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Backpacking is one of our all time favorite things to do as a family. There’s truly something magical about being together with nobody else around. No phones, TV, neighbor kids, cars, and not even other campers around. Some of the best times we’ve had as a family (and best conversations) have happened while we’re in the backcountry for a few days. It’s the place where we go to connect the best.
Over the years our backpacking has evolved and changed as our kids have grown and their interests and capabilities have increased as well. It’s been 13 years since we first started backpacking with our kids and in that time we’ve found some family backpacking gear that we absolutely love and others that got tossed after just one use because we didn’t like it. Now, we’re compiling our years of experience with family backpacking gear as well as backpacking gear for kids to share with you our top recommendations to buy.
Best Backpacking Tents For Families
One of the most important pieces of backpacking gear for a family is the tent. If you have 2 or three kids, you might be lucky and be able to squeeze into a 4 man tent. Otherwise, you’ll likely need 2 family backpacking tents. Here are favorites and best tents for family backpacking:
The Nordkapp Jr is an awesome first pack for your little hiker. And by first pack, I really do mean first pack. This pack is designed to fit kids ages 5-9 years old, so it’s the perfect size for kids who are just getting strong enough to start carrying some of their own gear. With a simple top opening, this pack easily carries a sleeping bag, a few days worth of clothes, and some snacks (and that’s without much effort). The side mesh pockets are generously sized making it simple for kids to put in their own water bottle (or whatever other random things they need to carry with them). At just under $40 – yes $40 – this pack is amazingly affordable as well! With a 12 L capacity this pack is big, but not huge so it could easily transition over to a large day pack, a climbing pack, or even a sleepover bag.
– Fits kids down to age 5
– Easy to use
– Not too many bells and whistles, so it’s easy for the kids
– Good, durable construction
– Super Lightweight
– The waist strap is large. Mason is 6 and it was pretty big on him. The easy fix on the trail is to tie a knot in the webbing to shorten it. We actually cut ours and resewed it shorter – a quick 5 minute fix.
– The shoulder straps are pretty close together. I noticed that by the end of the day, Mason’s neck was a little bit red, but not so much that he was complaining about it. I just worry that this may become an issue in a few years when we’re making him carry much more weight.
Overall Rating: 4/5 A great first pack, especially for the price!
Getting a good backpacking pack really is an investment. Buy something good, and it will last you for life. Buy something crappy, and you’ll stop backpacking pretty quickly in favor of less pain inducing sports…like rock skipping. The Deuter Aircontact 75+10 pack is all around a fantastic pack. When backpacking with young kids, we recommend getting a big pack. Like a really big pack. Remember that it’s likely that you’ll be carrying the majority of the gear for several extra people, so that space will come in handy.
This pack just happens to be the largest that Deuter makes. Not only that, but the hip pads actually move making it actually comfortable to carry a heavy load. No joke. With our old pack, wearing it was like torture (for me at least, Andrew’s tough and likes to have his hips rubbed raw). With this pack, Andrew and I were fighting over who would wear it and who would “have” to carry the baby backpack. Although Deuter may not have known it, this is the perfect pack for parents with little kids. It’s a game changer.
– Easily adjustable – we adjusted it between the two of us in less than a minute
– Front access – many packs just have top access, but when you have this much stuff, the front access is a life saver!
– Tons of straps and tie-downs
– Vari-Flex mobile hip pad system
– When fully loaded it’s hard to fit a nalgene sized bottle into the side pockets
– The sleeping bag compartment didn’t open up as much as we would like. There is plenty of room, just the access is small. Could this possibly be because we were fitting 3 sleeping bags into it?
Overall Rating: 5/5 – The Aircontact 75+10 is a fantastic full feature pack that is absolutely perfect for carrying heavy, large loads!
In case you missed it here, we’re all about hammock backpacking. It’s easy, quick, and cuts down on a ton of gear. Plus, your kids are going to love it like crazy and may never want to sleep in a tent again (like our 6 year old). The ENO DoubleNest is a great double hammock. Well actually, it’s a great double hammock if the 2 people are small or one is a kid (it’s a squishy night with 2 adults). It packs down super small, into an attached stuff sack and is only 20 oz. My favorite thing about it isn’t actually the hammock itself, but rather the straps. The Atlas straps are crazy easy to set up and the daisy chain links on it make it really easy to adjust the tension of your hammock with its carabiners. In my mind, this is what sets ENO hammocks apart from all the rest. No fancy knots needed, no difficult adjustments, just clip and you’re good.
– Easily adjustable with carabiners
– Awesome straps
– Difficult to sleep 2 adults (but great for relaxing).
Overall Rating: 4/5
If the DoubleNest were a Honda Civic, the Reactor is the Surburban. Tougher, with lots cooler features that will make you want to use it over and over! With a hidden sleeve for a sleeping pad, the Reactor hammock is not only super comfortable, but it’s also stays much warmer. How comfortable? Well, last week all the girls in my Youth Group were begging to sleep in it while we were camping last week – that’s just how cozy it is. Top that with the awesome Atlas straps, and this is about as awesome as I can imagine a hammock being.
