I was scared sh*tless at the idea of solo backpacking with a 3yo and my pup, but was dying to be in nature. It took an hour to go 1 mile in 86 degree heat, but it ended up being the best memory making weekend in my life as a mother. Feeling like a BADASS and more in love with my kid than ever!
If you’re questioning whether or not to do the hard thing...this is your sign!
A few things I learned (of course this list isn’t comprehensive, so PLEASE know your skills and consider what you’re getting into!):
1) COMMIT! I know this one goes without saying, but I gotta tell you, it makes ALL the difference. Wednesday afternoon, I decided I wanted to go backpacking on Friday. As I packed on Thursday, I told myself repeatedly that “I could bail. Just bail!” On Friday, I loaded the car and said, “you can still bail!” As I was driving to the mountains I reminded myself, “it’s not too late to bail!” I loaded up my bag on my shoulders at the trailhead and again said, “you really don’t have to do this!” I started walking and my son was NOT in the mood (it was 86 degrees and sunny!) and I again told myself, “you can just turn around.” Somehow despite my best efforts, I made it to the lake, set up camp and had the time of my life! I only wish I would have just committed to the adventure from moment one! Think of all the stress I could have eliminated had I just committed!
2) Pack foods you know your kid loves. When I backpacked pre-kid, I remember meal time was my favorite part! Nothing is quite as delicious as a hard-earned backcountry meal! Things are different now! As is with all meals, our kid is SUPER picky - and that doesn’t change in the backcountry. I was sure to bring his faves: peanut butter, bars, raisins, and popcorn (what’s more fun than cooking popcorn over the campfire, aka nature’s tv?!). Sure I brought more substantial food like soup and quesadillas. NO ONE wants a hangry toddler in the backcountry, so I’ll let you guess what won out!
3) Include them in the planning. Toddlers (or at least mine) are like most adults, they are more apt to get onboard if they know what they are getting into. From the moment I decided we were going backpacking, my kid was a part of every step: packing, gathering food, talking about the hike, discussing sleeping in the tent, etc. By the time we reached the trailhead, he was STOKED! Did it stay that way…of course not, but we sure enjoyed those first 3 minutes of the hike!
4) Pack twice the water you think you will need or at least a water filter. And ensure you’ll be near a water source! Spills are inevitable and even more frequent when there isn’t a flat surface. Plus, spilling the water your mom carried all the way up the mountain out of a camelbak is just OH SO FUN!
5) Travel a trail you know well and DON’T be too ambitious! If this is your first time backpacking solo with a kid, I highly recommend knowing what you are getting into! Our trail was less than a mile each way, but it felt MUCH longer. I had a 50lb bag and a kid who wavered between “super excited” and “I’m going to sit here and dig in the dirt.” It took an hour to go less than a mile. Carrying a bag for 2 people for one mile isn’t so bad, but carrying that same bag for a toddler mile is a whole different story! Fortunately, I had done the trail before, so even though I was sure we had been hiking for miles, my knowledge of the trail ensured I knew we were in the right spot (and hadn’t overshot our destination by two miles, which my legs were trying to insist was the case!)
6) Include them in everything at camp! We have been camping with our kid several times and find camping to be the easiest place to parent. If you haven’t camped with a toddler before, you may see everything around you as a hazard, but truly, everything around you is a toy or a new discovery. Kids, by nature, love to help and contribute. And camping makes that trait even more apparent. Whether I am making dinner, filtering water, setting up the tent, feeding the dog or simply cleaning up, he wanted to help with EVERYTHING! And wanted to learn about everything. I am never concerned with his safety in the outdoors because he is too preoccupied with learning.
Our backpacking packing list:
First aid kit
bear bag rope
Toddler specific items:
Sippy cup/water bottle
Plenty of extra clothes (accidents happen)