Ann Lake Parts I and II

three hikers

This month we nearly got the entire family of five, with one on the way, into the woods for a campout. It wasn’t until we pitched the tent and set up camp at Ann Lake, an hour northwest of the Twin Cities, that we realized we had forgotten one of the most crucial items – pullups. Crap.

I was ashamed to call myself a boyscout. So much for my 5 kid-camping essentials.

What to do? Our two oldest are potty trained, but only by day. I was willing to get up every two hours, all night, to avoid an accident in the tent, but we had also brain-lapsed on the baby’s diapers. Could I fashion some out of leaves and sticks? Does mother nature provide nothing that’s waterproof on the outside and absorbent on the inside? Moss? Lichen?

What did parents do before pampers? After 20 minutes of debating with myself I reluctantly struck the tent and packed the gear. We had dogs and s’mores and sat by the fire until 10 before returning home.

The next week we were back for a sequel – the Batman Begins kind, not the Batman Forever or Batman and Robin kind. We had a stockpile of pullups and diaps, enough for Jon plus Kate and 8. But this time my wife couldn’t join us, so it was just me with the three kids.

Total chaos, hoards of ticks, lots of fun.

Kids’ Camping Gear List

Most kid camping gear lists, including my first draft, seem to focus on what the parents should bring for their kids. Instead, here are seven basic items that every camping kid can learn to pack and utilize, on their own. They’re based entirely on the two principles of camping enjoyment.

Download the checklist: pdf

Personal Effects

  1. Gear bag – Kids need their own personal pack, whether a grocery sack or an old Jansport. Even when car camping, they can learn to manage their own stuff. Start small (clothes) and increase the load (sleeping bag, food, etc.) as they grow. My son, who’s 5, carries his own clothes and water. My daughter, who’s 3, carries all the snacks and treats.
  2. First aid – In addition to the comprehensive kit for the group, kids can carry their own personal items. Again, start small, with things they might occasionally use, like band-aids, lip balm, and a sphygmomanometer. Build the kit together ahead of time and discuss the importance of each item.
  3. Extra Clothing – For the cold, precipitation, or to replace an outfit once it’s covered in mud. This is partly for your own sanity, as kids tend to enjoy getting wet and filthy. Inclement weather can spoil a campout if you’re not prepared for it. A rain poncho is a step in the right direction – youth sizes are easy to find, but for young kids a garbage bag is perfect. [Our winter camping adventures]
  4. Sustenance – Kids can learn to be responsible for their own nutrition. A disposable water bottle, cheap and light, may suffice for H2O. On long hikes, teach about bringing the right amount of water – not too much, as it’s heavy (8.35 lbs/gal, 2.20 lbs/L) – and making it last. Plan meals together and let them carry their own snacks.
  5. Flashlight – Young kids rarely get to explore the outdoors in the dark, which may be one of the reasons they’re afraid of it, and one of the reasons camping is such a unique activity. Nighttime is more fun, and safer, with some lighting. The cheap or free keychain type is prefect, though maybe not very luminous.
  6. Sleeping gear – Good sleeping bags for young kids are hard to come by, as most are designed for youth and often weigh as much as the adult counterparts. Tailoring your own bags is feasible and fun. Liners add versatility. Around 40° and below my kids use closed-cell foam pads, which can be obtained for under $7 and cut down to child-size to make them more portable.
  7. Mess kit – This last personal item is perfect for teaching a kid to take care of their gear since losing it or failing to wash it can have an immediate consequence, i.e., hunger. [More on mess kits for kids]

Camping is also a great opportunity to teach about service, teamwork, and group responsibility. In addition to personal items there are many things to be shared – food, shelter, toilet paper, whatnot. Here are a few simple things that kids can oversee.

Items to Share

  1. Marshmallows – The true essence of the marshmallow is its cookability over a fire. It can be replaced with anything which burns or heats and is afterwords still nearly edible, but s’mores make for a nice camping tradition, and mallows are the critical ingredient. They’re cheap, light, and indestructible – perfect for a kid’s pack.
  2. Topicals – Sunscreen and bug spray. These are also items a kid can share and learn to apply themselves, with some supervision. [Beware of ticks]
  3. Activities – Last but not least are camping games and activities. As far as preparation and responsibility go, we should always include the kids in our campout planning. Discuss what they’d like to see and do, and what they’ll need to make it happen. Talk about costs, feasibility, and required equipment. Examine the trail map or research the destination online together.

