Childrens Backpacking Weight Suggestions

3:03 p.m. on February 16, 2014 (EST)
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Hey all! Haven't posted in a looooong time. (I was formerly, donkeypunch85, for the long time forum member. Thought it was time I grew up and made an "adult" name for myself here).

Anyway, I'm here in Bozeman, still living life outdoors. I recently started getting my five-year old daughter into the hobby. And even more recently discovered technical packs for children her size (REI Sprig 12l).

My question pertains to what children can safely carry, weight. At REI they recommended no more than 15% of her body weight. This comes in at a whopping 6.3lbs. EDIT: She is 42lbs. Her and I have done a few practice hikes, around town and in parks, and this 6lbs doesn't seem to bother her at all. I've stuck as much as 10lbs on her, inside the house, with no complaint from her, no loss of balance/coordination.

I want our hikes to be ebjoyable for her but, you know how it goes, id rather carry less of her weight myself. Were only planning to do 1-3 day hikes. Not many steep hills. A little rocky. Hyalite Canyon in MT for those who are familiar. We will be doing at least one overnight snow trip.

What IS safe? Thank you.

3:30 p.m. on February 16, 2014 (EST)
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Don't rush the weight.  It does bad things to their softer bones if they are over loaded.  It can also lead to them not wanting to go any more.  Carry a little extra now but make sure she knows that when she grows up and you are old you expect her to return the favor.

4:12 p.m. on February 16, 2014 (EST)
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Hi BZN.  I wouldn't go more than the 15% as typically recommended for kids.  Especially at the young age of 5.  I have a 10-yr old I have been hiking with for a couple years and I try to carry as much of his load as I can.  There has been times I have ended up with all of his load, so plan on that too. lol. Good luck and enjoy Bozeman.  Wonderful place to live.  I lived there for around 9 years and have been up Hyalite more times than I can count.  Nice spot up there.  

11:48 a.m. on February 17, 2014 (EST)
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I hike with all five of my clones ages from 5-15 and they all started very young.  The older ones still enjoy it so we must have done something right.  This is what I do:

First time, age 4-6 they carry either nothing at all (water and a whistle only) or, if they insist; a tiny school backpack with a jacket, snacks, flashlight, whistle and water bottle.  Nothing else.  I also carry them on my shoulders a mile or two just to make things more fun.  

I'd save your $$ on small, expensive kid packs; they are made to carry more weight than kids should.  Plus they only last a few years.  Unless you have a ton of kids its a waste usually.
I taught him to yell, "Master Blaster runs Bartertown!"


He is 5 and carrying a whistle, binoculars, water bottle and his sleeping bag; maybe eight pounds total.  Just enough to make him feel like a big kid. 


After their first trip I let them carry a rucksack with their own clothes.  You can kinda see in the pic that by the time they hit double digits they carry pretty much all their own gear.  #4 (on her jersey) has hiked for a few summers and is carrying her clothes, water, sleeping bag and foam pad.  The teens carry their own tent, food and cook stove (everything they need). 

Do not rely on their opinion of what they can carry!  Everything feels doable in the living room.  Basically, you are going to have a very heavy pack so get in shape.  Enjoy, it is totally worth it!

1:45 p.m. on February 17, 2014 (EST)
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FromSagetoSnow said:


I taught him to yell, "Master Blaster runs Bartertown!"

That is excellent!  We are in process of finding Mrs Stranger a new pack because we intend to get our 3yo on trail this year and while daddy is going to carry a lot momma is going to do what she can.  We figure The Tot can carry a stuffed toy, a blanket a few snacks and a water bottle though I'm sure she'll have a bag full of pine cones before too long

7:54 p.m. on February 17, 2014 (EST)
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At age 8 my son carried his sleeping bag, pajamas, & toothbrush. My mistake was making the second trip too long of a hike for him.

8:00 p.m. on February 17, 2014 (EST)
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Sage...that's just a little impressive...I bet you have some great insights into family backpacking:-)

8:28 p.m. on February 17, 2014 (EST)
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Thank you all!! More responses than I expected. I am replying from my phone so, unfortunately, I can't quote each post with a reply.

