Recently our family took its first backpacking trip. Much to my surprise and elation- it was a major success. My husband and I got to indoctrinate our children in the fine art of shelter camping complete with a mouse capture, we took in some incredible North Carolina views, and finished the trip big with ice cream and river wading at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Oh yeah…and we ate rattlesnake. We got into camp early after our first day only to find some hikers with their hammocks set up, fire going strong, and skinned snake roasting away on a spit. All it took was an invite to join, and we were in. Not something I would do in most circumstances, but when else would I ever have the chance? My family got to take in and actually enjoy something completely out of the ordinary, and the kids had some major bragging rights back at school. It was a great weekend that we will all remember for a long time.
As with most things in life, you learn along the way. Most of the time we come home from trips with stories that make our friends laugh, but were not so much fun to live through, but this time we actually did a few things right…
1. We planned our hike with our kids in mind. With children ages 4, 6 & 8, we had to drastically modify our normal hiking routine. Because my husband and I want to finish the 500 miles we have left of the Appalachian Trail, we decided on a section that was 1. Short 2. Relatively easy with most of the steep terrain heading downhill 3. Fun. Our eight miles that we covered in two days had a lookout tower awaiting us at the only big uphill, some great views, and we knew that our NOC finish would not disappoint.
2. We brought the most important thing to all kids….snacks! Along with healthy food, we packed things we don’t normally eat at home: gummy bears, licorice, M&Ms. If we are going to teach them about backpacking, we must introduce them to hiker food, am I right? It is amazing to see a little kid perk up at the idea of a break that includes chocolate. I know exactly how they feel. We also packed a small bug habitat and camp journals that kept them busy during downtime at camp.
3. We thought about the end result. No- I do not recommend backpacking with a 4 year old. It takes ALOT of work. But backpacking in general is not for the faint of heart. For most backpackers, the reward is significantly greater than the work it involves. My husband and I know that we don’t want our backpacking adventures to end simply because we have children. There is so much joy to experience in the great outdoors and we want to be able to share it with them, but this means that while they are still very young we have to carry more weight, go shorter distances, and have lots of patience with little legs who might sit down in the middle of the trail because they think they are done for the day. It is our hope that we are building unique memories and fostering a love of the outdoors in our kids. This will be harder before it gets easier, and for our family it is well worth the investment.
Things we will do differently next time:
1. Beef up our first aid kit. Later on our second day, we had a run-in with some yellow jackets. They did not like us invading their territory and two of my children were stung. No amount of consoling did the job that a little Benadryl and Ibuprofen could have handled. We were pretty prepared for any type of scrape or cut (and we had quite a few), but it made me want to pack a few extras in the future.
2. Reevaluate our gear. Gone are the days of a 15 pound pack. My husband and I had our backpacking gear down to a science, but cooking for five over an alcohol stove made out of soda cans is a bit unrealistic for us now. We just might be dragging out our WhisperLite from retirement or looking at a different option for future trips. We will have to rethink packing for a family and what compromises we are willing to make. Is it worth carrying a larger cooking pot and cook once, or carry something smaller but cook more? What kind of tent(s) makes the most sense for a family of five? So much to figure out as we go. All I know is that I see an REI shopping spree in the near future, and with that, we end our trip on yet another high!