Please share your comments and suggestions!

Superior Hiking Trail in the Spring

Sunset over Sonju lakeMinnesota is waterlogged this time of year. Winter has outstayed its welcome and spring has finally taken a stand, liquefying the snow much faster than the earth can soak it up. Hiking trails are soggy. Campsites are more mud than dirt. Nevertheless, in celebration of spring’s triumph, my son and I spent May 6th and 7th on the Superior Hiking Trail, in northern MN.

Sonju lake campsiteDespite the snow melt and overgrowth the hiking was great. We covered a few miles of the George Crosby section, just north of Little Marais, MN, and spent the night on Sonju Lake.

The single campsite on Sonju is on the north side of a small hill with lots of shade – most of it was either under snow or puddle and there wasn’t a single dry stick to burn. Conclusions: in the spring months, don’t camp on Sonju or plan on a bonfire. Also, watch out for ticks.

Here are more pics and a link to the Superior Hiking Trail Association. And here’s a map of the campsites, parking lots, and trail section, about 23 miles, from County Rd 6, through the state park, to Hwy 61:


View Superior Hiking Trail: George Crosby Section in a larger map

Urban Campout

Last night the thermometer read 40°, which called for a campout in the urbs, despite the 40 mph wind gusts and the soggy snow.

There’s a lot of movement in the urbs at night. Who are all these people driving around at 2AM? Aren’t their kids going to wake them up soon, demanding breakfast? They must be out getting pedialite or emergency wipes.

Besides the cars, there’s a train or a jet going by every few minutes, so it’s hard to forget your tent is pitched in the city, not the woods. Still, it was a good time. The kids tested out their custom sleeping bags, giving them pretty good reviews: Me, with much excitement and encouragement – Do you like your awesome new sleeping bags? The kids, nonchalant – yeah. Can we have some more hot chocolate?

urban campoutWe told stories for a couple hours, about biscuit the bear, carbuncle the crab, and an anonymous ostrich, all of whom were good friends and very helpful to one another. Around 9PM my son and I dozed off while my daughter continued telling us about the volcano that was going to boil, which would feel really hot:

And there was a big rock that was going to roll into it and fill it up and then the planet would crack because the hot lava couldn’t get out.

[Laughter, followed by what sounded like a monkey, dying…]

I was talking like a funny monkey. Dad, can you do something for my finger to feel better? For my finger to be, um, not ripped?

She had a hangnail. That’s all I can remember.

Chengwatana State Forest

chengwatana state forestThis weekend we camped out in the Chengwatana Forest, about 30,000 acres of birch, aspen, and white pine along the St. Croix River in east-central Minnesota. Like the rest of the state, the forest is flat and wet, with an elevation around 900 ft. and lots of marsh, river, and lake.

In February that means lots of ice. The road was covered in a thick layer because of the recent snow melt. The foot of snow that remained on the ground had a shell of ice on it as well, strong enough to support the first half of a footstep but then break under the second.

It got down to 5° overnight, otherwise the temperature stayed in the teens and twenties with only a slight breeze. We couldn’t ask for more in the middle of February. Actually, with a few more degrees we could have ventured, comfortably, more than 5 feet from the campfire. The cold really limits campout activities to survival, i.e., maintaining core body temperature, fending off frostbite, and such. But, like I said, it’s the middle of February in Minnesota, where the average high is in the twenties and the average low just above zero.

chengwatana ice shelvesOnce again, it was too cold for young kids. I’ve drawn the line at 10°. Single digits mean frozen digits. The age range for that threshold depends, in part, on the availability of winter gear. The standard boots and mittens for young kids (pre-K) seem to be designed for the warmer months of winter, the beginning and end, rather than the frozen middle.

We’ll be back once the weather improves. Chengwatana is 20 minutes further from the Twin Cities than Sand Dunes, but it’s bigger, more isolated, and contains less private land. Plus, it has a sweet name.