National Forest Foundation

Hiking and Backpacking with Kids

Hiking and Backpacking


At the point in parenthood when a “walk” consists of wandering in several large circles – off to the left to inspect a rock, over to the right to follow an ant, punctuated by a diaper that needs changing – the thought of a hike, let alone a backpacking trip, may feel daunting. Don’t despair!

A front carrier can be a great way to pack the youngest children. You can wear clothing or a jacket over the carrier, keeping your child toasty warm and freeing up shoulder space for a backpack. Remember a hat for your little one , especially if he or she will be perched up high in a pack on your shoulders.

For longer trips, some parents enlist a "sherpa" to help carry gear – a friend or furry companion who can carry extra food, water, diapers, or other essentials. Be sure to have older kids carry some very light gear in their own backpack too. It will help them feel like they’re part of the adventure.

It’s always good to start with small trips. A car-camping (or backyard overnight) adventure to get your tykes used to sleeping in a tent and sleeping bag is a great first step. Bring some toys and books and a few changes of clothes – kids are experts at finding water and dirt. Special “camping” treats like marshmallows, chocolate bars, or other sweets will help kids remember camping fondly. Once you’ve mastered the overnight, you can expand to longer day trips or hike-in camping trips.

Children are more sensitive than adults to altitude, sunburns, windburn, and bee stings. Whether you are a mile from the trailhead or two days out in the backcountry, be prepared with a small bag of “just in case” items including: baby or junior Tylenol, sunscreen, teething ointment, lots of wipes and tissue, diaper rash treatment, Benadryl, and plastic bags for trash. Treats, sketchbooks, and a field guide or two can also help get kids excited about hiking and camping as well.

Whatever your destination, be safe, have fun and be prepared!

Check out these resources for more tips for your next adventure:

The Wilderness Society

Makes and Takes

Washington Trails Association

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