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Lightweight Backpacking Gear for Kids
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Benjamin Smith
(bugbomb) - F - M

Locale: South Texas
Lightweight Backpacking Gear for Kids (Jay Ham) on 07/10/2007 19:59:23 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Lightweight Backpacking Gear for Kids

Edited by bugbomb on 07/10/2007 20:08:51 MDT.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Lightweight Backpacking Gear for Kids (Jay Ham) on 07/10/2007 22:30:37 MDT Print View

A good article, and good always to see others taking their kids!

My only issue (and this is my line of thinking) is that with kids, a 2 lb or so pack weight can be beneficial - giving a kid a good suspension means they can carry more weight. Ford and I both go light, but due to the fact that he carries all of his food now (he has his own Ursack), at 9 1/2 years old, he carries a pack weight of 12-15 lbs. :-)
I knew though that he had to have a painless pack to do this.

Jeffery Price
(JefferyRPrice) - F
Re: Lightweight Backpacking Gear for Kids (Jay Ham) on 07/11/2007 06:54:06 MDT Print View

Great article - really enjoyed it!

I actually have three girls (10, 6, & 4) and now that the 4 year-old is out of diapers, the whole family will be making their first trip together this summer/fall. My oldest has been backpacking since age 4. The middle one had to wait until 5 - she was just too dangerous :-). Now my youngest can go (she's relatively safe).

If it's just me and the older two, I will use a TarpTent Rainshadow 2, though we squeezed into a Squall 2 until I was able to get the Rainshadow this year. When all 5 of us go (including my wife), I plan to use the Rainshadow and the Squall. With two shelters, I can't wait for the inevitable fights about who gets to sleep where ;-).

Another great pack option for 10+ year-olds (though a bit expensive) is the Gossamer Gear Miniposa. I just bought one (size Small) for my oldest daughter and it fits quite well, even with significant growing room. The optional foam pad inserts are too wide (probably even to trim), but stuffing the shoulder straps with socks works great. My 6 year-old is just using a simple and cheap Coleman day-pack like backpack. My 4 year-old will likely just carry an old preschool backpack.

With five of us, though, I would be curious about any mealtime suggestions. I have both an Evernew 0.9L pot and an MSR TItan (0.85L) kettle with two alcohol stoves - that combo works great for three, but I don't know about five. Any ideas? Maybe a bigger (2L) pot for the main course (in place of one of the small ones) and perhaps a canister stove in place of one alcohol stove?


Scott Chandler
(blueklister) - M

Locale: Northern California
Re: Re: Lightweight Backpacking Gear for Kids (Jay Ham) on 07/11/2007 08:05:34 MDT Print View

Someone tell Ivy she's a really good sport for allowing those photos to be taken of her!


Tony Burnett
(tlbj6142) - F

Locale: OH--IO
Re: Lightweight Backpacking Gear for Kids (Jay Ham) on 07/11/2007 08:08:04 MDT Print View

I BP quite often with my kids (typically in WV or TN). I made a 3+ person tarptent like shelter (2# including guy lines and stuff sack). I have a Fox 30 for my 9yo and a simple $9 bookbag for my 6yo. My 3yo has been told he can start going on trips once he turns 4. I carry a Granite Gear Nimbus Ozone (3#) since I carry all of the food, most of the water, shelter and 2 bags.

It seems to always rain on us at least 1 day, so I make sure they have real rain jackets (I have found 2 great deals at Once Upon a Child for ~$9) and fully synthetic clothing. I stop by a couple of Once Upon a Child stores a few weeks before each trip to pick-up new pieces for the oldest. This typically means a new pants/shorts (~$5). As synthetic tops can be purchased new from Target/WallyWorld for $5-$9/each. Youth sized Smartwool socks and youth size poly base layers (PJs and/or extra warmth) can typically be found on Sierra Trading post for less than $7 a piece. I now have a full set of S-L youth top/bottoms. I try to get gender neutral colors so I can get more use out of an item (2 girls and 1 boy). Add fleece top, hat and gloves if I expect temps below 50F.

I use TNF Tigger bags as I just don't trust young childern's bladders after long days with lots of exercise and fresh air. We haven't had an accident yet (knock on wood), but I'd rather wash a PG3D bag than a down bag. Once I start taking all 3 children I'll probably let the oldest use my WM MityLite.

I take my canister stove and 2qt pot for cooking. I still have issues getting them to eat much, but each trip I figure out 1-2 more things that they (and I) will tolerate.

