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Bursting with color and hosting a symphony of bird song, our little neck of the woods seems to be as eager for spring as we are. Colorado notoriously teases spring every year. We know this; the sting of a wet, spring snow on our cheeks is now familiar instead of surprising. We have settled into this routine of knowing what to expect. As parents, we have also settled into a routine, finally coming to terms with our new normal, knowing that nothing is ever quick or easy. Snacks always need to be in the car. Spills and messes happen on the daily. A quiet moment won’t occur until after 8 PM. Legos or cars will inevitably be missed during pick up time and find a way to be right in our path as we try to tiptoe out of the room. Around 1130 PM, a preschooler will wander into our bedroom and snuggle into his spot between Dustin and I. The thing about it is, just like Colorado weather, once we have a routine, something changes.


All of a sudden, I am now “mom” instead of mommy. No longer am I needed to get drinks or food. The bathroom door closes instead of remaining open. A child now walks next to me in the store instead of a toddler perching happily in a cart. My hand is no longer requested to go up a hill.  Clothes are put on without nary a hand from me. Our slow growing kid burst forth and now wears clothes equivalent to his age. Drake’s pack often sits unattended on the riverbank, or clings to my shoulders, empty. All of these things are exciting, but it also means our backpacking “routine” will look a lot different this year, from the gear we need to the trips we take.


Our Spring gear assessment continues with Drake’s gear. Looking at his gear this year is terrifying. There is nothing from last year we can use again this year. A first for us! Drake is a small kiddo; we have been fortunate to be able to use gear for at least two seasons. This past year, however, he grew more than ever and needs all new things. It is also time for him to graduate to his own sleeping bag and pack. He needs new base layers. New outer layers. New pants. New shoes. Sigh. The list never seems to end.

Our first big choice is the pack. I think we have settled on continuing to take the Osprey Poco Premium, while allowing Drake to carry his Osprey Jet 12 while he hikes. The Poco has been a workhorse for us and still acts as our security blanket. We cannot say enough good things about the Poco.  It has seen hundreds of miles and seems like it has hundreds of miles left in it. High water? Drake goes in pack. Nasty scree? Drake goes in the pack. Steep terrain? Drake goes in pack. Whiny? Drake goes in the pack.  Loaded with gear and Drake, the Poco has become damn heavy. However, we aren’t quite ready to leave home without it.

Note: The Poco has been redesigned with Osprey’s AG technology. This means you can get the Poco Premium version we have for a great price at REI right now. Follow the links to get the pack for $60 off!


The next purchase, and the priciest purchase, is a sleeping bag. Since he grew so much this year, zipping Dustin and I’s bags together for a family bed might be a thing of the past. Heck, we struggle to have room in our home bed! The sleeping bags on the market designed for kids, well, stink.  Most are synthetic and bulky; tailored more for car camping or sleeping in the backyard. We want a down bag for Drake. Down is warmer. Down is compressible. Down is lightweight. Down is the best! Most kids aren’t ready for down; I get it.  Drake isn’t most kids though (the adage of all parents! Haha!); he has been around down bags since birth. He knows to be careful and he doesn’t have accidents at night. Finding a small down bag is next to impossible. I know we want the bag to be small in order to keep him warm.  We’ve looked at Enlightened Equipment quilts, but have heard mixed reviews.  I like the Western Mountaineering Tamarak, but we would need to add extra fill to get the temp rating we want. However, it offers a 5’ length, which would keep him warmer than a regular 5’6” bag. Dustin prefers to get him a Western Mountaineering Alpinlite, which is what he and I use. He thinks we can roll it up and push the baffle towards the top to keep Drake warm, or zip Drake and I together. It is such a rough decision. A happy camper is a warm camper. We can’t screw up this!

The "family" Western Mountaineering Alpinlites

The “family” Western Mountaineering Alpinlites

To make things harder, REI decided to discontinue it’s toddler line. Drake has a lot of REI shirts, pants, and fleece jackets. REI’s stuff proved to be durable, affordable, and fit Drake well. Of course they would discontinue it! Does anyone have suggestions for equally as awesome kiddo hiking clothing?

As for base layers, Icebreaker redid their kids sizes, but they still offer little tikes sizes. This year, however, we opted for Smartwool. Dustin and I’s Smartwool has held up much better than our Icebreaker; although, we had no trouble with durability for Drake’s Icebreaker base layers. His 260 base took whatever we threw at it for 2.5 years, as did his 200 pants.

REI made great toddler outdoor clothing

REI made great toddler outdoor clothing

One thing we did luck out on is boots. Drake is in a little kid’s 10 this year, meaning we can order from Vasque. This works well for us since his Grrpa works for Red Wing and gets a great discount for us. Has anyone loved or hated the kids Vasque Breeze?

It is quite the list of necessities this year. We still haven’t decided if we will buy him a bunting or puffy jacket and pants this year. He also needs rain gear if he is going to be hiking more. Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching!

Our family is itching for summer arrive. It will be interesting to see what our backpacking “routine” looks like with a 4 year old instead of a 3 year old. It seems a threshold will be crossed this summer – leaving toddler-hood behind for childhood, which makes me sad and excited at the same time. Once we settle into a stage, it leaves as fast as it arrives, mere fleeting moments.

We will take any and all preschooler gear advice anyone would like to give us. Feel free to shoot me an email at stephaniemullins@antlersandgills.com or leave a comment here! Whatever we decided to buy, we will review each at the end of the year.



Written by Stephanie Mullins

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