Four years ago, Tiffany was my name, and lightweight backpacking was my game. Now I go by Mommy and typically haul 70 plus pounds on backpacking trips. Recently I went on an overnight trip with my husband (32), my son (3), our dog (4) and for some crazy reason decided to bring my two nieces (3 and 18 months) along.
My husband and I backpack quite a bit with our son, and after the last three years, we have the routine of backcountry camping down. My nieces, on the other hand, had never even been car camping, let alone backpacking in the Alaskan wilderness. So you might be asking yourself what in the world was I thinking!?
I decided last minute to do an overnight trip on the Lane Hut trail in Hatcher Pass, Alaska. I picked it because it's only two miles in and I knew my son could walk that far (I would be carrying a pack and my youngest niece, so I would be unable to carry him, too). I then decided to invite my best friend (33) and her three children (3, 7, and 9.)
As I was getting ready for the trip, my sister was clearly overwhelmed by her children and having a rough day (something a lot of us moms can relate to!). I insisted she let me take them on this trip, and go have some mommy time. Although she was nervous about letting them come, she finally agreed.
We ended up getting a late start at the trailhead, but thank goodness for the Alaskan midnight sun! My best friend and her kiddos met us at the trailhead, and we got started at about 7:45 pm. As we got further up the trail, the kids wanted to climb on everything and splash in puddles along the way. The phrase "like herding cats" could not have felt truer! We finally managed to get all the kids about a mile and a half up the trail when we found the perfect area to set up camp. We had planned to go two miles, but when backpacking with kids, you learn not to have expectations.
Having the two older kids with us was extremely helpful when we set up camp because they kept the younger kids entertained. After that, we relaxed in this beautiful mountain valley, and the kids ran and played and laughed until the sun went down. When we did finally got in the tent to go to sleep, the 3-year-olds went down without a fight. The 18-month-old insisted she was not tired and cried for close to 30 minutes in which time I thought to myself, "Why did I do this!?" However, once she gave up and fell asleep, she stayed asleep all night.
During the night and through the morning, the wind picked up to some very high speeds. Several times it almost blew the tent down on top of us! Amazingly the kids, dog, and my husband slept through all of it. In the morning, we ate breakfast and packed up most of the gear outside the tent between wind gusts. The kids chased each other, playing tag and exploring around camp despite the wind. Around 11 am, we got a decent break in the wind and decided it was time to pack the tent and hit the trail. All the kids did great on the way back to the trailhead. Just like on the way in, they continued to climb and splash on the trail just as kids should do!
Several times during the hike in I thought to myself, "this is so hard trying to keep everyone in sight and not too far ahead and make sure everyone is safe." I kept stressing that I hadn't brought enough food, that the kids wouldn't sleep, that the dog was going to freak out having to be in the tent with all the kids, or a rockslide from the mountain would bury us in our sleep.
All of those things were silly to even worry about because after it was all said in done it was 100 percent worth it!
Here are some tips that have helped me on many backpacking trips with children:
- Choose your trail wisely (consider how far your kiddos can hike, what the terrain is like, is there a water source at or near camp).
- If possible, go with a group with other kids. Kids encouraging each other on the trail are great motivation and fun for everyone.
- Bring special snacks or treats as motivation to help keep them going works well (I like to use skittles or M&M’s and just give one at a time as we go along the trail).
- Don’t be in a rush. They will want to stop and look at rocks and pick up sticks and climb on everything. Enjoy them exploring nature and discovering new things about their world.
- Bring a favorite toy as a reward to play with when you get to camp (this has worked wonders for us. Hot Wheels cars are inexpensive and light to pack).
- Bring a soft structured carrier for when their little legs just can’t go any further (I’ve learned this one the hard way). This is also good for multiday trips if you are staying at the same camp each night and exploring the area during the day!