Hiking with Children

12:21 p.m. on November 20, 2007 (EST)
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Does anyone have experience hiking overnight with children? How young is too young? I have a 4 and 7 year old and I'm itching to take them out over night. We did a 5 mile day hike and they both seem to thrive on it. We also "camped" in our backyard and again, neither child had any complaints. What recommendations can you give about how much gear they can handle?

12:47 p.m. on November 20, 2007 (EST)
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I took my 6-year-old son backpacking three weeks ago. We hiked 6.1 miles to the camp on day 1 and hiked 3.8 miles back to the trail head on day 2. My son took his own school backpack along, which weighed around 8 lbs with everything in it.

The first day, I ended up carrying his backpack most of the way because early on he said it was hurting his back. Toward the end of the 6.1m day, I could tell he was tired of hiking and wanted to be done. When we got to camp though, he was excited about helping to set up our tent and to start a camp fire. When it got dark, he wanted to go "night hiking" through the camp, so we did that. For being "tired" earlier that day, he sure had a lot of energy once we hit camp.

The second day, I rearranged his backpack to make it a little lighter and insisted he carry it the entire 3.8 miles. He did just fine. The last part of our hike was the best for him. We passed a lot of rock formations and crossed over some streams. We saw a beaver dam and found several deer tracks.

Overall, my son handled the 9.9m weekend backpacking trip pretty well. In hindsight, 9.9m was probably a bit too much, especially the 6.1m on the first day. If you can hike/backpack on a trail that has a lot of "interesting" things to either see or do, that helps. My son also enjoyed "helping" Dad in camp. Letting him get the water or finding wood for the camp fire kept him interested and happy.

Good luck with your trip. Oh, and make sure you take lots of pics with your kids during your trip to relive the memories once you get back home.

1:31 p.m. on November 20, 2007 (EST)
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I first took my sons camping when they were still in diapers, and began canoe tripping with them at around eight years old. Although we waited until they were much older before backpacking, we didn't need to. One of my backpacking friends has a seven year-old-son who is a regular on weekend trips of ten miles or less. Although he doesn't cary much more than snacks, water and a change of clothes, he keeps up with the old folks pretty well.

I think seven is definitely old enough; at four, I'd keep the distance down to a couple of miles at most, so that it is mostly fun rather than drudgery.

3:17 p.m. on November 20, 2007 (EST)
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What? You don't believe in forced marches? :)

9:12 p.m. on November 20, 2007 (EST)
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Yes, absolutely take them hiking and backpacking! We've been hiking with our son since he was less than a month and started camping with him at 1 and backpacking by 2.

You already seem to be tackling it the right way--first hikes, then camp in the backyard, next move on to a short backpack and so on.

We actually wrote two articles on this subject this past summer:

Getting Kids Geared Up for Outside

Hiking and Backpacking with Kids

I could go on and on about this, but will just say: keep it simple, be flexible, and have fun. You want to build a lifelong interest and love of the outdoors. You can always work up to more mileage and longer hikes. Often it's better to start small and leave them wanting more. And be prepared to carry all of their stuff, though it's good to have them carry at least some token items.

Good luck and have fun!

1:15 p.m. on November 21, 2007 (EST)
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tbastress said


For being "tired" earlier that day, he sure had a lot of energy once we hit camp.

LOL! This reminded me of the first 50 mile bike ride I took Young Son on (actually 55 miles from Fishermans Wharf in San Francisco along Skyline to Palo Alto). He was about 7 at the time. Don't worry (too much), he was on the back of the tandem, riding stoker with the child-back conversion (first generation of Santana tandems). We had driven up to SF with the tandem in the back of our VW camper (and my Masi, in case he got too tired). On the riding part back south, Barb drove the Kampwagen as a sag wagon, just in case. At our rest stop at the south end of Crystal Springs Reservoir, a bit over half-way, I asked if he wanted to get in the car, and I would ride the Masi with my two friends the rest of the way. No, he was feeling great. Well, somewhere about the 40 mile mark (getting into Woodside), he laid his head on my back and said, "I should have ridden with my mother." Barb had gone ahead to the house to get her bike to ride back to join us. She met us on Sand Hill, just behind Stanford Univ, and rode the last 5 or so miles with us. When we got back to the house, Dad (not yet a complete OGBO), collapsed on the floor for a couple hours of nap. Young Son laid down on his bed for all of 10 minutes, then was up running around, and trying to get me up for some more bike riding.

The recovery time for kids is astounding! Recovery time for adults is orders of magnitude longer.

Like Alicia and Dave, we took Young Son on hikes (and in a bike trailer, on very long bike rides, including century rides) starting from when he was just a few months old. His first "backpack" was at age 3. Barb had dropped me off at the trailhead in the Bugaboos for a week of climbing, while they went to Lake O'Hara (Canadian Rockies). You get to the trailhead at the Lake O'Hara Lodge by taking the shuttle bus from the parking area at the pass. It was only a short hike to the campground (a mile? or less?). It turned out to be his first snow camp as well (it snows in the Canadian Rockies in August sometimes, so, ok, it was only 3 or 4 inches and melted quickly). For the first backpack, his pack had only a water bottle, snacks, and some warm layers. From that point, we slowly moved his distance and load up, as well as the challenge of new places, more elevation gain, and into winter. As Alicia notes, if you keep it fun and increase the level of effort and challenge gradually over the years, it will become a life-long activity. Most recently, Young Son and I spent a week climbing in the Dolomites.

June 25, 2018
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