FAQs for Backpacking with Children Jun 6, 2017 16:36:35 GMT -8 zeke, topshot, and 2 more like this
Post by rebeccad on Jun 6, 2017 16:36:35 GMT -8
How far can my X-year-old hike? What pack should I buy for her? What about a sleeping pad? How can I prevent whining?
These are standard questions for parents about to take their kids on the trail, and many of them have been answered several times here. Gleaning, then, from the wisdom of our posters, here are some answers to common questions, with anecdotes because we don’t really have date.
How far can we hike?
This is an extremely individual question. There is a rule of thumb that says about a mile per year of age, but it comes with a wide margin of error. At the lower end—2-4 years, few kids will manage it. At that age, you may run into an irresistible pile of rocks or a stream 200 feet from the trailhead, and never get any farther. Accept it.
Realistically, I think the rule would be more like Age minus 2, at least if they are carrying a pack. So a 6-year-old will carry a pack 4 miles, and a 10-year-old 8. After that age, the variations mount up too much to know, but if you and your child have never backpacked, I wouldn’t plan on doing more than 8 miles in a day at any age (heck, that’s a good distance for novice adult, too).
What you hike to and through matters as well, so plan destinations with things that interest them, which usually means water.
Can you keep the kids from whining?
Any kid will grumble and grouse from time to time, when hot and tired (or cold and tired) and you tell them it’s still 2 miles to camp. Bringing friends along may help. In our case, it didn’t matter much if it was our friends or theirs—anyone from outside the family provided extra interest and a check on poor behavior. You can also control whining by being sure your plans fit your kids—both in terms of load, distance, and destinations.
We had a family joke (I think it was a joke. It might be true) that the kids had 2 completely separate sources of energy—one for hiking and one for playing. The former is much smaller. Don’t be surprised when the kid who couldn’t carry his pack all the way to camp spends the afternoon running around while you are collapsed in the tent.
What will he eat?
Pack whatever food your child will eat, and be aware that what they like at home may not appeal on the trail. Bring lots of snacks, again of whatever sort your child will eat. My rule was that on the trail I didn’t worry too much about nutrition (it’s only for 5 or 6 days). I wanted to be sure they had fuel to keep going. The other rule was that at least some things should be treats. So the boys got candy, which they didn’t at home. And bacon (you can buy shelf-stable bacon in most grocery stores).
Some kids like eating out of a zip-lock bag as a novelty; mine never adapted to that and found it awkward, so I carried bowls for them. Hot cocoa is a good morning starter for many kids.
How much weight should my kid carry?
Again, there is a rule of thumb that you’ll have to fine-tune. That rule says 20-25% of body weight. I certainly would never go over 25%, and for most kids, that’s pretty high. Now consider that if your kid weighs 50 lbs that is only 12.5 lbs she can carry (10 lbs if you go with 20%). A kid who is reluctant or not used to activity may need to carry even less. Be prepared to feel like a pack mule.
Tip: when our kids were very small, our packs were very heavy (this was before we discovered really light gear, so it was even worse). Since they also hiked very slowly, we found it a bit oppressive to spend so many hours under the pack weight, and developed a pattern of splitting up. One parent hiked ahead at a normal pace for 20 minutes, then dropped the pack and rested until the kids caught up. Then we all rested together and the other parent hiked ahead.
Heath and safety:
Bugs and ticks are a worry. A careful parental check for ticks is the best remedy. Long pants, socks, long sleeves, and a hat provide extra protection (also from the sun), but you’ll still have to check. Headnets and permethrin-treated clothing are also good bug protection.
Be sure you have adequate sunscreen, and apply early and often. High altitudes are an extra hazard for sunburn.
Kids also need someone to keep an eye on their temperature. Especially when engaged in fun stuff, they may not drink enough in hot weather, or notice that they are chilled when cold and wet. It's your job to be sure they are okay.
Keep an eye on your kids, but don't tie them to you. Give them some room to explore, and a whistle to wear/carry at all times in case they get lost. Teach them what it's for and when to use it.
There are quite a few decent packs for kids out there now. The Deuter Fox30 and Fox40 remain excellent choices, but you will want to fit your child. Check pack weight—most kids’ packs are not as light as you’d expect, and if the weight limit is 15 lbs, you don’t want 5 lbs of it to be pack.
Jazzmom and I both had the same problem with skinny kids and waistbelts, and ended up sewing more padding on to make the waistbelt useful.
There are photos here showing how I did the modification. Link is to first photo, then scroll for the other 2.
You have 2 choices here. Kids’ bags are usually synthetic, which means bulky and heavy for their size and warmth, but are cheaper. Adult bags mean extra space the kid has to heat, or taking measures to limit that (like tying off the end of the bag). I recommend down, but your budget may be the deciding factor, either to go for the cheap kid's bag or to use your own extras. Also: if your child is at all prone to night-time accidents, you might want to have him sleep in a pull-up. A wet bag could be a major problem.
Kids are light, which means they actually are more comfortable with less padding. Closed-cell foam is cheap and light, though bulky (usually ends up on the parental pack just due to bulk). If you want to spend the money on a good self-inflating pad or inflatable, it may be easier to pack.
Your child needs the same layers you do, starting with a synthetic base layer. I recommend long pants and long sleeves, for sun, bug, and scrape protection. If there is any chance of rain, spring for good rain gear, because children are more subject to hypothermia than adults.
Bring a book, maybe a favorite light-weight game or toy. Smaller kids will need their usually “lovey” for sleeping. Our boys carried a Matchbox car and a stuffy until they were surprisingly old, and got a lot of fun out of them. For the rest, that’s what lakes and rocks are for.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! I’ll finish with a gear list by age that I dug out of my records.
On the 2004 Sangre de Cristos trip (3 nights, 13 or 14 miles total), the boys (ages 5 & 6) carried in their (Little Teton) packs:
Stuffies and little cars
2 energy bars each
Eldest Son carried his fleece jacket, and we should have added:
In 2005 (ages 6 & 7) they carried the same plus I think all their clothing, which is about all their packs would hold.
2006, Weminuche (5 nights) (ages 7 & 8). They carried (in the new Deuter Fox 30 packs):
All their clothing
Stuffies & little cars
Notepads, pens, and a book
Bag of candy
Bowls, cups, plates, spoons for all (Eldest Son had most of this)
2007, Sawtooths (6 nights) (ages 8 & 9):
All their clothing
Stuffies & little cars
Notepads, pens, and a book
Bag of candy
Bowls, cups, plates, spoons for all (Second Son, mostly)
Cookpot (Second Son, for the first 2 days; moved to my pack when we'd eaten enough to make room)
Sleeping bag (Eldest Son)
This was the first trip when they charged ahead of us on long climbs, looking back to mock our plodding progress.
I can't find specific lists for the next couple of years (we continued doing week-long trips every summer), but from there out they were carrying all their own personal gear, and a little food, while we carried their tent until they were about 10 or so. I carried their closed-cell foam pads until they got the larger packs around 2011, just because of the bulk which didn't fit on the little packs. I don't think they were carrying their full share until high school. But bear in mind that at age 10, Eldest Son weighed 55 lbs fully clothed, and was about 4'2". His younger brother was about the same size (at the same time; i.e. 18 months younger).
For more great tips, especially for babies, see Tarol's post below.