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June 06, 2011

The Full Meal Deal: Backpacking with Kids

By Meredith Russell

As we've previously discussed, camping with kids can suck. So imagine how crummy a backpacking trip can be!  Done simply, however, backpacking with your kids can create some of the best family memories. 

Start Small. Consider not only a short hike, but also a short drive. A shorter distance to the site helps keep the kids' enthusiasm up, and a short trip home limits confined periods of whining!

Start simple. An easy way to limit the complexity of a first trip is to camp at the trailhead. You can have the fun of camping without having to trudge your tent and sleeping bags uphill the next day. You can fit in an overnight, a full day of hiking, fishing, etc., and then head back to the car in the evening for the trip home.

Plan destination hikes. Once the kids are up for it, there's nothing cooler than hiking to a waterfall, lake, or some final spot that takes your breath away and makes everyone forget about their blister or sore shoulders! Set it up so you camp at your "destination," which will make your kids feel that the hike, no matter how tricky or "exhausting," was worth it!

The Camping CookbookBring food, glorious food. Packing light-but-yummy food can be tough! Dehydrated backpacking foods can also be expensive and not thrilling to most children. Noodle soups and mac and cheese can be great substitutes. If you're feeling a little more ambitious, check out The Camping Cookbook for fun ideas.

Keep it safe and fun. A great safety tip? Make the kids carry whistles at all times in case they get off the beaten path and need to let you know where they are. There are some pretty cool kids' outdoor adventure kits that include whistles and more.

Practice, practice, practice. We know our kids are active, and maybe we're in pretty good shape too. But carrying a heavy backpack (and maybe our kids' backpacks also) can take a toll. Do some prep the weeks before by hiking around the neighborhood as a family with your backpacks full of something…build up all your hiking muscles! Keep in mind that some experts recommend carrying no more than 20% of your body weight, so don't overdo it.

My husband still has vivid memories of his family backpacking trips… from fishing in his favorite lakes to his mom doing a 50-miler with him while she was pregnant! What great memories are you creating with your kids?


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We are taking our 10 month old daughter backpacking in Golden, Canada this weekend! I am dehydrating like crazy this week, so we'll just wait and see how it goes.

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