by Captain Airyca
by Captain Airyca

How to Tromp in the Woods

Hey y’all – I’ve got a fun post for you today. I want to talk about woods tromping. Not hiking – trompin’. I feel like this is a fun activity that not enough people engage in! Woods tromping is about the journey, not the destination. Just for context – I am a mom of two young children and we live in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon) of the USA. Woods tromping in my opinion is not unique my area, but I do recognize that the American west has a lot of open space and public land compared to other states or countries in the world, so finding spots to do such a thing here is relatively easy.

I believe all people need exposure to nature to live a good and happy life, and I hope by sharing this you get another idea for you and your family to do that is practically free, very fun, and super good for your health. Lets define woods tromping real quick, and then we can get into how to do it and what gear you may want to consider to be prepared in the woods.

Woods Tromping is the art of walking through the woods where there is no trail, often through deep brush, to explore and experience nature. It is a lot like hiking, but without a trail, and often without a destination or understanding of an end point. Tromping requires determination and creativity, as well as a high step and positive attitude.

Captain AIryca
Elk tracks! This is the closest thing you’ll find to a trail on a proper woods tromp!

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Before we get started I want to talk about the principles of Leave No Trace, why woods tromping may bother some people, and why I personally think it’s an okay activity. Leave No Trace principles are important ethical considerations to make whenever you’re out in nature to make sure you’re not trashing it for other people, hurting wildlife, etc. Depending on how strict you are about these things, the idea of a woods tromp may conflict with one of the principles which describes traveling and camping on durable surfaces.

Here’s a direct quote from the Leave No Trace website:

All travel that does not utilize a designed trail such as travel to remote areas, searches for bathroom privacy, and explorations near and around campsites is defined as off-trail. Two primary factors increase how off-trail travel affects the land: durability of surfaces and vegetation, and frequency of travel (or group size).

Durability refers to the ability of surfaces or vegetation to withstand wear or remain in a stable condition.

Frequency of use and large group size increase the likelihood that a large area will be trampled, or that a small area will be trampled multiple times.

Leave No Trace Website

Obviously, by definition, woods tromping is an “off-trail” activity, as there isn’t a trail when you’re trompin’. I believe it is absolutely important to only tromp in the woods in LOW traffic areas. The less people the better. If there is an established trail anywhere near by, it is not a woods trompin’ zone. Use the trail. Our family of 4 people in the middle of nowhere where we haven’t seen a soul for miles and there isn’t a trail anywhere are not going to be destroying the forest by walking around in the bushes for a bit. Woods tromping really isn’t about camping, although it could be, for my family it’s just a day trip sort of thing. If you were to be considering tromping, then camping, setting up camp on a durable surface and not trashing the landscape would be really important to consider.

Okay. So there’s that. Pack your trash out (yes, I pack out my TP) and don’t destroy everything please. Common sense, right? Lets get to the how to!

Babies seem to sleep well in the woods!

How to Tromp in the Woods Step-by-Step:

  1. Figure out where you’re going to go. Now woods tromping can be done on public lands, or private land you have access to, but it does require a little research to make sure you’re not going to be tromping where you shouldn’t. We prefer old logging roads. Because tromping isn’t about getting somewhere like a waterfall or something cool to look at, you don’t have to really get super picky about the spot. All nature is rad and beautiful. When you’re tromping it’s about appreciating the trees, plants, dirt, rocks and everything around you right in whatever random spot you find, so you don’t have to spend hours pouring over maps finding the perfect trail. Mostly you’re looking for remote areas that your car is able to access to get you there.
  2. Tell someone where you are going. It doesn’t even have to be a person in your area. Just text your parents/friend that you trust with your general plans. They need to be capable of calling in the cavalry if you don’t turn up.
  3. Check the weather. You should always be prepared for anything, but one of the first rules of survival is having proper shelter, which includes clothes! Bring enough stuff that you won’t die in the woods.
  4. Get your gear together. See below for the stuff I recommend. I have my own custom list that I’ve ironed out over the years, but if you’re starting fresh check out the 10 Essentials of Hiking and the 5 C’s of Survival to get some inspiration. I cannot emphasize enough how important water and shelter are. Make sure you have clothes, emergency shelter, lots of water, extra water in the car, AND a way to purify or filter water. You can do a lot in an emergency if you’re not literally dying from your basic needs not being met.
  5. If you’re doing this with kids pack all the snacks. Snacks keep the hanger away, motivate people to move, and keeps little hands occupied. Generally, I try not to parent in a way that uses food as a motivator, but man, if someone (the 3 year old lol) gets tired and they hear if they get back to the car they can have some blueberries, that brings a pep back into their step.
  6. Get out to a spot and tromp! We like to drive until we find some really old logging roads, park, and see what we can see from the road and then dive into the woods.
  7. Open your mind and set reasonable expectations. Trompin’ isn’t about the mileage or destination. It’s meant to be a thing where you can soak up that vitamin N (nature). If you only get a few yards into the woods it’s a win! If you get in a mile, you’re amazing!
Here’s an image of a proper PNW tromp. Wearing shorts is not the most ideal, but I am stubborn and hate getting hot. I step very carefully.

