7 Things We Learned About Taking Our Kids Backpacking

One of the things we enjoy more than anything is escaping to the great outdoors. Here are a few things my wife and I have learned on our extended hikes with two young sons.

1) Start Your Hike With A Boat / Horse / Bike Ride 

We began our hike with a boat ride that cut 2.5 miles off our journey to our camp, preserving some of the kids’ young energy for the difficult terrain ahead.

This included 700 feet of elevation gain over two miles to our base camp destination, so opening the hike this way helped ensure they wouldn’t be wiped out before we even began.

2) Bring Tempting Trail Treats

Skittles, gummi bears, and other sweets can be a great motivator to keep going. Before setting off, we stopped at a convenience store and allowed them to get two full bags of their favorite candy. Yes, that’s pretty unusual from a dentist!

But the combination of sweet temptations and the wilderness helped keep them focused on the tough stuff: hiking!

3) Remember That Toilet Paper is Limited

When you go backpacking, you only bring what you absolutely need, you have to make it last, and anything that goes into the woods with you comes back out with you.

That means you won’t be bringing much toilet paper, and that means you’ve got to make it last, just like people during the Great Depression would made a small slice of salt pork last for weeks.

Make sure any younger hikers on your trip understand this, otherwise they’ll go through it on the first day. It almost happened to us!

4) Leave The Gadgets At Home

Aside from a phone for emergencies and/or GPS, make sure you leave the gadgets at home – especially the video games! All kids really need are some rocks to throw and maybe a body of water to toss them into. That, along with all the stunning wilderness around you, is enough to keep them occupied all day.

5) Don’t Neglect Fishing

Water up high in the mountains is frigidly cold, but the allure of casting a fishing line into those chilly waters is one kids can’t resist.

The water is too cold for swimming, but the mystery of what lives in the water is sure to draw their attention. Go prepared with some modest fishing gear, such as hooks and line, and you can fill a whole afternoon.

6) Tap Into Your Ingenuity

That water that is too cold for swimming? The kids are going to want to have water adventures regardless. That means it will be your job to supervise, ensure they are safe, and are having true once-in-a-lifetime adventures at the same time.

We ended up with a veritable engineering project, using 50-year-old logs, storm-felled tree trunks that barely floated, and more to make rafts and makeshift boats, all in an effort to reach a tiny little island.

A great learning experience AND a great bonding experience.

7) Explore Off The Trail (Safely)

There is nothing like the excitement of heading off the marked path to find a hidden lake – just ensure you know how to use a compass and can read a topographic map!

Teach the kids how to do the same while you’re at it. Soon you’ll be finding lakes and snowfields not on the map.

There was much celebration when we found the hidden lake. Imagine our surprise when it came equipped with a professional fishing guide who was happy to rig the kids’ fishing lines 'the right way' and teach them proper casting technique! What a humbling, enjoyable experience. Thank you South Tahoe Fly Fishing!

Overall it was a terrific learning experience, a great bonding experience, and an adventure we (and hopefully our two boys) will never forget.