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…
It was a good hike to the shelter and we covered the 1.3 miles in just over an hour.
Along the way we had some obstacles to overcome…
We arrived at the shelter and dropped our packs and the girls immediately started climbing on their “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.
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 PackItGourmet.com. 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.
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.
We had hot chocolate and oatmeal for breakfast and then took down camp and loaded up our packs.
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.