Backpacking with kids.

Over 20 tips and hacks for my beginner or bipoc backpackers!

Back in September I attempted our first backpacking trip with our two little girls. One is 3, the other is 7. I had only been backpacking once before this, so I am no expert. Always learning, always gleaning new information and wanting to share with others in case the desire to try is there for them as well. In my latest blog I shared how we were held back slightly by the fire season, but in the end we got to go as planned!

Before tackling this trip with my girls I tried to do as much research, planning and prepping as possible. I asked around to some moms I know who have done it before. I searched YouTube for “How to pack a backpack”. In the end I realized that each situation is unique to you, who is going, where and for how long. So figuring out those details will be a great start, and then from there the tips and lists below may help a bit. Keep in mind there is no shame in asking for help.

For all the new hikers and parents out there wanting to start backpacking with your kids or with friends, here are a few simple tips and tricks to help make your first venture out a little less daunting! I believe it is important to have a healthy education around the Leave no Trace Principles. Seven suggestions to help keep the back country clean:

The 7 Principles

  • Plan Ahead & Prepare.
  • Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces.
  • Dispose of Waste Properly.
  • Leave What You Find.
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts.
  • Respect Wildlife.
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors.

To start your plan/prepare step make sure to have your ten essentials.  If you’re not already familiar with them, I’ll list them here for you:

  1. First aid kit
  2. Flashlight/ Headlamp
  3. Map and compass
  4. Matches or fire starter
  5. Extra trail snacks (dry/easy)
  6. Sun or rain protection
  7. Pocket knife
  8. Extra water/Filtration system
  9. Extra clothing (keep dry)
  10. GPS beacon or whistle

For those of you who are new to backpacking and hiking this list of essentials can look a little vague or overwhelming, I know it did for me when I first saw it. So make sure to keep it simple. When we went backpacking we went with the basics for each of these items. Keep in mind this list of essentials are exactly that, skimp on this list and you can risk not being prepared in case of an emergency.

For my first aid kid I reused a small drawstring bag. I filled it with the vitamins we needed for the length of the trip and threw in some Tylenol just in case. I packed hydrogen peroxide in a small reusable bottle. I brought a thermometer, sunscreen, gauses, alcohol wipes, wound wrap and tape, band aids and a tick/snake bite remover kit. A few items I didn’t have but will pack next time are kids Dramamine, tums and kids Tylenol. An added defense against the unexpected! Some of the things I listed above are specific to the season and weather, so pay attention to what season you are planning to hike in (ie: tick and snake kits may not be necessary in the dead of winter, you may replace that with hand and feet warmers instead!). Know before you go!

Another item I wanted to elaborate more for my new or bipoc backpackers is number 6 on the top 10 essentials list – sun and rain protection. Again reiterating that rain and sun protection is a must no matter what the weather is when you look outside or check the forecast. Sometimes weather in the mountains and the backcountry is unpredictable. If the sun is supposed to shine your whole trip, you still  want to bring a rain jacket and beanie for the off chance that an unexpected storm rolls in. On the flip side, if it’s supposed to be rainy and cold your whole trip, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to still pack your sun hat or sunglasses because you never know when you may need them. It’s worth the space they take up to have them when you want them, or in my case, to have these items when my kids need them!

Okay, ten essentials… Check. Next up, FOOD!

So we were trying to eat and pack with the planet in mind, that gave the preparation an added challenge for sure, but I would definitely do it again! The food was delicious and we managed very little waste to pack out! I used Stasher bags to hold all of our food, and I basically just imitated the idea of a dehydrated meal you would get from a store. I borrowed a dehydrator from a friend and that came along with some yummy meal ideas as well! (Thanks Laura!)

