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What Does It Take To Backpack With Kids


Kid backpacking

J-Man is 6 years old and I’m still surprised at the responses we get when other folks see us backpacking into the wilderness with him. When he was an infant and we hiked you would have thought I had an alien on my back. The comments, although encouraging, were also surprising. It didn’t occur to us that it would shock so many people. We are getting similar responses these days backpacking, however, the comments are addressed to J-Man pumping him up with encouraging and positive words. It definitely builds his self esteem and self confidence for sure.

He hears statements like…

“Great job!”

“You are strong!”

“Keep up the great work.”

“What a trooper.”


What does it take to backpack with kids?

Why do some people think it can’t be done?


Family Backpacking


Here are my thoughts and let me know what you think…

First and foremost backpacking requires specific gear, which can be more expensive than car camping, so investing in additional gear is not always in everyone’s budget. You need a large backpack that is going to fit all of your belongings along with some of your kids, basically a pack that will fit your essentials to survive a night in the backcountry. Some of these items can have a high price tag unless you buy them on sale or second hand. Second hand items are a great way to get started in any activity or last seasons items which can be greatly marked down.

Unless you want to mimic a pack mule you will want items that are lighter weight than most car camping items. Sleeping bags can weigh anywhere from 1.5lbs to 6+lbs and the lighter you go the higher the price tag. Same goes for tents. You definitely don’t want to be lugging a 10lb tent up the trail. That makes my back hurt just thinking about it. A sleeping pads is optional, however, it will keep you warmer and more comfortable during the night. As for a cook stove and eating essentials, you can find them fairly inexpensive.

Besides the investment in additional and lighter weight gear there are factors of backpacking and parenting that come into play when bringing little humans with you…

1.  Fear. After speaking to other outdoor parents about why they think people shy away from backpacking with their kids their answers were consistent. Fear of the unknown, fear of being away from civilization if something happens, and the fear of it being unenjoyable. This is why I say always start with a short trip close to home. Even a mile in is something. When backpacking you don’t have to put pressure on yourself to hike miles and miles in to feel like you are truly backpacking. Start with baby steps and work your way up to longer and longer hikes as you become more experienced backpacking with your kids.

2. Distance and difficulty. Depending on your childs age and how far they can hike on their own will determine your destination. When J-Man did his first backpacking trip we over estimated the distance. We backpacked into the Wind River Range of Wyoming and never made it to our destination. We were 1.5 miles away from where we wanted to camp when we decided to pitch our tent and set up camp. Although we weren’t successful at reaching our destination on that trip we were successful at getting J-Man’s first backpacking trip under his belt, we were successful at having a fantastic time and we created memories that J-Man still talks about today. Like I said, don’t pressure yourself to hike miles into the backcountry. Sometimes less is more.

3. Preparation and Safety. Anything can happen at anytime so being as prepared as possible is important. Having first aid knowledge and bringing along a first aid kit will help you handle most situations that could occur. Educate yourself about the area you will be hiking in. Has their been a wildfire in the area creating unstable trees or unstable ground, is their a water source for filtering water or do you need to pack in all your water, what wildlife is in the area and how do you protect yourself from encounters and what is the weather forecast for the days you will be backpacking? These are all important elements to consider to be safe while in the backcountry.

4. Entertainment. How are kids going to be entertained and not get bored? Easy! They are great at using their imagination so leave the electronics at home (that just adds weight). This way they are forced to improvise and come up with entertaining ideas on their own and I know they will. J-Man loves sticks and rocks. If there is a lake nearby he will throw and skip rocks forever. He will build a fort, play hide-n-seek, swing in the hammock, help set up camp and cook, explore within his boundaries and build things with rocks, sticks, leaves and anything else on the ground.

5. Confidence. It takes a lot to step out of your comfort zone and do something you’ve never done before, especially, when it involves your child. You are responsible for this little person and you want them to be happy and safe. That’s why there is no problem with your first few trips being short and close to home. Build up your confidence with experience and before you know it you’ll be planning longer distance trips.


I would love to hear your thoughts on backpacking with kids? Have you been? What tips do you have? Why haven’t you gone?

Family backpacking







  1. Yup. Fear of the unknown. If you didn’t grow up doing this sort of thing it’s scary.

    The other thing is the weight of gear. We take our four kids out and pack ultralight, but still end up carrying 40-60 lbs of gear. It’s getting better now that the kids can carry more of their own gear.

  2. Bring friends! My kids all started their backpacking careers (at age 4) with a friend along. It’s easier on them and on me to have their friend (and their friend’s parent) on the trip. More tips for raising backpackers here: http://www.moosefish.com/cgi-bin/package_display.pl?packageID=2188

  3. Great post!
    I’m an overweight 40 year old Dad and have 10 and 12 year old son’s. We thru-hiked the John Muir Trail unsupported in 23 days this summer (2015) and had a great time! My kids carried 14 lbs each. We didn’t have blisters on our feet because we took things easy about 10-11 miles days. A lot of prevention. I don’t think most people realize how strong and adaptive kids are. One adult hiker said to us, “Well I thought I was doing something special but now that I see a 10 year old can do it…”
    My number one tip is… Be prepared to shift your expectations and roll with it. Stuff happens and kids surprise us. I centered the hike around my kids needs and when they were happy I could be too.
    Regarding gear: I am currently sewing and building lite gear that fits my boys and it is so cool! Backpacks 9 ounces, tarps and bivy sacks that fit one Dad and two son’s. It’s all possible I’m discovering.
    Keep rock’n those trails!

  4. Totally agree on short distances, being prepared and leaving electronics at home. The only exception I made was on our 5-day backpacking trip. An e-reader can hold so many books and we didn’t want to give up our nighttime reading routine! (Plus, I have a great collection of foraging books on it!)

    We hemmed and hawed for a few years, but now that our kids are 4 & 6, it seemed a good time to go backpacking as a family. We started with a short trip (3.4 km) in June, then did part of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail in July. It went well, but I am happy we didn’t do very long distances as it’s hard to travel a long way with all the extra weight on your back (we didn’t make the girls carry more than basic survival gear, a jacket, and half a litre of water).. especially at a 4 year old’s pace. 😉

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