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Lightweight Backpacking with Young Children
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Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
Lightweight Backpacking with Young Children on 03/13/2009 13:01:03 MDT Print View

The Jordans did a good article in 2003:

I'd like to see more about this subject. I get one opportunity a year to do a two week solo adventure. The rest of the time I'm joined by at least one kid and sometimes both kids and my wife.

After an 8 year break from backpacking my wife and I got our 7 year old daughter and 5 year old son out for one trip last summer. We have done a great deal of hiking, car and trailer camping in the past 6 years, but that was our first BP.

For the upcoming summer we plan somewhere around 2 weeks in the High Sierra, starting out with car camping to acclimate then doing somewhere between 5 and 9 days backpacking.

While I've been getting all re-enthused about backpacking and lightening my load, my wife has little interest in a light weight conversion- Apparently she's happy in the misery of a 45 pound pack. They kids are very excited by nifty gear, but with their rapid growth rates it's hard to justify big $ on UL gear.

I'd like to hear more from other parents who have gotten their young kids involved. Do you try to get them into similar gear to your own? What about clothing systems? How do you deal with mosquitos? How about contingency planning to deal with freak storms, injury of a child or injury of a solo adult?

And is a Bothy Bag the best piece of safety gear ever or just another unneeded lump of weight?

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Lightweight Backpacking with Young Children on 03/13/2009 13:37:08 MDT Print View


You are lucky because your wife is willing to come along. Mine was not, so with two of them I had to carry a lot of extra stuff. But since small kids are not going to hike long distances, it wasn't so bad.

When mine were 8 and younger I just had them bring their little day packs they used for school and put as much stuff as was comfortable for them and carried the rest myself. I did a couple trips with the boy when he was older and bought a small pack I knew he would soon out-grow.

Always hike on trails that I knew someone would be on it in case of an injury. Fortunately I never had to deal with it. Realistically, kids are resilient and it is more likely that an injury would occur to you. When they were really little, I would talk to a ranger and discuss our trip. If they are out in the area, they will keep a special look out for you. On one trip we were a little bit off the trail playing with Hot Wheels during a rest stop, when the boy was 5. The Ranger saw us and came over to make sure everything was okay.

Sleeping bags. I just let them use one of my bags. It was too big, but it worked. Usually I had to use a lighter bag with with additional insulation to keep me warm.

Tents - this was the big problem, being a tarp guy. With just the boy I would use a large tarp, in weather with just a chance of afternoon showers. With a greater chance of rain I used a Sierra Designs Flashlight with the girl, (predessor to the Clip Flashlight). With the boy or both of them I often used an Chouinard Pyramid.

Clothes - just let them bring an insulated jacket which was fairly heavy, but they could carry it in their pack, as I was the mule. If it got cold at night, we just retired early and kept warm in the bags.

Bugs just don't seem to bother our family much.

I like you idea of acclimating first. Plus you have a two-staged camping adventure.

With young children, I have found you need to let them bring some sort of toy or diversion. For my son it was Hot Wheels until he was about 7, then after that it was no longer an issue. For my daughter... well this is strange, she would never, ever use a campground toilet. Backpacking was a huge concern to me, and she lived to be able to use a cathole and get to burn the TP. Who would have guessed.

Start with really short trips, and work your way up. Do too much at first and they get turned off. My biggest problem with BPing with small kids was finding the time, and an interesting loop with little elevation gain. All the other things we not that big a problem. I would be hesitant to take a kid under 11 on a multiday trip with any sort of mileage over about 5 per day. But this would be dependent on the make-up of the kids.

Have fun, you are going to reap tremedouse benefit by connecting with your children.

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
Re: Re: Lightweight Backpacking with Young Children on 03/13/2009 14:15:09 MDT Print View

Nick said: "You are lucky because your wife is willing to come along."

It's a two-edged sword. Yes I'm lucky. Except when she thinks one trip a year is enough, but gives me grief if I want to do more without her.

Nick said: "For my daughter... well this is strange, she would never, ever use a campground toilet. Backpacking was a huge concern to me, and she lived to be able to use a cathole and get to burn the TP. Who would have guessed..."

I was similarly concerned with both of my kids, especially the 5 year old. Turned out to be a total non-issue. They both shat in the woods like old hands.

Like you, I'm looking for routes that have moderate elevation gains and good camping at sub-5 mile intervals. In hindsight our first trip was too hard and we weren't patient enough when the kids wanted to climb a rock or play in the creek. The boy said he had fun but wanted to wait until he was older for the next trip. Then a couple months ago he started pestering me when we could go again.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Lightweight with little brothers on 03/16/2009 17:47:25 MDT Print View

I've taken my little brothers and their buddies on several backpacking trips. They really like the exploring aspect, if they get to see some new country or climb some rocks they're happy.
I've used frameless packs for younger boys with 15 pounds or less. I think you need to think about percentages here. As adults we don't want more then 10-15 pounds on our shoulders. I don't let little guys carry more than 15 pounds but being littler I doubt they can be comforble with it all on their shoulders.
I've had good success with simple and durable frameless packs. We tried a 1 pound Camp Trails pack from Sierra Trading post ona SUL trip last weekend. My ten year old brother liked it but said if he was carrying more than ten pounds he'd switch to his Dana Designs pack with an internall frame. Another boy used my Raza Camalbak with good succes with 15 pounds and a sleeping pad for support.
Hope it helps, I highly recommend the Camp Trails pack. Its better than a typicaal bookbag.
For safety I try to have an older (12 or up) kid who could lead a group out if I was disabled. My younger brothers are pretty capable and I'm pretty sure they could manage if I were knocked out. Of course we bring a cell phone, stay on trails, and leave detailed itenaries.
Good luck.