Is Backpacking with Your Kids a Good Idea?
What to Know Before You Head Out With Your Family on a Backpacking Adventure
Backcountry backpacking brings a lot of joy to a lot of people. The opportunity to get out in nature while carrying everything you need with you (plus a few amenities) on your back is an experience that you’ll remember. Because it takes a little extra strain—filling the pack, hoisting it on your back, and carrying it all day, plus hiking—it’s often younger adults who fall in love with backpacking. But it’s often a life-long love affair that people love to continue.
Once you’re hooked, you’re hooked. Once these people start to have families, though, that dynamic can change. It’s more difficult to be out and away from your families and kids for longer periods of time. Of course, one simple solution is to bring the family along with. But is backpacking with kids even a good idea? Let’s look at some pros and cons of backpacking with kids.
Working Up to Backpacking with Kids
Introducing your kids straight to backpacking—no matter how old they are—usually won’t end in success. It’s something you have to work up to. Try starting with longer hikes, maybe even a single overnight trip. Go car camping and have them stay in a tent on occasion to get them used to sleeping outdoors.
Most importantly, start them early. As early as about three years old, get them out walking in the woods. Get them comfortable with the idea of walking up and down hills, watching for roots, and keeping an eye on the trail.
While you’re at it, be sure to reinforce that you’re out hiking as a family, and you’re not there to carry them. Plan distances that you think they can handle without getting overtired. Otherwise, they’ll end up in your arms. And carrying your kids in addition to a pack is quickly going to make you as tired as they are.
Are the Kids Ready to Backpack?
The big question becomes: are your kids even ready for a backpacking trip? Even on relatively flat terrain, hiking can be quite strenuous even on healthy adult bodies. Here are a few suggestions for making sure your kids are ready to handle a backpacking trip.
Hike 4 Miles
Being able to hike about four miles means they can usually handle a decent backpacking trip. Depending on the age of your kid(s), you may not be able to carry them at all, which can put a serious strain on your goals. Having a good sense of how far they can hike also lets you plan your routes and days a little better.
Carry a Pack
There should be no free rides here. Your kids should be able to carry their own packs. Otherwise, you’ll end up shouldering even more load than necessary. Because being lightweight is the name of the game, it’s important to spread the weight among everyone on the trail. You can coach them up to this by letting them bring a pack along when you try out normal day hikes.
They Want to Go
For some kids, the prospect of camping, hiking strenuously out in the woods, and sleeping among the insects and wildlife simply won’t be exciting. If they’re not into it, you can’t force it. The attitudes that come with that will ruin the trip for everyone. That’s not to say there may not be some realizations once they’re on the trail, but don’t force them to do something you’re excited about that they’re simply not.
They Understand Backcountry Camping
If your kids are mostly used to parking at non-primitive sites or in an RV, they might not even grasp just how different backcountry camping is. They’re going to have insects all around them. They’re going to have to sleep on the ground. And, they’re going to have to relieve themselves in the woods. These are all things that can be a little shocking to a lot of youngsters. Explain the situation to them, but don’t make it seem scary or insurmountable. We were all there once.
Tips for Taking Your Kids Backpacking
Think you’re ready to take the kids out on a backpacking trip? Great. We’ve got a few tips and tricks to help you make sure everyone has a good time.
Before the Trip
Include Them in Planning
If you really want them to get excited about an upcoming trip, get them involved in the planning. Lay out maps of trails, have them help find camping spots, explain distance markers, and let them pick out sights they want to see along the way.
If your kids see you getting excited about a trip, they’re more likely to get excited too. Don’t let any anxieties about bringing them along get in the way of the prospect of a great trip.
Kids really value their friends, especially in places they’re not familiar with. Think about letting them bring a friend along (another one who’s experienced with hiking) to give them a little more of a reprieve in case the dreaded boredom sets in.
Know your kids’ limitations. If they’re not ready to hike a seven-mile day, don’t plan one. Find routes and camping sites that are a decent distance from each other without leading them to pure exhaustion.
During the Trip
Listen to Them
Your kids are likely to get excited about things you’ve already seen a million times. If you see or hear them get fascinated by a cool bug or a weird tree, stop and let them observe it for a bit. This is brand new to them.
If you’re backpacking as a family, it’s usually a good idea to have an adult leading and an adult in the rear, with the kids in the middle. That way you’ve got a good set of eyes upfront for potential danger, and someone in back to make sure the kids don’t go wandering off-trail.
Leave No Trace
This is a perfect time to teach your kids how important leaving no trace is. We’re here to share the outdoors not just with everyone else, but with animals too. Teach them how easy it is to be destructive to the ecosystem and how to respect it. They’ll learn the importance of packing in lightweight, low-trash items, too.
Teach Self Sufficiency
Kids can learn all kinds of life lessons on a backpacking trail. For example, make them carry their own water, whether it’s a hydration pack or a water bottle. They’ll learn when to drink, how much to drink, and where they can refill.
So, overall, yes, backpacking with your kids is a good idea. Just make sure to prepare accordingly. Get your kids ready for the experience with small hikes and overnight stays and build up slowly to a big outing. Before you know it, your family will be backpacking as often as you like—making great memories in the great outdoors!