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Backpacking with kids - questions
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Locale: East Bay
Backpacking with kids - questions on 10/13/2009 14:49:32 MDT Print View

New here, hello!

I've gotten back into backpacking over the past couple summers bringing my kids along. My daughter is 5 now and my son is 8. We have done five trips over the past two summers ranging from just an overnighter to 3 four day trips. They have all been great experiences in the Sierra's and we are hooked as a family.

I'm not getting any younger, and hauling our share plus most of our kids share is getting tiring for my wife and I. We were never "lightweight" packers before, but we've been adapting and purging our packs of everything we don't need. Done a lot of reading here, and that's helped but I'm still more loaded than I'd like. A few questions to the more experienced:

Given that a tent is mandatory for us at this stage of the game, is it realistic to think I'm going to find a decent shelter much lighter than the 7.5 pound Kelty San Miguel 4 person tent?

My wife and I just purchased Marmot Helium bags (sub 2 pounds) which will make a huge weight savings from our old North Face synthetic bags. However, I can't find anything in the way of lightweight bags for our kids. They currently share an older down bag that opens completely up and we insert one on each end, that actually works pretty well but as they grow I think that's not going to fly for more than just next summer.

Stoves. Been using my trusty 35 year old SVEA 123, but am researching the Caldera Cone system. I think we can get by just cooking dinner (cold food for bfast) and our dinners are usually mean in a bag affairs. Any advice from anyone with this system? This would be a nice weight saving too.

Packs. We have external frame packs. I'd like to move towards ultra-light packs, but I just don't think I'll be able to haul all our stuff in one until the kids are bigger and can carry more than the very light loads (basically their clothes only and water) they are carrying now, perhaps 7 pounds in their daypacks. Anyone with experience on this?

Edited by johnz on 10/13/2009 15:19:33 MDT.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Backpacking with kids - questions on 10/13/2009 15:10:21 MDT Print View

Welcome to the fun!

Tent: Check out something like a MLD Supermid with bug liner. About 3 pounds for the combination, inner is ~7.5 feet per side.

Sleeping Bags: For kids, check out the Western Mountaineering Tamarak, 19 ounces, $200, super compressible, last forever.

Stove: Yup, love the Caldera. They make systems for 2L pots that should work well for you. For the ultimate in weight savings, you might inquire about a Ti-Tri version... burn wood and save fuel weight...

Packs: I don't have kids, but I used to be one! You're right not to overload them, but at the same time they'll kinda enjoy hauling their part of the stuff... give one of them the tent stakes, another the pot, for example? But back to the pack, you might be able to pull off what I refer to as the 'tweener pack. Something light, though not necessarily ultra light. 70L or so. Maybe a GoLite Quest or an Exos 58 from mass market, a ULA Catalyst or something from cottage...


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Backpacking with kids - questions on 10/13/2009 15:12:05 MDT Print View

Hi John

Doubtless you will get lots of recommendations about changing your packs and tent and so on. I will take the opposite stance and say change nothing - for now. Just go walking, and get back into the groove.

Your kids will be growing up fast - trust me, it happens. So your needs will be changing quite fast. If you can carry the loads for now, do so. The external frame packs will serve you well anyhow - I quite like them for the loads you will have. And we do have a 'rule' that your pack is the LAST thing you should change, only after you have changed everything else.

When you divide the weight of the tent between four the per-person weight isn't that bad. Yes, you will change to something lighter in due course, but no rush. A couple of tarp tents might suit, but there is a cost.

Stove: ah, the venerable Svea. It has the advantage of power over the Caldera Cone of course. The Caldera is fine for 1 or two people, but for 4 ... hum, very slow. The best alternative imho would be to look at a canister stove - using a screw-thread canister. They are not dear and would handle the load. We have plenty of stove reviews here.


Ryan McCulloch

Locale: NOVA
Kids Sleeping Bag on 10/13/2009 16:05:44 MDT Print View

We actually had a similar question about kids sleeping bags, as we are trying to get out 2 year old out. We started a thread about it and got quite a few very helpful responses that may be of interest to you:

Kid's Sleeping Bag

Good luck!


Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Half Bags on 10/13/2009 16:32:23 MDT Print View

I've camped under tarps a lot with kids, mostly little brothers and summer camp overnighters. I personally would recommend a completely inclosed tent that keeps out the wind and night noises better so the little ones guys and girls sleep better. There was a thread a while back where someone mentioned cheap military surplus half bags as a good kids sized bag. Hope that helps.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Backpacking with kids - questions on 10/13/2009 19:37:03 MDT Print View

A good fitting rea kids backpack is worth the cost and time. My son wore a Deuter Fox for a couple years till he outgrew it. The comfort he had was worth what I spent. (Which really wasn't that much)
He slept in an assortment of kids bags as he grew up, his last kid one was an REI Zigzag (it has a new name now).

Kids gear that isn't horridly priced is often a tiny bit heavier but is also going to last if the kid is hard on items. The Deuter for example was overkill in some ways but even after 3+ years of 15 or more trips per year it looked in very good condition. Boys especially beat on gear!

He slept on a Half Ridgerest for a long time when very little, now on a ZLite.

I kept his pack weight under 7 lbs at 5 to 7, then 9 lbs or so to 9, then at 12 to 13 lbs at 9 and up.

What that meant is until he turned 7 I carried most of his water and all of his food. Then he started carrying water. By 10 he had his own Ursack and carried most of his food. Now at 12 he carries all his own gear and I carry none.

I was in the minority in many ways - I always had a pack on him from 4 years and on, working him up slowly. At 5'4" I couldn't carry all our gear easily (I did it on one trip where all he has was his sleeping bag and it nearly knocked me over!) So I figured out how to cut weight and still be safe instead :-)

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: One more thought on kids packs on 10/13/2009 19:42:44 MDT Print View

Do remember that little kids don't express pain well - they often won't tell you they hurt till they have a mini-meltdown on the trail.

Due to this I never recommend flimsy UL packs for kids. Why? They are not good judges at loading gear to be comfy on their bodies. While adults will shift gear around, carry the pack at different angles over a trip, often the kid is strapped in by the adult who isn't getting the angle right.

As well, if the pack is too long torso wise it butt drags and leads to bearing the weight on the neck and shoulders. Not good!

A well padded hipbelt and shoulder straps with sternum strap and load lifters is well worth the weight penalty.

Kids bodies are growing constantly and you need to protect both their muscles and bones. Bad fitting packs only encourages bad posture!

Ill fitting gear for adults can work in a pinch but if as an adult a person expects the child to walk adult miles and do adult trips, they need gear just for them, well thought out.

John Reichle
(mammoman) - M

Locale: NE AL
Kids gear on 10/14/2009 06:07:47 MDT Print View

My wife and I do overnighters with our 4 kids frequently. They are aged 12, 8, 6 and 3 1/2. I feel your pain about kids gear :)

The 12 year-old carries an REI Flash 50 pack with 18-20 lbs. and is a big help.

The 8 year-old girl has done well with an Osprey Jib 35...she didn't like the fit of the REO Comet. Her bag is a Feathered Friends kids bag I got on clearance, which I have never again seen on their website. With that said, the Tamarack looks similar....definitely go for a nice kid-sized down bag. They'll be toasty and comfy, and the bag will pack down small.

The 6 year-ld does very well with the Deuter Fox 30 pack, which is pretty bomber.

The 3 1/2 year old actually carries a Deuter Junior daypack stuffed with pillows :) We got him a TNF Tigger, which is a great bag, but it's synthetic and doesn't pack down terribly small. If I was doing it over I'd get him the Tamarack.

It's important that you get the weight of YOUR big 3 and your wife's down, because you'll be carrying at least some of your kids' gear, food and water. You might look at the Tarptent Hogback as a lightweight shelter for 4. A lightweight loadhauler for you such as a ULA Catalyst would shave several pounds as well.

FWIW, my kids all do fine with Z-Rest type pads.

On our last trip, the six of us plus one guest child carried a total of 110 lbs....that includes 3 tents, lots of food etc. It was by far the lightest load we've done...Dad (me) only had to carry about 30 lbs. on this trip, which was a vast improvement.

Rod Lawlor
(Rod_Lawlor) - MLife

Locale: Australia
Couple of ideas on 10/14/2009 06:39:28 MDT Print View

Tent : I still think some kind of 'mid will get you the most real estate for the least weight. An MLD Supermid and nest comes in at sub 3lb, and will sleep four just fine. Plus your wallet will be a heap lighter too.

Bag : Check out for kids down bags, under 2lb for under CA$100.

Stove : I agree with Roger, and would suggest the MSR Simmerlite if you're comfortable with white gas, want cheap fuel, and are happy for the adults to do the cooking. If you're okay to pay a little more for fuel and would like the kids to start doing some of the cooking, go for the Windpro. These are both pretty low, pretty stable, pretty foolproof stoves.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Kids and down on 10/14/2009 08:00:17 MDT Print View

Down is great for older kids but if younger and there is ANY risk of bed wetting, go for a durable synthetic bag that can be washed easily. You really don't want to be washing a bag often if it is down.

Also, if you have a kid that gets filthy, down again is not a good idea. Some kids just seem to attract dirt like a magnet....

On stoves, the MSR Windpro is a good canister stove - low in height and very stable. It isn't fast but it simmers perfectly. Add in a MSR Flex 3 pot set and you'd be ready to go.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Kids gear on 10/14/2009 08:43:48 MDT Print View

My kid's gear on the cheap (I have an 8 year old son and 6 year old daughter):

Packs: Homemade, 9 oz. each, modified versions of the MYOG Jay Ham packs shown in the 5 yards to SUL article on this site.

Shelter: Golite Shangrila 3- great size for the three of us (my wife gets her own vacation when I take the kids backpacking)

Bags: I was having trouble finding inexpensive kids bags that didn't weigh 3-4lbs each so I stick them in mine. Most of my bags are 2lbs or under so adult bags aren't an issue weight-wise. I just tuck the extra length under their feet.

I'm currently planning to buy some small Driducks/Dropstopper suits and modify them to fit the kids for this fall/winter.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Kids bag on 10/14/2009 11:38:11 MDT Print View

> Bags: I was having trouble finding inexpensive kids bags that didn't weigh 3-4lbs each so I stick them in mine. Most of my bags are 2lbs or under so adult bags aren't an issue weight-wise. I just tuck the extra length under their feet.

I thought the same. Why bother buying a special bag they'll outgrow so I just use one they'll grow into. My 37" 3 year old son will be in an REI Sub Kilo (wearing pull-ups ;) ) when we go out. I hadn't thought of folding the extra length under his legs.


Locale: East Bay
Thanks! on 10/14/2009 18:37:45 MDT Print View

Thanks for all the feedback everyone, very helpful hints that I'm investigating further. I've connected with Tim regarding his custom bags and also contacted MEC regarding their Explorer bags. The larger Explorer bag is still less than a pound, rated to 0 degrees C and would be less than $100... the catch is that the United States implemented a new rule in August that forces MEC to either undergo third party testing of their products to be shipped to the US (for lead) or not to ship. They are currently not shipping to the US. Crap. Anyone live in Canada?

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Inexpensive Kids bag on 10/14/2009 20:25:43 MDT Print View

REI and North Face both make reasonably priced and decent weight bags for smaller kids. They are both under 2 lbs and cost less than $100. You may have to search but they are out there. If you are only finding 3 to 4 lb bags they are of the car camping or sleep over variety.

One reason why a child IS important is the cords!!!! Kid bags are designed for use from toddler to up to 9 or 10 (or older) depending on the kids size. They have NO cords and have a fitted hood with elastic. This removes any remote chance of choking.

PLEASE, IF YOU USE AN ADULT BAG - REMOVE THE HOOD CORDS!!!!!! This goes for any adult gear with cinch cords, be it jackets or anything else. Think of the danger till they are at least 5.

Rod Lawlor
(Rod_Lawlor) - MLife

Locale: Australia
Re: Thanks! on 10/15/2009 01:02:17 MDT Print View

Just check that larger Explorer. I see it as 860g, or just under 2 (TWO) pounds.

That's a pretty cunning way for the US to sabotage their free trade agreements! I wonder whether they'll force their own suppliers/manufacturers to do the same before they ship to Canada.

Mike In Socal
(rcmike) - MLife

Locale: California
Lightening load on 10/16/2009 00:07:40 MDT Print View

Would it be out of the question to use a down quilt for the kids instead of a regular kids bag? I have a Golite Ultra 20° that weighs 19 oz and packs down quite small.


