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River Tripping with Kids

We’re millennials, my husband and I, and as such are financially eh well out of necessity, frugal. If you’ve been following my blog you have seen the debt journey we’re on and know we don’t have a lot of disposable income for traveling. But we have a passion for travel. So what do we do?

We’ll ever since I was a kid I’ve been an avid outdoors(wo)man. My dad was an avid camper and taught me many things. My parents didnt have a lot of money when we were young so they often took us on camping trips. i gained a passion for the outdoors thru these adventure!

My husbands and my first date was actually camping. We knew each other prior it wasn’t like we brought a tent and made reservations with some random person we met online(not safe) but we had known each other for a few years, and one night decided to grab a tent some blankets and firewood stop at Walmart for some food and head to a local campground. It wasn’t anything improper he was a regular proper gentleman, ruggedly handsome as he tried ever so hard to get he fire going (my bad I got green wood (fresh cut not dried or good for burning for those who don’t know)) we smoked hot dogs over the smoking logs, and spent the whole day talking and getting to know one another. To say our relationship is anything but fate would be a lie.

I like to think of camping/ canoeing as marriage counseling. And really what better way to work on your communication skills then being trapped on a small canoe in the middle of the wilderness without any communication or distraction from the outside world? You have to rely on each other solely for transportation, shelter, food, security. You are forced to work together to solve your basic needs. Shared hardship builds your intimacy with one another. Yes you will fight, it’s inevitable. BUT you will learn new ways to work thru it, that facing the issues head on instead of dodging or beating around the bush will bring you to the other side FASTER. EVERY trip we take it’s the same thing, and every time we return home it seems like a balance has been restored in our relationship. A peace and deliberateness takes hold. A greater appreciation for the contributions your partner makes.

Ok Fast forward a few years and many trips later, this past weekend we decided we wanted to take our kids on a trip and foster their enthusiasm and interest in Mother Nature. It’s a trip we’ve done a few times already and with two of our kids prior but this time would be three kids 6,4,2. As you can imagine a lot of planning goes into this. But one of the reasons we camp, hike, canoe, is the cost aspect. For not very much you can get out in a new environment, breathe some fresh air, disconnect from modern life, and do some physically demanding manual tasks. It’s a wonderful way to bring gratitude into your heart as you begin to realize all of the modern amenities you take for granted. Indoor plumbing, central heat/air, insulation, food readily available, fresh water, modern sanitation, phones, internet, and more.

Now I said cost is my favorite part but it can still be costly. The more you go the more you invest in upgrading gear. So by no means should you run out and get ALL the gear I recommend all at once! gradual additions builds a great gear set. I am just going to share the things they many trials and error that we have found to meet our current needs. Gear sets are fluid. But it is very inexpensive to grab a cheap tent at walmart, toss in some sheets and blakets, and grab some meh meals! the following are what we CURRENTLY use not what we began with! but if youre experienced at all and looking for some new options to add, peep these!

Tent, arguably one of the most important items for a family trip down the river. You will need shelter. There are many options across the cost spectrum BUT as opposed to backpacking or total primitive camping, on the river weight is much less of a concern. You can( I would strongly encourage) use a larger heavier tent. my husband and i prefer the big agnus brand for the lightweight/size aspect, BUT we needed a larger tent for this trip so we brought our much bigger heavier Fiend and Stream 8 person 8×14 dome tent

Canoe/scanoe, also very important as you need a mode of transport, depending on ages of kids you might be fine with a flat bottom canoe, but we prefer a scanoe which is wider, flatter, and squared in the back. They are sturdier and less likely to capsize with wiggly kids, they are also quite heavy. they are harder to find and cost around $500. for more remote locations where there is much more portaging involved we use the much lighter, yet more delicate, kevlar canoes. Or you can RENT, if you’ve never been or don’t want to invest hundreds on a canoe I would recommend this option. Until you know what you want for sure, rent.

Packs, well you have to have something to carry your thinks in right? We prefer Duluth packs, they’re expensive and high quality, very durable ( in fact I have a photo of a moose print on mine where it stomped thru camp) no rips, tears nothing! But there are so many options available. Make sure you select what will be of most use in the most circumstances. For the kids we got small jansport bookbags for each of them, doubles as book bag, travel bag.

Duluth packs are not waterproof so you will need to take that into consideration when packing. We use extra large medical grade plastic bags twisted up inside army water proof bags twisted and tied. All of our clothes and sleeping bags go inside.

Stuff sacks/ compression sacks, a necessity as they compress down all of your fabric into much more manageable sizes, while you can go heavier and more extra on the river excessive gear is not your friend. We have upgraded to our preferred compression sacks, bc they are waterproof and very durable. this will be one of the expenses on your trip that probably needs to be made, we use two waterproof for sleeping bags, and two regular for clothes(goes inside food grade plastic bags and army surplus bags) but cost wise it might make sense to go with 4 waterproof ones.