Here's photos of our last trip...

Edited by tlbj6142 on 07/11/2007 08:11:49 MDT.

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: Lightweight Backpacking Gear for Kids (Jay Ham) on 07/11/2007 11:12:50 MDT Print View

Great article. It seems that I will have to become something of an outfitter in the coming years (my son is only 1 year old), but this article gave me some good ideas. I can see great potential for MYOG spinoffs too - custom synthetic jackets, properly fitting UL packs, modified sleeping bags, etc.

Be sure to thanks your testers/models - Ivy and Elly make it look easy!

Jim Cowdery
(james.cowdery) - MLife

Locale: Central Florida
Great advice for those "new" parents on 07/11/2007 13:51:40 MDT Print View


Thanks for the advice, it is about twelve years too late for me. I started with my son at age 6, he carried his pad, sleeping bag and a pint of water in a school backpack on his first AT backpacking trip. Weight of the bag/pad/pack was over 8 lbs!!! I had no idea what "light" meant and carried over 40 lbs on this first trip!

Three packs, three sleeping bags, three pads and 4 tents later later my 18 year old son has his base weight down to about 15lbs.

My 17 year old daughter started when she was about nine and used some of my son's cast-off gear. She currently uses one of my older packs and doesn't seem to mind having a base weight of about 18 lbs.

My advice would be to purchase the most versitale gear possible such as the referenced Montbell sleeping bag. A higher initial investment will pay for itself by not having to purchase multiple sets of gear.

My experience hiking with Boy Scouts reinforces the light is better philosophy. At Philmont last summer none of our crew had full-out loads of over 30 lbs except the leaders (I was at 32, one leader was at 42!). The boys had a great time, some of the leaders complained about the "unequal" distribution of weight. Some of the scouts, like my son, were on their third or fourth set of gear. By the time you are on your third set of gear you finally realize you should have been more aware of cost vs growth with that first purchase.

Good to see others starting backpacking experiences with their children. My outdoor experiences with my son and daughter have given them a deep appreciation for nature and made them both more confident and self-reliant.

Jim Cook

Locale: Land of Cotton
Great Article on 07/11/2007 13:57:27 MDT Print View

What a fun read! I have two little girls (almost 3, 2 months) and I can't wait until they are old enough to go camping with Daddy. Definitely bookmarking this article.

Carol Crooker
(cmcrooker) - MLife

Locale: Desert Southwest, USA
Fun! on 07/11/2007 22:47:51 MDT Print View

I really enjoyed the article Jay! Ivy and Elly are real troopers. You gave me lots of good ideas for getting my 2 year old niece on the trail.

Edited by cmcrooker on 07/11/2007 22:49:04 MDT.

Jonathan Fitz
(fitzjo1) - F
lightweigh gear for kids on 07/13/2007 15:25:33 MDT Print View

Good lightweight gear for kids is tough to locate, so this is a welcome article.

A point I think worth sharing is the importance of the activities leading up to the first backpacking trip. I mention this because I have met a lot of people who want their kids to hike with them, but are unsure how to get them up to speed or interested.

My oldest (of 4 kids) did his first true backpacking trip at age 6. But, we had logged many enjoyable miles doing daytrips before that. We started with shorter hikes in cool weather and always had a special treat, like hot chocolate or a hot meal on the stove mid-way. Over time, the hikes would get longer. After doing those on a weekly basis one winter, my 4-year old daughter could easily hike 4 miles and enjoy it. Major milestones were marked with special gifts. My daughter LOVES to show off her T-shirt that features her at the top of a mountain at age 5. When you finally do a BP trip, you will both be more confident knowing that you have overcome many obstacles together already. BTW--that first trip for my oldest was to a mountain ridge covered in ripe blueberry bushes. He's still talking about it almost a year later.

Arapiles .
(Arapiles) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Re: lightweigh gear for kids on 07/13/2007 16:11:58 MDT Print View

Good article - love the eye-rolling!

Another Japanese sleeping bag company, Isuka, has short bags that may be an option for slightly older kids, or you could simply shorten them using string as done with the MB:

The short models are 10 cm (about 4 inches) shorter than the standard ones.

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: Re: lightweigh gear for kids on 07/14/2007 00:06:49 MDT Print View

Over the winter I am looking into making some quilts for anyone who doesn't fit into normal bags, (big or small).

I will make any quilt with any filling and any material. Baffles no baffles, it doesn't matter. I will just charge for the product and shipping charges both ways, (ordering to me and sending to you), along with a Price per cubic-inch, which wouldn't be much.
This means the cost would not change if you want a quilt that weighs a certain amount or goes to a certain or whatever temp you wanted.

