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Want to backpack with your kids? Well the first step is to assess your ability. Well actually, your kids ability. Although it’s easy to get caught up in the dreaming stage of where you want to go, don’t get too carried away with this one. Backpacking with kids will be miserable if you bite off more than you can chew. Often, when you do a trip like this, it can be easiest to just pack in a couple miles, set up a good camp, and then to day trips from there. If you’re like us, you’ll be carrying your gear, your kids gear, oh and the kids too. Don’t kill yourself! Save longer trips for when the kids are older and can be more independant. Here’s how to assess where your abilities may lie:
1. Do a few test hikes. This will not only get you used to hiking as a family, it will improve endurance. Going on hikes before hand will also help you assess how far your kids can hike and how well you handle them when they
start whining like crazy get tired.
2. Practice with a pack. Don’t wait for the wilderness to get those packs out. Wear your pack around the house or on short hikes to get used to the feel of it. When you’re comfortable wearing it, start filling it up with books to get used to the weight. If you’re having your kids carry a pack (even just a day pack), do the same thing, just go easy on the books!
3. Prepare a few distractions. Without a doubt, there will come a point in your trip where your kids (or you) will start whining. Come up with a list of distractions to help pleasantly pass the time. Practice them on your kids before you leave so you know what will be the most useful and how much time they’ll buy you. By knowing how long you can distract them, you can avoid meltdowns and stop before things get too hard.
As you do these things, you will begin to get a good idea of what kind of backcountry experience will be best for your family. Because kids usually can’t hike as far, stretching a long day hike over a few days is often a good option. Start small gradually work up so that you can really enjoy your experience. Have fun!