Sleeping bags, at this point my husband and I have very expensive lightweight and warm bags. This is a place that over the years we have improved and due to Christmas gifts been able to have something really nice. The reason we love them is bc they compress so much and take up so little room, yet insulate to below freezing. you can certainly purchase inexpensive versions from walmart, target, or fb marketplace.

Optional sleeping pads, you can sleep on the ground just fine and commonly we do, but I have camped enough times to find try value in a good pad, especially when pregnant. I’m not the spring chicken I once was so the long nights on the cold hard bumpy earth are not really what I long for. However in the attitude of saving money, this really is a vain unnecessary piece of gear. The two we currently have and use are big agnus, and thermarest. They’re the size of naglene bottles when compressed. i would recommend against large air mattresses, but its youre trip so you decide.

Food, for sure you’re going to need this. There is somewhat of an art to this bc you want the most for the least amount of weight. By all means feel welcome to carry a giant cooler (we did a few years ago, pelican, to keep my breast milk Cold) or like we more commonly do a small cooler for accessory items like cheese, meat (freeze as an additional means of cooling, ketsup, etc) don’t go overboard. Non perishable foods high in protein and calories are what you want to aim for. see below for meal ideas.

Toilet paper. Don’t forget it! I like scots brand with the cardboard roll taken out. Seriously even if youre staying at less primative and established sites with outhouses or indoor plumbing, they are not always stocked and you really dont want to be out hunting leaves trying to decide if its poison or not. its super light just toss it in.

Dry box, this is something we include on every trip now but started on our remote primitive trips, we do what’s called day bags, small bags of items we take on our day trips, makes sense right? So What do we keep in them? Even on our full moving days we keep things we need dry yet easily accessible in here. For a river trip with kids you might want to consider car keys, glasses, phone, medicine, toothbrushes, flashlights, lighter, fire starter, feminine hygiene items, mirrors,The best dry boxes we have found are actually gfs bulk large gummy bear and cashew containers. Inexpensive plus you also get to enjoy the tasty treats.

Cookwear, we have upgraded over the years on this also. We have a tiny stove and collapsible dishes. However not all new is better. With a larger group we use a cook pot from the 50s, and a coffee pot from the 70s. Now coffee pot? You’re probably thinking this is a bit much, but if you know me you know I can’t go without coffee, this old percolator gives such ambiance to the camping experience with little hassle. Sea to summit is one of the brands we go back to bc of weight and size. But there are many cheaper versions that do just as well. Sporks are really a must have. As are dish soap and a scrub pad. A medium size mesh bag, or even an onion bag will due, to hang dishes in to dry. Also you will need a larger knife and spatula. Water filter or water tablets. Not always will you have potable water easily accessible, and drinking straight from the source should never be an option. You can invest in any number of options, a water filter, water tabs, or the cheapest option just boiling the piss out of a pot of water, in this case don’t skim off the top but take it down a little ways out and bring up.

Life vests and basic safety gear are something I cannot stress enough. We carry a small sos with us in case of emergencies, it’s a yearly substitution but there are other options, if you will have cell service it’s less of a concern, we have rented satellite phones before and all things considered the cost was worth the piece of mind. First aid kits with liquid skin, bandaids, gause, antiseptic cream, tweezers, moleskin. Know you’re abilities and don’t try to impress anyone safety first.

Random accessories: pillows are a luxury but sea to summit has an inflatable option that takes up next to no room. What we more typically do is take one of our fleece jackets and wrap around our life vest. Chap stick, sunscreen and bug spray. Deet free is the way to be, rain gear(even if you dont think its going to rain i suggest tossing this in) we get the basic ponchos for the kids and then we use, marmot, columbia, and frogtoggs for ours, thats bc were not growing so investing in costly raingear plays out fine over time, but the kids if yours are like ours, will be wet anyways and going thru the woods likely will tear them anyways.

Paddles: we found inexpensive children’s paddles at for 15.99 theyre two feet approx. if you have the time prior to the trip these need sanded and polyurethane like 4 layers, if not make sure you do this when you return home bc this type with mixed wood will split. adults you can usually rent along with canoes at a local outfitter, if youre not a frequent river tripper this would be the clear winner cost wise.

Clothes: depending on the time of year I recommend one heavier fleece jacket, one lightweight long sleeve shirt, two water wicking t shirts, two pair shorts, one pair pants, long underwear, three pairs socks, bathing suit, gloves and hat. per person. Use your best judgement considering time of year and location. but also that weather can change.

Shoes I recommend boggs boots of hiking any distance, but crocs if you’re going to be mostly in the canoe or just around camp. They’re very light weight and dry incredibly fast. they also float, i recommend a bright color in case they slip off. Just slip on a pair of socks sit by the fire and stay warm. kids i would recommend crocs as well, but we also like the grippyness of the speedo water shoes.

Firewood: leave no trace please do not go out scavenging around campsites or along the river for wood to burn, you’re taking vital habitat for creatures and also disturbing the natural equilibrium of nature. Best to leave it be so people who come after you can experience the same natural wonder you did when you arrived in camp. Instead stop at a local outfitter before going on the river and buy some locally logged wood. You do not want to bring wood from home as it can carry invasive species and risk damaging the environment and delicate ecosystems of the river lands.