Gear Essentials for Trompin’

Okay, I don’t want to get too detailed with this because honestly hiking and tromping gear could be a huge long post or series of posts depending on how far we want to go. But I do want to outline the basics. I think sometimes when you’re wanting to get outdoors and you think of what you need our minds think of everything at REI or other outfitter stores and it can feel overwhelming and expensive. Woods trompin’ has very little requirements and expenses. You can see in the photos in this post a few pieces of expensive gear, but lets talk about needs and wants.

Here’s what you need:

  • Some kind of map and navigation tools. You can get motor vehicle maps for free from ranger stations. Please bring some kind of paper map with you to the woods. Cell service is never guaranteed. You can download offline Google maps which is better than nothing, but paper maps require zero batteries. I also bring a small compass. I don’t have a ton of compass skills, but I have learned enough to at least get myself back to the car. If you’re tromping off a road, just keep in mind which direction you headed away from the road so you know if you get a bit turned around that at least the road is north from you for example. Other optional things include some signal tape (great for marking trees if you want to make your way in and have a visual way to get back out, pack out the tape when you’re done!!), SOS GPS type of beacon, ranger beads, topo maps, etc. You know your skill level so do plan accordingly.
  • A large vehicle survival kit. Woods tromping takes you to the wilderness, and if something happens you’re going to need to have basic stuff to be self reliant. I’ve actually made a video about our kit, check it out! There’s a lot that goes into a kit but bring a saw!! That way if there is a tree in the road you can get it out of your way quickly. I love a good bow saw or the Silky Big Boy saw, since we don’t own a chain saw. You can get bow saws on the cheap at garage sales pretty easily.
  • Water. I’ve already brought it up in this post but water is life. Bring lots of water, and have a way to filter or purify water. I carry a small Sawyer Micro Squeeze for short trips or if we’re feeling ambitious (or if you camp a lot too) a bigger Katadyn Hiker Pro is super rad. You can also carry iodine tablets or boil your water in a metal container. This is one thing I do think you should spend the money on one of these things, even if you don’t have a ton of money because without water, you can die. Some of these options cost more than others, I find stainless steel containers all the time at Goodwill which is perfect for a water purification option, idodine tablets are less than $10 and if you want to make an investment, the Sawyer products last for a really, really long time and in my opinion are worth every cent.
  • Proper shoes. You don’t really need fancy shoes, but something close toed. For those of you with weak ankles, some kind of tall boot may be in order. I use minimalist trail running shoes, but that’s what I’m used to. My husband has some tall leather work boots and they’re indestructible and he loves them for this sort of thing. What I’m trying to say is you probably own a pair of shoes that will work. The weather will also kinda determine what you need. If it has been raining or may rain, something more water proof would be nice. If you don’t know if your shoes are really up to the task, bring a spare pair of anything, even some flip flops in your car for the ride home in case your feet get wet. Spare shoes are also nice if you find a creek to wade in!
  • Pants. Now, I say this and I wear shorts or leggings a lot. But honestly, my legs do tend to get scratched up when we woods tromp. I don’t mind, but wearing pants does prevent injury. I make my kiddos wear pants for sure, even if it’s hot. That’s why we bring loads of water.
  • Sun Hats. Sun hats are essential, and I like packable ones like these for the kids. You can prevent a lot of sun damage, heat issues, sun burns, etc., if everyone wears a hat. If you don’t have a sun hat specifically you can bring a baseball cap and tuck a bandana in the back to protect your neck.
  • Small survival kit based on the 10 Essentials of Hiking and the 5 C’s of Survival. Bring this kit with you in a backpack. You don’t need a fancy pack! Just grab a school backpack and go. Absolute essentials are a lighter, knife, and whistle. Please review the lists I linked to make sure you’re ready for an emergency.
  • Camera. Pics or it didn’t happen?
  • Change of clothes in the car. If you have kids you know why lol. Someone always manages to get wet, gross, sticky, etc.
  • Sunscreen/Bug spray. The less you get burnt up and eaten, the more enjoyable the experience is for all.
  • First aid kit. There are a lot of things to dive into here that I will hope that you research yourself. If you’re a newbie, I recommend getting a Surviveware small first aid kit. Make sure you have what you need to fix boo boos in the field and any medication you’d need if you were out for longer than expected. Be prepared!!
  • Toilet Paper/TP Kit. This looks different for everyone, but have some way to take care of your business when you’re in the woods! I bring toilet paper, a light weight trowel, ziploc bags (for packing out TP) and hand sanitizer. I have a video for ladies on how to pee in the woods if you need some tips!
  • A way to carry your kids. If you have small children, some sort of carrier to help them if they get tired is pretty crucial. I use a fancy hiking pack, but any sort of carrier, whether it be a ring sling, soft-structured carrier like a Tula or Ergo, or a kids hiking backpack is a must. Your own two arms work too, but those arms will get tired, and you may want to use a walking stick and that makes it hard to carry the kid. You can often find used soft structured carriers at consignment or second hand shops. In my opinion, soft structured carriers are the most versatile type kid carrier there are. I have recently stumbled across these Trail Magik carriers for toddlers but haven’t personally used one. But they seem super cool if you already have a cool day pack to attach one to!
  • A place to set your kid down. This is very specific but rather handy in my opinion. I bring a small piece of tarp. It has a zillion uses such as a diaper changing station, picnic blanket, place to set stuff down you don’t want to get dirty, improvised little shelter, etc. I love me a good chunk o’ tarp.
  • Diapers, wipes, and other kid stuff. Every family has different needs on this one but bring what you need! Pack twice as many diapers as you think you’ll need in the car. Same with wipes haha!
  • Optional but nice: Hiking sticks. I have cheapies from Costco and man they’re handy when I have the baby on my back. You can also just use a stick that you find on the ground. I was never a hiking stick gal until I started hauling my kids around.
  • Another optional one: Walkie talkies. If you’re trompin’ with your spouse and they tend to wander, this is a great way to not lose each other.
A chunk of tarp is so handy and weighs almost nothing!


