Camping with kids can be an en-light-ening experience, if you follow a few simple rules
There’s no doubt that we BPLers like titles associated with arbitrary base-weights. First there was UL, then SUL, and when that became too commonplace, along came XUL (extreme ultralight) and RUL (ridiculously ultralight). Recently, the concept of M-SUL (mountain SUL) was introduced for those who prefer not to make the arbitrary 5 lb cutoff but still crave the status of being labeled SUL. I mean, who wants to be just another one of those ultralight pack-sniffers now running amok in the mountains.
But what is the backpacking parent to do? Let’s face it, kids need more stuff. You don’t want to compromise on their safety or comfort, and God help you if they get hungry or bored. Have no fear, my friends. In this article, I introduce the concept of K-SUL, the practice of carrying only 5 lbs of personal gear in order to accommodate the 30 lbs of unnecessary crap that your kids make you bring.
It’s important to let your kids carry their own backpacks. I usually plan on carrying everything important and letting them pack their own toys and snacks. Just remember, at some point in the trip, you’ll probably be coerced into carrying their stuff too, so keep it light. I usually set a limit of 2 stuffed animals per person. These can be a multi-use item so at least one big one is preferred- more on this later.
This leaves you as the designated Sherpa. With tent, cookwear, food, quilts, and pads for everyone, you’re probably going to need a decent sized pack with a good frame.
A typical K-SUL expedition pack
Rowan demonstrates an excellent understanding of UL hiking
Shelter can be a great place to save weight. Young children can be stuffed into pretty tiny spaces, so you can go with a comparatively small tarp. Nothing says family time like snuggling up with your little princesses at night.
For me, a two person pyramid tarp is perfect. I can cram myself, 2 kids, and even the family dog into this one. Tell the kids they’re sleeping in a tipi, and they’ll be in heaven
A note of caution: Don’t expect your kids to treat your awesome ultralight shelter delicately. They’ll be in and out of it constantly, zipping, unzipping, and catching the noseeum mesh in the zipper. Then, they’ll probably run circles around the thing, tripping over the stakes no matter how often you say, “Watch out for the…… (klunk)….stakes”. If this is likely to bother you, it might be best to take a mulligan on this one and just bring the coleman tent.
Bring lots. Kids have no situational awareness and are likely to end up in every puddle, stream, or mudhole they come across, accidentally or intentionally. And don’t expect them to ‘walk it dry” either. They’ll look at you like you’re on crack. At dinner, they’ll spill something on that brand new jacket you bought for them too.
Rowan serenades us from her stage as the sun sets
Note that this is her third outfit of the day. Heck, the first one didn’t even survive the car ride. Not surprisingly, stepping down off the rock, she landed right in the lake, soaking pants and shoes too
Guess how this is going to end
Sometimes, you never seem to have enough clothes
Don’t go overboard in the entertainment department. Who needs games when you have :
Point your toes, daddy
While dehydrated foods might be appealing from a weight-saving perspective, you’re going to have to bite the bullet and bring some fresh foods. Trust me on this one. There is no way you are going to convince a 5 year old to eat something that looks like dried twigs in a baggie. It’s yucky.
I like to precook burgers at home, freeze them, and then pack them in an insulated bag along with a hot dog or two. Then, in camp I just need to heat them briefly over the fire
Fresh foods? But isn’t that heavy? Not if you follow this simple K-SUL strategy. Just don’t pack anything for yourself. I promise, you will not go hungry.
I scored that hot dog and burger not long after this picture was taken, then got to eat most of the mac and cheese too
I like to pack marshmallows too, but only for entertainment value. Thankfully, my kids won’t eat them, but they seem to enjoy lighting them on fire. (Caution: Marshmallows burn like napalm when flung from a stick)
A post dinner stroll on the beach
Kids are creatures of habit. They’re going to want their favorite blanket or quilt. They’ll also sleep better on an inflatable pad. (And you do want them asleep, don’t you? That’s when you finally get to pull out the whiskey you brought along for coping purposes)
And don’t think that you are going to get away with stuffing some socks into a nylon stuff sack and calling it a pillow. You’re going to at least need a pillowcase or fleecy stuff sack, and you are going to stuff every last piece of spare clothing into their pillowcases. This will leave you with nothing for your own pillow. Don’t worry though; K-SUL has you covered.
Let them stay up late. Then they’ll sleep through anything
A few other tips and tricks:
(1) Bring as little bedding for yourself as you can get away with. Jam-packed into a tiny two-person tarp, it’s going to be pretty toasty anyway. In warmer weather, a silk liner will usually suffice. In cold weather, a backcountry blanket is nice, as it can be thrown over the kids too if need be. Those crappy princess sleeping bags sure are heavy, but warm- not so much.
(2) Don’t bring a sleeping pad for yourself. Once kids fall asleep, they are usually out for the count. It’s pretty easy to muscle up onto their full-length pads at that point.
(3) You may not have any clothes left to make a pillow, so now is a good time to put those stuffed animals to good use. Odds are, the kids will never notice they’re gone
A nice big bunny like Cuddles makes for a great night’s sleep
In conclusion, mastery of K-SUL means that you travel lightly, so that your kids don’t have to. Do it right, and you may end up with hiking partners for life.
This was inevitable
About the author:
Ike Jutkowitz is a recovering SULer who now goes by the non-denominational term “minimalist hiker”. He enjoys hiking with his two little girls, and sometimes to get away from them.