I first saw Snow Peak’s Pack-and-Carry Fire Pit at Snow Peak Way, the cult outdoor brand‘s yearly camping retreat. A few fire pits were set up in the field, deep in the wooded recesses of the Columbia River Gorge. Kids of all ages gathered around them, helping themselves to marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers, while their parents warmed their toes beside them.
My husband handed glow sticks to our two kids and they ran around like happy, sticky fireflies in the dimming twilight. “This is amazing,” he said. “We’ve never had this before.”
“What’s ‘this’?” I asked.
“We’ve never been outside and just let the kids go,” he said.
Camping with kids is hard. Doing anything with kids is harder than without them, unless you want to jump in a ball pit, eat ice cream, or talk to a grandma. I have a two-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter. They never stop moving, usually in a direction that I do not want them to go.
When we’re camping, they sleuth out where I’ve hidden the hatchet and swing it around, pretending to be pirates. They take every single one of our possessions out of their plastic bins and throw them in the dirt. Or else, they cackle and push their faces into other people’s tent walls, like they’re trying to reenact a scene from Are You Afraid of the Dark.
“What did you expect?” a friend asked me once. “They’re your kids.”
Like our offspring, my husband and I used to have limitless amounts of energy. A typical weekend day might have consisted of a five-mile trail run, outdoor rock climbing, and then skateboarding to dinner. The outdoors was our playground, and we tackled it at top speed before coming home to pass out. When I planned a leisurely three-day backpacking trip in Hawaii, my husband stopped us at the trailhead at 6 a.m. “You know, I bet we can run this thing,” he said.
I put a water filter and a can of ravioli in my backpack, and we ran the whole trail in under five hours, in 90-degree heat, with a cumulative elevation gain of 5,000 feet and over narrow, rocky, unprotected trails that projected hundreds of feet over a rocky sea. We did it because we could, and also if we cut the backpacking trip short, then we’d have enough time to go surfing before going home.
All of this changed once we had kids. There are plenty of parents who take very small children on very extreme adventures, and I admire them. But I can’t even get mine to hike a mile to see a waterfall, not when there are rocks to throw and sand to put in their shoes. After a few trips where my husband and I guiltily switched off climbing or paddling, while the other one watched two cranky toddlers alone, we started to give up.
It would be an overstatement to say that a $300 pack-and-carry fire pit changed all of this. But it did help me recalibrate my expectations of what camping could be.
The trip with the Snow Peak fire pit was the first time I’d been camping in years without feeling like I was going to lose my mind. My family and I were outside together, enjoying an early-summer evening without stressing out over why the burner on the camp stove wasn’t working, or trying to keep the two-year-old from wandering off and falling into a hornet nest.
The fire pit is versatile, durable, and reliable. It folds down flat for storage in your car, so it doesn’t take up valuable space that you need for six billion different stuffed animals. Then it unfolds into an elegant metal basket—no tinkering, no complicated setup. It has a grill top, so you can put your pre-made chicken skewers over the coals while watching your four-year-old learn how to play cornhole with a nearby group of young adults, who will all come over at different times to tell you how adorable she is.
It can grow and change with you, and it will last for the rest of your life. Snow Peak CEO Tohru Yamai designed it over 20 years ago, and in that time has only ever received two customer complaints. You can use it to cook, as a fire pit in areas where there are burn restrictions, or add oven attachments, or hook a small table on it. It looks nice, unlike my tiny, rickety backpacking stove or rusted, ancient Coleman stove. Anyone can use and enjoy it—the crazy young’un I once was, the harassed and wistful parent that I am now, and whoever I’m going to be in the future, when my kids get older.
I haven’t given up on adventure quite yet. I still have my fingers crossed that one day, I’ll ask my kids if they want mommy to tie them to a rope and dangle them off some high rock ledge. If they’re anything like me, they’ll think this is a great idea.
But in the meantime, I’m trying to keep an open mind. My daughter, who used to think camping was alternately boring and scary, now asks when we’re going to go again. Possibilities have started to open back up—wide, flat gravel trails and rustic lodges, creeks with sandy beaches. Instead of dragging our kids on a summer expedition to go mountain-biking in Idaho, maybe we’ll just rent a yurt near a lake. We’ll light up the fire pit, toss a few hot dogs on the grill top, and call it a day.
It’s taken me four years to figure this out, but maybe it’s an adventure just to have your kids laughing around a fire pit in the dusk, surrounded by tall trees. Sometimes just getting out the door is enough. The fire pit is probably going to last long enough for my daughter to take on camping trips with her own kids. When she does, I hope they give her hell. She deserves it.
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