Circumnavigating the Mont Blanc Massif via the Haute Route. Havasupai. Cirque of the Towers. The Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho.
We dream of taking our kids to these places, not when they are teenagers or young adults. But now, when they are children. Why? I suppose simply because WE want to go to these places and don’t believe in putting everything “on hold” until our kids are grown. Are we crazy?
We realize we need a few years (maybe more) of “practice backpacking”—low mileage trips and easy destinations—before we attempt anything longer and harder. So we hit the trail, dad’s pack towering above him like the Empire State Building. I am peddling my own wares: a hanging assortment of Chacos and hats. And I think, are we crazy?
A half mile down the road, my youngest complains about tired legs. She slows to a shuffle. And eventually throws herself down on the trail. Surely, I decide, we are crazy…
The truth? Despite the meltdowns on the trail and the hours packing and repacking, I do not regret taking our kids backpacking. I’ve only regretted that we didn’t attempt it sooner. I pull out some “trail bait,” also known as Skittles and we continue up the trail.
To say we have it all figured out is laughably far from the truth. Every trip is an experiment in action. But if I could offer one piece of advice it would be this:
Limit your barrier of entry.
In other words, work to negate the things that stop you from going before you’ve even gone. What stops you from dreaming of backpacking and camping with kids much less actually doing it?
The actual details of this can be different for everyone, but often there are common factors.
1. The hassle factor
After a busy week of work or entertaining the kids now that they are out of school for the summer, the last thing you want to do is pack for hours. Gathering necessities from the long-forgotten-corners of your house can be a daunting task.
How to overcome this: We organize (on our good days) all our outdoor gear into bins. Some for car camping, some for lake days, one for ski gear, and others for backpacking. This means when it is time to go backpacking we can pull out our 2-3 bins and grab the cooking utensils, sleeping bags, pads, inflatable pillows, and other items and toss them in our packs quickly.
The key to this ease is obviously cleaning and reorganizing the bins when you return.
2. Juggling the logistics
All the logistics of finding a hidden trailhead, hiking on trails with unknown distance and the uncertainty of finding a good campsite can overwhelm any parent.
How to overcome this: Simplify. Start with a destination that is close to home, short in distance, and relatively familiar. Take all the guess work out when you first start backpacking with your kids.
3. The cost of gear
UGH. This one is real, isn’t it? Let’s say you have all (okay, most) of the gear you and your husband need for backpacking, but you legitimately need gear for your kids as well now. And I hate to tell you this, but the cost can be huge, especially if you are outfitting three kids, like we were.
How to overcome this: Look for alternatives that work. We borrowed gear, we resurrected old foam pads from friends, we repurposed adult daypacks into kids packs, we took full advantage of the “fitwear” revolution that is bringing synthetic shirts and pants to the kids section of Target and Costco, making outfitting our kids so much cheaper than at our local outdoor store.
4. Fear of failure
Well, I suppose it wouldn’t be an adventure if failure wasn’t an option. What most of us are worried about is ruining our kids. Making them hate the outdoors. You could fail to bring enough food or fail to make it to your destination. Maybe there are moments of tears streaming down your kid’s faces. Or the dreaded words, “I hate this!”
Well… we’ve done them all. Our kids still love backpacking. Love camping.
How to overcome this: At some point we need to show our kids that failure isn’t a bad word, just an opportunity to adapt.
We’ve hiked almost 2 miles. I laugh to myself, such little mileage, and the high mountain lake that is our destination is already coming into sight. Small purple wild flowers cling to each other in the chubby hands of my daughter and decorate the tangled curls under her hat. Her eyes are full of wonder and imagination. Her pockets full of little rocks she collected on the way.
She shouts with glee as the lake comes into view. “We are there!” She takes off to the water’s edge and tosses in all those stones carefully collected. I look around at the beautiful lake. I note the questioning glances of day hikers wondering if we are crazy to pack in all this gear for so short a distance, just so we could bring our kids along.
Maybe we are crazy. But we are satisfied. For now. And we are one step closer to our goal. One day you might see us on the Haute Route.