A couple weekends ago we went for a backpacking trip in Yosemite with Henry. Every time we go backpacking I get a bunch of emails from people asking for tips on backpacking or camping with kids. We’ve backpacked with Henry quite a few times from the time he was a little baby, so I thought it might be fun to share a few tips we’ve learned along the way, and a few of our pictures from our Yosemite trip. We tend to be pretty adventurous, and you can follow along with us on our trips on instagram (@liz_stan).
1. Get out of the campgrounds. Trust me. Isn’t the point to get away from people when you camp? They’re very difficult to get a reservation if you’re in a popular area. Like, impossible. Drive just outside any national park and you’re probably in a national forest, wilderness area, multi-use area. You can do what they call ‘dispersed camping’ anywhere around there. Plus, if there’s no one around you won’t be embarrassed if your baby cries at night or if your toddler has a tantrum about the hot dog that fell on the ground! The image above was a spot we camped at on a Friday night just south of Yosemite in the Sierra National Forest during peak season. We didn’t see anyone for miles. We just drove on a couple unmarked dirt roads until we found a good spot. A spot in Yosemite valley in the summer is impossible to get and is more crowded than San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Ugg.
2. Lower your expectations. This applies more to younger kids since the older your kids get, the more rational they seem to get. For example, on this backpacking trip we ended up hiking about 2 miles in until we found a good spot to set up camp. But, we also knew that we could camp right on the lake where the boat dropped us off if needs be. And we were totally okay with that. In fact, just about 5 minutes into the hike, 4 1/2 yr old Henry started whining and I immediately started scanning the area for flat spots to camp. Luckily, his mood improved (thanks to Jared working his dad magic), but my expectations were kind of low from the start. I remember especially when he was younger thinking, “Well, I’ll be lucky if he doesn’t puke on me and then scream all night”. Keep your expectations low and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised. When he was younger we leaned hard into the iPhone to get him to fall asleep in the tent at night. Now he just needs someone to snuggle with him and help him count the stars.
More tips and photos…
3. Butter ’em up. Being easy going is not Henry’s strong suit, so hiking to the camp spot (which is the definition of backpacking), can sometimes be tricky depending on his mood. He’s too heavy to carry now so we really do need him to walk on his own. We talk about it on the drive there, buttering him up about his good hiking skills and how 4 yr olds generally aren’t allowed to hike by themselves but they might (with no indication of who ‘they’ might be – the family of coyotes patrolling the area?) make an exception since he’s exceptionally good at it and acts like he’s 5. Of course be prepared with lots of fun songs (ants go marching, down by the bay, i.e. whatever will make them laugh), snacks he wouldn’t get to eat at home (i.e. loads of sugar) and lots of things to point out along the way (flowers, bugs, rocks that look like poo).
4. Setting up camp is. so. fun. It’s the funnest part of camping for kids. Let them help with the tent, the sleeping bags, their belongings, getting the stove set up (Jetboil all the way. Boils water in literally 2o seconds). They’ll get so excited to see their sleeping bag, favorite stuffed animal and flashlight all laid out next to yours. And building a fire! If you’re allowed in the area you’re camping, for sure make one! Just don’t make any promises you can’t live up to (have you made a fire since middle school? it’s not always easy if you don’t have the right sticks). Kids love to watch the process, help collect sticks, and roast marshmallows or hot dogs when it’s good and ready.
5. Let them run wild. After the camp is set up, hot dogs have been consumed, sleeping bags lined up it’s often still a ridiculously early time for bed if you’re under the age of 80. We love to pick a spot close to water since Henry could skip rocks for hours. You can do some really fun sunset exploring, treasure collecting, adventure seeking, treasure hunt finding, wilderness man hunting. Just give it an awesome name and an imaginative plot, “The bears are out of their cave! Let’s find a place to hide and a weapon to protect us!” (Yeees, fake weapons are totally allowed in the great outdoors). Plus you’re gonna feel like you’re doing your parental duty of ‘letting them run wild in nature’. Let them get dirty, pick up bugs, throw huge rocks in the water, scream ‘echo’ up the canyon 10 bazillion times. Remember that just yesterday you wouldn’t let them throw a soft pillow in the living room too close to your face so this is their chance to be a real kid!
(1, 3, 5 photos by Katrina. Rest by myself)