– Sleeve keeps a pad in place all night
– Awesome Atlas straps
– Roomy for one
– Bigger than the DoubleNest hammock
Overall Rating 5/5
I distinctly remember growing up and buying shoes that I would then proceed to “break-in”. The sore feet, the blisters, the pain…it’s all seared deep into my memory. That’s probably why I hate buying new shoes (I’d rather just fix my old ones like I did here).
Well, the days of breaking in shoes are now over. As soon as I tried on the Hi-Tec Total Terrain Aero, it was a great fit. No stiff spots, no chaffing, no blisters…just a comfortable shoe. So comfortable that I hiked about 5 miles in them my first time wearing them. This is perfect for me because as a busy mom, I don’t have time for blisters, breaking shoes in, or any other such nonsense. The tread is great for getting good traction while scrambling up rocks and I’m especially grateful for that when I’m wearing a heavy backpacking pack. The Total Terrain is technically a multi-sport shoe, and I’ve found it works great for everything from an overnight trip to a wild game of capture the flag. These shoes multi-task just as much as a mom does!
– Instant comfort
– Great traction
– Moisture wicking lining
– Instant comfort (did I mention that yet?)
– Not waterproof
– The round laces come untied easily so I always have to double knot.
Overall Rating: 4/5
When it comes to carrying stuff on the trail, small, light gear is often your best friend. We were instantly drawn in when we saw the Deuter Dreamlite 500 sleeping bag. It weighs just over a pound, packs down to a little bigger than a nalgene bottle, and is only $95. Do you already want one? It’s a pretty impressive spec list. For us, this pack is perfect for times when we’re carrying 4-5 sleeping bags in the same pack and space and weight are at a premium. For most trips you’re taking your kids on, this would work perfectly. However, it’s only rated to 40 degrees, so it’s a pretty warm weather bag. For lower elevations, it’s perfect, but it did leave Andrew pretty chilly on a night up at 8,500 feet. Basically, this bag is a great second bag. It’s perfect for warmer nights, lower elevations, and especially perfect for when you go out with your kids. Just make sure that you have different bag (or possibly get a good liner for this one) for higher and colder evenings!
Overall Rating: 3/5
Mountain Khakis Clothing For WOMEN!
Granite Creek Capri Pants
From the company that specializes in tough mountain clothing, these capris are pretty sweet. Made with brushed nylon, these pants dry pretty fast, are super soft, and are easy to clean up when your kids smear their sticky marshmallow hands on your pants. Making sure to bring out your feminine side (‘cuz we all want to feel pretty, even on the trail), these pants have some cute, subtle gathers at the bottom. Throw in the fact that they’re moisture wicking, UPF 50+, and stain repellant and you just might have the perfect pant. My only issue was that the pair I got had a problem with the snap, so every time I bent over (which I now realized I constantly do), they came unsnapped. I’ve been told that mine is a rare case, so if yours do this, just send them back so you’re sure to love your capri’s for life!
Overall Rating 4/5 (with a fixed snap)
Granite Creek Long Sleeve Shirt
I’ll admit it, I was really skeptical about having a long sleeve shirt in the summer. I get hot easy, and it seemed this would only make the problem worse. WRONG! The Teslan fabric (which is totally new to me, but I love it), is insanely soft and super light making it really light and breathable, topped off with some great wicking properties. For hot days, the sleeves roll up to your elbows, and when it’s a little cooler, just roll the sleeves down for full length (also great for sun protection since it’s UPF 50+). This just might be the perfect backpacking shirt, and here’s why:
-Long and mid-length convertable sleeves make it extra versatile
-Awesome protection against bugs – an unexpected swarm of mosquitoes is a fast way to ruin a trip, and this helps a lot
-Quick drying and light
-Lots of pockets for all the random things you are carrying but don’t want to take your pack off to stash them.
Overall Rating: 5/5
It may very well be that I have saved one of the most important pieces of gear for last. Being a backpacking family on a budget, getting the most life out of your gear and making it last are critical. Nikwax’s job is to do just that. Here are a few products that we really love:
This is a simple waterproofing spray that works like a charm. No nasty or toxic aerosols, this simple spray bottle makes it easy to waterproof your gear, with a residual odor similar to vinegar (as opposed to the acetone-like smell that other brands carry). We used this to re-waterproof our rain jackets and have yet to have a problem. A perfect way to refresh the waterproofing of your clothing, pack, etc.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Tent and Gear SolarProof
Why? Because you never really think about your tents condition until you’re on a rainy trip where your tent is leaking, your stuff is wet, and you just want to go home and cry. Trust us, use this first! Not only does this protect your tent from the sun, but it also adds and extra coating or waterproof protection. Sun, and water are probably some of the biggest culprits of ruined gear, so be proactive with this and keep your tent awesome for years!
Overall Rating: 4/5
And there you have it. Great backpacking gear in practically every category to keep your family happy and out on the trail! Happy backpacking!