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Four Preschoolers on the AT
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Kevin Babione
(KBabione) - MLife

Locale: Pennsylvania
Four Preschoolers on the AT on 05/04/2011 09:51:20 MDT Print View

This past weekend I took my 4 ½ year-old twins for their first backpacking trip (a simple one-nighter). Accompanying us were two other dads (Matt and Bernie) and their 3 ½ year-old daughters. I picked the location a year earlier when I realized that the Birch Run shelter was only 1.3 miles from an access point and that the hike itself was about as easy as they come in Pennsylvania. In addition to the shelter (which I knew could be a nice fallback in the event of really nasty weather) there is a nice stream and plenty of camping areas. With four girls I thought the presence of a privy would also be beneficial.

My wife helped me out considerably by finding LL Bean backpacks (the Sprout) for the girls. Sure enough, their TNF Tigger bag fit in the backpack and I was able to strap their Ridgerest Solite Short pads on the top. That was a significant amount of bulk removed from my responsibility. My wife knows I’m a little obsessed with lightweight gear and likes to get her digs in whenever she can…

“The Sprout only weighs a pound – what’s your backpack weigh?”

“Ummm…9 ounces (I usually use a GG Murmur), but that’s with the optional hipbelt pockets.”


The trip was my idea and I happily took on the role of planner. I did my customary Excel spreadsheet and naively believed that I might be able to pull off this trip carrying just 25 or so pounds in my SMD Starlite. I told the other guys that they needed to bring their own sleep systems and clothing and that I would take care of all food and eating equipment (stove, pot, mugs, bowls, and utensils). I also told them that I would bring my AquaStar for water purification.

I had everything out and was getting ready for the test fit in my Starlite when my wife brought me the girls’ clothing – an extra pair of shoes, two pairs of socks, pajamas, rain jackets, fleece, underwear, long sleeve shirt, and pants. I filled a 13L bag for each girl…and my hope of using the Starlite died. I knew then that I’d have to carry my Arc’Teryx Bora 80 pack. Ugh – it weighs around 7.5 pounds empty!

My wife brought up other relevant, but unconsidered, questions such as:

“What are you going to do about their hair?”
“Do you have Benadryl packed?”
“What do you mean you’re not taking a tent?”

She took care of the first two questions by braiding their hair before we left and not-so-subtly leaving a bottle of Benadryl on the table with my other gear. The third was up to me.

We arrived at the trailhead at 11:30 on Saturday morning, ate a quick lunch, distributed the food that wouldn’t fit in my pack, and hit the trail.

My twins are, obviously, fraternal sisters. Zoe (the younger by four minutes) has a 2-inch height advantage and a couple of pounds over Lily…

My Twins

The Fabulous Four

It was a good hike to the shelter and we covered the 1.3 miles in just over an hour.

On the trail

Along the way we had some obstacles to overcome…

Arms out for balance

We arrived at the shelter and dropped our packs and the girls immediately started climbing on their “Jungle Gym”…

The jungle gym

The girls were playing while the adults scouted locations for our shelters. While Matt and Bernie put up their tents, I spread out my ground cloth and put down the sleeping pads and bags. Zoe was watching me with some concern on her face:

“I want to sleep in a tent.”

“Sweetheart, one of the great things about backpacking is that we can sleep under the stars if we want to – we don’t need a tent.”

“The other girls are in tents – I want to sleep in a tent.”

“It will be great – you’ll see. We’ll be able to look at the stars while we fall asleep.”

I believe she walked away thinking her father was nuts. I knew I would only get one “first backpacking trip” and it would set the stage for all future trips – why not prove to them early on that they can sleep in the woods without a tent?

As a kid I could fall into a mud puddle and get wet up to my armpits – apparently it’s hereditary! Thankfully we had a full set of dry replacement clothing - further proof that my wife’s help was necessary.

Cold and Wet

I thought the privy would be a welcome addition to our backpacking trip but it turns out I was wrong. Only one of the four girls actually used it and she held her nose the entire time we were in there. The others preferred to go in the woods.

