Backpacking with kids

When John Muir went out to explore the Sierra Nevada mountains more than 100 years ago, he did it on foot carrying as little food as some tea and biscuits for multi-day treks over high alpine peaks. He slept under the stars, without a tent, without a sleeping bag, without polarguard delta or primaloft or astronaut ice cream.

To this day, the Sierra Nevada mountains, with the exception of a hand full of rugged passes, are still wilderness. The roads are narrow and steep and end low. There are no trams to the top of high mountain peaks. There are no villages nestled up on 14,000 foot peaks and most of it is only accessible by foot or hoof at the end of a strenuous all day hike. But there are a lot of places worth going that can be reached by the short, easily distractible legs of a 4 year old and his dad.

My boy already liked camping before I took him backpacking for the first time last summer. 4 year olds don’t have any hangups about being dirty, or eating cold mac-n-cheese, or sleeping in the forest. But we hadn’t gone backpacking yet, mostly because up to that point it would have required me and my wife to carry all the gear and him. So we just did plenty of car camping. But I was determined to get him out on an overnight hike and so last August we drove down to the Green Creek trailhead near the town of Bridgeport, CA for our first backpacking trip.

The trail to Green Lake in the Hoover Wilderness is about 2 miles of good trail, not too steep. There are lots of small creek crossings with few log crossings over larger creeks and lots of places to stop and have a snack. It took us most of the afternoon to get to camp.

There are campsites available all around the lake pretty much. The water level last year was really low and after we set up camp we went down to check out the logs and stumps exposed in the muddy shoreline. I managed to snap the photo below with my phone, which is the only camera I brought other than  the GoPro. It’s been the home screen on my phone ever since.

Exploring Green Lake

Exploring Green Lake

When we go to the mountains, it’s to explore. What I’ve always wanted to spark for my boys was the fire of adventure, the curiosity to walk the log, climb over the lip of the rocks and see how deep the mud is. When he saw the shiny wilderness of mud with the logs and stumps and green carpet of moss, he drew in a deep breath, paused to look for a route down and sprang out to get his feet wet.

Exploring Green Lake

Exploring Green Lake

We had spaghetti for dinner, Astronaut Ice Cream for desert and crawled in the tent. In the morning we had instant oatmeal before packing up and hiking out. On the way home we had burgers and ice cream cones at Walker Burger in Walker, CA. Pretty much a perfect weekend  for a couple of dudes.

Green Lake and Green Creek Trailhead

The Green Creek trailhead is about half an hour from Bridgeport, CA up a dirt road off of US 395. It’s well signed and graded and passable to any regular car. There is water at the lake but it must be filtered or purified. There are water and toilets at the trailhead as well as a campground and ample dispersed camping.

Maps:

Other attractions in the area

If you’r going to be there check out Bodie Ghost town, Mono Lake and Travertine Hot Springs.

Essential Backpacking Gear

I wouldn’t say I’m an expert backpacker, but I do know what works for me, and I know how to pack up without over packing. So here are a few things I bring that are worth the weight.

Cooking

I’m not a gourmet. I bring freezedried food and a JetBoil stove.

I recommend Mountain House Instant Food. The food is good and doesn’t give you gas or stomach cramps, as long as you re-hydrate it fully, which is easy to do just by following the directions… For kids, you can’t go wrong with Mountain House Spaghetti with Meat Sauce.

Jet Boil Backpacker Stove

Jet Boil Backpacker Stove

The JetBoil stove is basically the size of a 1 liter water bottle and boils water. That’s pretty much it. But it works 100% of the time and has never let me down. And you don’t have to pour fuel, pump fuel bottles or field strip and trouble shoot it. It’s $99 and includes the burner, detachable cup/pot a plastic bowl and a sipper lit for the pot you can either drink coffee/tea from or pour scalding water into the food pouch.

Also, as much as I hate to admit it, Starbux instant coffee is awesome for backpacking.

Sleeping

Sleeping is critical. You need to be comfortable, warm and dry without breaking your back with the weight while you hike. I recommend:

REI Quarterdome 3 Tent

REI Quarterdome 3 Backpacker Tent

REI Quarterdome 3 Backpacker Tent

The REI Quartedome Tent I have is the first generation. We’ve had it for about 6 years and it’s in great condition. For the last 10 years or so REI has been producing high quality tents that are well designed and well made. The Quarterdome has tons of room for 2 adults and a kid, or just 2 adults. It’s tight for 3 adults, but it works in a pinch. The mass penalty for the 3 man over the 2 man is a trifle. Get the bigger one and stretch out. It’s easy to set up, super light and can be used with just the rain fly and groundcloth as a super light shelter.

REI Stratus Insulated Pad

440-3

I just bought The REI Stratus Backpacking Sleeping Pad, so I haven’t tested it. I do have a larger version REI inflatable pad that I really like, and it gets good reviews. With two hurt shoulders I can’t deal with the old Therm-a-rest guidelite 3/4 I used to swear by. But this is lighter and packs down smaller…

-Mike

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