Kids in the Backcountry

7:21 p.m. on August 5, 2010 (EDT)
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Hey there, my family is experienced with campground camping, but we are going on our first backpacking hike/camp in a few weeks. The trail is well used, but we will be in black bear country with some moderate snow in some areas. The camp platforms are clear of snow. We will bring our 6 year old and 23 month old. We are only doing 4 nights our first trip and want to know if anyone has advice when bringing a young child and toddler on this type of trip. We usually bring a playpen with our penthouse tent, but not this time. Any advice on a comfy sleep for our little one? Any random tips would be appreciated!! Thanks :)

11:38 a.m. on August 6, 2010 (EDT)
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Keep the kids close (20 feet or so) and teach them how to behave if they see a bear. The most important thing is: never run.

Get them both a pealess, loud whistle and a small flashlight which are fastened to their body or clothing in a safe way, such as a lanyard attached to belt loop or wrist. Teach them what to do if lost: stay where they are, blow whistle 3 blasts every few minutes (flashlight flashes too if dark), and don't worry because mom and dad will find them quickly.

Make sure they have food they'll like.

A light play tent or tarp with groundsheet might be a good idea to keep them from wanting to play in the real tent. :)\

Six year old could probably carry their own sleeping bag.

12:07 p.m. on August 6, 2010 (EDT)
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If you want your kids to want to keep doing trips, it has to be fun!

1. When our girls were small and got tired we used to lead them up the trail by putting M&Ms on the rocks every 5 or 10 yards.

2. Tell stories! At times the rate at which my kids would move up a trail used to be roughly proportional to the rate of the words coming out of my mouth (at other times the kids' own mouths were the more active partner). I'd either tell them stories "About When I Was a Kid", like The Time I Almost Got Lost at Sea or The Time Our House Burned Down, tales of other hiking, skiing and canoe trips I'd been on, or I would be asked to make up stories, like Helga the Chicken that Won the Birkebeiner, Molly (or Zoe) and the Magic Tent (or kayak or skis or backpack), or Mrs. McGillicuddy, the Reindeer with the Big Butt.

3. Play pretend games. My wife had one where we would play Native Americans -- the girls were Running Bear and Little Deer, I forget my wife's Indian name, but I was Doesn't Talk Much, which gave me a break from telling stories...

4. Sing songs. On canoe trips especially we had some sea shanties we would all sing together to pass the time.

End result: Well, check out some of the trip reports I have posted over the last couple of years. Both girls are pretty much always ready and willing for another trip. Next week my wife, 15 year old and I are going to kayak/hike into the mountain hut where my 19 year old working, so that the latter and I can go on a 40 mile "day hike" on her day off! Big sister at least is pretty hard core...

1:39 p.m. on August 6, 2010 (EDT)
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3:49 p.m. on August 7, 2010 (EDT)
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Thank you for the great tips everyone! I will add the extra flashlights and whistles to our list...excellent safety idea :-) And singing songs and making up crazy stories will certainly help pass the time by. I am definitely going to try the M&M trick!

9:22 p.m. on August 7, 2010 (EDT)
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One of those baby leashes with a long leash may be a good idea for the little one (I hate those things, but this would be a very approriate use for it). That way he has a measure of freedom and you have a measure of control (and piece of mind). Also, let them bring a small lite toy or game with them. The 6 yr old will want to carry somethings in his backpack, and the 23 month old will also want a backpack so he can feel grown. A cheap backpack with his toy in it will do wonders for making him/her feel like a grown up.

Also, dont do long miles. Kids like comfort. It is no fun to get out there and have whining kids.

6:28 a.m. on August 8, 2010 (EDT)
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Thank you for the great tips everyone! I will add the extra flashlights and whistles to our list...excellent safety idea :-) And singing songs and making up crazy stories will certainly help pass the time by. I am definitely going to try the M&M trick!

Add marshmallows, hot chocolate, and try to camp where wood fires are permitted.

