2 Years, 2 Llamas, and Learning to Live in Style in the Backcountry

If there’s anything my family is determined to do, it is to live in style in backcountry. We don’t just want to survive the wilderness—we want to thrive in it.

So last year, inspired by our learnings in outdoor living from working field courses for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), we embarked on our first annual family llama adventure to test our family’s ability to live large outside. It was a fabulous adventure (you can read more about it on my blog), but we realized we had some work to do on the “style” end of things. Llamas whined. Panniers sagged. I had a constant fear of not carrying enough (FONCE). Fishing was a disaster. And all of our rations were dry and gas-inducing.

This August, for our second annual family llamaneering adventure in the Wind River mountains, we upped the ante on luxury, tweaked our systems, and shifted around our pack loads with the ultimate goal of making the backcountry feel like a ballroom. Llamas still whined (I guess that’s what they do). But their panniers were lighter. I had less FONCE. Fishing was a success. And our rations were fit for a royal feast.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of our adventures.

2012

2013

Miles hiked

25

21

Elevation climbed

4,000

3,000

Turquoise-blue high alpine lake dived into

1

3

Trout caught and eaten

0

15

Plants foraged

0

4 (Grouse Whortleberry, American Bistort, Bluebells, Yarrow, and Fireweed)

Cups of Turkish ground coffee accidentally ingested

1 (we only had cowboy style coffee)

0 (we brought a fancy lightweight French Press this time)

Hors d’oeuvres enjoyed

Processed meat-like products

Blocks of pasteurized processed cheese products

Dried fruit and nuts

Fresh apples from our tree

Cured Italian salami

Aged gouda

Action figures lost in boulder fields

1 (Star Wars Storm Trooper)

1 (Luchador action figure from Mexico)

Best meals eaten

Hashbrown breakfasts and cheesy pasta dinners.

I don’t know, maybe the Thai green curry with vegetables and trout, or maybe the fresh pesto pasta with garden squash, or maybe the steak dinner on night 1. It was all a delight for the taste buds.

Pack carried by the author (mom)

7 pounds

Deuter Kid Comfort II sans kid (Kieran walked the whole way!)

20 pounds (still pretty light!)

Deuter ACT Zero 45+15 with all personal clothing and gear, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, snacks, water bladder, fishing rod and reel, Amazon Kindle, and a bottle of High West Son of the Bourye.

Pack carried by Jamie (dad)

15 pounds

Deuter ACT Lite 65+10 with just day layers and snacks for the whole crew, water, and bear spray.

35 pounds

Deuter ACT Lite 65+10 with all of Jamie’s and Kieran’s personal clothing and gear, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, snacks, water bottles, and fishing rod and reel

Pack carried by Kieran (now nearly 6 years old)

5 pounds

Deuter Junior with Star Wars action figures, rock collection, matchbox cars, one layer, and a water bladder.

15 pounds

Deuter Fox 30 with Luchador action figures, rock collection, Frisbee, inflatable globe, harmonica, slingshot, The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush (book), layers, camp shoes, water bladder, and bear spray.

Load carried by Sheep (the mellow llama)

75 pounds

Handwoven panniers with more than half of everyone’s personal gear, tent, bear ropes, kitchen utensils, wine, and beer.

60 pounds

Handwoven panniers with more than half of the group gear including tent, bear ropes, kitchen utensils, wine, beer, and freshies from the home garden (apples, squash, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, greens, fresh basil pesto, and homemade applesauce)

Load carried by Rapid Fire (the ornery llama)

70 pounds

Handwoven baskets with less than half of everyone’s personal gear, tent, bear ropes, kitchen utensils, wine, and beer.

60 pounds

Handwoven baskets with less than half of the group gear including tent, bear ropes, kitchen utensils, wine, beer, and freshies from the home garden (squash, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, greens, fresh basil pesto, and homemade applesauce)


We’re now taking suggestions for further improvements for our third annual family llamaneering adventure. Think “llama lounging.”

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