It took me about 10 days of packing, unpacking, and repacking to figure out how I was going to single-handedly backpack my 35lb, 22-month-old toddler along a 32km alpine trail. It didn’t all work out as planned, but it was still one of my favorite adventures of last summer.
We had been car camping a fair bit, but I was craving something more, to be further out in the wilderness with my little wild one. Mount Albert Edward was the goal I had set for us. I knew the trails in the area as I used to live close by and hiked them frequently. This is also a very popular hike so I knew I would run across many people. Considering most of this hike is outside of cell reception range, and I don’t own any other communication device, the higher traffic on this trail made me feel safer.
I started with everything I thought I would need laid out on the living room floor. The first time I tried packing it all into our Osprey Poco Baby Carriers there was easily three to four times as much stuff as I could possibly fit and I had not even looked at food or water yet.
I started with the essentials; a tent, air mattress, and sleeping bags. I used my old MSR Hubba Hubba tent, which worked great. We tried several air mattresses, but after buying and returning several we ended up with the EXPED Hyperlight Double. It was light and compact, but most importantly it inflated really fast because toddlers don’t give you many seconds to set up camp. For my sleeping bag, I already owned an old thin synthetic and an old down bag. Since both are only rated to around +5C I brought both to double up or use as needed.
My toddler had the nicest sleeping bag. We bought him the Morrison Outdoors Big Mo. He had been using it for several car camping trips by then, but since the Big Mo is light and packs super small it was perfect for this adventure.
I used bungees and four carabineers to make webbing under the pack to secure the tent, and I put the sleeping bags and air mattress in a dry bag to secure it below the pack. The main compartment of the pack carried our extra clothes and diapers. I brought too much of both of those items but I didn’t mind as my little guy stayed warm, dry, and happy.
Our food and water were carried on a small front pack. I thought this would make handling all the snacking easier and make it quicker for me to keep hydrated. I took the less conventional approach to meals and packed food that didn’t require any prep or cooking. I also had to select foods that I knew my toddler would eat. The menu; bell peppers, cucumber, baby carrots, hummus, cheese strings, crackers, peanut butter, apples, and pemmican (cured bison meat with berries) which he loves.
The Trip Start
I gave us a five-day window to do this three-day hike because the weather here is temperamental and changes quickly. Sure enough, after driving the 3 hours to the trailhead the weather turned to rain. Instead of starting to hike that day, we wandered around the start of the trail, camping in our van to keep ourselves dry in hopes of better weather in the morning. The next morning the sun came out and we were ready to see how far we could get. I set up the pack like I had practiced and noticed I was missing one of the carabiners that secured the tent and sleeping stuff. I wasn’t going to let that stop us, so I tied a few knots thinking that would be good enough, and we set out on our adventure.
My little guy started out walking, but he only lasted less than a km, before wanting into the child carrier. I thought he would want to hike more, but over the next 12km I hiked that day, he only wanted out of the pack for a few short stints. Mostly he walked right into ponds or back down the trail we had just come up.
Setbacks and Waypoints
It was hot and muggy that first day, and I was starting to get tired. We had skipped the first camping spot in order to get closer to our destination. I was starting to think I should have picked a closer camping spot, but by this time we were beyond halfway to our planned camping area, and backtracking would have been worse. I kept telling myself, take it slow, I can’t afford to fall or hurt myself because I’m completely responsible for this little human I’m carrying. Just when I felt at my weakest, the knots I used to hold the tent and sleep kits on the pack broke loose.
Pack off, baby out. I fed him most of the snacks as I tried to get our gear re-attached to the pack again. It was a scene that would be funny later I was sure. You know, that type 2 fun kind. This is the point where I really felt like “What the heck have I gotten us into!” as my toddler with way more energy than me runs in all directions, often away from me. Just at that point, a couple came walking down the trail. They had just left the camp spot we were headed to and told me it was less than 1km away. In a makeshift effort, I got all our stuff attached back to the pack and the toddler loaded and we made our way to the campsite.
I was so excited to finally see all the camping platforms and other campers! We set up on a platform with views of Circlet Lake and Mount Albert Edward, refreshed our water supply, enjoyed the sunset, and went to bed. The little guy, all snuggled into his Morrison Outdoor sleep sack, slept awesomely. He woke up a couple of times to feed and get a diaper change, but other than that slept for almost 12 hours. It was a good rest, and I very much needed one after an epic first day.
The plan on day 2 was to summit Mount Albert Edward, but my sore body thought otherwise. Instead, we opted to just stay where we were and explore. We played and explored around camp and just enjoyed this wonderful backcountry camp spot. My little one enjoyed discovering his new environment all day. It was the right decision for us. The toddler and I passed out happy and exhausted after our second day in the Alpine. The next morning we woke up fresh, packed up camp, and hiked out.
Tips for Others Considering Solo Trips
- Don’t be in a rush to figure out your pack system and what works for you. Once you think you have it dialed, take it for a hike with it packed just as you would on your big adventure day.
- Try out all your things before your trip; set up that tent, try out the water filter, blow up the air mattress, and do a camping test run (or several). I swear you get better every time!
- When you are the only one looking after a speedy toddler, you’ll want to know how to quickly set up camp and feed both of you because you still have to take care of that little human you brought up there.
- Look at bug reports. I brought bug hats for both of us and was so thankful for those over the buggy sections of the trail.
- Start out with distances you know you can easily do. Keeping a little more energy for camp and toddler play makes the trip far more fun.
- Take care of your needs first so you can take care of your little person.
- Take lots of pictures, because you’ll look back at these often with a warm heart and remember how awesome it was.
Hi, I’m Steph, Mom and Athletic Therapist of our family of 4 living on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, Canada. We like to spend as much time as possible exploring the ocean, beaches, forests, and mountains with our toddler and infant. The kids and adventures keep growing, follow along on our Instagram account @sealevelandup to see where we go next!