Summer Fun: Backpacking with Children and Lessons Learned on the Trail

 

[C]ombining two passions in my life — my children and backpacking — has always been a desire of mine. And after much planning, a few weekends ago we set out on our very first family backpacking trip — 2 year old and all!

By no means would I consider us experts in the field of backpacking with children.

Truth be told…we’re more “fly by the seat of our pants” type people — rather than planners.

Nonetheless, here are a few tips and challenges that I have learned from our weekend on the trail:

1. Getting the family out of the door. This seems to always be the most difficult obstacle to overcome. When preparing, gathering supplies, and organizing outdoor activities with a 2, 6, and 10 year old…something’s bound to go wrong and frustrations rise. There are times, in the middle of getting us ready, that I want to throw my hands up and say “forget it.” But through the years I am learning that by including the children in the preparation they learn responsibility, commitment, and teamwork — and once we’re on the trail, all is forgotten and joy is our prize! 

2. Go on several day hikes with them. A key element to incorporate when preparing to backpack with children starts by going on several day hikes with them.  Before we even considered an overnight trip we wanted to be sure that they could enjoy 2-3 mile hikes and 2-3 hours on the trail. Spending lots of time outdoors day hiking gave our children the chance to experience being out in the woods, a few consecutive hours walking, and, most especially, it gave us the sense of how they’d function as backpackers.

3. Read up. I spent tons of time preparing for backpacking with the children by reading tons of books on backpacking basics. Here are a few that I highly recommend:

4. Get your mind right. Backpacking, and hiking in general, tends to be more of a mental challenge than a physical one. Children in particular take off like horses out of the gate; then after a short distance on the trail, the wind is quickly taken out of their little sails and suddenly they want to turn around, bail out, or just stop hiking all together and do something else. However, never underestimate the mental capability of your child. My hiking mantra with the children is “get your mind right” :) Remember what we are doing here…keep your eyes on the goal. They’ve never once disappointed me! In fact, I am always amazed by their ability to meet the challenge and rise to the occasion!

5. Set a specific path. Mapping out your backpacking journey — and accepting the fact that you can realistically only hike about two to four miles per day with young children — will help to reduce the pressure and sets an attainable goal. Limiting your hiking time to a max of 4-5 hrs/day, including stops for snacks, rest, and exploration is also key in enjoying your time on the trail.

6. Gear. Gearing up children is often a major concern for parents. Naturally we want to provide our children with similar quality gear like we have for ourselves — but the problem is, good stuff ain’t cheap. Never fear, there are several options and one of the best is to gear-share with your friends who also backpack with children. Otherwise, making due with what you have is a great motto :)

7. Food and water. On the trail we tend to be a bit more cautious about the quality of water that the children drink rather than the quality of water we adults drink. We love our water filter and trust it’s quality. Likewise, one of my most favorite things to do is prepare our meals. Foods like Homemade Chocolate Chews, Curry Rice, and lots of homemade dehydrated goodness are favorites for us!

8. First Aid. A few basic homemade herbal first aid remedies can be easily carried and utilized on the trail. We have found the homemade bug repellent, Herbal Itch Relief Stick, Miracle Balm, and Black Drawing Salve are must haves and serve us well. Note: All of these items — lovingly handmade by me — can be found and purchased by clicking here… 

Inspiration

I encourage you this summer…

…don’t wait until your children are older (i.e. teenagers), and then try to convince them to join you on a big outdoor adventure! Start now — when they are young — even if it means you get out and you’re only able to hike around in your local park, we all have to start somewhere :) 

When leading your family on this journey into backpacking, it’s best to consider the long-term benefits, this may very well be a life-long love of nature that you foster in your children.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means! What tips can you share with us for hiking, backpacking, and enjoying the outdoors with children this summer?

