Thinking about taking your kids backpacking? Super mum Jessica Guth shares her top 7 tips for a successful experience.
“I took my nine-year-old daughter backpacking for the first time at Myakka River State Park in Sarasota, Florida, a park that has a backpacking loop with several primitive campsites along the way. She and I hiked to the second camp, which is called Bee Island.
This was actually my first real backpacking experience too and I am so grateful we got to share it together. I knew this trip was going to be full of trial-and-error, and she and I both learned a lot from this experience…
1. Start hiking early enough to allow plenty of daylight.
In planning this trip, I purposefully overestimated how long it would take us to reach our camp and I still feel like it wasn’t enough time. I knew we were hiking 6 miles the first day (which actually ended up being 6.5 miles due to a faulty map). I figured if we started hiking at noon, we would be at camp around 4:00pm. It actually ended up taking us longer and I felt in a bit of a rush to reach camp before it started to get dark.
2. Take many, many breaks
This is the main reason why it ended up taking us longer than I had anticipated… along with the extra unexpected half mile. We stopped about every quarter to half mile to drop our packs, take a breather, and down some water. Kids can get bored on the trail… Taking a break just to enjoy your surroundings and point out plants, flowers, and wildlife breaks up the monotony of just walking.
3. Allow your kids to dictate the pace
I found this extremely essential. If you rush your kids or try to make them keep up with you, they will be miserable and run out of gas quickly. We hiked at her pace and I followed her lead on when to take breaks and how long those breaks lasted.
4. Pack ALL the snacks.
It seemed like every time we took a break, she wanted a snack. When I was packing our food for this trip, I thought that I was packing way too much. But, she ended up eating every single thing I packed for her. Those little legs put in a lot of work, which meant lots of calorie burn in that tiny body. So, even though you think you’ll have enough food, pack some extra, just in case. You do not want to be stuck on the trail with a whiny, hungry kid – it will be worth the added weight in your pack!
5. Bring a small, packable game or craft
I packed a deck of cards and this was our entertainment once we set up camp. We plopped ourselves on the ground and played several rounds of Go Fish. It’s a great way to unwind after a long, exhausting day on the trail. There are several travel-sized games available, so let your little one pick something to bring along.
6. Pack a treat
While on the trail, I told my daughter that I packed something special for her, but did not tell her what it was. The anticipation of a little surprise added some excitement to her experience. It was only hot chocolate for in the morning while I was having my coffee, but you would’ve thought I presented her with a unicorn – she was overly joyed with that simple little treat.
7. Have FUN!
This is the most important part. Make the experience fun and enjoyable for both of you. Be flexible with your plans, be patient with your tiny adventurer, and make it such an awesome experience that they want to come back for more!