Bring Your Kids Camping This Summer: Sage Advice From Explorer Bruce Kirkby

“When you’re on a trip away from it all, you free up so much attention and focus and it goes to your children—and that’s what children need. We want to try to give it to them all the time. The truth is however, (camping) forces closeness and forces paying attention to each other.”-Bruce Kirkby


Go deep with your childen. The Kid Comfort 3 by Deuter in action.

words:: Ben Osborne photos:: Courtesy of Bruce Kirkby

Stepping away from our comfortable lives after a long week is a difficult thing. When the creature comforts of home pull at you to take the easy route and watch TV and relax, hitting the road can be tough. When you throw kids into the mix, planning and executing a trip can be even more intimidating.

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For MEC Ambassador, world adventurer, and professional family-camper Bruce Kirkby, these trips and their associated disconnection with the outside world is integral to his family’s functionality, his kid’s development, and his own sanity. We sat down with Bruce to chat about the wild places he explores, the gear he uses to get there, and how these adventures can change your, and your children’s lives. -ML

On his first camping trip with the kids:
“It’s funny, the first trip wasn’t this huge thing.  We went to Tofino for a month of surfing.  We took Bode with us (6 months old at the time) and car camped for a month at Green Point. A month after that we took him into the Bugaboos and camped up on Appleby Dome with him. We pretty much took our kids out right from the start—Chris and I were comfortable with camping. For some people, they are learning, and the kids are learning. For us, the camping aspect—the weather, the cooking, the stoves, the gear—it was so second nature to us. We took Bode at 8 months old down to Patagonia for two months of sea kayaking and trekking. By the time he was 16 months old, he had spent a quarter of his life in a tent.”

The MEC Super Wanderer in its natural environment.

On challenges of camping with kids:
“The challenges to me with kids are the extremes. Extreme heat is worse than cold. You can bundle kids up, but kids can’t regulate temperature and sweat efficiently when they are infants/toddlers. Heat was always a challenge, it would change how we scheduled our days. We would move during the morning and evenings and sit under a tree for most of the day. Bugs too are a problem because kids aren’t so great on letting you know they are on them, or getting them off themselves.”

Bruce’s Recommended Gear:
“We use the Kid Comfort 3 by Deuter from MEC—that thing is absolutely bomber. I carried Bode over the Himalaya in it when he was 7 years old. You can pack a lot into it, you can cover them up, and it’s got a great rain cover.”

“One thing I have expanded on as we taken our kids out is with tents. Back in the day, you know I think I was a dirtbag before, so I  would get the smallest, cheapest tent.  It would leak, but you could crawl into it and be dry, but you also might hit your face on wet nylon if you sat up. Now we are using the tent called the MEC Super Wanderer, a 5 person tent of for the 4 of us. If we have a stormy day—we had a few stormy days on the Churchill last year—we can all be in there playing cards, lounging about. We know its wind and weatherproof. That Super Wanderer has been pretty good to us.”

Keep your kid’s gear dry with dry bags—essential for trips on the water, and your sanity.

Everyone makes mistakes:
“In terms of mistakes we made…it’s important to not make the days huge. This one time we were walking over this high mountain pass, rain was turning to snow, we were worried about Bode’s feet, so we put little baggies over his feet, and then put the booties over top of the baggies. The baggies were hanging out of the onesie and all the rain got right into his booties and by the time we got to the cabin his shoes were full of ice water essentially. We quickly learned that we have to be paying close attention — he can’t tell us if he is uncomfortable, so it was a total blunder on our part.”

On Lightweight Gear:
“One of the most interesting things of bringing your kids is, first you’re carrying food and gear for yourself. Now, its for you, them and the other person—because the other person is carrying the baby if they cant walk. Things can get really heavy, really quickly. So, one of the things that saved us was the advent of lightweight gear. Sleeping bags when I was young was the size of a microwave. Thermarest’s were huge. These days, they go so small. We bought some minus 2 summer down bags. They go to the size of grapefruits! I can carry camping gear for three of us—when I was in my 20’s, no one was going to carry three peoples gear because it was huge, like carrying a dumpster on your back.

Why bring your kids into the wild?
“My relationship with nature has been one of the great joys in my life—I wouldn’t have had that if I hadn’t been taken outside. One of the challenges in society is that the people making decisions about the future of the country, cities, and towns—may actually be really isolated from nature. These people sometimes don’t have fluency in the natural world, in these essential things. For 99% percent of human existence, that is what we came from.  In terms of why it’s beneficial, there is the physical literacy: you face challenges, you learn to overcome, you get confident. Nature introduces a level of uncertainty which we strip from our lives, but it is such an important thing. It teaches you grace and the ability to accept there are bigger forces in our world than just our schedules and our plans. I think nature can be an incredible teacher. My kids are better people when they’re outside. When we go on a trip my kids just become happy, calm, reflective, talkative people just being in the presence of wilderness.”

Peace, quiet, and room for the whole family in the tent.

What’s stopping everyone from bringing their kids out?
“One of the barriers for people is fear. Probably cause they have a fear, but we tend to raise our children pretty fear-based in terms of where we let them go by themselves, and so on. The initial argument I hear is risk, it’s too risky. To me is just a misunderstanding—there is risk involved in everything we do. When you’re dealing with risk, it’s all about the consequence. Kids are fine outside, as long as you know how to deal with the consequence.”

On relationship building through the outdoors:
“Today, when you see a family on a weekend away and all four are on their phone. Personally, one of the reasons, no matter how much you try to avoid the phone, taking the garbage out, or doing any of the things modern life requires, when you’re on a trip away from it all you free up so much attention and focus and it goes to your children—and that’s what children need. We want to try to give it to them all the time. The truth is however, (camping) forces closeness and forces paying attention to each other. I remember one of the first trips we went on together we rented horses and hiked for 60 days through the mountains of Georgia. Taj was 8 months and Bode was 3 years and it was like a year later—I could still feel the weight of that experience in their eyes when I gazed into Taj’s eyes. It had changed stuff between us so deeply. Camping and exploring strips away distractions and interruptions and we spend time together—and that’s the number one thing with family, love and being with people—so it’s great that way. How it will manifest and how they communicate going forward, it’s hard to tell. But I have this faith that its only serving them well. I was actually in bed with them last night reading a book and I was asking them if they were looking forward  to our sea kayaking trip. Taj was like “Totally, we’re going to sleep in a tent, right? I love being in a tent.”

What’s next for the Kirkby clan?
“We are heading to the outer coast of Vancouver Island, which is such a wild environment in the open Pacific with huge Sitka spruce, massive spray zones, and huge beaches. We are heading to the Clayoquot Sound, one of the northern sounds and we are going to have two double kayaks. Our hope is to move up the coast to the Brooks Peninsula, which is about as far from a road and civilization you can get these days. We are going for 16 days. In the past we have gone in will take a bit of thinking. Really, I am just thinking about the beach, having a little driftwood fire at camp, and watching the sunset. I don’t want to say its healing time for us—it makes it sound like something is broken. Really it’s just recharge time—and we’ll always go back.”