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K-SUL: A Primer for Ultralight Hiking with Kids
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Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
K-SUL: A Primer for Ultralight Hiking with Kids on 11/03/2013 16:01:03 MST Print View

Camping with kids can be an en-light-ening experience, if you follow a few simple rules

There’s no doubt that we BPLers like titles associated with arbitrary base-weights. First there was UL, then SUL, and when that became too commonplace, along came XUL (extreme ultralight) and RUL (ridiculously ultralight). Recently, the concept of M-SUL (mountain SUL) was introduced for those who prefer not to make the arbitrary 5 lb cutoff but still crave the status of being labeled SUL. I mean, who wants to be just another one of those ultralight pack-sniffers now running amok in the mountains.

But what is the backpacking parent to do? Let’s face it, kids need more stuff. You don’t want to compromise on their safety or comfort, and God help you if they get hungry or bored. Have no fear, my friends. In this article, I introduce the concept of K-SUL, the practice of carrying only 5 lbs of personal gear in order to accommodate the 30 lbs of unnecessary crap that your kids make you bring.


It’s important to let your kids carry their own backpacks. I usually plan on carrying everything important and letting them pack their own toys and snacks. Just remember, at some point in the trip, you’ll probably be coerced into carrying their stuff too, so keep it light. I usually set a limit of 2 stuffed animals per person. These can be a multi-use item so at least one big one is preferred- more on this later.

This leaves you as the designated Sherpa. With tent, cookwear, food, quilts, and pads for everyone, you’re probably going to need a decent sized pack with a good frame.

A typical K-SUL expedition pack

Rowan demonstrates an excellent understanding of UL hiking


Shelter can be a great place to save weight. Young children can be stuffed into pretty tiny spaces, so you can go with a comparatively small tarp. Nothing says family time like snuggling up with your little princesses at night.

For me, a two person pyramid tarp is perfect. I can cram myself, 2 kids, and even the family dog into this one. Tell the kids they’re sleeping in a tipi, and they’ll be in heaven

A note of caution: Don’t expect your kids to treat your awesome ultralight shelter delicately. They’ll be in and out of it constantly, zipping, unzipping, and catching the noseeum mesh in the zipper. Then, they’ll probably run circles around the thing, tripping over the stakes no matter how often you say, “Watch out for the…… (klunk)….stakes”. If this is likely to bother you, it might be best to take a mulligan on this one and just bring the coleman tent.


Bring lots. Kids have no situational awareness and are likely to end up in every puddle, stream, or mudhole they come across, accidentally or intentionally. And don’t expect them to ‘walk it dry” either. They’ll look at you like you’re on crack. At dinner, they’ll spill something on that brand new jacket you bought for them too.

Rowan serenades us from her stage as the sun sets

Note that this is her third outfit of the day. Heck, the first one didn’t even survive the car ride. Not surprisingly, stepping down off the rock, she landed right in the lake, soaking pants and shoes too

Guess how this is going to end

Sometimes, you never seem to have enough clothes


Don’t go overboard in the entertainment department. Who needs games when you have :




Point your toes, daddy

And logs


While dehydrated foods might be appealing from a weight-saving perspective, you’re going to have to bite the bullet and bring some fresh foods. Trust me on this one. There is no way you are going to convince a 5 year old to eat something that looks like dried twigs in a baggie. It’s yucky.

I like to precook burgers at home, freeze them, and then pack them in an insulated bag along with a hot dog or two. Then, in camp I just need to heat them briefly over the fire

Fresh foods? But isn’t that heavy? Not if you follow this simple K-SUL strategy. Just don’t pack anything for yourself. I promise, you will not go hungry.

I scored that hot dog and burger not long after this picture was taken, then got to eat most of the mac and cheese too


I like to pack marshmallows too, but only for entertainment value. Thankfully, my kids won’t eat them, but they seem to enjoy lighting them on fire. (Caution: Marshmallows burn like napalm when flung from a stick)

A post dinner stroll on the beach

Sleep Systems


Kids are creatures of habit. They’re going to want their favorite blanket or quilt. They’ll also sleep better on an inflatable pad. (And you do want them asleep, don’t you? That’s when you finally get to pull out the whiskey you brought along for coping purposes)

And don’t think that you are going to get away with stuffing some socks into a nylon stuff sack and calling it a pillow. You’re going to at least need a pillowcase or fleecy stuff sack, and you are going to stuff every last piece of spare clothing into their pillowcases. This will leave you with nothing for your own pillow. Don’t worry though; K-SUL has you covered.

Let them stay up late. Then they’ll sleep through anything

A few other tips and tricks:
(1) Bring as little bedding for yourself as you can get away with. Jam-packed into a tiny two-person tarp, it’s going to be pretty toasty anyway. In warmer weather, a silk liner will usually suffice. In cold weather, a backcountry blanket is nice, as it can be thrown over the kids too if need be. Those crappy princess sleeping bags sure are heavy, but warm- not so much.

(2) Don’t bring a sleeping pad for yourself. Once kids fall asleep, they are usually out for the count. It’s pretty easy to muscle up onto their full-length pads at that point.

