Sunday, June 19, 2016

Guest Post - Making the Transition from Backcountry Wanderers to Camping Parents - Matthew Lettington

I am so excited to be sharing my first ever guest blogger here at On The Beaten Path.  I have followed Matthew Lettington online for a few years now; finding inspiration in his solo adventuring pursuits and then to see his adventures continue as he entered into parenthood.  His images are simply amazing, his passion for exploring Vancouver Island is inspiring and he writes a pretty sweet blog that blends the two together.  Matthew and I speak regularly via social media and we have met over coffee where adventure and blogging were the topics of conversation. I look forward to many more chats over coffee and friendship. I know you will love his blog, his trip reports, his candid take on adventuring with kids, and his passion for bushwhacking. (I swear it is one of his passions)

You can find Matthew Lettington at explorington.com
On Instagram @explorington
On Twitter @explorington

I asked Matthew to share a bit about how he made the transition from adventuring without kids to adventuring with kids. He shares some great information. Enjoy the read!

I’m outdoorsy. There, I’ve said it! I frequently smell of pine needles and sodden earth, and I accept this as a result of my love for the outdoors. I’ve had an active outdoor lifestyle for a long time, and my body is permanently changed from my activities: I have scars from bushwhacking, knee pain from the time I dislocated my patella on the Juan de Fuca Trail, and various other marks from sticks and rocks hitting me. When my first child arrived, I was worried that my outdoorsy days were done - but I’m stubborn: I worked to find ways to include my growing family in my adventures. Below, I’ve collected a few of my strategies to share with you.

A Willing and Forgiving Partner
The single biggest secret to my backcountry success is my wife! She enjoys camping and backpacking, though not as much as I do. We work as a team, and we need each other more on the trail than we do at home. We rely on each other to help get backpacks on and off, give snacks to our son while he is in the carrier, and pick up dropped items. I can’t imagine heading into the backcountry without her support.

The Right Location
I enjoy my personal adventures, and I’m not averse to hiking 30 or 40 kilometres in a day to get the job done. However, this isn’t a realistic expectation when carrying a child. Instead, I seek backcountry routes that offer the out there experience, combined with a short approach.
There are numerous adventures on Vancouver Island that offer this; my two favourites are Keeha Bay and Tapaltos Beach. They are close together, and offer excellent beach adventures and opportunities to explore. Flores Island’s Wildside Trail is another great option: it’s mostly beach walking, so you can stop almost anywhere to camp!

Pick locations where you can have a fire. Not only is campfire time an awesome bonding experience, but it allows for fun traditions such as s’mores and cooking on a stick! Also, you’ll want the warmth of that fire when it comes time for changing diapers.

The Right Backpack
If you pride yourself on your sixty-five-pound backpack, the transition to camping with a child is going to be a big struggle. I gave up that nonsense a few years back; now I follow a pack-light philosophy. Even on my solo adventures, my kit weighs under 25 pounds for a seven-day coastal adventure.
With my son, we use a combination backpack carrier. I can pack for two nights and load him into the backpack, while keeping the weight under 55 pounds. I know that’s a lot, but we bring a few luxuries with us, and we plan our adventures around frequent stops, snack times, and the goal that Hemingway will walk some of the easy sections.

Tip: tie a toy to the backpack. It gives him or her something to play with or chew on. The string will be a blessing for you because you can just haul on the string to retrieve the toy when it is inevitably dropped.

Bring lots of fun snacks. We eat all kinds of foods on the trail that we would never eat at home; it becomes part of the tradition of camping. Heading out into the backcountry and eating chocolate-covered granola bars gives kids something to look forward to! Those processed snacks offer a real feature, too: the packaging! It may not be environmentally friendly, but having individually-wrapped snack bars means you don’t need to worry about water or dirt getting into your food. If you want something less processed, try nuts with yogurt chips. Hemingway loves them!

Tip: Have your snacks at the ready. Kids get hangry!