Comments

  1. Where did you go?

    • We went on a short 4 miles in 4 miles out hike into a canyon near a town called Strawberry in Arizona. The trail was the Fossil Springs Trail and we spent the night right beside Fossil Springs. Just a beautiful place and experience…especially for us desert dwellers :)

      • Strawberry is such a beautiful place I used to go there a lot with my parents. They are a bit more adventurous than myself and we frequented the Verde Hot Springs. I spent many of summers in Strawberry, Payson, Sedona area during the summer months Christopher Creek was always my favorite. I need to bring the kids to these places as well. Thanks for the inspiration.

        • My husband and I backpack and we love doing it! Just had our first baby and can’t wait for her to be older so we can take her on hikes! Love Fossil Springs! Such a beautiful area.

  2. I would love some more specific tips on how you hiked with your 2 yr old. do you use a carrier at all for him? My mom is about to hike the AT and she is taking my oldest girls (7 and 6) on one of her short hikes closer to our home, and we have been hiking a lot more with them lately. Yesterday a I did a couple of miles at the state park with all four, baby in the Bjorn and 2 yr old straggling behind. This is a great post to give me the courage to keep doing this with them–and to maybe venture into something overnight when baby is a bit bigger. Thanks!

    • Oh Lindsey! You are an inspiration! I think what you are doing is AWESOME! And what an experience your 7 and 6 year old will have!

      To answer your questions on more on the specifics of our journey…my husband carried most of the the gear (i.e. fuel, stove, tent, etc.). We do not have special packs for the 10 and 6 year old because we wanted to see if this would be something they enjoyed first :) So they carried Camelback backpacks with their change of clothes, water, and a bit of the food. I carried my son in a Kelty carrier when he wasn’t walking. Into the canyon he actually did very well walking a large portion of the way in (it was slow going, and he wanted to be carried occassionally, but he did it). Although, he was carried almost 100% of the way out ;)

      Keep goin’ girl! You are giving those babies such a special gift :)

  3. Hurray for you. I totally agree with you on your point regarding age. Start them out young enjoying the outdoors and let them carry their own pack too! By the time they are teens, they won’t want to go…
    *anna

  4. I love these tips. We are due to have a baby in September and are already looking forward to starting her outdoor adventures early. I’ll be sure to keep these tips in mind when we get started.

  5. I don’t have children, but I’m a huge outdoor enthusiast. I love reading about parents encouraging their children to enjoy and appreciate everything outdoor adventures have to bring! It’s such a great gift you are passing on. Thanks!

  6. We have never hiked and as a family we would like to start. we have 5 yr old and up. Any suggestions on how to get started?

  7. Kalliea says:

    I spent so much time in the woods as a kid I didn’t really have any interest when my boys were younger. I really wish I had taken them camping and hiking more. You learn so many things when you are taken out of the protection of your house. I now worry about their safety because they didn’t learn how to avoid things like rattlesnakes and other dangerous locals. They didn’t learn first aid, unfortunately much of what I learned was by observing accidents. Most importantly in this world of technology they didn’t learn the joys of sitting and quitely observing the wonders of our natural world.

  8. I didn’t start w mine until they were 10, but better late than never. Besides day hikes we also did backyard campouts. They pitched their own tents, cooked outside, and slept outside. They also would ask for backyard sleepovers!
    They may have gotten away from it as older teens now, but they still talk about it and treasure the sense of accomplishment they have. Even if we are just going to have a small fire pit in the yard for hotdogs, I can ask the 17yo’s to start a fire and trust that they won’t grab a can of gasoline! :)

  9. When my kids were little we used snow suites for them to sleep in at night so I wouldn’t worry about them getting out of their sleeping bag.

    The goal helps. Once we were hiking up a mountain and my 6yr old couldn’t go any farther after climbing a few hr. Then just up a little hill, we saw snow a distance away and she ran! Mental capacity is key.

    We also annually have taken our 2 girls since they were 6, cross-country skiing 5 miles into a cabin in the winter.

