Backpacking with Kids

This blog post is dedicated to making your next, or first, family backpacking trip as fun and safe as possible.  Let’s get you in the backcountry!  Prepare to set yourself up for success by following these tried, tested, and true backpacking tips.

It’s important to remember this formula:

Trip Enjoyment = Reality – Expectations

Family Backpacking Tips

  1. Plan a trip that allows you to camp in multiple spots along the way to your ideal destination.  That way, you can truly embody the “let’s see how far we got” attitude.
  2. Medical experts say kids can safely carry 10-20% of a child’s weight.  This means that for our 30 pound toddler, she can carry up to 6 pounds, while our 60-pound daughter can carry up to 12 pounds.  Test it out on your child before you go though.  Make sure the pack is comfortable and evenly distributed on their body.  We like to err on the lighter side of things, as we’d prefer to carry a little more of the weight ourselves and keep our speed up.
  3. Pack an extra rope.  You can use it to hang clothes to dry that got all muddy from playing in a creek, or you can get creative with it.  We like to make backcountry swings – and the kids go absolutely nuts for it.
  4. Set out all your food before you pack it.  Separate it out by day, and then by meal.  If you’re like us, you’ll be surprised how much food you consume when you’re looking at it from a bird’s a view.  We try to mitigate some food needs by catching fish for dinner, but that’s not a guarantee.  Our rule of thumb is to pack an extra meal, and somehow it always gets eaten before the end of the trip.  Some of our favorite foods we pack for backpacking are: 
    • Better Oats Steel Cut Oatmeal packets
    • Bars: Bobo’s, Clif, Larabar
    • Backpacker’s Pantry dehydrated meals (for reference, our family of 5 eats 6 servings for dinner)
    • Pumpkin seeds, macadamia nuts, jerky, fruit snacks, wild berries
    • Smashmallow Churro marshmallows
  5. Pack warmer sleeping bags than you think you’ll need.  It gets cold in the backcountry.  We regularly wake up to frost on the ground in the high mountains, and extra-warm sleeping bags allow us to rest easy that the kids won’t turn into popsicles.  Kids in general also don’t stay mummified well without practice, so a warmer bag can help quickly warm the cold air that finds its way in through little cracks.  For reference, we prefer zero degree bags.  If you have low circulation/blood pressure, consider going even warmer.
  6. Focus on having a good attitude.  Infect others with your positivity!  The goal is to not only survive your backpacking trip, but to get the kids stoked to do it again in the future.
  7. Save weight by packing enough water for a couple hours of hiking, and utilize your water filter to help with the rest (as long as your location allows). We love our gravity fed water filter by MSR.
  8. After the trip, eliminate unnecessary items.  Lay out all that is left in your bag and analyze whether or not you need to pack it for the next trip.  In our case, we prefer to pack lightweight clothing, and also opt to haul in our nice camera (it’s not lightweight).  


  • REI child backpacks, kids 2-5
  • Osprey child backpacks, kids 5-10
  • Arc’teryx backpack, adult 
  • Patagonia Down Sweater, kids and adult
  • Jetboil stove and fuel
  • Platypus water container
  • REI Basecamp 6 tent
  • Big Agnes sleeping pads
  • 0° F Sleeping Bag
  • -30° F Sleeping Bag, for the circulation impaired 😉
  • SAM splint
  • Multi-purpose knife
  • Gaia GPS system for iPhone
  • Gravity-fed water filter by MSR
  • Ergo baby carrier
  • Bamboo toothbrushes and earth-friendly toothpaste