Meow Wolf – Intro to our New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona Trip – November 2018

Over Thanksgiving 2018, I decided to take a trip to New Mexico with Hannah to check some more National Parks off our list.  We flew out of Eau Claire with a connecting flight in Chicago O’Hare to Albuquerque, NM.  Thankfully I used a United Chase Credit Card to book the flight and got us a free United Club Pass!  Hannah enjoyed the unlimited breakfast buffet and comfy seats while we awaited our 3+ hour layover before boarding our flight to Albuquerque. 

The next few blog posts will be about this trip and the specific parks and monuments that we visited.  However, I wanted to take some time to talk about the first part of the trip, because Hannah will tell you it was her FAVORITE thing we’ve ever done and she still to this day asks to go back to this place.  We rented a car and drove north about an hour to Santa Fe.  My friend Drew lives here and we were staying with him for the night. 

Meow Wolf

When we arrived, Drew was still working, but he suggested we check out a place called Meow Wolf.  I replied, “Meow what?  Is this some sort of cat exhibit?”  He explained it as an interactive art and music exhibit and said to trust him, which I do, but I still looked it up online to see if I could learn more.  Online you will find out that it is a “unique & immersive art installations with multimedia elements & a mysterious narrative throughout.”  Which honestly was not any more helpful of a description as Drew gave me. 

I decided to trust him and we shortly arrived at what appeared to be a renovated bowling alley.  I was skeptical, yet intrigued by the large sculptures outside the building.  The cost was about $50 total for our tickets (1 adult, 1 child) and when purchasing them, I told the girl behind the counter that we had never been here and did not really know where to start or what to do. 

She pointed towards a door and said, “There are 70 rooms inside (20,000 square feet) and there is no right or wrong way to experience Meow Wolf.  You can enter here, and you will eventually find an exit.  There will be some people in there that have bright vests on and if you need anything, they can help you.”  Ummm… okay!?  So we entered through a door and into one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. 

Experiencing Meow Wolf

meow wolf
Hannah in the “aquarium” at Meow Wolf

The first room was dark aside from bright neon lights and signs.  We walked through what appeared to be a life-sized aquarium, with neon algae and even a life-sized scuba guy.  The only thing we were missing was the water.  Later in the tour, we saw the actual aquarium that was being replicated.  If you are having a hard time picturing this, it’s because I am having a hard time describing it.  

We entered into another space that contained life-sized dinosaur bones that you could hit and they would play a musical note.  Another section looked like a tree fort, and yet a different part was what seemed like a normal 2-story house.  At one point Hannah had me crawling into this tiny space from a neon room and we came out into a fireplace in the living room of the house.  Something about me army crawling through this hole delighted her to no end as we ended up back here several times, which gave the employee in the bright vest a laugh every time he saw me wiggle through it. 

Meow Wolf

Next we were in the kitchen of the house and Hannah opened the refrigerator to unveil a bright white lighted hallway.  All you could see was white – the floors, walls, and ceilings were all white.  I imagine this is what going to heaven might look like.  She of course walked right inside of it, pulling me with her, landing us in another dimension of the experience.  

A Child’s Imagination is Inspiring

I honestly would not have seen half of the rooms if not for having Hannah with me.  A child’s imagination is endless and she somehow knew what buttons to press and hidden levers to pull that would open secret doors and into new rooms.  One of my favorite rooms had laser lights shining down in the shape of a harp, so the laser beams looks like the strings.  When you touched the lights, so really nothing at all, just the air where the lights were, you created the sound of the harp. 

Meow Wolf
Another interesting room at Meow Wolf

I could go on forever trying to describe the rooms but you may be better off just googling “Meow Wolf” and selecting images.  Better yet, take a trip to Sante Fe to experience this for yourself!   They will be opening additional locations in Las Vegas (2020) and Denver (2021) and I am so excited to take Hannah to them!