  10. Pre kids, hiking and backpacking were my escape, my way to reconnect no feel whole. I have learned a lot about hiking with kids since then, nd probably the biggest is adjusting my expectations. Hiking ten miles to the top of some gorgeaous pinnacle to marvel in the quiet and enjoy the smells…..well…it doesn’t quite happen like that anymore! I have learned to pick shorter, simpler hikes, and on experiencing the wonder of it all with my kids. I have learned that it does take so,e encouragement, and the road will not always be smooth, but the eerie nice we get out of it is priceless ( even if in the moment I have to dee breathe to calm myself and encourage my little ones for the 100th time). This summer, I plan on venturing out by myself with all three close to home for some trial runs before we price any further from home. 20 months, 4 years, and 7….
    My,kiddos will keep,me on my toes, I am sure. But I have found that if I enjoy it and marvel at the simple beauty in nature, they do too. Patience, the one thing my kids continually teach me. I hope to try camping too again, I sure do miss it after last summer’s hiatus with a newborn! I really oenjoyed reading your story, thank you!

  11. My husband and I love backpacking but have yet to go since we were marred (4 years now) because we got pregnant right away! We have been talking about going with our kids this summer and are planning a day hike tomorrow! The kids are 1 and 3 so imagine the 1 will be in a pack the WHOLE time, but that’s ok at least we’ll be out in nature! Thanks for the post! Always so timely!! :)

  12. Hi! I am new to your blog but I love love love it. It’s so nice to have a “place” to go for great ideas and inspiration. My son is only 8 months old now but we’ve taken him on a few short hikes, it’s important to me that we expose him to nature as he grows older. Fossil Springs is gorgeous my husband and I are from Gilbert, AZ and I went to school in Flagstaff. We have lived in the bay area for the last two years, taking in all the beauty with hikes in Half Moon Bay, Big Sur, San Rafeal. Now we’ve decided to move back to the valley to be close to our families. I’m looking forward to it although I’ll miss the trees being so close here. it’s nice to know we always have Strawberry and beautiful Northern Arizona only a few hours away.

  13. Well done l was a backpacker pre children …. Then thought my days were over when l found out l was pregnant … Funny what you can do when you want to … First trip was when she was 6 months old we flew out to stay with friends then when l was feeling ok there we went to Thailand for 3 months … Never looked back .. Within a months of returning home we were off again and again then by the time she was 3 we left for a year to go around the world … Lol we were gone 3 years and she spoke 3 languages and couldn’t remember home … Kids are so amazingly resilient … We also became travellers not backpackers and l learned many life lessons along the way … Slowing down and staying longer in places was a blessing as we got to know places not just pass through ……We learned to just go with the flow and had experiences that will last me through her teenage years
    LOL

  14. Awesome! I used to hike – pre husband and pre kids. We haven’t done much of it but I know it would be a real treat. Thanks for the inspiration.

  15. We just got back a couple days ago from our first trip out with both kids – we had taken our 9 year old twice since he was 6, but it was the first overnight trip for our 5 year old. They did great, it was about 3 miles in. The 5 year old carried a small Osprey pack with her extra clothes, my hubby’s stuffed-tiny down jacket, and an REI hammock. The kids love the hammock, so they are excited to carry it (it is small & light). One thing that got them excited for the trip is that we bought a food treat, dehydrated ice cream! It was really good, I have to admit! Thanks for posting this, and I enjoyed all the other commenters’ thoughts as well.

  16. Thanks for posting these great suggestions! We anticipate going with our little one this summer, so this will certainly help us to be prepared.

  17. Sounds like you had a great trip! One recommendation we have when hiking or backpacking with kids for keeping them motivated is to do 45 min of walking followed by a 15 minute break. If they know they know exactly when the next break is, and that this isn’t just going to go on “forever”, they will be more motivated to keep moving.

  18. Fill up your camelback with ice and wrap itwith a towel. in its compartment it will stay faily insulated and you should have some ice by the evening when you set up

    camp. throw in a bottle of soda and some minis. this will make a nice little mini-bar for you and friends. Give them enouph and they will carry your tent.

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