As this is about tripping with kids some special attention should be given into what to bring for them. We try to bring things that will compliment nature not detract from it. We bring marbles, paper and colored pencils, footballs or baseballs, stuffed animals for the tent. But really we encourage the kids to find their own amusement finding bugs, rocks, minnows, etc. one thing we tried and loved this trip was solar fairy lights. These are indoor outdoor but all day I would leave the solar part out to collect sun and then hang the lights in the tent during the night bc the kids don’t like sleeping in total darkness.

Ok gear down now what? Choosing a location

when traveling a river with kids you really need to take into consideration the time of year you are going. the speed and depth of the river should also play highly on your mind, for example is there any white water? then you probably dont want to take kids, you want to aim for calm shallow rivers, and a temperate time of the year, like winter in the north probably not ideal.

make sure to plan ahead and have a game plan in place. you need to have an idea how far you plan to go each day and where you plan on staying each night. try not to over do it. you want to give yourselves enough time to enjoy the scenery not rush and over exert yourselves. take the time to swim, or stop for lunch. the easiest rivers will be ones that have established campgrounds along the way. usually for a nominal price you can stay the night, and self pay. please dont skip this for two reasons, your fee provides for the camp to stay in commission, to have the toilets maintained, and water flowing. when you skip paying you also risk the dnr stopping and fining you in the middle of the trip, and no one wants to sour their vacations with fines. like i said the price is nominal just pay it.

check for warnings and notices before heading in, is there a fire out( no fires allowed), are there wildlife issues you need to avoid? like bears have been a real issue at campsite x y z, ect.  also in some states you will need a permit PRIOR to going in and if you do not have it you might not be able to go in. the dnr only issues a certain number each day in order to minimize the affect on the ecosystem. some of these book up months in advance, but if your dates are flexible usually you can still get in. dont procrastinate on this tho.

Camping meal ideas

camping tacos: box spanish rice a roni, canned chicken, pkg taco mix cook the rice add the seasoning, then chicken, add to tortilla shells, top with cheese, rotel and corn.

chicken noodle manhattan: camping version of a turkey manhattan:Ā  pilot crackers topped with chicken noodles, instant idaho pototoes, canned corn salt and pepper to taste. and thats it! super easy

kielbasa: several options here but a favorite of ours is two cans sliced potatoes, two cans green beans, one kielbasa sausage, slice up the keilbasa and fry until browned, then add the green beans and potatoes, salt and pepper to taste.

eggs and spam: just like it sounds slice up the spam fry it up the add in your scrambled eggs, top with shredded cheese

bacon, eggs, and pancakes: fry up the bacon use the grease for pancakes, and eggs, use an egg carrier, and bisquick instant pancakes, we use both frozen bacon strips and precooked, either just depends on your preference, and if you use the bacon as ice in the cooler. we use syrup in small plastic bottles from archer farms at target.

oatmeal: honestly super easy cheap and lightweight

granola and protein bars, rxbar, cliffbar, luna bars, are our go to

chicken bone broth: high in protein tastes like chicken broth.

shakeology or juice plus or vega individual serving protein shakes

shepherds pie: instant mashed potaotes, frozen peas, carrots, corn mix, beef jerky, salt and pepper, soak the jerky in boiling water then use that water to mix the potatoes, warm up the veggies mix and youre good to go

chicken packets and pilot crackers.

smores (these make a mess but kids go nuts for them)

fruit leathers


summer sausage

and many more options

when you river camp weight isnt as much of a concern so while it should be considered when making plans, it shouldnt prevent you from making some really tasty meals, we tend to use the cold and canned foods first so that it lightens the pack.


one of the most difficult things to do when camping and river tripping with kids is getting them to go to sleep, there are so many noises. the fairy lights mentioned above helped, but also reassure them. it ,might be hard to convince them that sleeping on a bear is as good as a pillow, or that the hard ground is fine. just be prepared and patient. the first night will be the worst, it is a new experience for them but by day two their pros.

riding in the canoe can be tricky as you have to carefully consider how you organize gear, typically you want as much below the rim of the canoe as possible. we set our duluth packs upright so the kids could lean back against them. we make sure to have the kids in their swim wear for the day, bc we get out and swim and canoes are just gonna be wet. once we get to camp we hand a line or toss over a fence anything that got wet, hats, shoes, lifevests, bathingsuits, etc. these portable clothes lines are amazing bc of the clips. make sure to have water for every person easily accesable for the day, and make sure to encourage the kids to drink, it is very easy to become dehydrated out on the river. if you think they may not like the water, we pack gatorade powder to add for flavor and extra electrolytes.

HATS SUNSCREEN BUG SPRAY, apply apply apply. the sun reflects off of the water so make sure the kids (and yourselves) are covered. long sleeve bathingsuits for the kids are preferrable. wide brimmed hats, and high spf sunscreen.

and there you have it, basic river tripping with kids. you will surely create memories to last a lifetime! the kids will come home talking about all the fun they had, the bugs they found, the messes they made.