We recently took our first backpacking trip as a family. Before we had children, my husband and I backpacked as often as we could, usually making at least two or three trips into the woods per summer. After the babies started coming it just seemed too overwhelming for me.
Imagine carrying all of your normal “baby gear”, in addition to camping gear, food, and water into the woods, where you may, or may not, meet a wall of mosquitoes, your chosen destination may, or may not, be already occupied, and the weather may, or may not, hold. I consider myself an adventurous woman, but No, Thank You.
As much as I longed for the relative peace of a pack-in camping weekend, for the last eight summers, I just wasn’t ready. (Actually, I was ready last summer, but wildfires closed our woods for an extended time. Add that to the list of horribles that may, or may not, occur.) I was determined that this would be our year to finally make it happen, so I started hiking with the kids earlier in spring. I wanted them used to carrying a backpack with at least their own jacket, snacks, and water. We made several day hikes, and worked the kids up to about 4 miles, with light day packs. I knew carrying more gear would be a trial for them and part of me wanted to add weight to their day packs, so they could get used to it, but I didn’t want to turn them off to the whole idea, so I kept it light.
There are (at least) two attractive options for a first backpack trip in our valley, both are relatively short, when viewed through the backpacking lens, and both have minimal gains in elevation. Both great choices for hiking with littles.
Myrtle Lake has always been our favorite for quick weekend trips, offering a nice, four(ish) mile hike, several good camp sites, and a beautiful lake, plus options for day hikes out of camp. Unfortunately, it has a marsh at it’s outlet, making it a mosquito haven. Since we were hiking with a bunch of little kids, and a couple of them are very sensitive to bites, we ruled this one out for now.
The North Fork trail follows the north fork of the Entiat river, and is also relatively flat. The trail itself is quite long, and intersects with several other trails adding a lot of options for expanding your trip, but the camp site we chose is about four miles in. We still weren’t sure what to expect in the bug department, but we figured it would be better than camping next to a marshy bug-nursery.
Our friends and their kids started hiking early Friday, but we both had to work, so we left the trail head at about 6 pm, with another friend who also had to work. Knowing that we would arrive in camp about two hours after our kids’ regular bedtime, we fully expected there would be whining, carrying kids packs, and even carrying kids. Though the evening temperature was nice for hiking, the kid’s were champs, and needed very little help, and didn’t start to complain until we were nearly at camp, next time we will plan for an earlier departure. I’d like to see us all start with fresh bodies, and minds.
When we arrived in camp it was dusk-thirty. Not fully dark, but not light enough to work at setting up a tent without a headlamp. We quickly set up camp, had a snack and went to bed.
Bed. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one of those all the way up in the woods? My super kind- hearted husband bought me a nice new Therm-A-Rest for this trip, since my old one doesn’t hold air any more. I sure remember them being more comfortable. Maybe being in my mid-thirties instead of my mid-twenties has something to do with it. Or maybe having children, and letting myself get terribly out of shape has more to do with it, but sleeping on the ground (or, rather, tossing and turning on the ground,for that’s what sleeping on a Therm-A-Rest seems to amount to) killed these old hips, shoulders, and neck. I was also very cold that first night. At some point in the night I kicked my socks off, and that helped, but I never did get comfortable enough to get a good night’s sleep. We didn’t bring any sleeping pads for the kids, because sleeping on the ground never has seemed to bother their light, little bodies. I had, however, forgotten about the thermal factor of being up off the ground. For future trips I’d like to give the kids my Therm-A-Rest, as well as get another for them, and something MUCH loftier for myself.
We stayed two nights, and I spent two nights in our two-man tent with two kids and our dog, who gets distraught if she can’t sleep near me. Hubby slept under the stars, and was happy to do so. Our two-man Kelty is a really nice leftover from our pre-kids days and is plenty large enough for two young newlyweds, who love each other as much as we still do. It’s not quite large enough for a mama bear, two cubs, and a pooch so we’ll be shopping for a larger tent for our next trip.
Our meals consisted of Mountain House dehydrated meals, ramen noodles, granola bars, instant oatmeal, beef jerky and trail mix. To drink there was plenty of crystal clear, cold mountain water, which we filtered for safety’s sake. We also brought some instant hot cocoa, coffee and fruit flavored drink mix. While we never truly needed anything we didn’t have, we did run out of jerky, and the kids wished for s’mores. So next time, I’d consider bringing s’mores fixings and another pack of jerky, despite the unnecessary weight.
There were a few other “litttle” things I would try to remember for future trips, although they didn’t really have a huge impact on our comfort or safety. Next time we’ll probably only bring one stove, since we only used mine once, more out of impatience than necessity. I’d also like to get the kids some proper hiking boots, even though they seemed happy to hike in their Keen sandals. There was a little too much stopping to get a rock or stick out for my taste. Finally I’d like to get a small point and shoot camera. Notice there are no photos with this post? I just couldn’t bear to bring our bulky DSLR into the woods when my crummy photography doesn’t do it justice.
All in all it was a great trip and we’re hoping to make another before summer is over. I’m still dying to get up to Myrtle Lake, and feel confident the kids will love it as much as I do.
Have you been brave enough to take young kids on an overnight backpacking trip?
What are your favorite tips?
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