Thursday, August 4, 2016

#CarFreeCamping: How To Pack Light for a Family of Four

On our recent camping trip, we decided to take the challenge of backpacking, rather than car camping. We really love bikepacking, but it's difficult to get out of the city here without riding along busy highways, narrow twisting roads without a shoulder or taking long detours since many of the bridges & tunnels don't allow cyclists. We picked Newcastle Island because it's doable by public transit. We didn't actually hike that far carrying all our gear--just a few hundred metres here & there in between buses, ferries & camp site--but we still wanted to pack light. I'm still figuring out what I'm able to do without suffering too much from the osteoarthritis in my hip, so I wanted to avoid carrying anything unecessarily heavy.

Here's how we carried everything:

Four packs, a cart, a purse, plus three fabric shopping bags of food (not shown, since we'd already eaten their contents)

The two large travel packs are from MEC, bought before our first trip to Europe together in 2005, including one of the daypacks that zips onto the outside. In our packs were the sleeping bags, our clothes, & tent, with the sleeping pads strapped to the outside on the way there. Linny's Deuter Junior pack (containing both kids' clothing) is also from MEC, it's the one he's used for school for the past year. Bronte carried Linny's old SkipHop mini daypack (all her diapers & wipes were in here) that he used for two years of preschool. I also brought a small purse to just keep bus fare, my phone, & my book handy while in transit. We carried all our food & some other supplies on a small wheeled cart that came with our cooler, with a milk crate bungeed onto it. We also brought a few cloth grocery bags which we used to walk the last things we bought in Nanaimo a few blocks from the store to the little ferry, then to the camp site.

On our way home, we were a little more streamlined, with two sleeping pads inside one pack, the rest in the milk crate & the dishes, etc, in the cooler where the now eaten food had been.

I packed fairly light in terms of clothing--we wore nearly every item twice. It was easy to pack since the forecast was for dry, sunny weather, so we didn't bring any rain gear & only wore sandals. I brought fleece jackets & pants for the kids, but the pants weren't really necessary, as it just wasn't that cool at night.

In terms of sleeping gear, we brought our MEC Camper 4 tent, two thermarests, two blue foam mats, four MEC Creekside sleeping bags. The weather was perfect--between 21-28c in the afternoons, down to maybe 13c at night. The tent stayed warm, but didn't get any condensation & there was no dampness between the mattresses & floor as we've had on past trips in cooler weather.

Since we were carrying everything on transit, we decided to leave the folding camp chairs at home. I was able to use the milk crate as a stool at the campfire--we may bring a second crate next time so two can sit  near the fire. The other 'furniture' we brought was our hammock. It's one we bought at Costco, not particularly light, but it packs down to smaller than a loaf of bread, so it's compact & having it was totally worthwhile to relax in or for the kids to play on.

All MEC, all the time: tent, sleeping bags, & sleep pads from there
We kept food fairly simple, (more on that tomorrow) cooking breakfast & two dinners on our new Primus stove from MEC. For $21 plus $9 for a large fuel bottle, this was more than adequate for our needs. I'm really happy we bought it just before we left. We decided not to get the wind screen for it, but were able to use the lid of the food locker box plus a few pieces of firewood to keep the stove from blowing out. (the photo below of breakfast cooking shows the makeshift wind screen setup) We cooked in two pots--a camping one with folding handles that nested about halfway into an old aluminum one from hand-me-down camping dishes. Both pots are between 1.5 & 2L, just barely big enough to cook a large meal for four.

For dishes we used the kids' plastic Ikea plates, bowls, cups, & cutlery. They are probably bulkier & maybe a few grams heavier than technical backpacking ones, but they stack fairly well, are just big enough for adults to eat on, & are fairly light. Durability was also a major factor, as the kids have managed to snap every double ended light spoon/fork in half. We decided not to bring the big plastic folding water jug with the spigot & didn't need it--it was only a short walk to get water, which we carried back to the site in a large water bottle, our two travel mugs & our two pots as needed. I also strapped a couple of extensible roasting sticks to the cart, which were handy for roasting hot dogs the first night, & marshmallows every night.

Home sweet home for three nights on Newcastle Island
We brought a tarp & two lengths of rope, just in case, but the tarp stayed folded & the rope was only used for a clothesline. We've found it really handy to string up a double clothesline between a couple trees, not just for drying things, but to keep stuff out of Bronte's reach, or away from bugs & animals.

Speaking of bugs, there were very few & we literally only saw one mosquito the entire trip. I had a tiny bottle of bug spray that got used twice. The sunscreen came out daily, & we used our basic toiletries kit of toothbrushes, mini toothpaste, plus my contact lenses, solution, & case. I took along qutie a lot of ibuprofen & tylenol in case my hip got really sore, but I took very little of it. I used my Nordic poles whenever I walked farther than a few minutes, which seemed to take enough weight off my joint so I wasn't that sore at all.

We decided not to bring any toys for the kids (we discovered a tiny Ikea stuffed skunk in Bronte's bag on our way there, however) just a handful of miniature story books. They were quite happy playing with sticks, shells, rocks, the hammock, & running around with other children they met.

Making oatmeal on the Primus stove with the Ikea dishes
We had a hatchet, which was somewhat dull & sadly inadequate for the HUGE pieces of firewood we bought from the park operators. I managed to get the fires burning enough to get through the big chunks, however, & we used the largest of them to sit on around the fire the first two nights. Oliver ended up packing several boxes of matches, two lighters, & we counted five knives once we got there--probably could have streamlined these a bit.

I brought my Urban Poling Nordic poles & used them daily whenever we walked any distance. They collapse to about half their length & strapped onto the back of my pack, which occasionally got in the way, but wasn't too bad. We also brought our Beco carrier for when Bronte got tired on our 8km hike. I think next year she'll be able to walk a lot farther, so a dual purpose item like a wrap that would be used as a carrier & a blanket might work better.

Overall, I think we packed quite well. Most of the things we didn't use were due to good luck, & not things we could have omitted: first aid kit, tarp & one of two lengths of rope, the kids' fleece pants, Bronte's socks, Linny's blue asthma inhaler. Next time I think I might bring a small potty for Bronte, plus I'd like to get a nicer set of nesting pots with a proper lid, & a sarong that can be used as a child carrying wrap & a beach blanket. I think we could probably pack almost the exact same things for a trip in slightly cooler weather too.

If you'd like to read about how we planned our food for this trip, check out #CarFreeCamping: Food for Four (+8 Tips).

For more info on how to get to Newcastle, check out my post on taking transit from Vancouver to the island here

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