I can also honestly make a quilt, (for adults) that will be just as light as a bag and that can be taken down to temps warmer than a bag, (down to any comparable temperature), but still retains all of the venting options of the quilt for warmer temps.

It would mainly be a quilts for kids project, but if you're 6' 8" or just a big guy that would like a lighter option rather than a Big Angus, I can get it done.

The bad part about this project is that I have asked several people on this site if they wanted a specially made quilt that they could not find and the answer was always no thanks.

If anyone is interested let me know.

Edited by awsorensen on 07/14/2007 00:08:48 MDT.

Jay Ham
(jham) - F - M

Locale: Southwest
Great comments! on 07/18/2007 21:48:23 MDT Print View

I want to thank everyone for the tremendous feedback and great ideas and tips. Kids are individuals too, and the same techniques won't work for all of them. As for Ivy and Elly, they really are good sports about it and we have had many great trips together.

Jeff- concerning your meals for five, I personally would carry one large pot for the main hot meal and then additional no-cook food to supplement calories. GORP or bread and cheese comes to mind. You might find, as I do, that cooking a complicated dinner with kids in camp can be difficult, especially when they are younger. My girls would be playing in the creek or turning over rocks to find insects, which forced me to keep a closer watch on them than on dinner. This one-pot system is a bit easier on the dishwasher too.

Tony- The bed wetting is a serious concern. It can really ruin a multi-night trip when it happens the first night. My girls are fortunately past that stage, and while they were in diapers it really wasn't a problem. But those years in between are really tough. I think your decision to use synthetic bags is appropriate for that age.

Again, I really appreciate the feedback and hope your kids can experience wilderness and all the life lessons it will bring.


Siegmund Beimfohr
(SigBeimfohr) - M
Enjoyed the Kid's article on 07/20/2007 11:57:13 MDT Print View

Godd article!

I've been working on getting grandkids into hiking and backpacking; the 5-year-old granddaughter loves to hike; recently did a 6 1/2 miler in under 4 hours with rest stops (and carrying a 2 1/4 pound pack) and has spent a number of nights with me in a tent (backyard and local woods area). Next trip will be backpacking into the real woods.

I have a small Eddie Bauer pack that all the kids are using when little (got it over 30 years ago for my son's 4th birthday and it included a down sleeping bag that they use now). But as they get bigger they'll need something with larger volume. I have been looking at the same two packs your girls are using to do double-duty: act as a simple daypack for me and overnight for the kids.

I appreciated your Spotlight review on the Patagonia Lightweight Travel Pack. Would it be possible for you to do a quick Spotilte on the MontBell Versalite 20? You mentioned some differences in the two in the article. Any further info specific to Versalite and contrast between the two would be helpful (material durability, sizing, etc.).

Benjamin Smith
(bugbomb) - F - M

Locale: South Texas
Re: Enjoyed the Kid's article on 07/20/2007 12:41:07 MDT Print View

Hi Seigmund,

Take a look at Jay's MontBell VersaLite 20 SpotLite

Edited by bugbomb on 07/20/2007 12:41:17 MDT.

Siegmund Beimfohr
(SigBeimfohr) - M
Re: Re: Enjoyed the Kid's article on 07/20/2007 12:58:22 MDT Print View

Dumb me - I missed it. Thanks, Ben

Jonathan Fitz
(fitzjo1) - F
Followup w/ gear results on 08/22/2007 18:28:22 MDT Print View

I ordered a MontBell VersaLite 20 for a recent trip with my 5 and 7 year olds. I also purchased a Mountain Hardware Scrambler.

My 5 year old daughter really liked the MontBell. She did her first BP trip with about 5.25 pounds and no complaints.

My 7 year old son did not like the MH, even though it cut about 2 pounds off his previous pack weight. The straps would not lie flat on his shoulders. It has many nice features, but I took it back. This is a good example of a previous poster's point about the importance of comfort. Luckily, you can have it both ways with the MontBell, so long as the weight is moderate.


Additional notes about a month later:
Both kids have carried their VersaLite 20's a bunch now. They are both carrying more on the trail than before (we typically used bookbags before, which didn't carry nearly as well). They both like carrying their own stuff now that it is comfortable. Although the bags are a bit long on them, it does not seem to cause any issues. I highly recommend these bags for kids.

Many thanks to the author for his tip on these bags.

