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Zack Fields

If you want to carry more weight but go shorter distances than conventional multi-sports, try heading out with a baby or toddler. They make for similarly challenging packing, but are far more lovable than synthetic fabrics. By packing light for yourself, it is possible to take your child on overnights in the backcountry.

For couples, the simplest packing arrangement is for one person to carry the child and child’s accoutrements, and for the other parent to carry all other food, camping and personal gear. Efficient packers with modern gear can get the group camping backpack down to thirty pounds or so, while the child’s pack weight may be comparable or more depending on how old s/he is. For an enjoyable trip, a comfortable child carrier is essential. Body-wrap style carriers such as the Ergo can work, though the backpack-style carriers often are more comfortable and versatile. The child’s age may dictate which you take, as infants might be too small for backpacks, while toddlers rapidly outgrow the body-wrap style carriers. Advantages of backpacks include extra space for childrens’ clothes, diapers, water, toys, food, first aid, and rain/insect covers, while body wrap carriers can be lighter weight. A standard baby backpack, such as Osprey’s Poco AG or Deuter Kid Comfort, have enough space in the bottom compartment for a weekend’s worth of kids’ gear. It is possible, though pretty heavy, for one parent to pack ultra-light for herself and lash her own gear underneath the child backpack if traveling solo.

Saving weight is essential for the comfort of trip porters, i.e. parents. Use an ultralight tent: Numerous models now clock in at under three pounds. Bring summer-weight down sleeping bags, ideally ones that zip together so the toddler can sleep in the middle rather than needing her own sleeping bag (which is unlikely to get used anyway). Minimize extra layers besides a puffy and shells top and bottom.

There are numerous outstanding backpacking destinations for young families within a couple hours of Anchorage. Here is a decidedly non-exhaustive list:

Ptarmigan Lake, Hidden Lake, and Rabbit Lakes are scenic destinations within a couple hours of either Glen Alps or Canyon Road trailheads. Just keep in mind that lakefront camping is scenic attribute for adults but a drowning hazard for mobile toddlers.

Hanging Valley, Ram Valley, and the broad plateau behind Baldy provide stunning camping destinations with as short as an hour’s walk from the trailhead. They’re great first destinations for parents taking young children on their first trip.

Carter/Crescent Lake and Tonsina Point are easily accessible destinations near Seward, with fishing and whale watching respectively, and plenty of exploration potential for active kids.

Eagle River Valley and Resurrection Pass Trail (close-in sites near either Cooper Landing or Hope) provide sheltered camping below treeline, which can be really nice if winds are strong up high, or if it’s spitting rain and shelter would make camping infinitely more comfortable. Reservations are necessary in Eagle River Valley if you want to camp closer to Eagle River Nature Center than Echo Bend, but it’s only an hour-plus walk to get beyond the reservation-controlled area.

Hanging Valley near Eagle River has a stunning tarn beneath towering escarpments, just three miles from the Harp trailhead. Follow the old South Fork trail along a bench that leads to Hanging Valley, then stay on the informal trail as it swings left and gradually uphill. When the trail starts to peter out, cross the small creek and continue uphill on the larger social trail that is on the bench east of the creek. There is another informal trail that branches off and goes up to the lake.

Williwaw Lakes loop is a perfect choice for a three day trip, which represents about as many sodden diapers as I’d like to carry. Camp near Williwaw and Long Lakes for world class views, and soak in the vistas that you’d fly by on a day hike of the same route.

It can take a little creativity to plan a backpacking trip with much shorter distance limitations than you’re used to, but spending more time in stunning nearby locations only strengthens your appreciation for our remarkable backyard. Although it can seem like a bit of trouble packing and getting your children out the door, the joy on their faces from romping in tundra and bouncing around in the tent is incomparable.

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