Hiking the AT with Children?

10:45 p.m. on March 29, 2016 (EDT)
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Hey all,

I just joined Trail Space. I am interested hiking the AT with my family, but have young children. I am planning on starting with some short section hikes and hiking the whole thing over 15 years or so. 

Has anyone hiked with young boys (ages 5 & 7)? I do short day hikes with them now, typically 2-4 miles. 

im thinking of starting at Springer Mountain and taking it real slow the first time and see how far we get in 3 days.  

Anyone who has done something similar and has any advice, I would appreciate it!!


2:05 a.m. on March 30, 2016 (EDT)
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I would recommend that you get the www.theatguide.com and then you can plan some mileage..You gives you the water sources and shelters and campsites..

Also have you heard of Buddybacker? Christian was the youngest hiker to hike the AT.. www.Buddybackpacker.com I would also call the Appalachian Trail Conservacy they keep track of families that have hiked together and section hiked it..I was in Georgia in the fall and a mother and daughter team passed me going south bound..If you start of FS 42 parking lot and head up Springer there is rock and it's slippery when wet..That's all you need to be mindfull of starting off..The first shelter is 2.8 Miles on the trail..You take a blue blaze off the trail to that and it has a privy...The trail besides going up Springer is gradual to start..But I think you and the boys would have a blast..

6:52 a.m. on March 30, 2016 (EDT)
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We took our daughter camping the first time at six months and she's been back country backpacking with us since she was three years old. It doesn't matter if you do the AT, but taking your kids out and spending time on trail with them can be one of your greatest achievements in life. Do it right and some day they may take their kids out there too.

Those boys are old enough to put in miles, but go very easy on their pack weight. Even though their muscles are strong their bones are still growing and will bend under a heavy load. Either keep the mileage on the low side or have alternative stopping points in mind in case they (or you) get tired later in the day. Also watch for temperature extremes. Kids have smaller radiators and heaters so heat and cold can have a bigger impact on them.

Since you're section hiking you can pick and choose where to go. Avoiding the crowds and difficult terrain might be best to start. It should be a fun thing for them and you or no one will want to go again, so some thought and planning can make for better family trips. That and a Daddy with a strong back because unless Mama is a weight lifter he'll be doing pack mule duty.

Have fun, be safe and welcome to Trailspace!

10:00 a.m. on March 30, 2016 (EDT)
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I used to backpack and go on some canoe trips with a friend and his son and daughter.  They were tough kids raised like wild Indians and complained very little.  We started out with them when they were maybe 7 and 9.  They had their own packs but just carried lunch and a jacket. If your kids are active and physically fit, the biggest challenges are mental.  They have to like being out there.  My friends kids liked art and were always drawing, sometimes in the dirt, sometimes scratching on the rocks.  There fun to have around for the most part. What ever challenges you have will diminish as they get older.  Most kids are really good by the time they get to about 10-11 if they are raised in the outdoors.

11:20 a.m. on March 31, 2016 (EDT)
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I've seen kids as young as 8 hike the AT. Short days, plenty of snacks and not carrying a heavy pack are all commonsense rules. Most of the adults I spoke with shared a surprising problem: they were too tired after hiking to run around and play games. Their kids weren't!

1:27 p.m. on March 31, 2016 (EDT)
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I've hiked with all of my five kids their whole lives.  The oldest is now 17, the youngest is 7.

Lots of snacks and a light pack for them but give them something "very important" to carry so they feel like part of the team. 
They all get their own headlamp and a battery powered glowstick in whatever color they choose. 

They each carry:

-a whistle

-sugar fee gum (reduces questions to a manageable 300-ish questions per hour)

-a headlamp and glowstick
-a small water bottle

-a few snacks

-a hooded jacket

Bright colors keep them from getting lost

An extra pair of eyes always helps

Get to know how your kids act when they are tired and know ahead of time how far they may be able to go.  On the trail is no time to learn that your kids don't like long walks in the woods up steep hills. 

There's my 2 cents

5:14 p.m. on May 17, 2016 (EDT)
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Thanks Denis! I'll get my hands on the guide. Have not heard of buddy backpacker, but what an inspiration! 


5:25 p.m. on May 17, 2016 (EDT)
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I've taken them on shorter morning hikes here in FL, but obviously we don't have the elevation to experience. We certainly have the heat though! :)

Good advice on keeping their load light. Hadn't thought of it stunting their growth. And Mama certainly holds her own. We hiked in St. Lucia for our honeymoon to the top of one of the Pitons, and she fared better than me! 




5:30 p.m. on May 17, 2016 (EDT)
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We unplug our tv every other month to prevent them from getting sucked in, and we always encourage them to spend time outdoors. In FL, it's easy to be outdoors year-round. 

I'm pretty sure my oldest would be fine, but it's the 4 year old I worry about from a mental perspective. I'm afraid he would get bored of it within a day, knowing his personality. 

Any ideas for keeping them engaged? 

I've thought about giving everyone nicknames and having real fun time with it, but other ideas that don't add too much weight to the pack are welcome! 


5:32 p.m. on May 17, 2016 (EDT)
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@seth levy:

That doesn't surprise me in the least! Our kids don't stop moving from 6am to 8pm! They wake up in fast-forward and then crash at bedtime.


5:33 p.m. on May 17, 2016 (EDT)
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You are my inspiration! Thanks for the tips!


10:11 p.m. on May 18, 2016 (EDT)
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Take a cue from your kids while city side.  Do they take off on weekends, and walk or bike miles to some place?  If not you should pass on hikes with descriptions that include the word "miles."  Whatever you do place on their shoulders, it should be mostly a ceremonial pack; otherwise they will grow to resent being a pack horse just like the rest of us, and lose interest in this activity.  I'd strongly recommend doing multi day base camps, versus multi day hikes to a series of camps.  What they do at the destination is of greater interest and fun than the process of getting there.

Make sure they are plenty warm.  One of the worst trips I had to the outdoors as a kids was a day hike spent in a drizzle without rain gear or jacket.  The cub scout adults and my parents really screwed up on that one. 

Try to make the primary activities - that is the ones that consumes the bulk of their energy and time - fun things like fishing!  Most young boys love to fish.  For the most part you will be a full service guide until they are older and learn to try their own lines and deal with what they catch.  In other words your own fishing time will be abbreviated.  In any case steams and lakes are interesting places to discover fauna, like frogs, turtles, tadpoles, etc. 

Another challenge may be getting to the top of a nearby vista point, such as the hill overlooking your camp.  But nothing too intense.  One hour of walking up hill is a lot at that age.

What boy doesn't like climbing trees!  Bring some rope and they can make a swing.

Campfires are fun!  But if you can't have a fire, consider night "hikes" - it gives them a chance to use their flash lights, which most kids think is also fun.

Consider brining two tents; one for the boys and one for you.  They'll feel more invested if they have their own "fort". 

Let them help with camp chore if they appear interested.  Lighting a stove?  You bet they'll fight to take turns doing that!  Likewise with tending the camp fire.  But do closely supervise.

Consider bringing along some toys they currently play with - just in case; otherwise you may end up contending with boredom.


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