Backpacking with Toddlers: Why?

I love my time in the wilderness. Sometimes, I enjoy the challenge of a hard trip, either physically challenging, a test of outdoor skills, a mental challenge, or a little of all of those challenges. I've undertaken some adventures that other people might think to be extreme: backpacking in remote mountainous areas, camping in Alaska's grizzly-infested backcountry, sleeping out on Minnesota's coldest Winter nights, standing up in a canoe and poling through rapids, and bare bones wilderness survival courses. 

At the same time, I don't consider myself a thrill seeker, and I put a lot of thought into risk management, so there are some activities that just don't appeal to me: free climbing, shooting off waterfalls in a kayak, and backpacking with a toddler!

 We do have a lot of fun getting out for a paddle (even though those paddles are usually pretty short!).

We do have a lot of fun getting out for a paddle (even though those paddles are usually pretty short!).

I've been following a Facebook group on backpacking with babies and toddlers for awhile. Some people in that group have some really good tips, and I love seeing parents enthusiastic about getting their kids in the outdoors...BUT, I also see trip reports that don't look like much fun. Any fun. Also, every kid is different. Just because our boy loves being outside doesn't mean I want to take him on a multi-day backpacking or canoeing tripyet. He is a non-stop handful, operating on "11" any second he's not asleep. It takes loads of energy just to pack and manage him on a weekend cabin trip, so, until recently, the idea of backpacking or canoeing with him for days on end exhausted me just thinking about it! However, as he's grown and gotten better at following instructions, I think we're getting close to packing up and taking those next steps along the trail.

The boy has accumulated a lot of dirt time though. We regularly paddle the lakes and go for day hikes in the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Regional Park (RCCL), which is not only easily doable, but also enjoyable for both me and my tiny trail mate. If you're in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the RCCL is a fantastic option for a quick outdoor getaway. It's a 5,000-acre preserve that gives you the option to walk through prairies and forest, paddle around multiple lakes, and hike miles on dirt and paved trails. 

The little guy and I have covered surprisingly rough terrain using his Radio Flyer Pathfinder Wagon, and it works well for hauling extra supplies, food, and drink. We prefer trekking in the Radio Flyer over his stroller. On Winter days, I put some padding on his seat for insulation, cover his lap with a blanket, and make a hot water bottle for him to hold between his legs. We make frequent stops to get out, collect sticks, throw rocks in the water, and practice our bushcraft skills (I don't think there are too many other first-world toddlers who have successfully "helped" create bow-drill fires! #DadBrag). 

So why go backpacking with a baby or toddler? Well, when the time, place, skills, and preparation are right for a successful trip, the reasons are many. I've either been too wimpy to try full-on backpacking with the Babe, or, perhaps experienced enough to know it wouldn't have gone well. I am truly looking forward to extending our adventures further afield though. Our outings do wonders for both of our moods and I love seeing him have fun in the fresh air! 

If you are interested in getting outdoors with your toddler, Alaska Public Radio's Outdoor Explorer (a favorite podcast of mine), recently had an excellent podcast episode loaded with solid advice on backpacking with babies. The Facebook group mentioned above also has a wealth of experience and collective wisdom to draw on, and the Markos' regularly offer advice on the topic on their site, "We Found Adventure."

I'd love to hear your (success or horror) stories about getting outdoors with toddlers! Maybe it'll help us decide it's time to hit the trails for our first backpacking trip...maybe.