M Enjoying Backpacking with Kids: Part 2

by Luke Schmidt

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Article Summary:

Note on Other Articles: Backpacking gear for kids of various ages has been addressed in several excellent BPL articles. For example, Ryan and Stephanie Jordan and Jay Ham cover family trips with younger kids. Other articles by Doug Prosser have given excellent advice for scouts and older kids in general.

I am going to focus on gear for kids who are somewhat in between these two (although there is some overlap). The kids I take out are mostly between 9-12 years old, they are a bit young to carry the loads that adults or scouts at Philmont might carry, but they can do more than tag along while adults do most of the work. Basically these kids can carry a significant portion of their own stuff IF they are using well thought out ultralight gear. For adults or teenagers, going light is nice, but it is not the end of the world if they have a 15-pound base weight. For the kids I take out, going light is an absolute necessity.

My goal is for each kid to carry most of their own gear. There are several reason for this:

  1. I can take more kids out because I’m not playing pack mule. I’m perfectly willing to do this, but I can only haul so much.
  2. At some point kids want more independence and responsibility. For example Joseph insisted on carrying what he considered his “fair share” at age 9. When kids know they are pulling their own weight on an expedition, they take a lot more pride in it. I want the kids to be partners with me, not just along for the ride.

Choosing gear for anyone is a balancing act, but it's especially so for kids. Ultralight gear has come to the point where lots of people are backpacking with as little as 5 pounds of gear - without sacrificing comfort or safety. That kind of weight is ideal for kids. However, a lot of adult UL gear makes trade-offs that would be more questionable with kids. For example, down quilts and small tarps may be fine for experienced adults but not so much for children.

I will not try to cover every piece of gear for kids, just the gear that is different for kids. Kids are going to need basically the same kind of socks and clothes as adults, but their requirements for shelters, sleeping gear, and packs can be a bit different.

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