We used an Antig Outdoors Woodgas stove to heat our water for the evening meal. Matt really enjoyed feeding broken twigs into it to boil our water. We made “Shells & Cheese” for the kids and the three grownups enjoyed some Austintacious Tortilla Soup and Zydeco Red Beans & Rice from I had also brought a Platypus filled with a nice Cabernet. We let a thru-hiker finish the last two glasses of the wine and he was pretty happy.

Shells and cheese

After dinner we roasted marshmallows on our small fire. If you haven’t seen “Grandpa’s Fire Fork” you should consider it – it allows you to use a stout dead stick for roasting marshmallows and hot dogs over a fire.

It was then time for bed. Matt and Bernie took their girls to their respective tents while I did some cleanup. My girls and I were heading off to our bags when Matt and Bernie came back to sit around the fire – their girls were already out. Amazing what some outdoor time can do.

By the light of my headlamp I changed the girls into their pajamas, put on their hats, and tucked them into their sleeping bags. When the second girl was in her bag they asked when they’d get to see the stars. I told them I needed just a minute to take off my shoes and lie down. I don’t think it took me a full minute to take off my Hardrocks, stretch out, and turn off my headlamp. I turned to the girls to talk about the stars and they were both snoring! When she woke up in the morning Lily asked me where the stars were…I had to tell her that she slept through them and that she’d see them the next time.

It was a cold night – down into the 30’s – but everyone slept well and woke up with smiles. I was sleeping under my JRB Shenandoah quilt and was actually a little cold. I broke out my new Te-Wa Summer Breeze ¾ underquilt that I brought along to test in a new hammock and draped it over me (putting the hang loop under my armpits). The extra loft was just what I needed to stay nice and warm. I woke up numerous times during the night to check on them but they were hunkered down in their bags (no heads in sight) and slept better than they do at home. I also watched cloud cover roll in and began to stress about not putting up the tarp. Next time I think I’ll pitch at least half the tarp so I’ll know that it will only take me a minute to put it up if it starts to rain.

Morning has broken

We had hot chocolate and oatmeal for breakfast and then took down camp and loaded up our packs.

Hot chocolate!

It took us about an hour to cover the 1.3 miles back to the car but everyone was pleased with how they did.


After a lunch stop on the way home my two girls fell fast asleep – the two younger girls did not! They had a great trip and have been telling anyone who would listen that they went backpacking. We’re already looking at our next trip.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Four Preschoolers on the AT on 05/04/2011 09:54:56 MDT Print View

Kevin, what a delightful trip report! Congrats on a fun trip for you and the girls.

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
Loved it on 05/04/2011 10:25:39 MDT Print View

I've taken my 4 year old daughter on some solo trips starting last year. There are some unexpected challenges and lots of rewards. Great pictures. Looked like everyone had fun.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Four Preschoolers on the AT on 05/04/2011 10:41:48 MDT Print View

Good job! We camped and traveled with our kids from Day 1. It is empowering and educates them in so many ways.

I hope you are ready to finance the through hikes in a few years :)

Jedd Cheshier
(JeddCheshier) - F

Locale: Midatlantic
Awesome on 05/04/2011 10:51:18 MDT Print View

I started taking my daughter when she was 6. She will be 8 soon. She still loves it. They especially love having their own gear. Congratulations. I hope this is the start of a long standing tradition.

William Cummings
(rcummings1) - F

Locale: Colorado
Re: Four Preschoolers on the AT on 05/04/2011 10:53:34 MDT Print View

Great job Dad! Love the picture with the stuffed bears and sleeping bags.

Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
RE: Four Preschoolers on the AT on 05/04/2011 11:07:24 MDT Print View

Jealous, jealous, jealous...that's how your article made me feel!

My three kids are long since grown up, and they don't seem to be in much of a hurry to provide my wife and me with grandchildren we can take on trips like this. Anyone care to call them and give them a talking-to?

Seriously, and I know you've all heard this before, but you will learn how true it is:

If you have kids, go to great efforts to do things like this with them and create memories that will sustain them and you into your old age. Your kids will grow up and leave before you know it, and I regret daily not having found the time to do more things like this with them. What keeps me going is the thought that, with luck, grandchildren will eventually appear...

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
Four Preschoolers on the AT on 05/04/2011 11:55:03 MDT Print View

Excellent trip report. Very cool father/daughter(s) adventure.

