Review: Small Feet, Big Land by Erin McKittrick

Small Feet, Big Land by Erin McKittrickI received a copy of Small Feet, Big Land: Adventure, Home and Family on the Edge of Alaska a long time ago. Busy with motherhood and an active life, it took me ages to pick it up and start reading. It took a family trip to the South Pacific and Polynesia with our toddler to gain a small amount of “downtime” where I could open the book and give it my full attention. A few months later, occupied by settling back into life here in Banff and taking advantage of the beautiful summer weather in the mountains as much as possible, I’m finally posting my review.

I tell you all of this because if anyone could understand why it has taken me so darn long to post this, it’s the author of the book, Erin McKittrick. At least that’s what I gleaned from Small Feet, Big Land. Mother of two small children and wearer of many hats, including conservationist and environmental consultant, McKittrick is no stranger to the balance of parenthood, adventure, work and all the “other stuff” in life. And this woman takes on big adventures, such as long distance backpacking expeditions, including a few with not one, but two very small children in tow.

At 1.5 years old Katmai undertook his first major expedition, here on a lagoon by the shore of the Arctic Ocean. Photo courtesy Erin McKittrick.
At 1.5 years old Katmai undertook his first major expedition, here on a lagoon by the shore of the Arctic Ocean. Photo courtesy Erin McKittrick.

Perhaps this is why I could relate so much to what McKittrick has written in Small Feet, Big Land. Many times I felt like she had stolen the words right out of my head – though expressed them far more eloquently than I ever could. The parallels started from the very beginning of the book. Reflecting on the transition to being a mother, she wrote “Backpacking has always been an exercise in embracing inconvenience…. The inconvenience of parenthood should fit right in.”

I have often said that my husband and I wanted to have a child before we got too comfortable with our lifestyles. While this is still true, McKittrick made me realize that becoming a parent wasn’t such a stretch for us. In fact, it was totally in line with our adventurous spirits – the same ones that had taken us on big days of climbing, long distance hikes and to far-flung destinations around the world.

Katmai and Lituya hang out in a tent on the Malaspina glacier, perched on a floor of blue ice. Photo courtesy Erin McKittrick.
Katmai and Lituya hang out in a tent on the Malaspina glacier, perched on a floor of blue ice. Photo courtesy Erin McKittrick.

But a book filled with things you already know (even if you’d never found a way of saying them) wouldn’t be as interesting as a book that also opened your eyes to a whole other way of living and seeing the world. Thankfully, Small Feet, Big Land does just that. McKittrick does a fantastic job of describing life at her family’s yurt in Seldovia, Alaska; how she and husband, Hig, spend their time when they aren’t out in the wilderness; how her community comes together to encourage a more sustainable lifestyle; and what child-rearing looks like for people who don’t lead typical lives.

Erin and Hig's yurt -- home to 4 -- in the snow. Photo courtesy Erin McKittrick.
Erin and Hig’s yurt — home to 4 — in the snow. Photo courtesy Erin McKittrick.

Though McKittrick’s writing style is infused with a more sophisticated tone at times (a testament to her academic background), the book is hardly a dry read. Instead, her explanations and anecdotes makes you care about things you know nothing about and may never encounter for yourself. These include environmental issues, such as a changing climate, which McKittrick weaves throughout the stories of her family’s adventures exploring and living in remote parts of Alaska.

Additionally, I enjoyed the author’s thoughts on what it means to be adventurous, how adventurers negotiate risks as parents, and how people approach challenges differently. She writes with honesty about her own shortcomings, offering a bit of comedic relief and an opportunity for self-reflection for the reader.

Her real strengths as a writer are creating dialogue and capturing moments. Through her anecdotes, we get to know her children, Katmai and Lituya, and smile along with her when they teach her something about the world that only a child can teach.

Near home, Katmai picks blueberries in the forest. Photo courtesy Erin McKittrick.
Near home, Katmai picks blueberries in the forest. Photo courtesy Erin McKittrick.

Adventurers of all kinds will gain something from reading this book. It offers a window into the lives of a truly adventurous family. But it also offers a window into the daily existence of a family trying to live simply – a refreshing reminder of the importance of seeking some peace and quiet amidst our culture of busyness and chaos.

Most importantly for me, it encourages us parents to keep the passion alive. If adventure is what you live for, don’t give it up. It might not look like living on a glacier with two kids for a few months, but you’ll find a way that works for you.

Author: Meghan J. Ward

Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Canada, and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Meghan has written several books, as well as produced content for films, anthologies, blogs and some of North America’s top outdoor, fitness and adventure publications. She has a forthcoming travel memoir (Fall 2022), to published by Rocky Mountain Books.

17 thoughts

  1. This book sounds very interesting. I’m looking forward to reading it. After having my son recently, my husband and I were concerned our adventure days were over. Hearing from others who have been where we are and saying it can be done, is very encouraging.

  2. Meghan,
    I was in Alaska last week and tried to make it out to Seldovia to meet Erin to get to know other members of the outdoor family community, but was not aware of just how remote she was. Seldovia is only accessible by boat after a five hour drive from Anchorage.

    But more to the point – Its great to read your well written review! It makes me all the more interested in the book, which was already on my to-read list.

  3. This book sounds wonderful. I used to love going hiking and saw so much adventure in my future before I got married and had my daughter. Health got in the way of continuing the adventures, but I’m hoping to see a change to that and find adventure again. I want my daughter to know the beauty of the outdoors and the great things we can learn from the earth and nature itself. Your book review, and each of your great blog posts, helps to keep me in touch with that adventurous side that I’m hoping can come out and play again soon.

  4. I think I will take this book out at the library if I don’t win it! I’d love to hear how bigger trips went with younger kids as the idea of it sounds very intimidating. Though I’m sure others would say wanting to camp with a month old sounds intimidating too 🙂

  5. Would LOVE to read this book. I’ve been amazed at how our little boys come alive in the wilderness and long for it when we are back in our normal life.

  6. As a mother to a one year old, I am so excited to read this book. I know I will come away inspired to go out and do more.

  7. Thanks for sharing this book review! Today is our first child’s due date (hopefully he arrived on time!). We’re both anxious and excited to take him on his first backpacking trip!

  8. Looking forward to checking this out. I am in the midst of a month of travel with my husband and almost one-yr-old son, and it has been awesome. Figuring out how to go on a long hike in the Colorado high country with him, do trail runs ourselves and experience the wonder of alpine meadows from his level is all new and requires creativity. Thankful for grandparents who help make it possible for us all to adventure, together and separately. Highlight was my son napping on his grandpa in the ergo at a 12,000 ft meadow so we could summit an almost 14er!

  9. Love this so much! I am a new mother myself and a huge outdoor adventurer. We live in Alaska, and I look forward to a read on parenting that I can truly relate to!

  10. Thank you for this review! I’ve been meaning to read this for a while now and your review is additional incentive!

  11. Great review – I am really eager to read this book now. She sounds inspiring and I’m interested how she weaves her passion for the environment and other global issues into her writing as well as family adventures – something I’d like to learn to do!

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