Backpacking with the Kids

Looking for a terrific way to spend time with the kids? Try a day hike or weekend camping trip.

By FamilyTime


When it's time to pack up the kids and get out of the house for a few days (longer?), think about camping.

Hiking and camping with the kids is a wonderful activity that inspires family togetherness, is healthful and stimulating, and won't break the bank. At the end of the day, everyone will feel happily tired and contentedly connected.

Let the Kids Help Plan
Kids love to help plan activities. Search out hiking and camping spots that are not too far from home - no one likes to spend hours in the car. Pore over maps with the children and let them look up hiking areas in travel books.

Discuss what clothes, food, and other supplies to pack. If they are old enough, let the kids pack their own backpack or daypack. Double check to make sure they get it right.

Even young children can carry a daypack, but take care you don't overload a young, growing body. Young teenagers can carry nearly as much as an adult but don't let them overdo it.

Pack Light
Be sure each youngster has a change of clothes in case they get wet, extra socks, a sweatshirt, and pair of long pants. Bring along bathing suits if the weather is warm. Natural fabrics such as cotton are best for hiking.

Hiking boots should cover the ankles. Let your kids wear them for at least a few days before the trip to avoid sore feet and painful blisters.

Pack lightweight raingear. Don't forget sunscreen, sunglasses, and first-aid supplies. And apply the sunscreen!

Bring a tarp to cover the tent in case of rain or put under it if the ground is wet. Carry the heavier camping supplies yourself, such as the stove and tent. Depending on their age, children may be able to carry their own sleeping bags.

Let the kids carry the food and water. As these are consumed, their loads will lighten.

If you backpack with a very young child, invest in a sturdy, lightweight carrying pack. Make sure it fits you well.

Snack Often
Stop often for snacks. This keeps energy levels up, avoids stomach aches, and adds interest. Let the kids choose some stopping points. Encourage them to select ones with views or other points of interest.

Pack lightweight foods that don't require refrigeration such as trail mix, fresh vegetables and fruit, sandwiches, cookies, and small candy bars.

Take along bottled water. Don't let kids drink directly from streams, no matter how clean they appear. If you plan to drink and cook with water from streams and lakes, bring water purifying tablets or filters.

Make sure both you and the children drink water frequently while you hike. Even if the weather is cool and pleasing, your body is losing valuable moisture. Replenish it to avoid fatigue, light headedness, cramping, or headaches.

Keep Distances Realistic
If your six- or seven-year-old can walk for two or three miles at home without tiring, he can hike the same distance on an easy trail. Older children who are used to physical activity can hike four or five miles a day.

Don't push your kids. Choose a realistic destination for a day hike or to reach a campsite. Tired, cranky children are no fun on the trail.

Stop to examine wild flowers and wildlife. Use binoculars to look at birds and vistas.

End the Day Early
Reach the campsite or hike's end with plenty of time for relaxing. Kids may want to swim, fish, explore, or just sit and rest.

If you're camping, let them help set up camp. Encourage them to help with the cooking and clean up. At day's end, they will crawl happily into their sleeping bag and fall asleep in an instant!