Backpacking with our Kids

Is backpacking with our kids feasible, you ask? Maybe you were a backpacker in your youthful days, as a single or a young couple.  The world was your home, and all you needed were those packs strapped on your backs — you could go anywhere, do anything, and stay anywhere. Then the children came. First that squalling red-faced newborn — and immediately the thought of going anywhere went out the window. That creature had so much paraphernalia attached to him there was no way you were going to backpack anywhere — any trip would require a separate travel truck, it seemed, what with all his diapers, burp cloths, clothes, bouncers, and the pack and play.

The kids grow, and slowly the amount of “necessities” seem to decrease. Potty training happens, and the bottles stop. Their rooms are still full of junk, but it’s all superfluous junk, not the kind of thing you would have to take with you on a weekend backpacking trip. So the thought comes up in your mind, or perhaps that of your spouse, is backpacking with our kids an option, maybe? Could it really happen? Or are our backpacking days over unless we get a chance to drop them off for an extended visit to Grandma’s, or wait for them to go off to college?

Backpacking with our kids: Does it work?

Backpacking with kids is definitely feasible, it just takes a bit of planning and a bit more work.  When your spouse asks “Shall we go backpacking with our kids?” you don’t need to throw the idea out the window, but also don’t let your old ideas of backpacking run away with you. Backpacking with your kids isn’t like backpacking with your spouse back in the day; it’s a different thing, with different, new challenges but also plenty of new joys. You get to see everything for the first time through your child’s eyes, and that is a pretty cool thing for a parent. But, again, it takes planning. And, again, it’s not easy. So here are our top tips for backpacking with kids.

Rethinking Backpacking for the Family

Here are some basic principles to keep in mind when backpacking with your kids.

  • Start small: if you’ve never gone backpacking as a family before, don’t begin with a month-long trip to Alaska (or India), instead, a weekend trip to the local national park is a better place to begin. Go from a weekend to a week, and when your kids have got the drill down, you can expand to a month, a summer, even a year.
  • Get them involved: get them excited and involved from the start by including them in the planning. If they’re old enough, enlist their help in researching the route and let them help make decisions about where to stay and what to do. Whatever age they are, spend lots of time talking up the trip.
  • Let them have their own packs: make sure each child has a personal backpack that fits them. This shouldn’t be allowed to get too heavy, or you’ll have to drag both child and pack, but it’s still important to have one — it makes your kids feel like an important part of the expedition.
  • Plan adequate Sleeps and Eats: children get very cranky, very fast, when they don’t get adequate rest or enough regularly spaced meals and snacks. Don’t skimp on rest times, and don’t skip meals. Make sure you’ve got plenty of high-energy snacks readily accessible whenever you go on hikes or long walks with the kids.

Got it? Then you should have no trouble.  Next time your spouse says “Shall we go backpacking with our kids?”  you know the answer — “Yes!”