  • You don’t HAVE to tromp through the brush in the woods. A great alternative is walking down an old dirt road or logging road. We prefer to find a place a vehicle cannot travel down at all. Usually if you drive down a gravel road, there will be dirt road off of the main one. This is a great baby step into a full on woods tromp.
  • Getting your kids out the door can feel intimidating at times. I recommend getting a list together of everything you want to pack and review it before leaving. I always pack a ton of stuff in the car. Why not?
  • Kids are resilient. Trust that they can do something and they usually can! My son is 3.5 years old and does all the tromping on his own for the most part. Be encouraging and never say (especially in front of your kid) “I don’t think my kid can do xyz” or else you’ll find it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tell them you’re proud when you really are proud of them too. They’re listening!
  • Kids don’t really have a need for toys and entertainment when you’re out in the woods. It’s nice to have activities in the car for the ride out to where you’re going but don’t worry about hauling a bunch of that sort of thing into the woods. Sticks and rocks are quite entertaining on their own.
  • Practice makes perfect. Every woods tromp might not go perfectly. But if you keep a positive attitude and your expectations reasonable, it tends to be a very good time!
  • Never. Ever. Expect cell service. Just don’t rely on that sort of thing!
  • Remember – lots of critters live in the woods. Most of them are harmless but cougars and bears are a thing. 99% of the time, predators will leave adults or groups of adults alone. However, kids are small and much easier prey, so keep them close to the group. This is not something that you should be consumed with anxiety about, but just aware of. Keeping situational awareness is good in general, and it’s probably best not to let your small children wander too far without you regardless.
Teddy’s shoes got soaked and he tromped in crocs. I am SO proud of my resilient kiddo!

Now Go Play Outside!

I hope that if you’ve gotten to this point in my post you are understanding that I really just want to encourage families to get outside and play. I don’t think it has to cost that much money or be at a fancy location to be a good time. I think sometimes it is easy to fall victim to comparing your outdoors time to images we see online of perfect waterfalls, fancy gear, super fit families going on crazy long hikes (no hate but we’re all not there lol), or any other sort of comparison trap that instead of inspiring you to get out side, can trap you into thinking you need to stay inside. Mother Nature doesn’t care who you are, what you look like, what gear you have, etc. Nature just is. And I think that interacting with and being in nature is key to being a level-headed human! Our kids need outside time, you need outside time. We KNOW this, science can back it up. Woods trompin’ is one way of doing this in a fun way. I find it inspirational to learn new plant species and survival skills.

Have you ever been on a good woods tromp? Comment below!

Until next time, PEACE!

You never know what you’re going to find on a good woods tromp! We stumbled on this creek and it was a wonderful spot for a break and exploring!

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