Keep It Simple: How to Rough-It With a Toddler

Well… I’m not going to say this was a breeze, but it’s doable and worth it! A bit of work and a little challenging, yet absolutely worth it. We’re going to go over a few things to help you tackle your adventure with your toddler and have it run smoothly:

  • Why
  • Where
  • Gear
  • Foods

Why?

Toddlers are frustrating anywhere, so why bring them to a place with such limited resources? Because we love it! And we want them to love it, too. Simple enough!

For us, it wasn’t just about getting Killian out in the wilderness; it was about getting our whole family out there. For various reasons, we have missed too many yearly trips to my favorite place, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. I am determined not to miss another yearly trip. So far Killian seems to have inherited my love for the outdoors, he’s always wanting to be outside and is so curious when we go on little hikes.

You have your own reasons for wanting to get your little adventurers out there, keep those reasons close to your heart when you reach a frustrating situation.

Where?

When it comes to planning a trip in the Boundary Waters there are so many options. Land of 10,000 Lakes, right? Not to mention that there are around 80 entry points. So how do you choose?

Keep it simple. This is key! Lets remember who you are planning your trip with; a toddler. They cannot sit long, they need snacks, detest being contained, may need a diaper change along the way, will likely need to be carried and cannot carry any gear. Basically, hungry free-loaders.

With “keeping it simple” in mind, go for an easy lake. So you’re looking for an entry point that has one or more of these qualities:

  • Short portage
  • No portage
  • No Motors
  • Short paddle in
  • Smaller Lake

Ideally, a lake that you can launch your canoe right from the truck and unload at the lake is perfect when voyaging with such young children. You really won’t find a lake with all of these things, but you can get close. You’re not looking for a long route. Short and sweet!

I highly recommend Kawishiwi Lake. This was Killian’s first taste of the BWCA and it was perfect. We stayed right on Kawishiwi, actually we only paddled for about 5 minutes before reaching our campsite. Not our normal style, but with an infant, it was superb. Kawishiwi meets 3/5 on my checklist above. It has no portage, no motors, and can be a short paddle. It’s not a very small lake, but with all of the nooks, crannies, and islands, the lake is broken up enough to keep any high winds from reeking too much havoc.

Hog Creek was round two in Killian’s BWCA adventures. It’s more to tackle than Kawishiwi with it’s long paddle in and a beaver damn to hurdle over. For those more experienced already, it’s a good lake. Better for toddlers rather than for infants in my opinion. We landed on Hog Creek due to some misjudgments on scheduling, avoid these issues with this post here.

Gear

There is a surprising amount of equipment on the market geared toward babies and toddlers in the wilderness. I’m telling you, you don’t need much! There are a few things that might help you travel with ease, but you really don’t need all of that fancy stuff.

Hammock

The hammock is one of the best purchases that we made. I highly recommend acquiring a hammock for a trip with infants/toddlers/young children. They are perfect for naps. But don’t let kids under 2 nap alone, you don’t need them getting tangled or wind up sleeping face down. Be sure to get one with a built in mosquito net! Depending on what time of year you go, those buggers can be brutal. The tree straps must be at least one inch thick, check that before you purchase.

Small Toys

We like to pack light! You don’t need to bring a whole slew of toys along. The whole point is to disconnect from modern life and reconnect with nature. Bringing too many toys from home will defeat the purpose of getting your kids out in the wilderness, but having a few things is a good idea. We brought a small moose and bear along. These went along with the trip environment and were great entertainment when Killian needed some kind of distraction. Mostly he played with sticks, rocks and moss. Cannot get more natural than that!

Warm Bedtime Gear

There are small sleeping bags for little ones on the market. You don’t need to bother with these if you don’t want to, your little one would outgrow it in a day anyway. We brought Killian a small nap mat that we had at home. This was really just to get him in the mindset of going to sleep. He actually slept in my sleeping bag with me. Our trips with the kids are during the summer months, but it can still get chilly, warm pajamas are a must. If you spring for one of those little sleeping bags, make sure that it holds body heat well. When Killian sleeps in my sleeping bag with me, I know that my body heat will keep him warm and I don’t sleep deep enough while in the woods to risk rolling over on him.

Life Jacket

You can’t forget about the life jacket. Won’t get very far without it. This is a really important part of the gear list, probably the most important. A good life jacket will make a world of difference. For more safety tips on life jackets click here.

**Safety Tip** All members of your camping party, infant to adult, should always wear their personal floatation device while in the canoe. They really do save lives.

