Sleep In The Dirt

“Life is Good” Backpacking with a Four Year Old

Essays From the Field

On a Saturday in late August I took my four year-old daughter, Ivy, on her first backpacking overnight. There was thunder, lightning, rain and hail. There were smiles, giggles, wet socks and tears. It was awesome.

We took Ivy on her first camping trip when she was four months old. She was on her first overnight raft trip at 18 months. Sleeping outside is a big part of our family’s lifestyle, so it was important to my husband and I that she become conditioned to it at an early age. She’s now an awesome camper who loves to get dirty and sticky, find bugs, and help start campfires. She also knows that our diet includes a lot more sugar once we hit a dirt road. When our good friends with an equally experienced four-year-old camper called to say they were going to do a short hike in for an overnight with their daughter, I jumped on the opportunity to take mine along. Because, a friend! And since dad was out of town, it would be a good mama/daughter experience. I loaded up my 65L pack with our sleeping bags and pads, tent, food, my clothes, our superlight camp chairs, jetboil and everything else except what I put in her pack. She carried her clothes (two extra leggings, wool socks, zip-up shirt, beanie, puffy), mermaid stuffy, her water bottle and a couple light snacks. I scored extra points for bringing umbrellas for both of us. I feel like I had a ton of stuff, but my pack was super manageable and we were traveling less than a mile on trail. Oh, and I hand carried in a very packable insulated quilt. We were going out in the late afternoon with plans to return sometime the following morning after breakfast and a little exploring. Upon arriving at the parking lot we were kept in the car for a few minutes while a thunderstorm blew through. Pull the plug? Thought about it but we were up there and the kids were so excited. So we started marching under grey skies. It seemed like the girls were distracted by every blade of grass we passed before we even hit the actual trail, this would be a slow go. But we had nothing to do but walk to camp so we enjoyed their excited songs and games they played on the trail (it was very important for them to take turns being the leader). We stopped for the first round of snacks after walking about 100 yards (no major trip-ups until the next day when Ivy face-planted in the trail).

Upon arriving at camp, we were immediately hit by a hail storm (go mom and her umbrellas!), and we hunkered down under the trees while it passed and while the dad on our trip set up a tarp shelter. My daughter, who is usually pretty frightened by loud, hard storms, was marveling at the hail falling and sticking her palm out to catch some and eat them. These girls were troopers. Ivy helped me set up our tent, I brought us a Tiger Wall 2 Platinum (coming Spring 2019) and it was perfect. It’s very lightweight and packs small which was nice for me, great space for a little one and an adult, since it looked like a bomb of gear went off in there once Ivy made herself at home. It rained most of the night and the Platinum’s whisper-light fly was bomber. This tent breathes very well. I brought her cozy Little Red 15 bag; the insulation is really lofty and it fits her just right so there are no cold spots. She sleeps so well in it. I brought myself an Orno UL 0 degree bag since temps have been getting below 30, and I’m a cold sleeper. I have a lot of love for that bag. I brought myself a Q-Core SLX pad and Round Mountain Pillow and her an Insulated Air Core Ultra, in the 20×48 size which fits the Little Red perfectly. We were two snug bugs in a rug.

I kept dinner simple with some chicken/cheese tortellini with a drizzle of olive oil and parm and stuffed mine over a bed of spinach and hot sauce. She drank hot chocolate while mom enjoyed a bota box of red wine. I fully had a “life is good” moment as the rain let up to reveal blue twilight on the lake and complete silence. Until the quiet was broken with giggles, toots and arguing over possession of the mermaid stuffy. Life was still good.

After some exploring with headlamps around the nearby lake it was time for bed and jammies. I brought a couple of Ivy’s paperback books to read, and it was lights out for a super tired kid. I was eventually joined under our tarp by my friends, and we talked into the night about the day and how lucky we are to live here and have little girls to do this stuff with. It’s not easy, and I think we’ve learned a lot of patience from these outings–how to avoid snackidents (not having enough snacks or waiting too long to give them snacks), and to slow down to your kid’s pace and be realistic about how much they can do and should do.

I’m hoping that early exposure and memorable experiences in the backcountry evolves these nature lovers into the next generation of public land champions. For now it’s just about being outside together.

Katie Hughes serves as Marketing Specialist when she’s not momming on the trail, pedaling her bike, rowing her raft or earning sunrise freshies.

Comments (5)

5 responses to ““Life is Good” Backpacking with a Four Year Old

  1. This is wonderful! I spent the last few months preparing and then hiking the JMT. The entire time my 4 year old was asking when he could go to the mountains with me. Since we got back from the trip he’s been blown away by the Milky Way shots, the lakeside coffee, long steep climbs over passes. He told me, not the other way around, “I’ll go when I am 5” to which I replied “Yes you will, next summer we’ll go together” – This was such a great read to get me even more excited about it! Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *