Hiking Texan: Rochelle O'Connell

The O’Connells pause along the South Rim in Big Bend National Park for a family photo.

Hiking Texas: What trail is this photo from and what did you and your family like most about it?

Rochelle O’Connell: This photo was taken on our most recent backpacking trip hiking the South Rim Loop in Big Bend National Park. We enjoyed the spectacular views, the lands diversity and the solitude encountered on almost every part of this trail. We also enjoyed being here as a family, connecting with nature together and introducing our youngest to the world of backpacking for the first time.


HT: What’s it like backpacking with your kids and what are some tips you can pass along to help other young families?

RO: Backpacking with kids is quite an adventure. When we only had one child the logistics were pretty straight forward: One took the kiddo and food while the other took everything else in a normal backpacking pack. Although heavy, it was a shared load and not too bad. We were able to successfully venture out with our first child several times with this set up. However, backpacking with two kids (who are ages 1 and 3) is a different story.

You really need to assess your gear and only bring what is absolutely necessary, since each child’s weight will also need to be added to your pack and gear weight. The weight of things can add up pretty fast. Some things we decided against bringing that helped lighten our loads were eliminating excess clothes. Us parents only each brought a jacket and beanie to use as layers. We brought an extra pair of pants each for the boys in case of accidents and opted against bringing pjs. Instead, we brought base layers which they wore starting at the beginning of the hike. Thankfully, it never got too cold, so layering them in fleece pants and a jacket, as well as a mid-weight jacket was all that was necessary.

Another space saver for us was including water bladders in our packs. They’re also time savers as we all can drink on the go without having to remove our packs. One obstacle we ran into when figuring out our backpacking set up was where to put our larger items such as our 4-person backpacking tent, sleeping pad and sleeping bag (both are ultralight and surprisingly, all four of us can comfortably sleep in it). This is where gear straps really shine! We split the load, one carried the tent and the other carried the pad and sleeping bag and we strapped them onto the outside of our carriers. This worked like a charm. We had also brought a few bungee cords along, but that ended up not being necessary.

With the kids and the gear we were probably carrying around 50 pounds each. With this kind of weight, trekking poles are a must for helping to keep your balance and really help on the ups and downs of the trail to save your legs. As far as water weight, water is roughly 8lbs a gallon, so a water filter is very helpful. But on this backpacking trip in Big Bend, water sources are not reliable in the Chisos Mountains and we didn’t want to chance running out of water. We figured we needed to bring at least 10 liters for our family. That weight just seemed extreme and with this being our first backpacking trip with the two kids in tow, we enlisted help from a few friends to carry the extra water.

In the end, we were able to make it to the South Rim and camped for one night. We hiked a total of 16 miles and gained 3,000ft in elevation. There were a few mishaps and lessons learned, but overall this was a successful experience and one we won’t soon forget. Backpacking with kids can be very difficult, but it is just as much if not more rewarding bringing them along.

HT: Where is your family’s favorite place in Texas to hike?

RO: Our family has visited both of Texas’ National Parks and 32 of Texas’ State Parks thus far. We still have many places to hike in this great state, but Big Bend National Park really impressed us. There aren’t many places where you can choose to either hike in the mountains, meander in the desert sand, trudge through a river or hike to a hot spring. We spent nearly a week there and felt like we only touched the surface. We aren’t Texas natives, but after seeing this place we felt pretty proud that this park belongs to our state.


HT: What do y’all find most enjoyable about hiking?

RO: We most enjoy the freedom and adventure that comes with hiking. It’s a good life reset, a chance to step back from our daily lives and de-stress. When we are out on the trails, life becomes simpler. We can truly focus on our family as we work together to complete the trail. We are able to tune into our surroundings and realize all that matters is our family and the abundance of nature that surrounds us in these moments.

It’s also incredible to see our children excited about the outdoors and to see them learn about nature through real life experiences rather than just through books and movies. It’s amazing what they already know at such a young age. We hope that by instilling a love for the outdoors that we’re raising them to be stewards of the land and that they’ll continue to care for Mother Nature throughout their entire lives.


Connect with Rochelle on Instagram: @mamarochi

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