Few things rival the pleasure of setting out with your home and food on your pack to survive in the unknown well-prepared for everything. Many of my fondest memories are of evenings spent atop peaks, next to lakes or in idyllic meadows with just one or two of my closest people and not another human being for miles. And for the parent/adventurer, backpacking is the greatest in-dulgence. With my son still too young for most ski, snowboard, climbing, biking and other ad-ventures, our family backpacking trips have become sacred outdoors undertakings where I really can’t compromise my gear without jeopardizing my family.
Family Backpacking Essentials
Katadyn Camp 6L
The first tool I ever purchased for backpacking was a water filter. For 7 years I’ve sworn by the Katadyn Hiker Pro, a hand-pump water filter that has kept me safely hydrated from water sources as diverse as the top of Mt. Rainier to the gnarly creek behind my house when my well failed. But the pump model is exhausting and time consuming. Katadyn leads the charge of today’s innovative gravity filters with its Camp 6L. Just fill it, hang it and you’re done. At a filtration rate of 2L/minute, it’s blazing fast and the capacity makes it perfect for a family or any small group.
On a recent camp where we pulled our water from a snowpatch, I filled it with snow and a little warm water. Leaving it in the sun, the snow soon melted to ice cold water, a huge aid for longer backpacks when you might be wanting to save your fuel for cooking instead of the heat-intensive act of melting snow for water. [Purchase: $89.95]
Extreme Start Firestarter
You never realize how important fire is until you get deep into the wild where it provides heat, discourages bugs (smokey), gives you a cooking tool and provides light. And when in the middle of nowhere in the high alpine, it can be tough to find enough dried tinder and kindling to start a raging fire quickly. And then there’s snow camping… Extreme Start’s pine firestarter is the solution. Just throw one in your pack and when you’re ready to burn, it lights quickly and starts a good raging bonfire in just a few minutes. I recently took it out for a spin in the Teton wilderness and my 3-year-old son was able to start our campfire. [Purchase: $6.49]
Food can be the biggest issue on any backpacking trip. Especially if you’re camping in a spot where you can’t build a fire, you have to bring a stove, cookware, etc… Enter OMeals. Each pack has its own biodegradable heater. Sure to enthrall the kids as you rip the boiler open, throw it in the sac and watch dinner cook itself. The lentils and beef was one of the best backpacking meals I’d ever had. My only complaint was the meal and its calorie count were both pretty small considering the package size and the distance I’d hiked with it. And if you’re camping where you have to bring a stove and a pot to melt snow or boil water anyway, you could skip the extra weight of a double bag and the cooking pouch. But OMeals are ideal for going quick and light. Perfect for a solo backpack. Or when your group is splitting 1 stove and pot among a couple people and so firetime and eating receptacles are at a premium. [Purchase: $8.00]
REI Kindercone Sleeping Bag
While everything else can be applied to any small group backpack, this one is specifically for the family camp. It’s a sleeping bag for kids from toddler age to young adult. After a few trips, you realize how horrible sharing your mummy bag with your 2-to-3-year-old can be for the prospect of getting sleep. Not only does the kindercone provide an affordable option for the kid (and though it’s 30+ degrees, how often do you plan on camping in subzero temps with your sub-6-year-old?) but its unique design also allows you to shorten or lengthen it as your kid grows. For us, it’s also perfect to take to friend’s houses so when the little guy is exhausted but we’re not ready to leave, he can play campout and snooze until we’re done with the soiret. [Purchase: $59.95]
Toad and Co Grand Trunk Hammock
The above things are survival tools. The Toad and Co. Grand Trunk answers a higher calling beyond merely surviving – it brings the comfort of home to your enjoyment of nature. At 28 ounces, it’s ancillary if you’re an ultralight weight-counter but on family backpacks or expeditions, the 1.75 pounds is hardly noticeable. It can hold 400 pounds in its parachute nylon and nautical carabiners. Great for laying out on that vista you’ve toiled to. Lighter and, really, more fun than any camping chair. Also fantastic to give the kid something to play in while you’re getting into all the tasks of setting up the tent, cooking dinner, etc… The Hammock is officially a requisite for all but my lightest backpacking trips. Hell, I’ll probably even make an excuse to pack it on those. [Purchase: $74.99]
The ability to bring this creature comfort into the middle of nowhere is nothing short of transcen-dentally sublime. Once again, Toad & Co. comes in huge.