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Backpacking with Kids: How to Plan the Best Family Adventure
Dreaming about a family trip where your kids actually unplug from their devices, learn about the natural world, and have a blast doing it? We have the perfect solution!

It’s time to take them backpacking. Exploring the outdoors with the family for a few days is a fantastic way to introduce your kids to the adventure-filled life and encourage a love of nature at a young age. As a parent, planning a trip that’s both fun and maybe even a little educational can be overwhelming, so we put together some tips to help you get ready for your next family adventure.

Gearing up for your backpacking adventure

The right trail can be the difference between a fun family trip and a backpacking disaster. With that in mind, here are some key questions to consider:

  • How old are your kids?
  • How far can they walk without asking to take a break?
  • How much gear can they carry in their backpack?
  • Do they have quality footwear that will stand up to the rigors of a hike?
  • How familiar are they with exploring the outdoors?
  • Have they ever slept underneath the stars before?

It doesn’t matter if you’re six, sixty, or anything in between – there’s nothing wrong with starting out slow. So if you or your kids are new to backpacking, why not start hiking some local trails that are rated for beginners as you get ready for the big trip? It’s not a bad idea to hike without packs at first, and then you can add some gear over the next few excursions until you’re confident everyone can handle a full pack. It’s great exercise and an even better excuse to spend time as a family away from smart phones, tablets, and gaming consoles. One way to avoid having anyone ask the dreaded “are we there yet?” question is to pick trails that have a variety of attractions like streams, waterfalls, and overlooks. As an added bonus, scenic features provide a great place to stop and rest. And if your kids are really itching for some screen time on their phones, those panoramic moments are perfect for taking pictures or videos to capture the memory. If you plan on roughing it by sleeping out under the stars for the first time, the good news is that there are trails that offer a comfortable place to camp each night—as in shelters and campsites with running water and toilets. After all, you pushed yourself all day, why not give yourself and your family a few creature comforts as you get ready to hit the trails the next morning?

Preparing for a backpacking trip

Like any vacation, preparation can make the difference between an amazing backpacking excursion and an absolute disaster. REI has a great list of items to bring on every trip, like navigation tools, sun protection, and first-aid supplies. Planning on bringing Fido along? Check out these tips for backpacking with dogs! If you’re setting time goals each day, be sure to give yourself some leeway. Kids can get tired (heck, so can adults), they take shorter strides, and they typically have even shorter attention spans, which is the perfect formula for an unanticipated stop or two along the way.

Bring the right footwear

After investing time and money in your backpacking trip, the last thing you want to deal with is pain or discomfort. Sure, the better hiking boots cost a bit more, but the wrong footwear can make something as simple as walking down the street miserable. And let’s face it: nobody wants to wear cheap boots when you’re carrying heavy packs across uneven terrain. And if you’re venturing where there’s moisture from rain, snow, rivers, or lakes, you’re going to want to make sure those boots are truly waterproof. In fact, the Clarks Tad Go GTX® Boot – Toddler is a great lightweight choice for all weather hiking comfort for kids.

Don’t forget the water (and snacks)

To keep bellies full and spirits high, be sure to bring plenty of snacks for your kids like fruit and trail mix. It is also fundamental to pack the right amount of water. The Capital Hiking Club notes that the right amount to bring will vary on each hiker’s size and physical condition. However, a good rule to follow is 8 ounces of water per person per mile you’ll be exploring.

What kind of backpack?

You should always be prepared to transport kids off the trail in case of an emergency. A carrier backpack for parents to wear in case small children have tired legs or an injury can keep you moving on the trail. For a 1-3 night trip, REI recommends a backpack with 35-50 liters of carrying capacity for adults. The North Face Sprout Pack is a great gear choice for younger children, and the older ones can take a bag like the REI Passage. You should load kids’ packs with more lightweight items like snacks, a sleeping bag, and some water to ensure they have enough energy to make the trek.

Learn and laugh 

Backpacking together allows your family to enjoy nature and educate your kids, all while having fun in the great outdoors! Check out these tips from the Washington Trails Association to engage your family with the surrounding landscape. As you walk, involve them in navigation. There’s something rewarding about teaching your child how to read a good old-fashioned map instead of letting Google figure it out for them. In addition to wilderness skills, backpacking allows you to show your children it’s important to be conscientious. They might struggle picking up their bedrooms at home, but there’s a good chance they’ll understand the importance of picking up litter when the beauty of nature is surrounding them. After all, they’re the stewards of the future.

Journey regularly 

Kids love adventure. Try making family backpacking a regular tradition, whether your schedule allows for once a month or once a year. Backpacking is a great way to infuse a love of the outdoors in the next generation and create memories that last a lifetime. 

Now we want to hear from you! Where are your favorite places to adventure with your family?


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