But Sage, I gotta say that is quite the group! I actually have three girls (ages 9mos, 2.5yr, and 5yr) so the pack will be very well used over time haha.

As I mentioned we've. Done several around-town, practice hikes. We generally go at least 3 days a week. We've done a few shorter hikes (>1mi) in Hyalite, both without a pack and with her "Dora" school pack loaded with 3-5lbs of flour or rice. Whatever is at hand simply for testing reasons. This way she can lose the weight at any given time and we have no obligation to hurry or make it to a site with supplies.

In both cases she's done very well, I'm impressed with her for sure! I was just curious because she never, EVER complains. I ask her several times every hike how she is, how the weight feels, etc.

I understand ill be carrying most everything. I was just curious how other families with small children have done their trekking. Thanks everyone!! I will get some pics up asap for everyone to see this tough little girl in action!

3:36 a.m. on February 18, 2014 (EST)
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I agree with a max pack-weight at 15% for that age.  I had my 3yo on a few little hikes this last summer and it's enough to just keep him on his feet without a pack.  I think the soft bone issue is definitely worth paying attention to.

Similar to other ideas I just read, I only put water bottles in his little pack when he wants to carry it.  That way we can dump water as needed if it becomes too much (or just add his water to our water supply).

Happy adventuring!

12:05 p.m. on February 18, 2014 (EST)
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Goose you make a very good point.  I hear a lot of stories about dads who push their kids a bit too hard in the backcountry and cause them to lose interest.  Looks like Sage has done a wonderful job on NOT doing that and keeping his kids very interested.  Impressive indeed!!  

10:51 a.m. on February 20, 2014 (EST)
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Thats nice of you to say Jruff.  I have actually considered starting a blog about adventuring with kids but I didn't want to be that guy.

10:51 p.m. on February 23, 2014 (EST)
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my kids are 10, 13 (girls), 16 (boy).  all soccer players, all in better shape than we (parents) are.  we day hike most of the time, and they like having snacks and water handy, so that is pretty much what they carry.  if it's cooler, they can usually carry a fleece, shell, gloves and hat, too.  smaller water bottles or camelbak/platypus.  my ten year old is partial to the water bottle pouches, almost like a sturdy plastic bag with a screw top, with a small plastic clip/carabiner.  on 'dry' hikes with no water easy to clean, i'll carry a larger 'mothership' bottle.  i will sometimes carry extra layers if they don't want to.

we have never seen the need to buy kid-specific frame packs or footwear.  they are fine if they empty out their school backpacks, none of which fortunately have wheels or other weighty hardware.  my sixteen year old can and occasionally does like overnights, he's taller than i am, and he can carry either of my 40-50 liter light internal frame packs easily.  we try to keep it no more than 20 pounds, but he can carry 30 easier than i can.   they are generally fine in running shoes, but we have invested in decent merino wool socks.  

i agree 100% about not imposing more than they want.  if your kids get bored on a hike, or worse, in pain due to blisters, heat, cold, or general soreness, it makes it much less likely they will want to do it again or try something longer.  or more difficult.  we have gotten to the point where all three have been happy on pretty bumpy ten mile days, and my son has occasionally done some serious days (3500-4500 vertical gain).  one of our challenges is estimating food quantities, which have increased exponentially as they have grown up.  we try to err on the side of too much, because hungry kids are not happy campers.   

10:16 p.m. on February 24, 2014 (EST)
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just her school backpack with a bottle of water and snacks. those little bones are soft, and it's bad news if you put too much of a load on them.

6:15 a.m. on March 30, 2014 (EDT)
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Some kids may INSIST on heavier packs.  It makes them feel grown up.  That wish can be met!  Tell them if they haul the weight you have assigned with no problems (a la Jeff's advice) that they get to haul some of your kit the final leg to camp - 1/4 mile for the little ones; 1/2 mile or more as they age and gain stamina. 


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