Single Parent Backpacking Awesomeness
Single Parent Backpacking Awesomeness

Single Parent Backpacking Awesomeness

Camping with kids, even in the backyard, is such a summer core memory maker. But add in a 5-mile hike to get to the campsite, carrying all the gear on your backs, and doing it as a single mom? Those are hardcore memories!

And those are now the hardcore memories of our insights guru Aura and her two kiddos. When she posted her summer vacay pics and recap on our team Slack channel, I'm pretty sure she inspired a bunch of end-of-summer family backpacking trips.

We hope they inspire you, too!

KEENer Trip Report: First Time Backpacking With Kids 

By Aura Nelson

Favorite card game played: Kings Corner
Most magical moment: Morning rainbow! 
Most important thing to pack: Patience and a sense of humor
Biggest aha from the trip: There are never too many snacks

Being outside has always been a huge part of life for our family. We live adjacent to a 400-acre park of trails and spend most weekends year-round exploring, having picnics, sledding, and drinking cocoa in the woods. I’ve taken my kids camping locally several times over the years, usually at a natural resource conservation club we belong to, and sometimes, as local as the backyard. It’s important to me to give my kids these experiences even though it can be a lot of work for a single mom!

This spring, my brother asked if we wanted to join him and his 6-year-old daughter on a backpacking trip to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, near where I was born in Munising, Michigan. Despite being a seasoned camper, I had not backpacked since the days of external frame backpacks. It had been a while! It was a trip I couldn’t pass up, and I immediately started acquiring the gear we needed for the trip and researching everything about backpacking with kids.

The big day arrived and we set off. The hike was beautiful. We walked through lush pine forests, through countless wild blueberry patches, and had stunning views of Lake Superior from tall cliffs and dunes.

"I learned that I COULD go backpacking as a single mom with two kids!"

I’ll be honest, our first hike was a little rough. I had clearly packed my bag much too heavily and quickly learned that lumbar padding was essential for me. While my bag was high quality and had all the bells and whistles, my back was getting chafed and bruised without padding. My 4-year-old stopped carrying her bag (filled to 3 pounds) after a mile and I carried it the rest of the way. Much to my surprise, once her load was lightened, she walked the whole way without complaining but needed some coaxing to keep going. My 8-year-old was a trooper and happily chatted the whole way.

We stayed at a campsite right by Lake Superior and had days filled with beach time, rock hunting, day hiking, card games, and fun with our amazing campsite neighbors. My favorite part of the day was watching the sunset over Lake Superior – what a show! 

That trip went so well that a few weeks later, we backpacked again. This time, we stayed at Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness area on Lake Michigan, and I was the only adult. We had a shorter, 1.5-mile hike, which the kids were thrilled about. On the first morning, we woke up to a full rainbow over Lake Michigan! It was absolutely magical and a morning I will never forget. This second trip went more smoothly. I figured out ways to reduce my weight (primarily by getting smarter about the food I packed and packing fewer clothes) and we knew what to expect.

Biggest Takeaway: 

I learned that I COULD go backpacking as a single mom with two kids! I was so proud of us for doing it and we can’t wait for our next backpacking trip. We are hooked!

Shoes Worn: 

I wore Zionic! I was looking for something lightweight with great traction for our 5 mile hike to the campsite. When they weren’t running around barefoot, my kids wore Newport H2 and Seacamp for the whole trip and had zero complaints from them! They were comfortable and happy the whole time.

KEEN Parent Tips: 

Prepare as much as you can and go for it! Look for a comprehensive checklist online (I loved the REI backpacking checklist), visit a store to look and learn (again, REI was my go-to. Their green vests were so incredibly helpful).

Camping near other families is really helpful. At Nordhouse Dunes, you don’t make reservations, you pick the spot that works for you. I chose a spot next to a group that included 6 kids, and my kids played happily with them the whole time I was setting up camp.

Plan on the hike taking extra time. The kids stopped to eat every wild blueberry on the trail and we needed to take a couple of water and snack breaks.

Pack kid-friendly foods and know what your kids will eat ahead of time. The first night, we had packets of vegetable tikka masala that I didn't sample ahead of time and it turned out they were very spicy! The kids had to drink a ton of water to get their food down, so we ended up having to take lots of bathroom breaks in the middle of the night. I quickly learned that I was a human waste-disposal – anything the kids didn’t eat, I had to eat so I wouldn’t have to pack it out. It was a good lesson to make sure I knew what the kids liked to eat in the woods!

 

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