Backpacking Brilliance: Bolts and Nuts for Extended Journeys With Kids
March 15, 2016

Backpacking is something every child should do with a parent. Maybe that statement is the “nuts” of this post, or is it? If there is one thing that allows me to hit the reset button in this crazy, hectic world we live in it is nature. If there is one place where I can reduce my anxiety and increase my happy, it is nature. If there is one place where I can connect with people at a “real” level it is nature. It makes sense then that I take my child out there and when I can afford it, it makes even more sense that I extend the time. If we throw in St Augustine’s thought, “Solvitur ambulando” for good measure, then any of the binds I have worked my way into or any pondering can be “solved by walking”.

Cai first slept in a tent when he was six weeks old and it was the first night that he slept all the way through. On his first backpacking trip he hadn’t even turned two. What I quickly learned after that adventure was to hone my understanding of Ultralight. Lets do some math. If your pack is 45lbs, the child carries 15lbs and he or she weighs 40lbs,  when you end up having to carry them all (my optimism sometimes dictates alternative strategies than initially intended) then you are carrying 100lbs. Bringing your load down to 20lbs at most and the child’s to no more than 10lbs makes a significant difference. Mike Clelland’s book Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips is a great place to start.

I have always involved Cai in the planning. Ultralight encourages simplicity, paring down to what you need rather than what you want. This has been a wonderful metaphor for other areas of his life. When we are planning we think back to previous trips and decide if we brought things we didn’t use. We always create a checklist (it used to be a series of pictures) so he can help gather the equipment. These days it is a spreadsheet with the weight of each individual item. We discuss what’s on the list. Can we do without it? He doesn’t realize it but we are really talking about values here and removing the clutter and redundant leads to less choices to make, less things to look after, and less to carry.

We tend to get up early, pack quickly and hike for a few hours. It is the best time of the day. Then we stop for breakfast. Likewise we have dinner prior to a last push before setting up camp. We likely lounge around and have a siesta at lunch time. This process is eased by having less in our packs. If we are cold we move. Our days are filled with chatter or silence, whichever seems more appropriate. And our evenings are filled with stories. We sleep like warriors and we share incredible sites and experiences together. Quite frankly I can think of few things more rewarding with my son than backpacking. Except maybe bringing friends.

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