Planning a Backpacking Trip with Youg Children

Family running on path smilingIntroducing you child to the spectacular and beautiful marvels of nature should be something that is fun, educational and pleasant for children and their parents. Yet, sometimes taking young children on a backpacking trip through the trails of nature can sometimes be easier said then done. Don’t let this intimidate you and prevent you from enjoying some amazing family time in the great outdoors. Enjoying a backpacking trip with your children can not only be pleasurable, but can help create some amazing family memories. Here are some great guidelines that will help you enjoy some unforgettable and exciting times while introducing your child to the wonders and beauty of nature.

While younger children can carry their own mass and maybe even a lightweight backpack, most toddlers and infants cannot maneuver themselves down the trails; meaning, you as mom and dad are going to have to shoulder some major weight, cutting down on the actual pack sizes you are going to be able to shoulder. Final line: be realistic and lower your mileage prospects. Little ones grow weary quicker than adults do, and beware that the plethora of wonderful distractions along your route will divert and absorb your little one. Consider the facts that the time you are able to spend on the trail is sometimes more valuable than the miles you trek in one day. Leave time open for potty breaks, rest periods and remember to pack plenty of snack and drinks, as little one can become tired, bored and hungry very quickly.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of planning your backpacking trips is involving your children in the preparation. Take time to bring out maps, point out fun and interesting spots, show them pictures of places they can visit and let them pick out some choice stops of their own to visit along your trip. Not only will this involve them in the arrangements and make them feel included and important, but it will give them an idea of what their trip will include. Destinations are very important for children; a relaxing lake, stream, or beach can provide endless, (sanity saving) moments for children to investigate. Give them small notebooks to draw their observations or write about their favorite aspects of the hike.

As you trek on the trails of your route, be sure to include your children in the navigation process. Introduce the concepts of “right” and “left” and let them help choose the junctions you will travel. Help them understand and read a map, and point out trails and places you have already visited or are planning on visiting. You can introduce fun and educational aspects of travel including the compass and understanding north, south, east and west. This will let children feel important and included, while they learn something new!
Making sure you have packed the right gear is probably one of the most challenging aspects of backpacking with small children. You need to make sure you are well-prepared, while cutting down on normal backpack weight…you never know when you might need to hoist a tired four year old onto your shoulders! That being said, here are a few suggestions for packing:

• Brings lots of water and snacks. Children wear down easily and will need plenty to eat and drink to keep those little legs pumping down the trails.

• Bring baby wipes, wet clothes and hand sanitizer. While children are cute and cuddly for the most part, you can count on children + the outdoors = grubby, stained and sullied. Keep baby wipes or other wet clothes handy for quick cleaning before meals or in during a pinch.

• Pack extras for weather challenges. While we can attempt plan for good and bad weather, the truth is, weather is as unpredictable as children are. Be prepared by packing changes of clothing, a way to take cover or shield one another from rain and other hazardous conditions. Items like a flashlight, matches, bug spray, and sun screen are always good additions to a backpacking trip.

• Bring a whistle for your child. Getting a whistle to hang around your child’s neck is a great precautionary item. Teach them how to use it in the unlikely instance of emergency.

Backpacking with your family is a perfect outing. Nature offers so many activities and interests for everyone, no matter the age. Backpacking is a time where you can build family memories, show your children fun, exciting and educational aspects of the outdoors, teach them responsibility and enjoy quality family time. Remember, be patient, have fun and plan ahead. Let backpacking with your children become a new family tradition that can be passed on throughout your generations!