Call Us Crazy! Backpacking with tots full of challenges and rewards


Backpacking with a family can make for a great staycation, even though it’s not always easy; especially (or so it may seem) if you keep kosher and are otherwise religiously observant.

My husband, Charlie, and I recently moved to Oregon – my home state – after a couple of spells in Colorado and Montana. Hiking was a part of our everyday lives, and we backpacked some as well, but that was before we had children.

Last summer, our first back in Oregon, we decided to take our two daughters on a backpacking adventure near Detroit, OR. Gilah was 2 and Shifra was 10 months.

Call us crazy. But we had a ball.

We trekked – me in a skirt and tichel (head scarf) carrying the baby, diapers and other little-kid essentials, in our all-too-useful Deuter Kid Comfort Carrier II; and Charlie with his tzitzit (ritual fringes) hanging out, Hyalite (our Montana School District) cap on his head and 40-pound backpack holding our sleeping bags, tent, food for three days, toys and who knows what else.

Our hopes were high for Gilah. She brought along her own monster backpack with some snacks and toys, and announced that she was ready to hike the flat, two-mile path to Pamelia Lake, where we would set up camp. After an iconic photo, we set out – slowly.

We knew we had all day to make a hike that would take two unfit adults less than two hours, but the point was to enjoy the wilderness and share the experience with our girls. And so we strolled, following Gilah’s cues and stopping to find rocks and snack, until we heard the dreaded word, “Upppiiee.” We alternated holding her, using bribery – chocolate and lollipops – and ultimately ended up carrying her about one-third of the way.

Eventually, we arrived at the campground. Gilah loved helping Tatty erect the tent, and Shif loved playing in and around it. Next, we ventured to the lake, a short 0.1 mile away. The view was gorgeous, tall evergreen trees all around – and, if you looked in the right direction, there was majestic Mount Jefferson, snowcapped in the heat of summer.

But herein lay a complication: To get to the heart of the lake, where we’d be able to filter water, wash hands and dip the kids, we had to walk through lots of MUD. Thanks to the summer’s heat, the banks of the lake had receded, creating a large, brown, sticky playground. The kids stared in wonderment: Yep, they wanted to go play!

Very quickly, I had to re-frame my mindset. I thought about the Dead Sea, and reasoned that mud is not dangerous, it’s innocent fun. So we walked them in, each clad in diapers or undies. Excitedly, they plopped themselves down and started painting themselves brown. It was such fun to watch, and my worries soon disappeared amid their smiles and constant giggles.

We rinsed them off, got them dressed and headed back to camp for our dinner of hot dogs on sticks and roasted marshmallows. Settling down with kids in a tent when the sun sets at 10 pm can be a challenge, but we had Play-Doh and books ready. We occupied the girls in their PJs until they were sufficiently tired, and they conked out in their sleeping bags.

Day 2 included oatmeal for breakfast, exploring the forest, playing in the mud, a couple of naps, Play-Doh, a visit from a friendly park ranger, some strolls, chocolate, tuna, filtering water and more roasted marshmallows at night.

On Day 3, we packed up our dirty diapers (yes, what you take in has to come out), leftover food, clothing, toys, tent, etc., and began our slow two-mile return trek. The way out seemed quicker than the way in. At the trail head, we took another photo – this time, each of us sported splotches of dirt, big bags under our eyes and very big smiles – signs of an amazing, fun-filled family adventure.

The hike wasn’t always easy, but the experience left us wanting more. For me, spending time with Charlie and the girls, away from civilization, enjoying G-d’s creations, developing appreciation of the outdoors and relishing the sun was the epitome of goodness. Who knows? Maybe this year we’ll try it after our baby arrives. Want to join?

If you’re interested in camping with the kids, here are some tips:

Commit: Work out a plan with your significant other and talk it up with your kids. Talk about what adventures you might have.

Take care of permits early. Make sure you know what permits are required where you are going and get them ahead of time. (At Pamelia Lake, both a limited entry permit and Recreation Pass are required. These are obtained online or at a number of retailers and carry a small fee.)

Let a family member or friend know where you’re going.

Be open-minded and ready to change plans or get dirty at the drop of a hat.

Be prepared. This is IMPORTANT:

Know that it won’t always be a breeze.

Take plenty of snacks that you know the kids will like (even if they are not the most healthy).

Make sure you have water, a filter and sippy cups if your kids are attached to them.

Think about how you can make some mundane aspects about the place you’re going more exciting. Be ready to excite your kids’ curiosity.

Wear comfortable gear. This goes for your clothes, footwear, and any carriers and backpacks. Test everything out ahead of time, and make sure that backpack straps are set correctly, etc.

Take Band-Aids – sometimes the placebo effect goes a long way.

Don’t forget a first-aid kit.

Most of all, have fun and enjoy the time with the family!

If you’re not ready for a backpack or camping, take it upon yourself to start slow and just get outside – whether in the forest, at the beach or in the desert.

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