I recommend allowing at least 2 hours of time to experience the entire place.  By then, I think we had seen most of it, some rooms multiple times.  The photos I took do not do it justice.  I also highly recommend experiencing Meow Wolf with a child.  Their awe, amazement, and imagination is inspiring to witness. 

After Meow Wolf, we hit up a grocery store to get our supplies for the trip, such as PB&Js, apples, bananas, and some car snacks, such as granola bars, fruit snacks, almonds, and bubble gum.  We then met Drew and went to an amazing Mexican dinner. I could hardly keep my eyes open by the time we got back to Drew’s that night.  It was a long travel day, but an incredible experience that Hannah talks about to this day. 

Additional “Things to Do”

At the end of our trip we had an extra day in Albuquerque and took the 15 minute Sandia Park Tramway to the top of the Sandia Mountains (10,378 ft. peak) overlooking the city of Albuquerque on one side, and a ski hill on the back side.  Unfortunately, going up that fast gave me some altitude sickness.  Hannah thankfully handled it just fine!  While she wouldn’t stop pointing out all of the amazing things she was seeing on the way up, I was crouched down, crowded by a lot of people in a small tram, trying not to see my lunch again.  I was able to get a hold of my bearings after about 15 minutes at the top, but we were pretty cold and ready to hit the pool at our hotel before our early morning flight home the next day.  We also met a nice young couple at the top who had hiked the 7.5 miles up ~3,500 foot incline and were taking the tram back down.

Hannah at the top of the Sandia Mountain

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park – June 2018

Porcupine Mountains

Hannah – 5 years old – Backpacking Trip #3

After our first spring Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park trip one year earlier, all of us moms and kids said we definitely wanted to return to the Pinkerton Trail and stay at the Little Carp Cabin again the following year.  However, there was one hiccup… one of the moms was going to be having a baby three months before our next trip.  Although I wouldn’t put it past this particular amazing mom to strap a backpack to her back and a baby to her front to go on a hike, the thought of carrying out all of those diapers seemed less than appealing to all of us.  So we were down to just the 4 of us – 2 moms, 2 kids. 

Hiking In

The hike in went smoothly and the kids fell right into step as they had done last year.  With only two of them, now ages 5 and 6, we traveled pretty swiftly through the tall forest and over the streams and rivers.  After unpacking our sleeping bags and filtering some Lake Superior water with the Platypus GravityWorks 4L Complete Water Filter Kit (paid link), my friend, Katie and I started building a fire to make dinner. That night we made steak, asparagus, sweet potatoes, peppers, and carrots while sipping on Sutter Home’s finest White Zinfandel. 

dinner and wine
Katie showing off our dinner and drinks

The kids were off exploring the woods and seeing if their favorite hideout spots were still there.  They had found a big crevice near the edge and decided that a bear must live there. We could not always see them, but could hear their giggles occasionally, giving us comfort that they were not too far away. We did have some ground rules though – they were not allowed to go down by the lake without an adult. This particular cabin sits high up on a ridge and the trail down to the lake is a little steep. They seemed to find plenty to explore up on the ridge.

Hannah discovering the local “wildlife”

A Long Day Hike

The next day was beautiful.  The sun was shining but the morning was pretty cool by the lake.  The kids were up and ready to do some day hiking.  After breakfast, we made PB&Js, filled water bottles, packed snacks, and dressed in layers for our day hike.  We started toward the Big Carp River on the Lake Superior Trail.  Once we reached the Big Carp River Trail, we took that up river.  The wind was blocked away from the lake and as we walked, we were all slowly removing the layers we had on. 

Hannah hiking along the Big Carp River

We had gone about 2.5 miles so far, meaning our round trip would be 5 miles, which is the furthest these kids have ever hiked in a day!  We decided we should probably take a lunch break when we happened upon a gorgeous spot with a lot of sun shining on the rocks by the river.  By then, we were all in shorts and tank tops.  We dipped our feet in the water while snacking and the kids took turns taking pictures of each other and playing on the rocks. 