Tony Ronco
(tr-browsing) - MLife
A few additional comments on 10/23/2009 14:27:29 MDT Print View


This past summer my family hiked 1/2 of the JMT. My two kids are older than yours (my are 9 & 12). We made sure that our kid's load was never more than 10% (max) of their body weight. From your questions, here is what we took:

Tent - MLD Supermid (spin-tex version), tyvek floor, my wife's hiking poles lashed together for the center pole.

Kid's sleeping bags - TNF Tigger ($80 @ campmor, 20 deg bag, lists 2lb, 1 oz each - ours weighted in at 1lb 15oz each - we didn't use the stuff sack - stuffed it directly into the pack). With the style of tent we took it is possible to roll out of it, hence the synthetic fill. My son did that very thing once during this trip and ended up sleeping on about 1/2" of a blanket of hail - he stayed completely warm, but the bottom of the bag was a bit wet - it dried quickly the following morning)

Kid's Pack - Gossamer Gear's Gorilla pack (the size small fit them ... when they are younger homemade is a great way to go to get the right fit). They used Gossamer Gear's Nightlight pad for the pack's frame sheet & sleeping pad.

Cooking System - We used the Caldera system - it worked great - most of our meals were boiling water in a bag style.


Locale: East Bay
Thanks on 10/23/2009 15:15:31 MDT Print View

Thanks again everyone! Leaning towards the Tigger bags and also investigating the "Ti-Tri Caldera" as well for the benefits of the Caldera along with wood burning options. Cool stuff everyone, thanks for your input!!!

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Backpacking with kids - questions on 10/23/2009 17:45:15 MDT Print View

Re packs: Sarah is right, the kids need the supportive frame and the load lifters. I tried the small size Gossamer Gear Mariposa on the 9-year-old last summer and could not keep the straps from cutting into his shoulders. He really needs the load lifters! The Deuter Fox (which I just got him) doesn't seem to work well on him either, because the shoulder straps are too wide for his narrow shoulders. I suspect it's going to be returned. I just wish I could sew well enough to make a lighter and simpler pack bag out of dyneema to use on the frame for a heavier kid's pack. There's no reason a child should need a pack of extremely heavy urethane coated nylon with a zillion zippers, pockets and other gewgaws. Better to teach them to take care of their gear and not drag it over rocks or throw it off cliffs! The ideal would be a MLD Kids Prophet pack bag combined with the frame of an REI Comet or Deuter Fox or whatever is most comfortable for your child. It would be a very expensive undertaking, though.

Sarah is also right about sleeping bags for young children. Every summer one of my grandkids has had at least one "accident" even when wearing a pullup. I'd stick with synthetic bags (my grandkids have the TNF Tigger) until they've been dry at night for a couple of years. The 9-year-old (who will be 10 next spring) is ready for a down bag, so his Tigger will be handed down to his younger brother (who turned 5 today). Of course, if you're lucky enough to have a kid who is always dry at night by the time he/she turns 3, that's a different story! (I did have one like that, which almost made up for the other three who were 6-8 before they could be relied on not to have middle of the night accidents.)

For 3-season backpacking, I'd use a canister stove--easier and more convenient for a group/family. Unlike an alcohol stove, you can turn it off if the kid knocks it over.

Edited by hikinggranny on 10/23/2009 17:50:45 MDT.

David Passey
(davidpassey) - F

Locale: New York City
Backpacking with Kids on 10/23/2009 22:56:24 MDT Print View

I've been packing with kids for several years. For packs we have used the deuter packs, small size golite infinity and now a small mariposa (which is the favorite). The Deuters are pretty servicable, and about the best option for kids shorter than 5 feet. The shoulder straps on the mariposa were not a problem.

For shelter, the Oware pyramid tarp and silnylon cat tarp slightly bigger than the spinntwin (fits two kids and one adult). Homemade bivies.

For sleeping bags, homemade down quilts.

For cooking alcohol stoves. We've migrated to the minibull designs sketi and white box stoves with antigravity gear pots b/c its simpler to boil a bunch of water for everybody.

We always drop our water.

For rain protection, we made ponchos. We also picked up some very cheap kids precip jackets. The kids seem to prefer the ponchos.

When the sleeping bag weighs 10oz, even a 5 year old can carry most of his own gear.