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Backpacking with Kids Doesn’t Have to Suck

From Katie Arnold in Outside Magazine.

Backpacking with Kids Doesn’t Have to Suck

Unlike river trips, backpacking is less about what you bring and more about what you leave behind. It takes surprisingly little to make a home in the wilderness. A snug, well-lit tent, a couple pouches of dehydrated food, the ones you love curled up beside you in the silent, star-filled evening. As darkness settled over the river, we were all beginning to settle more deeply into the canyon. 

In the morning, everything was bright, the gorge just waking up, and my fear had lifted. Pete and I ran along the River Trail, winding three miles south to La Junta, the confluence of the Red River and the Rio Grande, with one eye on the trail for snakes, the other on the river, moving sure and fast beside us. Steve and the girls fished the eddies and checked out petroglyphs etched into a jumble of boulders. On the mile-long hike back out, the girls played musical packs again. At least Pete wore his the whole way.

On backcountry adventures, the ratio of prep work to fun can make or break a trip. One night on a family river trip would be insane. Two nights is never enough, and three just barely satisfies. But backpacking is so minimalist and required so little prep that a single night was all we needed to give us our wilderness fix and leave us hungry for more. And when we got home, I discovered the best thing of all about going light and not-so-fast with kids: There’s almost nothing to unpack.