Hiking on the Lake Superior Trail

Surprisingly, the hike back to the cabin came with very few complaints.  The kids did awesome and the moms were happy they made it that far and that we didn’t have any rain yet that the forecast had suggested.  But little did we know… it was right around the corner. 

Rain and Warmth

Hannah and her friend adding comments and drawings to the log book

We had just arrived back at the cabin and were unpacking our gear from the day hike when the rain started.  The kids decided to write about our day hike adventure in the log book and then got out the deck of cards. However, they eventually were getting restless – even after that big hike!  So we put on our rain coats and headed to the beach!  A little rain isn’t going to stop these kids from throwing rocks into Lake Superior for hours! 

One of the best things about having a cabin to return to is the ability to dry out.  Most of the cabins have lines hanging up so you can dry your wet clothes.  We returned to the cabin and started a fire in the wood burning stove.  We made dinner and called it a night.  We all lay in our sleeping bags, listening to the rain fall.  The kids were zonked and fell asleep hard and fast.

Lake Superior
Lake Superior

The hike out was again a wet one, just like the previous year.  We didn’t take breaks and made it to the car pretty early after packing and cleaning up.

Lessons Learned

Kids can hike further than you think!  And having a warm cabin to return to after spending hours in the rain is incredible and highly recommended.

Winter Backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park – January 2018

Hannah – 4 years old – Backpacking Trip #2

Some Background Info – Christmas in the Porkies

Jim’s family would often celebrate Christmas the weekend before actual Christmas, and my family would tend to celebrate the weekend after Christmas, which left us alone on the actual holiday.  We decided to book a winter trip to the Porkies (Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park) over the Christmas holiday.  We booked 3 different yurts that we cross country skied into.  One night while we were there, it snowed 14 inches.  It was magical.  We decided this was the type of Christmas we wanted every year, even when we had kids.  And we did just that every year following. Map of Porkies

After Jim died I desperately wanted to continue that tradition, but knew it wasn’t possible for me to do alone.  It would have required me to chop wood to keep us warm (something I am capable of, but didn’t really want to rely on).  And I wasn’t sure I should be alone in the middle of nowhere with a 1 year old.  And so, I had to learn to let go of some traditions, and figure out new ones.

A New Winter Porkies Experience

When Hannah was 4 years old, I was able to convince some friends to go on this winter adventure with me.  Though not over Christmas, we went during a long weekend in January.  I booked a yurt for one night and then a cabin (which stays warmer than a yurt) for the following two nights.  My friends were only able to join for the cabin nights.  At the fear of me staying at the yurt alone with Hannah, my dad offered to join us for the night in the yurt.  Although I was confident I could make it a night alone, I was pretty quick to accept his offer.

In the winter, only the eastern part of the park is open.  There are several cabins and yurts to rent with various hiking distances in to them.  We rented the Little Union River Yurt for night one with Dad, and the Union River Cabin for the next two nights with my friend Kara, her boyfriend Zac, and Kara’s two teenage daughters.  Winter Map of Porkies

The Hike, Ski, Sled In

We met my dad in the parking lot near the trail head and got our packs ready.  The route in was about 3 ½ miles.  I was not sure how the snow conditions would be and how Hannah would handle that distance in the snow, so I cross country skied while towing her in a sled.  She was elated with this mode of transportation.  I did a test run earlier that month on a particularly snowy day by skiing to her daycare and sledding her home.  It worked great! 

The ski and sled ride into the Little Union Yurt
Photo credit: my Dad

My dad had chosen to hike in boots.  The trail was broken in enough that this worked just fine.  Tip: I’ve been to the Porkies in the winter when there was no snow and we had to hike in boots, and other years when it was necessary to have skis or snow shoes.  I’d recommend bringing both boots and either skis or snowshoes and decide once you arrive which one to use.

We hiked in on the River Trail past the Artist-in-Residence Cabin – a cabin available for artists who are inspired by the amazing great northern wilderness.  It was warmer than we expected that day and by the time we reached the yurt we were nearly down to our base layers.

