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Backpacking in the Med with a Preschooler: Gear

We went backpacking with our daughter in Greece and Italy. The first time was Italy in June 2004, when we wanted cheap holidays and we also wanted to see how the camping thing would work with a small child. Italy with its warm, human-friendly weather and known child-friendly culture seemed ideal for this experiment. I won`t keep you waiting in suspense, it DID work out and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. Encouraged by the experience we took the tent to Greece in 2005. Our daughter was 3 in Italy and 4 in Greece.

In both cases we flew and we didn`t rent a car. As we moved around rather than stayed put, everything, and that included our daughter, had to be transportable on our backs.

Bearing this in mind we decided that all the gear had to (at least initially) fit in one rucksack and that had to be carrieable by either of us. The weight as well as volume was thus of prime consideration. Be aware though that I AM a big woman and however unfit I was at the beginning of both holidays I have a pretty good ability to lug stuff around.

The person NOT carrying the rucksack was supposed to deal with the little one - hold her hand or carry her in the carrier, as well as carry the smaller day-pack with accessible essentials (water, extra clothes, food, maps, books etc.). Katie had a little rucksack of her own with books, pens, colouring books and her cuddly rabbit. This was of course often donated to me or DH to bear but she DID carry it for at least half of the time she walked. Towards the end of both holidays we had an extra bag full of extra stuff acquired on the way (toys, mats, food etc).

GEAR

Considering the weight requirement we decided to buy quite a few things from new.

(1) A tent, of course. This gave us most aggravation as our old tent was both too heavy and too small. Really lightweight good quality ones were very expensive and still small, being fundamentally mountaineering tents - too good for us. Eventually we bought a 3 person dome tent from Aldi. It was spacious, had useful front-porch storage area and was easy and fast to put up. At 4.7 kg it was also one of the lightest of cheap and moderately priced three-person tents. At 25 GBP it was the cheapest. It is, it has to be said, very very flimsy and I didn`t see much life in the fibreglass poles (in fact one snapped when packing for the last time on the eve of our departure from Greece) but at the price it was almost disposable. Its water resistance was low (lower than Millet`s cheapest `Eurohike` range made `for British summer`) so I had grave doubts about how it would stand to rain. We didn`t have any rain in Italy but in Greece we had four days with rain when camping in the mountain foothills near Sparti. The longest was about 4 hours and quite heavy. The tent took it well enough, with only minimal leaks but we were not in it so it was easy to avoid touching the inner tent just by piling the stuff in the middle. Obviously anybody planning to camp in the UK or other northern countries would need to pay much more attention to this aspect.

(2) We bough a 90 litre rucksack from Argos and although obviously worse quality and less resistant than our old 75 litre Blacks` one, it proved up to the job and comfortable enough to carry. At 25 GBP a worthy addition to our possessions.

(3) In Italy we had two self-inflating sleeping mats and one foam mat but no sleeping bags to sleep in. Although the air-mats added extra 3 kg to the load, it was definitely worth it as the difference in comfort was massive especially as we slept without the padding provided by sleeping bags. In Greece we had sleeping bags but only foam mats to sleep on - it was less comfortable but still OK and basically the earlier you go the more you would need a sleeping bag and thus if weight is an issue the more likely you will be to end up on a foam mat only. We had two foam mats spread across and a straw mat for our feet and that was perfectly enough. Straw mats are generally very useful if you have no chairs as you can sit on them outside as well as use them on the beach if you ever go, but of course there is no need to take them from the UK as they are very cheap and available everywhere for prices as low as 60 eurocents (1.50 was about average).

(4) I would recommend taking sleeping bags unless you are going in the highest summer season, as the mornings around 5-6 can be quite chilly even in June.

(5) A child carrier (read: a framed rucksack you stick you wee one in, sadly not: a native porter up to the task) was essential when our daughter was 3 in Italy and still pretty useful when she was 4 in Greece. We didn`t do any off-road hiking to speak of, but it was still extremely useful. A three year old CAN walk quite far, a four year old even further but it still won`t be much above 2 miles and of course there is a difference between how far they could and actually would walk. We also did quite a bit of walking, what with campsites being located away from towns and our penchant for mad exploration, and Katie often slept in the carrier. I only wish I had a better one as with this one it was more of a strain on the lower back to carry a 15 kg child than to carry the 20 kg+ rucksack.

(6) We brought very little clothes and of course we still brought too much. My recommended minimal list for would be:

- one pair of good, trekking-type sandals that you have already broken into.
- two pairs of socks (one for off-road spikes, one for sleeping in).
- shorts and long trousers, possibly two pairs of the latter, in a colour that is a reasonable compromise between not showing dirt and reflecting sun (khaki, grey and light purple worked well for us).
- one long sleeved shirt, 2 t-shirts. I actually wore pretty much the same t-shirt every day, washing it in the evening before and putting on damp even if it didn`t dry. The other one is for sleeping in and emergency tomato-sauce spillages. The long-sleeved one is to protect you from burn on long walks, mosquitoes, and can provide rarely needed but sometimes useful cover from night chills. For a small child I would take 4 t-shirts/vests, all of them as light as possible but not too susceptible to these tomato stains. An orange tie-dye is an idea I would seriously consider next time. Do NOT take black or navy tops unless you are prepared to use them in the evening only. A dark vest under a white top-shirt is a possible exception.
- a sun-hat, wide brimmed enough to cover face, floppy enough not to look disastrous when squashed.
-sunglasses were essential for me, while both Katie and DH did perfectly well without. This is personal and you will know.
- a swimsuit - everybody seemed to be wearing bikinis, even the fattest so if you don`t like to stand out get one as well. I was happy enough in my one-piece but we didn`t spend much time on the beach. Pre-pubescent girls seemed to wear only bikini-bottoms. I have not seen a single one in a one-piece.
- waterproof - ideally thin, light and breathable.
- a thin fleece or something like that for the rare chilly afternoon/night, especially for the little one
- skirts/dresses you take depend entirely on how much you wear them. I never do, so it wasn`t an issue, I took one pretty dress for my daughter but again, you might find that sun dresses is what you wear most of the time instead of shorts/t-shirts.
- a towel - we had two (a medium and a small one), and I had to wash it about every two days, but ideally it would be new of these thin but absorbent cotton ones you get in cheaper hotels. I almost nicked one once.

(7) We had a small one-burner camping gas stove which run on standard canisters (about 1 euro and widely available). This proved enough as did two rectangular mess-tin type dishes for cooking and 3 plastic plates for eating off, with plastic forks, spoons and one pen-knife.

(8) Alarm clock especially if you don't have a phone.

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