There are many different meals to choose from, but I can only speak to my experience and how I did it. I chose basic meals that included our favorite vegetables, chicken, rice and top ramen noodles. The dehydrator I used allowed me to do many vegetables at once. Choose ones that you enjoy, dice them up and throw them in. Vegetables need to be in the dehydrator anywhere between 8-12 hours on medium-high. Next was the chicken, I baked 5 pieces of thighs in my oven thoroughly until that 160 degree internal heat. Then I placed the diced chicken chunks in the dehydrator and applied the same 8-12 hour time limit. 9 hours seemed like a sweet spot where chicken was dehydrated but not too hard! Be sure to season the chicken as desired before baking and dehydrating. I used curry, salt and pepper for the meals I had in mind.

I mixed my desired finished vegetables and meat into separate Stasher bags, enough for each of us. All that was left to do now was add water at the campsite to re hydrate our delicious homemade backpacking meals. In order to keep our food safe and away from bears, I put all the Stasher bags and anything with a scent (ie: dry snacks, deodorant, soap, etc.) inside of a sturdy dry bag. Each night my husband tied the drybag up and off the ground and away from the tree to inhibit any animal from getting into it and having our dinners for a midnight snack! From our experience, thick dry bags work but some also use bear boxes. Some locations require one process over the other, some sights even supply bear boxes. Again, know before you go!

Please note : This blog does not have all the answers to backpacking. I did quite a bit of research on “how to dehydrate food” and “how to hang a bear safe bag”! Google is my friend, it can be yours too!

See below for our final low waste food menu:

We backpacked for two nights which meant at minimum for us: 2 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 2 dinners and many dry snacks for in between. I brought a few extra meals for lunch and dinner just in case something was a fail or didn’t sit well with a little tummy.

Breakfast: Oatmeal, cinnamon and brown sugar, chia seeds and dried berries OR fruit, nuts and a boiled egg with Tacoma’s Johnny’s Seasoning on top. For breakfast I put plenty of oatmeal and dressings into a large Stasher bag, we poured into our individual smaller stasher bags to seal and eat from each morning. Delicious!

Lunch: Ramen and veggies OR chili and mac.

Dinners: Protein packed noodles, onion, garlic, edamame, mushroom, squash and dehydrated chicken OR rice, onion, garlic, zucchini, carrots, broccoli, and dehydrated chicken. (Everything here was dehydrated except the noodles and rice).

Snacks: Extra top ramen, dried fruit like mango and apricots, nuts and trail mix, Larabars, Clif bars, fig bars, beef jerky gummy bears still leaving room for some canned wine! Extra dry snacks are ALWAYS a good idea. The snacks were unfortunately my biggest low waste FAIL! Next time I will try making my own bars and dehydrating my own jerky! Share recipes with my on Instagram if you have any!

The only thing to note here is the portion sizes per Stasher. This will be specific to you and your family size. For me I was nervous to not have enough food, but because I make my families meals most nights I know how much we can eat. The portions in each stasher ended up being plenty, but don’t be afraid to pack out the uneaten food. As a starting resource I measured out about 1-1.5 cups of food per meal, per person giving my husband more meat than the rest of us! More is better than leaving you or your kiddos going to bed hungry!

I hope those tips on dehydrating meals helped!

Here is a list of “forget me nots” I compiled from our trip:

  1. Bring Tums (or children’s Dramamine). My youngest got a bit car sick from the windy ride up to the trail head. Next time I might try dosing her with children’s Dramamine before heading out that way we can stay on top of it. 
  2. Don’t skimp on hand sanitizer. Bring all the hand sanitizer!
  3. Splurge on a gravity water filtration system when going out with kids – it’s worth the peace of mind and ease of use! We have the Platypus Gravity Works water filter.
  4. Even when your kid thinks she wants to use a “backpacking quilt” instead of a sleeping bag, don’t allow it. She will get cold.  Make sure you have plenty of layers of clothing for sleeping in case little ones wiggle out of their sleeping bags.
  5. Kids don’t necessarily need sleeping pads (they typically roll off of them anyways!) so it’s just extra weight in the end and a lot of added noise at night when they are trying to crawl back on it every few minutes.
  6. Bring things to make a nature inspired fishing pole (this can be as simple as a little bit of string and maybe a couple of pipe cleaners for decoration!).
  7. When you run out of things to do around camp, try playing pine cone (or another nature inspired) baseball! Use a hat or similar object as a bat.
  8. Tell your kids BEFOREHAND that “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.” This 100% applies to eating while backpacking.
  9. Hiking around the campsite during the day, even if in circles, will wear out your kids so they are tired enough to sleep through the night.
  10. Teach your children what you know. This will empower them and also encourage generational back country knowledge. This will make these kinds of adventures so much more accessible to them in the future. Let them help as much as possible, even if it creates some extra work and supervision for you. (IE: cooking, gathering water, setting up the tent, etc.)

Here are 10 more great tips I got from a friend that helped me plan for our adventure. This mama is an avid back country hiker tackling trails and backpacking with her 3 young girls. Mama Moonbeam of @hikingwiththe3ks suggests that you:

  1. Pack 10 essentials. 
  2. Plan ahead for going poop on the trail, bring toilet paper and a shovel for cat holes or a “blue bag” to pack out your waste!
  3. Bring any reusable bag for trash storage (yours and others who don’t pack it out).
  4. Be (over) prepared: know the trail, read recent trip reports, have a quick exit route if kids are not into it!
  5. Mentally prepare for everything. Your kids pooping their pants, a water source being dry and a campsite being taken.  Run through your worst case scenarios, not to freak yourself out but to help yourself think through options ahead of time!
  6. Pack a little extra weight. Extra batteries, dinner choices, socks, warm layers, and other things you might not end up using.
  7. Be realistic but flexible. Regarding distance, elevation, pack weight, and nights outside. Your kids’ stamina might surprise you once you get out there!
  8. Take it slow.
  9. Make time to stare at insects, birds, leaves, flowers, rivers, and play!
  10. Use what you have and borrow what you can. It’s not necessary to buy all new gear to go backpacking.

I really enjoyed backpacking with my whole family and would definitely suggest trying it if you are curious! Feel free to reach out to me, and utilize the resources I found on YouTube and REI.com! For more reference, I have 3 and 7 year old girls, who both carried packs. My oldest carried all her clothes, dry snacks, sleeping pad and quilt. My youngest carried her own clothes, snacks and sleeping pad. Hopefully that gives you a realistic expectation of your own kiddos. Be sure to take your kids out on some practice hikes the weeks leading up to your planned trip. Get them used to wearing something on their backs – you would be surprised how far they can walk with just a little practice!

SEND ME A DIRECT MESSAGE IF YOU ARE CURIOUS ABOUT OUR DESTINATION.

Our duration: Two nights, started hiking after lunch on a Monday and returned home around lunch time on Wednesday. Don’t forget to reward yourself and kiddos with a favorite meal post backpacking! We choose Heidelburger, Leavenworth!

Hope y’all have enjoyed the tips and lists here. Send me your stories and tag me in your photos on Instagram if you decide to take your kids out backpacking this upcoming spring and summer season.

Hope to see you out there on the trail recreating responsibly and packing out what you packed in! 

Happy Hiking!

Written by: Chelsea Murphy

Edited by: Jessica Floyd

Addition tips by: Mama Moonbeam

3 thoughts on “Backpacking with kids.

  1. I absolutely LOVE this! Thanks so much for putting together such a thoughtful and comprehensive guide. This is truly something the outdoor recreation space desperately needs. Way to go!

    1. Hey there James! I am so grateful to be able to share what I know from my journey. I know it can be overwhelming at first, so if I can take the edge off for just one person… I’ll be happy! Thanks for the feedback, appreciate it so much!

  2. Loved this!! Ahhhh…pinecone baseball brings back so many memories! Glad you got to experience that!! Haha!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: