When we decided we were ready for a family one thing stuck in our mind more than anything else. We weren’t going to let parenthood change us into some boring, lazy, unadventurous people. We were going to continue living our lives doing exactly what we have always done. The only difference was now we’d be bringing a little one along with us.
Literally, the very week our son Bodhi was born we were out hiking; him tagging along with us in our trusty Ergo-baby chest pack. Of course, the hikes started out short, a couple miles here and there, but nevertheless, he was bouncing along right there with us. A week later, we were taking him out on climbing trips with us. A month after that, we were already planning a 2 month long road trip around the country where we would be living out of our tent from state to state. All the situations we introduced Bodhi to from the beginning have greatly influenced the outcomes of what we are able to do with him today, and let me tell you what- this kid is stoked!
Nearly 2 years later, and with well over 100 miles packing him under our belts, we felt he was finally ready to start backpacking. Here are some tips and pointers that have worked for us:
- Keep it fun- Perhaps the most important tip of all. First, one thing that is good to remember is that we, parents, are the ones with the destination. The kids are the ones along for the ride, or what I like to call, the adventure. So, if they want to stop and play with some sticks and rocks, let them stop and play with the sticks and rocks. My husband is really good at this step and has an endless amount of patience. I, on the other hand, have had to make huge adjustments. He likes to tell me, “It is not a race!” and I have to stop, remind myself that I am not competing with anyone, kick back and enjoy watching Bodhi explore on his own- at his own pace. We don’t bring any man made toys with us, but we definitely encourage him to play in Mother Nature’s toy box. Throwing rocks, building forts, shoot..even a head lamp or empty sleeping bag sack will do. We have noticed that merely being out in nature and getting dirty is as good as it gets.
- Be patient and persistent- Each child is different, each situation is different, and every day is different. You just take one step at a time. There are days where Bodhi will easily hike 2+ miles on his own (he’s not even 2) and then there are days where he won’t even walk down the street before he’s ready to give up. We just do our best to encourage him to keep moving forward, and no matter what, we never give up! Persistence is everything and if you’re making an effort to keep them moving every day your efforts will surely pay off.
- Don’t be afraid of the “what-if’s”- Everyone gets those thoughts in their mind: “What if its cold?” or “What if he/she doesn’t sleep well out of his crib?” Well, my best advice for that is this: You do it anyway! You get through it and you ALL learn! We never knew how any our of trips would go, or whether or not Bodhi would cooperate and be happy the entire time, but we did it anyways. We’ve learned a great deal about what we are capable of doing with him and how hard we can push him, and in doing so, Bodhi has learned and has adjusted to what life is like on the trails. Nature quickly became his happy place, and these days, it is where he would rather be.
- Start them young- Our thinking was this; if we started bringing Bodhi along with us on all of our adventures from the beginning, he wouldn’t know anything different. He would be so used to being toted along from place to place it would become second nature to him. For the most part this has turned out to be true. Sure, they will have their moments where they momentarily feel like, “this sucks!”. I think we can all relate to that. However, all of us know, the outcome is the biggest reward. John Muir puts it best when he says, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
- Bring good gear- Almost as crucial as making the experience fun is supporting the journey with good gear. This will allow the child to be happy and more comfortable, thus, go further, longer. Some very awesome gear investments we’ve made so far are:
- Good hiking boots– I looked around everywhere for name brand boots and was unable to size a toddler size 4 or 5. “What 1 year old is hiking anyways?” Ours was and hopefully yours will be too! I ended up finding an awesome pair at Target that resembled the classic old-school brown leather red-laced mountaineering boots. They have great support, awesome traction, and seem to be very comfortable as he never wants to take them off. If you are lucky enough to find a tiny pair of children’s merino wool socks, this would be a great idea too!
- Patagonia capilene base layers– Boy-o-boy have we put some good use to these. Patagonia’s kids apparel typically runs big, so our 18 month size base layers will last us a year before we need to get a bigger size. They keep him warm used as layers when its cold, and they keep him cool when used as a sun-protecting base layer when its hot.
- Patagonia down jacket– This has by far been the most used and beneficial item we have ever purchased for Bodhi. Good for all seasons, this jacket gets you through cool and very cold days and nights. It may seem hard to justify spending over $100 on a toddler jacket knowing they are just going to grow out of it, but I assure you, it will more than pay for itself with all of the use!
- Sun hat!– Very important. We purchased the Outdoor Research youth’s Rambler Sombrero and it is awesome!!
- Sleeping bag/ sleeping pad– Whatever you can find and are willing to carry. Anything will work. After allowing your kid to pump out a couple miles on the trail they are so tired that they will sleep happily on rocks. A sleeping pad is cloud nine.
With all of that said, we have learned these tricks through trial and error. They may not work for everyone and there is always much more to learn along the way. The most important thing is that you get out there and experience life on the trails as a family for yourselves. Don’t let the intimidation of the unknown stop you from pursuing your dreams, because in the end it is all just another epic adventure!