Little Union Yurt

We built a fire in the stove inside the yurt, which quickly heated up the yurt to a balmy 85 degrees – it’s a little challenging to regulate the temperature in there, but we finally figured it out.  After dinner, we got ready for bed, and Hannah suggested a late night moonlight walk.  We got dressed and hiked about a half mile before stopping, turning off our headlamps and staring up at the gorgeous sky, lit up by moonlight and stars.

Star-gazing on a night hike
Photo credit: my Dad

Union River Cabin

The next morning we packed up the yurt and hiked about 1 ½ miles to the Union River Cabin.  We got there just in time to get a fire going in the stove before my friends arrived on their snow shoes.  My dad said his good-byes and hiked out on his own.  That afternoon we explored the area around the cabin, hiked down along the river, and found a very fun sledding hill that everyone enjoyed.  I was very glad to have brought the sled for the added entertainment.

Sledding near the Union River Cabin
Photo credit: Zac Bogstad

The East Vista

The next morning we decided to all hike (and Hannah sled) to the East Vista overlook – which is about a 7 mile round trip.  The first 2 ½ miles was relatively flat while the last mile was basically straight up hill.  The East Vista overlook was well worth it, overlooking Lake Superior and much of the park.  On the way back down, one of the older girls suggested that she and Hannah SLED down the one mile trail.  We sent them on their way, the rest of us all jealous we hadn’t thought of that and didn’t bring additional sleds.  They had a blast and surprising did not hit any trees on their way down.  And I was glad Hannah had a teenager with her as it took the rest of us awhile to catch up to them.

The View from the East Vista – Porcupine Mountains Wilderness Park
Photo credit: Zac Bogstad

Snow Day

On our walk back to the cabin, it started snowing pretty heavy.  Overall throughout the day, it snowed about 8 inches.  It was beautiful.  We all played outside in the fresh powder – building forts, jumping into piles of snow, and enjoying every minute of the winter wonderland.  The fire was raging inside the cabin for a toasty warm surprise when we came in from playing. 

Hannah playing in the fresh powder.
Photo credit: Zac Bogstad

Someone left a 500 piece puzzle in the cabin and we were determined to finish it.  Unfortunately it gets dark early in the winter, so we rigged up some lanterns to continue our puzzle late into the evening until it was finally done.  Meanwhile, Kara and her daughter had cooked up the most delicious Pad Thai meal I’ve ever had while backpacking.

The Snow Shoe, Ski, Sled Out

We woke up the last morning and packed up our gear for the 4 mile snow shoe, ski, and sled ride out of the park.  However, we now had a lot of fresh powder to push through.  Hannah kept sliding to the back of the sled, making it harder for me to pull it through the snow.  We finally got her situated correctly so her weight was evenly distributed on the sled so I could actually tow her.  Once we all got moving, it was a very enjoyable hike out.  The storm the previous day had left all of the tree branches glittered with fluffy snow. 

Kara and her daughters had a head start and by the time Zac, Hannah, and I reached the cars, they had put their backpacks in their car and had the car warming up.  I dug out my keys from my pack and went to unlock my car, but nothing happened.  Hmmm… that’s odd.  Click, click… again nothing.  So used the keyhole to open my door.  And that’s when I saw it – the dome light was on.  Either Hannah hit it while she was changing into her snow gear, or perhaps I hit it getting my skis out of the car.  Regardless of the culprit, we weren’t leaving the Porkies quite yet.  I was so thankful for Zac and Kara there to help jump my car.  If I were alone, it could have been a long hike to find someone who could help us out. 

Lessons Learned:

It’s okay to leave some traditions behind, and it is okay to start new ones, or not.  I would love to tell you that we do this every winter, but the fact is that so far, it only worked out this one time.  I am so grateful to my Dad and my friends who helped make it a special experience, and I hope to do it again some winter, but it likely will not be an annual tradition. 

Also, ALWAYS check your dome light before leaving your car for a few days on an adventure.

