.

If it’s the shoulder season (spring or fall) or if it’s unusually cold (like higher altitude camping) I pack sleeping pads and sleeping bags for all of us. It’s easier to keep your body warmer while using a sleeping bag and sleeping pads stay warmer than the colder air in an air mattress. I also always use wool blankets as an added layer of warmth on top of the sleeping pads. We’re super lucky to have scored a Hudson Bay Co. blanket for a crazy good deal at an antique store/ gas station in super rural Northwestern Montana. (Such a random score!) We love the Big Mo 20 degree sleeping bag for our daughter. Our son has the Kelty Mistral sleeping bag. I like it, he stays warm in it. But it is pretty enormous for a little kid.

14. Bring a Comfortable Pillow From Home

Bringing familiar items with you can help kids feel more comfortable while camping. One thing I personally like to have for myself is my own pillow. I always sleep better with my pillow. I know from experience that my kids are the same way! They never want to sleep on grandma and grandpa’s pillows and always want their own.

The same goes for camping. I bring their own pillow to ensure that they’re more comfortable and at ease while sleeping in a tent. 

15. Tell Bedtime Stories

At home my kids get three books to read before bed. This is works great. Everyone gets to pick out a book, including the parent doing bedtime. 

However,  I don’t like bringing a bunch of books camping. Instead I do two different things that my kids find special for camping. 

  1. We read a chapter book on our camping trip. My kids love listening to me read Magic Treehouse. We usually read the chapter book before bed and around the campfire throughout the camping trip.
  2. I make up stories for my kids while they are falling asleep. They LOVE it when I tell them stories. Sometimes I tell them classic fairy tales, but often I just invent stories as I go. The trick has been that they may begin requesting the same story and I have to remember what I made up the night before!

16. Stay with your kids while they fall asleep

I don’t stay in my children’s room while they fall asleep at home, but I always stay in the tent as they fall asleep while camping. This puts them at ease and helps them relax at bedtime. Just having a parent in the tent can help calm anxious little kids and help them fall asleep.

17. Use a headlamp with a red light after kids are asleep

The last thing you want to do after your kids fall asleep is shine a headlamp around the tent! Choose a headlamp with a red or green light to reduce the glare in the space. 

This is also why I love reading on my Kindle while camping with my kids. The light is low enough that it doesn’t cast a lot of gale and it gives me something to do while my kids are falling asleep. 

18. Camp for more than one day

The first night camping is (often) always the worst night camping. Even when your family are camping pros like ours. That first night can be a bit rough. However, the longer the trip the more comfortable the camping routine becomes. 

Last summer we camped along the Oregon Coast for 11 nights. By about day 3 my kids were used to the bedtime routine and by day 5 they seemed to accept that we were living in a tent. Everything became more routine and comfortable the longer we were out. Honestly, I think I was getting better sleep in the blackout tent with white noise than I get at home!

19. Camp often!

This goes along with #18, but the more often you camp, the more easily the routine becomes. My kids know what to expect and on a camping trip. After camping all their lives since they were babies  they’re always begging to go camping now! (I’m more than happy to oblige them!)

The more you camp the better your next camping trip will be! You will learn what works for your family to have a great time camping and will learn what doesn’t work for you. 

family camping in a tent

20. Give your kids their own headlamp

Another routine for our family is to do a “night hike” in the evenings. The night hike is the last thing we do before bed. We usually just take a walk through camp and onto a nature trail if there is one. (We loved walking down to the ocean before bed in Oregon!)

It’s actually rarely dark when we take a night hike, but I still give my kids their own headlamps to wear on the walk. They’ve never complained about it still being light out and are happy to use their headlamps for their not-so-dark night hike. 

 They also find a sense of responsibility with carrying their own light and feel a bit more like mom and dad. I also let them use their headlamps to settle into bed back at the tent. 

If your kids are used to using a night light at home, consider bringing an LED, solar-powered lantern. This lantern has a very low level light that would be ideal as a night light. 

21. Bring Favorite Toys from Home

You want your kids to feel comfortable sleeping in a tent. A great way to do this is by bringing a favorite toy or blanket with them. My kids always pack a collection of favorite stuffed animals for camping trips. This is another reason I chose a bigger tent for our family! 

22. Do a trial run before camping far from home

Getting your kids familiar with the tent and the camping set up will make camping go much smoother when you’re a few hours from home. You can set up the tent in the backyard and let your kids play in it during the day. Set up the sleeping pads and sleeping bags too! 

I typically do not recommend sleeping in the backyard for your child’s first camping experience. The temptation for your child (and you) to go get in the warm and comfortable house will be too strong! However, camping near your home is a great way to do a trail run. ‘

My first time camping solo with my kids was at a campground only 30 minutes away from home. It was reassuring to be so close to my house if things didn’t work out the way I intended. But, it also forced me and the kids to try camping without bailing into the house at 10 PM! 

As your kids get used to camping you can begin to travel further from home. Some of my favorite camping experiences with my kids have been at national parks and camping a long way from home. 

23. Bring a carrier for babies and toddlers

If you have babies or toddlers be sure to bring your favorite carrier. Sometimes the easiest way to get an overstimulated and overtired baby to sleep is by using a carrier. 

I remember doing this on my son’s first camping trip at 6 months old. He was up later than he’d ever been, but just couldn’t settle in the tent. He was crying and I was worried I would bother the neighbors. Once I began walking with him in the carrier I got him sleeping soundly before (carefully) transferring him into the tent. 

24. Be patient and understanding

Trying new things can be challenging for anyone. This is no different for children! Be patient as your kids adjust to sleeping in a tent. If sleep just isn’t coming when you expected it to then be flexible. Tell more stories, make shadow puppets, or just snuggle in a cozy sleeping environment until sleep finally comes! 

25. You do you!

I think the most important thing to realize about camping with younger kids and babies is that sleeping will possibly be a struggle. This will especially be the case on your first few trips. Consistency and figuring out what works best for you will make all the difference in a good night’s sleep while camping vs. an awful one.

I’ve shared what works best for me, but I know that children are all unique. For example, if your kid is someone who can’t be near mom or dad while sleeping you may want to consider getting a tent with a partition. This will give the sense of separate “bedrooms”. If you are worried about bothering the neighbors, consider dispersed camping. The more camping trips you go on, the easier camping will become! Don’t let the idea of a bad night’s sleep hold you back from camping with your family. 

Tips for Kid Sleep While Camping Conclusion

Camping with kids can seem like a lot of work, especially for first-time campers. However, if you make a plan for how to sleep well with kids, you’ll find that with time sleeping at camp will get easier and easier. After a few trips, your kids will be having so much fun camping that they’ll be begging for the next big adventure!

Similar Posts


  1. Great tips here. I have never gone camping with the kids yet, I’m probably too nervous about the chaos. But I want to do it one day, probably when they’re slightly older as it is so much fun!

  2. These are some great ideas. I have to implement all these ideas on myself more than my kids especially the white noise :-). Being a clean freak, its very hard for me to wrap my head around sleeping in a tent but I have taken my kids to couple of KOA cabin camping sites .. I am slowly getting better at it 🙂 thank you for sharing these tips 🙂

  3. These are great tips! We took our first camping trip with our daughter when she was a year old – fortunately, we didn’t roll in at dinner time, but I’m gonna note this for future trips with little ones.

Leave a Reply

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