Edited by fitzjo1 on 09/29/2007 19:49:24 MDT.

james russell
(nutmeggy13) - F
Kids gear on 11/01/2007 11:06:55 MDT Print View

We really enjoyed the information in this article. Our family is new this year to backpacking. We took to hiking early this year and finished our first backpacking trip two weeks ago and are going on another this weekend.

For our 4 year old she uses a Camelbak Mini-mule. It holds her water, jacket, 1 toy, and most importantly her snacks. Having an abundance of snacks is the best way to keep her motivated. 5 lb. pack on 30 lb. child

For our 9 year old we picked up the Deuter Fox 30. At 2 lbs. 7 oz. it is much heavier than the other packs mentioned in the article. However it is designed for kids. Water, sleeping bag, pad, toy, jacket, and snacks. The adjustable shoulder straps are great. They allow the pack to fit perfectly on our child. We actually have it on the second notch from short so we could have started using this at 7-8 years old. 10 lb. pack on 55 lb. child

Both kids use Leki Pathfinder Jr. poles to help balance and be like the parents.

The Mont-bell bags are great. We went with the #2 bags to get the neck sealing. Both kids find this to be a lot of fun. It helps eliminate them being scared of the mummy bag by constriction. Also as parents I do not have to worry about them being warm. These bags will be too warm for most of our trips. As mentioned in the article stuffing the bag inside itself works great on our 4 year old. For the 9 year old just cinching the bag works great. These bags were purchased based on this article.

We have had the most problems finding a tent. It seems that everywhere there are light tents for 1,2, and even 3 people. But once you hit 4 you are looking at 10+ lbs. Our existing car camping tent is 18+ lbs. and quite massive in storage space. We ended up picking up an Eureka Apex 3XTA (also know as pinnacle pass) for $150. We envisioned just stuffing ourselves in here while we researched a proper lightweight 4 man tent in the $500+ range. It ended up working much better than anticipated. I am short at 5'8" my wife is 5'1". We were able to fit into the tent sideways from design. The tent is 78" wide so a standard 72" pad will fit. At almost 6 lbs. it is heavier than we want but works for now. The storage space is very good and allowed us to pull all 4 of our packs and poles in one vestibule. Our shoes went into the other. I am surprisingly very happy with this tent and will continue to use it until we can find something even lighter that fits us.

To store all this gear I am using at 60L pack and my wife at 50L one. I carry the youngest pad and sleeping bag on top of my half of the gear.

I would be happy to hear what other people are using with their kids.

One other note. Bring something to do when it rains. 4 year olds get bored very quickly waiting for the rain to pass. We have waterproof playing cards and they help pass the time easily.

Jake Calabrese
(trekmore) - F

Locale: Colorado
How young did you take your kids backpacking? on 01/05/2008 20:30:16 MST Print View

We have an 18 month old and would love to do a few short backpacking trips this summer... He is a trooper, loves to be outside much more then inside... So looking ahead to summer/warmer weather. He could walk part of the way, realizing he would be slow, however, the "idea" was to bring a backpack to carry him. Problem of course is that boy+pack = at least 35lbs... without gear.

I thought I could possibly retrofit the REI PIggyback and sew some silnylon stuff sacks on it as well, to carry gear. Also rely on lashing items on, to minimize weight... but it is still hard to imagine not having a huge pack... I have not run the numbers, which I suppose would make sense before posting... but oh well... And in case it was not obvious, my wife would be on the trip as well carrying some amount of gear.

An additional idea is to find 1 or 2 people without kids, who would like to go, and could carry even a bit of additional weight for us. :)

SO - any ideas? Waiting till five seems like a LONG LONG LONG LONG time!

- Jake

Carol Crooker
(cmcrooker) - MLife

Locale: Desert Southwest, USA
How young? on 01/05/2008 21:58:04 MST Print View

I took my 2 yo niece backpacking. She'd already done some car camping with her parents. I took along another adult to help and picked a nice spot close to where the car was parked. We hiked less than a mile to a reservoir, blew up my packraft and paddled across, then set up camp. She walked most of the way down and back the next day with some encouragement. In her case the encouragement was pointing out another tree that had fallen down up ahead. She'd run to the tree and say "Tree fall down." For some reason this fascinated her. It was such a short hike I just carried her in my arms the few times I needed to. I thought that water would add more to the experience, but it really wasn't needed. All the interesting sticks and stones out there kept her plenty interested. My point is, you don't need to go far for it to be a big adventure for your son.