Backpacking with Kids – Pack List

The list below is by no means an end all, be all list, but it will definitely help you get started on thinking about what to pack and what you may need to purchase or borrow for your first trip.  Of course, if you are winter camping, this list would likely need to be modified, as this is more geared toward a spring/fall trip.  This is exact list I have sent my friends – even those with no experience – when we are planning our backpacking with kid trips.  When you really stop to think about what you need to survive 2-3 nights in the woods, it’s pretty simple.  You need shelter, appropriate clothing for conditions (which really isn’t much if you have a cabin for shelter), purified water, and food.  Everything else you bring is just extra weight, and you need to decide if it’s worth it to carry.

The Big Things

  • Tent
    • I recommend starting your kid backpacking experiences in a cabin to give you a little more security, shelter, space, etc.  But if you are looking for a tent trip, you will need a backpacking tent.  These are often smaller and lighter weight than a typical camping tent.  I have a Big Agnes 3-person lightweight tent that has worked well for me, my husband, and our dog.  I am not sure I would actually enjoy it with 3 adults in there.  I have not attempted a tent trip with Hannah as right now she cannot carry enough weight to make this work.  Once she can carry her own sleeping bag, I might be able to try it.
My Gregory Deva 70 on left – Hannah’s school Trolls backpack nearby
  • Backpack
    • Since I only want to recommend items I’ve actually used and loved, I can only recommend a pack for women.  I love the Gregory Deva 70 Backpack (paid link) and have been using mine since 2009.  I find it very comfortable, versatile for various weights and amounts I am carrying, and the 70 Liter is a suitable size that can be strapped down when I have less and really expands when I need more. 
    • For both guys and gals, I recommend going to a gear store near you that sells backpacks and try some on.  The store should have “weights” to add that can make it more realistic in store.  They can also teach you how a backpack should fit since it’s not like a school backpack.  Most of your weight will sit on your hips and the shoulder straps should not be putting weight on the top of your shoulder. 
  • Backpack for Kids
    • Depends on how much weight you are planning to give them.  When Hannah was 4 and 5, she used a simple school backpack and I only had her carry her clothes and water bottle.  In total, the two times we used school backpacks, they weighed about 6 lbs.
Hannah’s Vaude daypack with adjustable straps – not tightened to her body yet. Also pictured – her in-camp crocks hanging off her pack and water bottle in hand

  • When she was 6 years old, I upgraded her to a Vaude adult daypack.  This particular pack worked well because it could support more weight (I gave her about 10 lbs) and had the F.L.A.S.H. easy adjustable straps that can change from XS to Large by just pulling a cord and moving the strap.  This means I could easily transition this to MY daypack when we would take day hike excursions from the cabin and she wouldn’t have to carry anything.  (Which was WAY better than when we would day hike while I carried her Trolls school backpack!)  I do not know the exact Liter size of her backpack and I couldn’t find it anywhere on it.  I would guess around 30 Liters.

  • Sleeping Bags
    • The sleeping bag I use is the Big Agnes Roxy Ann 15 Women’s Down Sleeping Bag (paid link). It is lightweight, 650 fill down and has the Big Agnes integrated sleeping pad sleeve.  This mean the bottom of the bag is not filled with down, keeping it more lightweight, and it has a sleeve to put the Big Agnes sleeping pad into.  The sleeping pad will keep you off the ground and warm from below.  I love this bag and it has always kept me warm while sleeping, even in some frigid temps.  I really love the Big Agnes system with the sleeping pad sleeve integrated into the bag.
    • For kids, any lightweight sleeping bag should work that can be packed down pretty small in a stuff sack (more on these later).  I do not have a specific recommendation.
  • Sleeping Pad
    • If you plan on tent camping or the cabin does not have mattresses, you will want to be sure you have a sleeping pad to sleep on.  This will keep you warm from below and be much more comfortable to sleep on.  As I mentioned above, I have the Roxy Ann 15 sleeping bag that has a sleeve to fit the 20” x 72” Big Agnes Sleeping Pads.  The pad I have is the Big Agnes – Q Core SLX, 20×72 Ultralight Sleeping Pad (paid link). You have to fill this with air using your own lungs which can be exhausting after a long hike, but it is well worth it!  It is so comfortable and I can even sleep on my side without a hip touching the floor if I wanted to.  I have also used this sleeping pad as a water raft in the summer on a gorgeous day.  Everyone I was hiking with was pretty envious when I could relax on the water after a long hike while they stood wading in up to their knees.
    • If you are hiking into a cabin with a mattress on the bed, this item is unnecessary as the mattress should provide you with the warmth and comfort needed.

