Have you ever considered backpacking with your family? There are many reasons it could be a good fit for you. It’s relatively cheap (once everyone is geared up, there’s not much cost) and there are many beautiful, remote places close by. Getting outdoors and exercising is healthy and feels great, even thrilling. Perhaps my favorite thing is that there are so many things a child - as well as the entire family - can learn while backpacking.
Here’s how I’ve introduced backpacking to my family…
Before living in Vermont, my husband Hans and I lived in the remote Upper Peninsula of Michigan and spent much of our free time backpacking and kayak camping. We loved to venture deep into the Michigan wilderness where we got to experience places and see wild animals few others get to see.
We took a hiatus from backpacking when we started our family nearly 8 years ago. We just couldn’t see the magic in carrying all that “baby stuff” and a baby and leave-no-trace diaper style would have been a stinky drag. We stuck to day hikes and car camping. Hans and I didn't love this type of camping, but we knew that we were planting a seed that would grow into future adventures when our children were the right age.
A year ago this October when the kids were ages 4 and 6, we went on our first family backpacking trip. We dusted off and tested our old gear and cobbled together additional items for the kids. Other than a good pair of woolen long johns and puffy coats, there was truly nothing special or technical to the kids’ gear. They even used their school backpacks! We made sure to save the heavy stuff for us and to keep the kids backpacks light and fun. I had scoped a sweet spot with a beautiful shelter on the Long Trail just over a two mile hike from a parking area. The fact that Hans and I had tremendously heavy packs wasn't a huge deal - we could manage the weight fine for a few miles hiking at kid-pace. Once we all arrived in camp, we fished, hiked along the lake, cooked dinner, had a fire, and fell asleep listening to sounds of the nighttime forest. The morning was just as simple and lovely, and we chose to hike the long way out to enjoy lunch at a viewpoint. The trip was a huge success and the kids were hooked!
Our family has gone on two more trips, one to Merck Forest in January and another back to the Long Trail this past summer. Feeling pretty confident about my children's abilities, I even took them backpacking on my own twice this summer during the workweek to avoid the crowds. Backpacking solo with my kids has been among the most rewarding moments of my motherhood. Laying in my tent at night with a kid at each side, planted among the peaceful Green Mountains, I experienced a whole new dimension and richness of the sport I love. I am thrilled to be sharing the joy of backpacking with my kids.
We've learned a few tricks which make our family backpacking trips a bit easier and lots more fun. We load up on what I call “sneaky treats”. Chocolate covered almonds, coconut clusters, instant oatmeal packs, and cured sausage keep the energy coming and the joy factor high. My kids have a brand of tea they love (Good Earth Tea), which has been vital to boost moods and hydrate on chilly mornings. Both kids received light-weight hammocks for their birthdays and I carry these for them as luxury items while in camp. Each child chooses a special place to hang a hammock for his/her own chill-out spot. We've found that the most important factor to prevent the trip from becoming a slog is to hike-in no more than 3 miles to camp. Even then, I can end up carrying my five-year old's pack clipped onto mine with carabiners. It's also important not to hike to new places, but to have scoped the site out ahead of time. We choose destinations which amplify the joy of being on the trail and minimize the work for kids and ourselves.
So does backpacking sound like an activity you might want to try out with your family??
If you and your family have basic camping skills and experience, consider upping your camping game and taking your crew on a backpacking trip. Do your research, find out a sweet and easy spot, borrow or rent whatever gear you are missing (or ask for it as a holiday/birthday gift from the grandparents!), and go for it. Hopefully more young families will set out on backpacking adventures right here in our own Green Mountains. Sharing such experiences brings us not only closer to the natural world, but also to each other. Give backpacking with kids a try!