What is the earliest age at which we can start tent camping with a child? We were hoping to start thru-hiking the AT when our child reaches age two and half, but is that too young?
Submitted by - Deborah- St. Louis, MO
I took my oldest son on his first camping trip at two months. It's easy and fun to take an infant camping (since they sleep most of the time, and can easily be carried in a front pack). It's not until they start crawling around that things get hairy in camp!
Thru-hiking the AT might be a slightly crazy idea! I've never heard of anyone doing it with kids that age. You might even set some records! The thing is this: at two and a half, the kids want to walk on their own (and they're pretty heavy to carry), but they're so darned poky! I usually advise parents with toddlers to ditch all their mileage expectations and slow things down to a crawl, limiting excursions to short hikes so that the kids can really enjoy themselves, and the parents don't get too stressed.
I actually think it would be easier to do a long hike with an infant than a toddler. By age five or six, your kids will be able to hike a few miles at a time on easy trail, but they'll be pretty slow, and get easily distracted by all the sights. The bottom line is that anything is possible, but it's probably best to adopt a wait-and-see policy. That way you can factor in your child's attitude towards the whole thing. I have one boy (my youngest) who is a hiking animal--he loves to just keep going and takes great pride in climbing peaks and clicking off the miles. My older boy needs to be cajoled along the trail with Skittles (I highly recommend hiking with a big stash!), and tends to complain a lot more. It just depends on the kid!
Two great resources I recommend looking into include a book written by my friend Eugene Buchanan, "Outdoor Parents, Outdoor Kids", and another book, "Tent and Car Camper's Handbook: Advice for Families & First-timers" that I co-wrote with BACKPACKER's Medicine Man Buck Tilton.