Goodnight to Bedtime
I give up on bedtime while we are camping. At first we tried to keep our at home routines, but this didn’t work. Now, we wait until dark and go to bed together. There’s less complaining, and no worrying about our son unzipping the tent and wandering off into the woods.

Camping is in tents
You’re going to need three tents, but not all at once. Buy a light three-person tent, first. Although it may only take one person to change a diaper, it’s a lot more challenging in a tent. Be a team, lend a hand! If you have two children, they may not co-sleep well. If this is the case, consider bringing two 2-person tents. Each parent can share a tent with one child; as the family matures, the kids can bunk together.

It’s all in the bag
There is an entire philosophy around sleep systems. When teaching my son to sleep in a tent, I use the philosophy I follow myself: don’t get inside your sleeping bag. Whatever you use for your cover-up, be it a blanket, a sleep sack, or a proper down bag, just lay it on top of yourself. The most important thing to know is that pee flows with gravity. Not only is a blanket underneath him or her doing nothing to keep them warm, it’ll get wet.
In the summer we don’t even need a sleeping bag, just a child’s fleece blanket. But when it comes to camping in the shoulder season, we bring a proper sleeping bag rated for zero-degree weather.

Tip: Leave the onesies at home; bring fleece pants and sweaters. When the temperature drops, you don’t want a naked baby when you’re changing a diaper.

A Crappy Topic
There’s no getting away from it: camping with children means diapers. We follow the “pack it in, pack it out” philosophy, but used diapers get heavy! Fortunately, we found a solution: compostable diapers. Look for ones that are made from natural products, as they burn better. Whatever you do, do not put the diapers into the pit toilet. They require mechanical agitation to decompose.

Tip: Free-willy! It’s okay for small children to go bottomless as they run in the sand. Just make sure to put sunscreen everywhere!

Feeding the Milk Monster
Our little guy needs his milk! Camping with an infant was easy, as Mom brought the milk. But now that breastfeeding is finished, we’ve switched to cow’s milk. At first we tried powdered milk, but it has a different taste; it took a few weeks of trying it at home to get him used to it. Although we still use powdered milk for our long trips, now we bring small cartons of milk and cut it with water to double or triple the volume. As a note, two 250ml containers works better than one 500ml container.
Tip: don’t forget to bring a nip-clip! We use a bulldog clip from home to clip the nipple. That way when the bottle falls over, the milk doesn’t leak everywhere.

Bring Some Toys
Bringing an assortment of toys and books gives little ones something to do if weather rolls in. Hemingway transitions between activities quickly, and he needs lots of options for play. He’s obsessed with toy cars, so we bring a few each time we go out. He always finds creative ways to use the toys at the campsite.
A good set of collected stories has saved our bacon more than once! It’s tiring work chasing our little guy down the beach, and the only time we get to sit is when we are reading stories. It’s definitely worth the effort!
There are certain times where we just need Hemingway to sit. It may be when we are lost and trying to navigate, working to help each other out of a mud pit, or dealing with a crisis. When we need him to just sit and focus on something, we have a complement of photographs for him to look at on our phones.

Have Patience
It’s going to get tough. You’ll be hot, tired, and thirsty – and so will the kids. Remember, be patient! A little love goes a long way. Work with your child’s strengths, and play with them. Every kid is different!

The Harsh Reality
It’s not going to be fun all the time. There is going to be crying, probably in your ear. Stuff is going to get wet, and maybe even pee-soaked. Get used to dirt, because everyone is going to get dirty. Lastly, remember: it’s a work in progress. Reflect on your successes, and improve in areas that gave you frustration.

If you don’t think backpacking is for you and your kids, consider kayaking or canoeing! My suggestions still apply on the water, but it’s a more relaxing environment. Kayaks offer amazing storage capacity, and there is no need to fit everything into a backpack and haul it around.

Matthew Lettington


  1. Just wondering if you can share what you do pack to keep your bags light? Especially with young children, I find there is just so much stuff to bring!

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