As we walked through preparing for our first family backpacking trip I noticed something: there are a ton of articles on backpacking with kids in their teens. Even a few with middle schoolers. But I found only a couple posts on backpacking with young kids… seeing as our kids are ages six, five, and three, I just couldn’t relate. Even simple things, like finding a backpack or sleeping bag were not straightforward. Many packs were just too big. And it didn’t matter how warm the sleeping bag was because at the toddler ages I am just trying to figure out how to keep them IN the bag!

And thus began a journey! Here are some things that have worked for us:

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1. Working out the sleeping quarters

You want a tent that is warm and lightweight, right? But enter into the world of family tents and you are not likely to find either. We tossed around the idea of taking multiple two-man tents but our kids are young enough that I wasn’t comfortable letting them sleep in their own tent. However, we were able to test out the Kelty Salida 4 tent and were super impressed.

The Kelty Salida 4 is a three season tent that weighs just over 6 pounds and is quite roomy. We can fit all five of our family members in it without much crowding. We also brought the ENO hammock along and my husband spent a night in it – because why not?!

Here are a few other tents that are worth checking out: GoLite Shangri-La 5 or the Big Agnes Lightweight 4 person tents.

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2. Sleeping pads that keep the kid’s centered on the pad

Keeping the kids warm through the cold nights is perhaps one of the biggest worries with young kids. We’ve found this issue to be a result of the childhood wiggles. 1. They wiggle out of their sleeping bags and 2. They wiggle off their pads. Thus leaving them uncovered and freezing.

We found our solution in air chamber sleeping pads. Kelty and Big Agnes (as well as others) make air chamber camping pads that have larger chambers on the outside edges of the pad, causing a “cradling” effect. This is not only super comfortable but successfully kept the kid’s from slipping, tossing or sliding off their pads.

The Big Agnes sleeping systems for kids, like the Little Red and Haybro, worked well for us too. The pad slips in a sleeve on the bottom side of the sleeping bag.

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3. Getting the right pack for the adults and kids

While my husband and I always tried for “lightweight” gear, I would never say we really focused much on it… until we had five people’s gear to carry! A pack that could extend to carry a huge load, but still weighed 3 pounds less than most backpacks was important to us.

There are a ton of good packs on the market but I want to highlight two. For adults the Deuter ACT Zero 50+10 is awesome. It is lightweight with a super expandable main compartment/hood. So my husband has packed it down small for day trips / climbing approaches but also maxed it out for our family trips.

The second pack is for kids. We found there is a large gap in backpacking products for kids ages 7-12. There are a ton of day-packs (which are perfect for the young kids, because they don’t carry much anyways.) However, the next step up is a teen internal frame backpack. But what about in between?!

This is where we discovered the Deuter Climber pack, available this August. Adjusted down, it fits my six-year old perfectly and will keep working for many years. It has all the elements I wanted: hydration port, Air Comfort suspension system, rugged fabric, decent size, but not too big.

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4. Finding inexpensive synthetic clothing for kids

When you have three kids, buying them all expensive synthetic clothing is out of the question. Sure, I’d love for them to all be walking the trail with merino on their backs and zip-off pants. However, the cost mixed with the fact that they will grow out of it in less than a year, makes it impractical.

Still, quick-dry clothing is equally important. If one member of the group is going to run head long into the nearest body of water, it will be one of the kids. Here is where we found the bulk of our synthetic clothing:

  • Sports jerseys/shorts – either from our favorite football team or last years pee-wee soccer season. Most jerseys are synthetic.
  • Rash guards – Meant for swimming, but why not hiking? They dry quick and protect from the sun!
  • Race shirts – As we’ve been frequenting the running race scene, the kids have been running more “Kid races.” Some (not all) give out tech tees with a $10 entry… seems like a pretty good deal on a synthetic shirt to me!

Have you taken your kids camping or backpacking? And if so, what worked for you?

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