This last weekend we went on an overnight backpacking trip, and brought along our friend's 4 year old (trip report and photos coming soon!). This was our first time backpacking with a preschooler, so we weren't quite sure what to expect. Our full list of gear can be found here. However, a number of items worked especially well.
- Sesame Street Elmo Toddler Backpack - this turned out to be the perfect size for him to carry. It fit snacks, hand sanitizer, his bandana, a few LED lights and an 8oz water bottle on the side. Best of all, he could be satisfied copying us, as we all traipsed down the trail wearing packs.
- Laser Finger Beams - these toy LED lights have nothing to do with lasers. They're just super cheap LED flashlights in a number of colors. The different colors provided plenty of entertainment (whether it was dark out or not). And because you buy them in bulk, it's not a problem when the batteries die or you misplace them in the tent or along the trail.
- Fresnel lens - This guy is cheap, lightweight and provides a fun point of view even when you're stuck in the tent during a rain storm.
- Scavanger Hunt Forms - if you look around, there are quite a few outdoor scavenger hunt forms. I found one that I think was about the right level of difficulty for a 4 year old, though, they can get quite sophisticated. In the end, we didn't actually use the form, but for a regular old day hike it would probably be great.
- Stickers! - Kids love stickers; backpackers love lightweight items; it's a match made in heaven!
- 8oz Deer Park Water Bottle - small enough so that he could carry it in his pack, but still sufficient to provide for hydration. And the bottle is disposable, so no harm comes from it getting lost.
And which item provided the most entertainment on the trek? Our red MSR PocketRocket stove case! Our camping buddy immediately identified it as a boat, and took great pleasure (with our supervision) sailing it by dropping it in the water and watching it float down the stream.
Rule #1 when dealing with kids or backpacking (or marriage): improvise!
I should also mentioned I followed Shira's 3 Rules of Backpacking. And because I followed them, we had an especially kid (and adult!) friendly trip.