The Smaller Things – Drinking Water Related

  • Water Filter or Water Treatment Drops
    • I do recommend to check with the park service near where you are hiking to make sure filtering is an acceptable form of purification for that area.  Some areas will suggest using water treatment drops instead.   When this was recommended, Jim and I would use the Aquamira Water Treatment Drops (paid link).  Also, when only backpacking with 2 people, the drops are very lightweight.  They purify 1L of water (one Nalgene) at a time and this works pretty well.  The downside is the time it takes to purify the water.  Typically you mix a number of Part A drops with Part B drops and wait 5 minutes.  Then you add this to 1L of water, and wait another 15 minutes before drinking.  See packaging for exact instructions.
  • Water bottle (Nalgene if using water treatment drops works well) or hydration bladder (such as a Camelbak)
    • Most backpacks have a water sleeve inside for a hydration bladder.  I prefer using a Camelbak bladder.  There is typically a small insert in the backpack that you can feed the hose into so that the mouthpiece is near your shoulder while hiking.  I find having the water so accessible while hiking makes me drink more often.  However, with shorter hikes with kids, I often end up just bringing a Nalgene since I am not as concerned about dehydrating on a 3 mile hike.
  • Water bottle for kids
    • This can be any water bottle that they use.  Be sure they are only drinking purified water!

The Smaller Things – Fire Related

My work gloves
  • Lighter/Matches
    • I prefer to play it safe and bring both.
  • Fire Starter (optional)
    • I’ve found it to be worthwhile to have some fire starter in the event it is rainy and all you have to work with is wet wood.  This is especially helpful when your food requires a fire to cook!
  • Work Gloves (1 pair for the group)
    • I like to have some thicker “work gloves” along for handling the firewood, etc.

The Other Smaller Things

  • Camp Pillow
    • If I have enough room left after packing everything in my backpack, I like to include the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow (paid link).  When I don’t have room, I just use a stuff sack from my sleeping bag filled with some of my clothes as a pillow.
  • Compression/Stuff Sacks
    • Stuff Sacks are AMAZING.  Period.  They can take all of these big items and make them teeny tiny for packing in your backpack.  The best ones I have used are from Granite Gear (a Minnesota-based company).  I prefer the ones with the larger straps rather than strings, but both will work. 
    • Things I use stuff sacks for:
      • Tent (except poles)
      • Sleeping bag
      • Clothes
  • Headlamps for each person
  • Lantern (optional)
    • It’s nice to have a lantern with, especially if the sun sets early and you want something to give some light in the cabin or tent at night.
Using my bandana to clean off Hannah’s dirty face
  • Bandana
    • I like to bring a bandana along that can be used for a variety of reasons – wash dishes, dry dishes, clean face, keep bugs off of head, sweat band, first aid, rough “first filter” if drinking water has disgusting floaters in it before you would actually filter the water – the list goes on and on.  I never regret bringing a bandana and typically bring one for myself and Hannah!
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Camera
  • Toothbrush/paste
  • Toilet paper
    • If there are not toilets/latrines where you will be staying, you will also want to bring a small shovel to dig a hole for your #2 business.
  • 2 Garbage bags
    • You will need to pack out all garbage and if you end up having wet/dirty clothes shoes, the second garbage bag could come in handy and is relatively small and lightweight for all of the potential uses – makeshift raingear, etc.
  • First aid kit
    • A basic first aid kit is always good to have with, especially with kids!
  • Clothesline (optional)
    • Most of the cabins we hike into have clotheslines already up, but I do have a small one that I bring with when tent camping.  If you do get wet, it’s nice to have a line to put up between trees and hang your things out to dry.
  • Rain cover (optional)
    • There are rain covers for your pack that will help keep it dry in a downpour.  I typically watch the weather and if it doesn’t look like a complete downpour, I skip this item, as the pack can handle a little rain without getting everything soaked.