Food

Now for the more delicious part of your little adventurers time in the wilderness: FOOD! It’s a well known fact that toddlers are atrocious when they are hangry. Best thing to do is keep the little gremlins fed. But how do you do that in the wilderness? Here are a few pointers.

Food Pouches

Food pouches are amazing for being out in the wilderness! For Killian’s first and second trips, these were life savers. And on various hikes! They are like a whole little meal in one convenient pouch or just a simple apple sauce pouch for a quick snack. We used these most while we were preparing dinner. Killian didn’t understand that he had to wait for the meal to cook, he was hungry now! Understandable for an infant/toddler. We fed him one of his pouches while waiting for our meal to cook. This helped to tide him over until the real meal was ready.

One mistake that I made; not having Killian try the flavors beforehand. This sucked. He didn’t care for the chicken noodle flavor, so we had a whole pouch go to waist. Bring a few extras, they might have a voracious appetite after a long journey. Also make sure they know how to eat out of the pouches before your trip so they don’t squeeze it all over themselves. You don’t need them seasoning themselves for the wildlife.

Granola Bars

Nutrient packed granola bars are nice to have on hand for your tykes. With so many options out there, I’m sure you’ll be able to find one that suits your family. Make sure that they are nutrient dense and high energy!

Breakfast

Oatmeal. This is the easiest breakfast you can have out there. Just mix with hot water and your done. So easy!! We used to bring pancake mix that you mixed with water and fried up there in oil…. long process and a big mess! Nope. Oatmeal is the way to go. For our trips with the kids, we went with the Quaker Oats oatmeal. I gave it to the kids a few times before our trip to make sure that they would eat it (not sure why I couldn’t figure that out with the food pouches, duh). They loved it! Of course they did, it’s mostly sugar… sigh. But it filled them up and gave them energy for the morning. You might have a different brand or plan for your meals. But oatmeal was the way to go for us.

Hot chocolate in the morning is a nice treat after a night spent in the tent. If you are looking to save on dishes (I always am), drink your hot chocolate first, then make your oatmeal in the same mug. This way, you won’t have oatmeal chunks floating in your hot chocolate and you will only use one cup per person. Yay!

Dinner

Quick meals that are easy for your child to eat are the best. We went for pre-seasoned noodles or rice. Chicken flavored rice mixes pair really nicely with fish. Fish should be thoroughly cooked with no bones left in it. You don’t need anyone choking on a bone out there. A toddler cannot live on food pouches alone, so make sure you are bringing meals that you know they will eat, can you tell that I’m stressing this point a lot? Having food that is quick to make is important as well, kids don’t like to wait once they get hungry. I don’t like to wait either. We have had good luck with Good & Gather Spanish rice for fish tacos and Knorr Rice Sides. They are quick which saves fuel and time.

If you are wanting a classic ‘hotdogs over the fire’ meal, make that your first night’s meal. Freeze your dogs at home, put them in a small, soft sided cooler that fits in your food pack. Do not bring a giant cooler! They will thaw as you make your way to your campsite and be ready to cook by dinnertime. Leave the buns at home, they just get smashed and gross.

S’mores

What’s a camping trip without s’mores? Lame, that’s what it is. You’ve got to bring s’more supplies. Here is a tip though: put your chocolate in the cooler with your hotdogs, this will keep them from melting during hot summer voyages. And bring wipes, it’s going to be messy. But the messy faces are worth the smiles.

Water

Obviously you need to give your little adventurer plenty of water, dehydration is nothing to mess with. But here is the thing, have you ever tasted the water up in the northern part of Minnesota? It’s different. I don’t mean to be a water snob, but it’s different. You are not going to want to haul in all of the water that your family will drink while you’re there. But you will need to have a good water treatment system. Even after the water is treated, it still tastes different. Flavor packets are the way to go here. They are light, small, and potent. We don’t bring bottled water, it creates more trash that we have to carry out. The only exception that we made was for Killian’s formula on his first trip. We brought just enough plus one bottle to make his average amount of formula that he would have in the amount of time that we’d be there. We weren’t going to risk giardia with an infant. Breast fed babies will make this much easier as long as mom is going with.

Really, camping with a toddler isn’t as hard as it sounds if you cover your bases. It’s not easy, but it’s not so tough either. Having them out there experiencing the places that you love is what it’s all about. Preparation and thinking things through make the whole trip experience run smoothly.

Gather your fidgets and get out there, it’s so worth the effort.

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