(3) You may not have any clothes left to make a pillow, so now is a good time to put those stuffed animals to good use. Odds are, the kids will never notice they’re gone

A nice big bunny like Cuddles makes for a great night’s sleep

In conclusion, mastery of K-SUL means that you travel lightly, so that your kids don’t have to. Do it right, and you may end up with hiking partners for life.

This was inevitable

About the author:
Ike Jutkowitz is a recovering SULer who now goes by the non-denominational term “minimalist hiker”. He enjoys hiking with his two little girls, and sometimes to get away from them.


Edited by Ike on 11/04/2013 04:38:58 MST.

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
K-SUL: A Primer for Ultralight Hiking with Kids on 11/03/2013 19:17:44 MST Print View

Thanks, Ike!

I have two girls, too, and wish I got them out more. I sometimes fall more into the "get away from them" mode than the "get them out with me" mode. Always a good reminder to see another parent doing it well.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: K-SUL: A Primer for Ultralight Hiking with Kids on 11/03/2013 19:36:45 MST Print View

Great stuff Ike! Almost makes me wish I had had kids.

But only almost.....

Thanks for sharing.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Lol on 11/03/2013 20:15:18 MST Print View

Love it.....

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Been there... on 11/03/2013 20:26:51 MST Print View

... and done that.

Jake, your daughter in pink reminds me of my oldest daughter Lisa when she was that age.

My girls, now 40 and 43, are 1/2 Filipina and Lisa could be your daughter's twin at that age.

But guess what? Both of my daughters encourage their kids to be in the outdoors as much as possible. Yours will likely do the same when they are moms because their dad was wise enough to take them camping. It passes from one generation to the next, thankfully.

When I see photos like yours and think back on our backpacking and canoeing experiences I shake my head in wonder at how some men can abandon their kids. Their punishment is to learn later what joy and love they missed.

Edited by Danepacker on 11/03/2013 20:30:07 MST.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
Re: K-SUL: A Primer for Ultralight Hiking with Kids on 11/03/2013 21:22:10 MST Print View

I thoroughly enjoyed this glimpse into your life as a Father, Ike.

Thanks for sharing!

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Love It! on 11/03/2013 21:23:53 MST Print View

Way to go Ike, the sense of humor you bring to all the little quarks kids have that can drive adults up a tree.

You've inspired me I need to write up "K-SUL Primer for Hiking with Boys," there would be a few differences such as

1. Save weight by leaving extra clothes at home. Boys get dirty with 0.0002 seconds of hitting the trail and will stay that way until mom forces them to shower so why fight the inevitable? They are oblivious to giant buggers on their noses for crying out loud, why would they notice a soggy shirt?

2. Bring a bigger shelter then you think you need. Pre-adolescent boys seem to travel faster while sleeping then walking down the trail. You WILL end up with someone's foot in your face! Just roll them over or pull your sleeping bag out from under them and move over to the empty space created by all the kids rolling to your side of the tent (Murphy's Law #305,567,001 "Kids in a tent will always roll until all kids are in a pile impossible to untangle and covering the trip leaders sleeping bag)

3. Leave all entertainment at home and tell the boys to "keep the fire going" they will happily stay up all night feeding a bonfire visible from outer space.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
K-SUL: A Primer for Ultralight Hiking with Kids on 11/03/2013 23:47:17 MST Print View

Ike, I love your trip reports from your hikes with the kids--they are truly special! I have one from a year ago bookmarked, and this one is now bookmarked, too!

From the looks, next year they might be able to carry a little more. You may also find that as they get older, they may be willing to take more utlitarian (i.e.;, lighter) gear. (Notice I said "may.") Of course even my 13-year-old grandson still wants his stuffed animal (although it's minimal size). And even he needed a change of gear on our fishing trip last summer (wading in too far for that perfect fly cast).

If you can find them (they are really hard to find for kids this young), a better fitting pack with a hip belt would be far more comfortable. You may have to paste stickers on or sew on some appliques to make them acceptable for the fashion conscious kindergartener, though.

Edited by hikinggranny on 11/04/2013 00:05:30 MST.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
K-SUL: A Primer for Ultralight Hiking with Kids on 11/03/2013 23:49:19 MST Print View

Sorry, duplicate post!

Edited by hikinggranny on 11/04/2013 00:00:13 MST.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
K-SUL: A Primer for Ultralight Hiking with Kids on 11/03/2013 23:54:29 MST Print View

How did I end up with a triple post? I was trying to edit the first one!

Edited by hikinggranny on 11/03/2013 23:59:35 MST.

Phillip Asby
(PGAsby) - M

Locale: North Carolina
awesome post on 11/05/2013 11:43:11 MST Print View

I suppose I'm fortunate on one level that I started backpacking at the same time as my son - when he crossed over to Boy Scouts. At age 11 he's carrying his own stuff... and developing a taste for light weights.

On another level I missed out on fun like your KSUL trips which would have been a lot of fun! Cub Scout car camping doesnt really make for the same experience...

Matt Dirksen
(NamelessWay) - MLife

Locale: Mid Atlantic
Re: K-SUL: A Primer for Ultralight Hiking with Kids on 11/12/2013 13:36:36 MST Print View


Thanks you for posting this. Great ideas for my next trip with the kids. With a family of five, we are (finally) looking to start some family backpacking over this year.


(Here's a pic of last weekend's trip w/ my younger girls:)girls hiking