Clothes and Shoes

  • Clothes – Some of this is weather forecast dependent – use your judgment
    • Rain coat
    • Layers for 2 outfits – a good hiking outfit and a separate “in camp” outfit
      • Long underwear, hiking pants or yoga pants, sports bras, underwear, tank top, t-shirt, long sleeve, fleece
      • As long as you have layers and a separate outfit for hiking and in camp, you should be fine.  You really do not need as much clothes as you think.  When you are hiking/backpacking, everyone stinks
    • Winter hat and gloves – weather dependent of course, but a hat can go a long way if you are cold.
    • Good thick socks for hiking
  • Shoes
    • Hiking Boots – You will want hiking boots if you are putting on some miles and/or want additional ankle support.  I recommend giving yourself time to break them in before the actual trip.  I use Keens but there are several good options out there.  Keens seem to have a shorter break in period than some others, but you will want to try some on to see what feels best for you.
    • Tennis Shoes – these will work fine if not putting on a lot of miles and not too treacherous of terrain.
    • Kids Tennis Shoes – If you are doing less than 4 miles in a day, and they aren’t carrying too heavy of weight, I do not think it’s necessary to buy them actual hiking boots.  Of course, as they get older and you are bringing them on bigger trips, this is definitely a worthwhile investment and can save you from a sprained ankle some day.
    • In-Camp Shoes – After a long day of hiking, it will feel amazing to take your hiking boots off.  I like to bring crocks along for when we are in camp.  (Thankfully I am not concerned one bit about fashion when I am camping!)  Crocks are a great choice for several reasons.  They are lightweight, can be worn with or without socks for various temperatures, and they have an optional strap that can help keep them on if walking in moving water.  (I often wade into the water to get good clean water for purifying or for washing dishes.)


  • Cooking items – here is my go-to cooking supplies for dinners, coffee, and anything else I need to make.
    • Lightweight backpacking pot/handle
  • MSR PocketRocket 2 Ultralight Backpacking, Camping, and Travel Stove (paid link) – this item screws onto the fuel and you place the pot on top of the expanded PocketRocket.  It can boil water within minutes and is pretty small and lightweight.
    • MSR ISOPRO Fuel (paid link) This is what actually provides the fuel to heat the water in the pot.  These can be picked up locally as well, but this will give you an idea of what to look for.  Typically a 3 day, 2 night trip, I bring two of these, but only use one.  This is used to heat up water at least 4-5 times for coffee and dinners.
    • Jetboil Flash Camping Stove Cooking System (paid link) – I do not own one of these, and have never carried one (so unsure of how heavy it is), but my friends do and we have used this to make coffee in the morning or soup in the evening.  It seems to work very well, especially for coffee, but is not large enough for the dinners I typically make for larger groups.
    • Tin foil – I typically bring extra folded up small in my pack.  This comes in handy for many occasions.
Using tinfoil to make steak and veggies over the fire
  • Backpacking/Lightweight plates, silverware for each person
    • Don’t want to spend extra money on these yet?  Just bring paper plates and plastic silverware.
  • Knife
    • Always good to have a knife along for any needs that come up.  I also like to make sure mine is clean enough before I go to cut food with it. 
  • Cup or mug that you can put coffee, water with flavoring, or adult beverages in for drinking. 
    • Bring an additional one for the kids if you don’t want flavored water in their water bottles