I really enjoy the photo of your girls hiking along with the teddy bear in the side water bottle pocket of the packs. Too cute!

I look foward to someday getting to share the backcountry with my (future) kids... just like my folks did for my brother and I.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Four Preschoolers on the AT on 05/04/2011 12:58:19 MDT Print View

Wonderful report! Look at those faces--that last image says it all!

And yes, for kids that age a complete change of clothes is essential, despite the weight! If there is water around, they will get wet!

/A .
(biointegra) - MLife

Locale: Puget Sound
Re: Four Preschoolers on the AT on 05/04/2011 13:14:17 MDT Print View

Sweet and sweet & sweet + sweet! Thanks for sharing your inspiring adventure.

Jeremy Gus
(gustafsj) - MLife

Locale: Minneapolis
Re: Re: Four Preschoolers on the AT on 05/04/2011 16:15:12 MDT Print View

Great Trip Report! Love to see families with little kids getting out!! And great timing! I'm taking my 3 yr old boy out this coming weekend. My brother will be joining us and taking his 4 yr old and 6 yr old girls as well. My sister is coming along as well to help carry gear, so that will help. We're planning on a 2 mile hike in with the kids carrying nothing. It's supposed to get down into the 30s as well, so that will defiitely make it interesting... I'll post my own trip report after we get back...

danny chough
(puffdc) - F

Locale: Republic of Boulder
AWESOME!!! on 05/04/2011 18:03:32 MDT Print View

Thanks for sharing, they look like they had a blast!

Adam Kramer
(rbeard) - F

Locale: ATL, Southern Appalachia
getting excited on 05/04/2011 18:05:48 MDT Print View

my girl is already 10 months! thanks for sharing!

cant wait till she can read and i'll show her this!

Ryan Tucker
(BeartoothTucker) - M
great trip on 05/04/2011 20:48:47 MDT Print View

wonderful report. thanks for sharing.

Todd T
(texasbb) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Four Preschoolers on the AT on 05/04/2011 21:16:44 MDT Print View

That's one of the most enjoyable TRs I've ever read. Good job!

Kevin Babione
(KBabione) - MLife

Locale: Pennsylvania
Four Preschoolers obearn the AT on 05/05/2011 06:41:02 MDT Print View

Thanks everyone for your comments - we really had a great time. It can be a little scary scheduling a trip like this weeks in advance because you never know the weather, but we had one of the best days so far this spring.

If you've got small children I encourage you to try a trip like this. The 1.3 miles each way was enough so that we had the required "are we there yet?" complaints but not so far that we had to endure them for long.

My other suggestion is to find a way for the kids to carry some of the bulk. In my case each girl carried their sleeping bag, sleeping pad, water bottle, and teddy bear. That was it. Their total pack weight came in under 5 pounds (qualifying them as SUL backpackers). What it did for me was to remove much of the bulk from my pack.

We're busy trying to find time in the fall for another trip. Maybe we'll go for two miles next time...

Dicentra OPW
(dicentra) - F

Locale: PNW
Love love love!! on 05/05/2011 16:00:29 MDT Print View

Thank you for sharing this with us!!!

My little munchkin is 5 and I have plans for her first backpacking trip this summer. We've already done lots of day hikes and car camping.

Alice Feels Happy
(alice.feels.happy) - F
I have sent this to my sister so she might let me take my nephew out! on 12/07/2011 16:12:09 MST Print View

I have sent this to my sister so she might let me take my nephew out!

Bryce F.
(bster13) - MLife

Locale: Norwalk, CT
Just caught this now... on 12/07/2011 16:35:22 MST Print View

....and I'm sending it to my GF to show her "if these 4 preschoolers can do it..." :p

No really, I thought it was wonderful and the kids obviously had a blast from the pics. Rock on!

Peter Rodrigues
(prodrigues) - F

Locale: New York
Re: Four Preschoolers on the AT on 12/07/2011 16:42:50 MST Print View

I don't think there's anything better than family trip reports for me. Great work! Sending this off to my wife in order to convince her to let me take my 3 yo daughter out! Thanks for the inspiration.