Tips for backpacking with kids
Earlier we talked about our first experience backpacking with kids. Today we thought we’d share some tips for backpacking with kids.
Backpacking should be as fun and enjoyable for kids as it is for adults. Not everyone is cut out for backpacking – and this has nothing to do with fitness level. It has to do with mindset.
Backpackers tend to have a different approach to life, the environment, fun, society & technology. Many people have no idea if they will appreciate backpacking until they actually try. It took us 9 years and hundreds of kms of hiking and camping before we finally got the opportunity to enjoy our first backpacking trip.
Backing with kids is not as easy as backpacking with adults, but it also does not have to be difficult. Here are some tips for backpacking with kids that we hope will help you explore with your little ones.
1. Keep the packs light
We use a portable luggage scale to weigh our packs before and after any backpacking trip. Everybody is going to have a limit as to how much they can COMFORTABLY carry. Sunny carried around 50lbs during our West Coast Trail trip, which worked out to about 25% of his body weight. That is probably the highest you’d want to go if you are new to backpacking. If you can keep your pack between 15-20% of your body, you will likely be much happier than if you try to push your limits.
Keep kids packs even lighter, because they will likely be excited and may run back and forth or may explore more side paths. If you are walking 7kms, they may end up walking 8 or 9.
2. Take frequent breaks
Don’t dictate the breaks you take. Tell your kids to let you know when they need a break. Plan your route and your timing based on their worse case scenario. This isn’t a chore – they should enjoy the hike! Make the breaks fun, and ensure you do not stop for too long without staying active. Cooling your muscles down too much will make it much more difficult to get going again. Stretch during every break you take.
3. Keep them engaged as you’re walking
Play games as you hike! We convinced our friend’s 6 year old son that trolls lived under bridges, so before we crossed any we made sure to check underneath and ensure there were no trolls. Most kids love to pose for pictures, so keep a camera handy and keep them smiling! Come up with a game/tradition that will keep your kids involved. Give a prize for whoever finds the best looking rock, or whoever spots the prettiest flower. Let whoever spots the most wildlife chose what you eat for dinner, or which direction to point the tent.
4. Have them help with the tent/cooking/collecting water
Just like at home, it is probably a good idea to have your kids help with the daily routines. Our friend’s son helped him with the tent, and when we were cooking we asked him to fetch water from the lake. Include them in all aspects of backpacking – treat them like a valued member of the group. They can be in charge of fetching water, holding the bug spray, taking food to and from the bear bins. There are always things to do when you are backpacking, and including them will help them learn and understand the intricacies of backpacking.
5. Teach about nature & wilderness
Ideally if you are backpacking you appreciate and respect nature. You understand that you need to pack out what you pack in. You don’t/won’t light fires when you’re not allowed. You won’t throw garbage away in the outhouse. You won’t leave food unattended at your campsite. Each of these “rules” for backpackers is a teaching moment for your child. Explain why these rules are in effect and show them where and how to respect these rules. Prior to your hike, see if there is an information center or ranger station where you can take your child so they can learn from an authority figure what the rules are.
6. Manage your expectations
If you are a seasoned backpacker or learning about backpacking from online sources or a book, make sure you manage your expectations. Just because the book says a 7km hike will take 2 hours, don’t expect it to. Let your kids be the trail leader. Let them determine the pace. If they see a bug and want to investigate, let them. It may just look like another bug to you, but to them its something completely new and foreign. They may not just be interested in lakes and waterfalls – they may want to see all the new plants, flowers, bugs, trees and rocks.
Do you have any other tips for backpacking with kids? Please feel free to share them with us!
If you are looking for a great backpacking trail you can include your children on, try the Berg Lake Trail in Mount Robson Park. Both the 7km and 11km campgrounds are easily accessed and great for full day hikes with kids.