Backpacking with Kids

Spending time with your kids outdoors can be a fun and memorable experience. It can also be an overwhelming experience if your children are not comfortable or use to being outdoors for an extend period of time. Below are some tips for having a successful experience backpacking with kids (roughly between the ages 6-16).

Kids need to spend time outdoors—a fun, healthy, beyond-the-ordinary place. Backpacking is a great way to help them appreciate all the beauty and adventure that the natural world offers.

The planning stage might be boring for younger kids. But don’t let that discourage you. Involving your kids in the planning process will build excitement and anticipation for the trip, get the kids involved with understanding the distance and elevation and help them build skills with navigation and how to read maps/trails.

There are several factors to consider when planning a backpacking trip with children. Many online resources offer good trail suggestions or routes. Consider visiting your local parks or natural resources offices to get an idea of what suitable trails are near by. You can obtain other trail guides or books from your local bookstores, hiking clubs or recreation stores.

How to select a trail

Driving distance from the trail to your home should be at max 2 hours or less. The goal would be to hike or backpack with children over the weekend so you are not rushed.

Trail Length is different based on each family. Some families enjoy nature, hike more and have older children who have more endurance (than 6 year olds). Rule of thumb for beginners is to do trails that loop around and only a few miles. Don’t attempt a 10 mile trail as your first trail. Consider elevation and trail conditions as well.

Overnight if you are deciding to camp, check the park resources to ensure you are in a safe location and what fire restrictions they may have. You might have to bring along kitchen and cookware, check that out before going. Plan lots of snacks and breaks for the kids.

Wildlife make sure you are aware of the wildlife in the area, especially if camping overnight. Ensure you follow proper safety procedures incase of contact with bears or wild animals.

Inadequate food planning along with the wrong gear is where any backpacking trip falls apart and becomes stressful. Plan out what your main meals are along with snacks. Ensure you keep your children hydrated and full of energy.

With kids it’s very easy to overpack. Follow our basic checklist of what to pack for kids.

Before You Go

Make sure the kids are comfortable with camping. If they’ve never been, camp in the backyard so they hear all the noise outside, know how to setup their tents and sleeping bags.

Show them how to pack their backpack and have them walk around the house with it, so they are comfortable with the extra weight on their shoulders.

Get them out walking more if they are not active, so they are able to keep up and not find the trail overwhelming.

There are many rewards of backpacking with kids. Not only are they outside, getting fresh air, they are active and will be building skills such as navigation, building a fire and confidence in themselves.

Babies

There are a couple of things to consider before taking babies on a backpacking trip.

Diapers are something you will be packing a lot of, if you decide to bring your baby. However it’s not safe for the environment if you dispose of it, so plan to pack and bring home dirty diapers. Do not burn or bury dirty diapers because this is quite harmful to the environment. Plan to put dirty diapers in a plastic bag to limit the smell or dry out cloth diapers in the sun before putting them away.

Carriers make sure to check the child carrier before starting your trip. Your baby will wiggle and move, so make sure you have proper sun and rain protection for your baby.

Distance and Weight Considerations

AgePackDistanceWhat to Expect
3 - 4 None1 mile or soPack a lot of patience and make it a memorable adventure
5 - 65 lbs. 2 - 4 milesPlan for many rest stops and bring along some trail games and songs
7 - 1110 - 20% of body weight5 - 7 milesKeep snacks handy and
ready to use as motivation
12 & older 20 -25% of body weight7 miles & up Physically, they can hike more miles, but make sure the experience is fun

* These numbers can very greatly depending on your child’s stamina and comfort level.

Table Courtesy of: The Washington Trails Association 

Safety

There are many precautions you should taken when backpacking with children. If deciding to camp, be mindful of any water surrounding you. Whether it is still water or moving water, that can be dangerous and overpowering for children. Having a camp fire can be fun, but can also be dangerous. Make sure your children are aware of what to do around a camp fire, and teach them about how to react if they get a burn or if the fire accidently spreads. Children should be aware that even when put out, a fire can still burn and something quickly start again.

Equip children with safety whistles. Although that might annoy you, it’s better to have on hand incase they wander off and would make it easier to find/hear them. Make sure your kids always have a buddy or that they tell an adult where they are going. If lost, teach them to stay near a tree and not to wander.

Lastly, don’t forget to pack a first aid kit. It is always good to be prepared. Click here for a more in depth article on Backpacking Safety.

On Trail and in the Backcountry

Keep kids engaged by planning some activities and entertainment. When you settle into camp, play a card game or throw around the frisbee. Read a book or do some crafts. There are other teachable moments, like showing your kids how to start a campfire, build a tent and help with cooking.

Taking children backpacking, hiking and camping can be a fantastic, memorable family adventure. Although, not all parts of the trip might be glamorous and tantrum free, but embrace the bonding and moments throughout your trip.