  • Food – There are a lot of websites dedicated to good backpacking meals.  Here are just a few ideas that are some of our favorites.
    • Breakfast ideas
      • Coffee – Starbucks Via (paid link) is a great choice for instant coffee
      • Creamer – most grocery stores also sell individually wrapped dried coffee creamer that works well for those of you who like a little coffee with their creamer in the morning 😉
      • Clif bars
      • Cereal – individual serving amount in bag with Horizon Milk that does not need to be refrigerated
        • Normally I would not carry in milk when backpacking as that is a lot of weight, but we did one trip that was only a mile in and my daughter loves cereal, so this was a special treat for her in the mornings
      • Eggs – can pack eggs in using an egg case, or purchase egg whites in a carton – making it easy to make eggs in the morning
      • Bagels – toasted over the fire using tin foil
      • Sausage – toasted over the fire using tin foil
Hannah with headlamp on, making PB&Js for a hike
  • Lunch
    • PB&J are a kid favorite – we also typically pack sandwich bags to make it easy to pack these to go on hiking days.
    • Snacks
      • Granola
      • Trail mix
      • Candy bars
      • Gummy worms/bears
      • Beef jerky
      • Gold fish
      • S’mores
      • Popcorn over the fire
Dinner – Night 1
  • Dinners
  • Steak and potato packets – a great idea for the first night in.  We typically bring No Name Steaks that are individually packaged and frozen.  By the time we hike in, they are thawed out and ready for the fire.  We use tin foil to cook them over the fire.  We also prepack a vegetable packet wrapped in tinfoil that cooks over the fire.  Some vegetables we use include potatoes, carrots, zucchini, and beets.
  • Hot dogs are a kid favorite
  • Tortellini – my favorite go-to backpacking meal
    • Cheese tortellini that doesn’t need to be refrigerated (look in your pasta aisle)
      • Sundried tomatoes
      • Onions (Either pre-sliced or I bring a small plastic backpacking cutting board and knife to cut these.  If pre-slicing them, be sure to double bag them as they will smell up your backpack!)
      • Spinach – I typically buy fresh spinach and repackage it from the container into a small zip lock bag
      • Boil water in the pot using the Pocket Rocket and fuel – add tortellini and onions first.  Add in sundried tomatoes and spinach near the end.  The spinach will cook down.  It is okay if it turns out a little “soupy”.   It’s absolutely delicious.  Even the kids like this one!
  • Water Flavoring – such as Mio or Dasani
    • If you are concerned you or the kids will not like the taste of the filtered water, you may want to consider packing water flavoring to help keep them drinking water.
  • Alcohol
    • If you would like to bring some adult beverages along, be sure to consider the weight of what you are bringing.  For the shorter hikes with kids, I sometimes don’t mind carrying in the extra weight of small plastic wine bottles (those small individually sized ones work great!)  But if I am going on a longer hike, I typically skip the alcohol or bring a small amount of hard liquor (bourbon) and just mix it with filtered water. 
  • Refrigeration
    • There is no electricity, so obviously we don’t have a fridge there.  You will want to consider this when planning, buying, and packaging food for your trip.  When we go, the cabin often has a big pot and we fill it with Lake Superior water, which is pretty cold.  We leave it on the floor of the cabin (where it’s colder) and throw anything in it we would want kept somewhat cold, such as spinach, jelly, white wine, eggs, etc. 


  • Doing dishes in the backcountry is a little more challenging than at home.  There are a lot of websites that you can visit to give you the full run down of expectations on doing dishes in the backcountry.  I am not going to get into that here, since this is just a pack list.  However, it’s important to educate yourself on environmental and wildlife safety and considerations regarding this.
    • I like to use a foldable/collapsible water basin to load all of the dishes into and bring them to the water source. 
    • Scour/Scrubbing Pad (paid link) – I typically cut the pads in half and just bring half the pad on each trip, and by the end of the trip, I throw it away when we get home as it is pretty gross by then.
    • Towel for drying – I use a microfiber towel, but really any towel will work.  You will want one that dries quickly. 
Hannah helping me with dishes as we watch the sun set over Lake Superior

I hope you find this list comprehensive and that it helps you get started on planning your backpacking trip!