5:34 p.m. on August 18, 2010 (EDT)
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I'd suggest each kid have their own headlamp. My 2 year old recently learned the joy of having light everywhere he looked. He sat at the campfire looking in to the forest and kept saying "scary". I put my headlamp on him and he instantly became the fearless adventurer. It was better than giving him a flash light he could drop and his hands were free to hold his marshmallow stick. :)

7:21 p.m. on September 15, 2010 (EDT)
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I'm sorry to come to this thread so late. It's a favorite topic of mine!

You've already gotten some good advice and probably gone on your trip. I hope you'll report back. The main advice I'll add for now is, keep it fun!

I think of hiking, camping, backpacking, skiing, and other pursuits with my kids as a lifelong endeavor. My ultimate goal is for them to want to go back and do it again after the current trip.

So keep it fun and interesting. This is one of the few times I am liberal with candy and other treats. Having their own gear, like headlamps and small, lightweight packs, can be meaningful.

Don't forget to put the whistles on them. My older kid has his on a lanyard around his neck with his compass. He also has his own little survival bag, with items we've explained how to use (no matches, firestarters, or knives, yet) in his pack.

Also on safety, with our 6-year-old, we take some time on hikes to talk about what to do in certain scenarios (can't see us, is lost, sees a bear, etc..). I think asking him to think through the safety steps and demonstrate them is important.

By the way, last year we published a series on hiking and backpacking with kids.

Backpacking with Baby

Backpacking with a Toddler or Preschooler

Backpacking with a Grade-Schooler

Backpacking with a Teen


Hiking and Backpacking with Kids

Getting Kids Geared Up for Outside

12:16 p.m. on September 17, 2010 (EDT)
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Keeping track of them all:

My kids wear glow sticks at night around their necks, next to their whistles. They think they are cool and it helps me keep track of them. Each of my five kids gets their own color. During the day the toddler(s) get a bright colored helium baloon tied to her/him. This only lasts a day or two but it makes them SO much more visible. Though I am not of the vintage that remembers the heyday of tie dye, nor do I like the style, my littlest kids always wear them in the woods to make them easier to spot. Babyboomers always comment on my kid's tie dye shirts and will invariably flash a peace sign. I just smile and wave.

Thats all I can add.

Flashlight: A container for dead batteries

1:53 p.m. on September 21, 2010 (EDT)
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missvine... how did it go?

12:31 a.m. on November 23, 2010 (EST)
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Another good tool, especially living in the desert, is teaching the young hikers to wear and use a camelback hydration pack.

7:16 p.m. on January 17, 2011 (EST)
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I'd love to recommend the blog it's a blog by two parents who raise their kids on adventure. I've come across a number of other blogs as well with families who take their kids into the wilderness regularly.

I just was looking at one today with a family riding bikes from Alaska to Argentina with twin 13yr old boys!!!

7:49 p.m. on January 17, 2011 (EST)
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Some other websites (, for one) have forums dedicated to camping with kids.  I think one of Alicia's articles links to a website that sells kid's gear. I think REI has some as well, as I bet Campmor and LL Bean would also.

I don't have kids, but have gone hiking with friends who have a little boy. As I'm sure you know, kids will wander off, so keeping track of them is paramount. For the little one, I'd think about using one of those retractable dog leashes attached with some kind of a harness so he can walk around, yet be limited to how far he can wander off.

1:00 p.m. on January 18, 2011 (EST)
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Hiking and Volksmarching is a national pastime in Germany. All family members receive a medal, cup, pin, etc after completing various lengths and trails. There are even food hikes, where different vendors sell warm wine (for adults), bratwurst, sandwiches, wild meat, and so on. Kids love to eat! There are hiking trails that take you on the route that brothers grimm took as they collected fairy tales from one town to another. There are museums and points of interest on the way. This is also great for biking families.  I am sure any kid would enjoy this hike. There is also many rope trails, where kids can go up in the trees. There are tree houses connected with bridges and various rope gadgets. Kids can slide down to lower levels with harnesses.

I love to teach my kids to observe nature and not just walk with ipods on and heads down. I teach animal footprints, plant and animal identification, how to build shelters, direction sense, building shelter competitions, etc...

I run a school for young children. Our philosophy is  that children learn best through play. I always make it a game.

December 17, 2018
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