View Full Version : Family Hiking

03-18-2013, 21:22
I am totally new to the world of backpacking, but am interested in getting my family into it. My long-term goal is to do a section of the AT four years from now, maybe 6 week's worth of the trail, and work our way up to that. It's me, my husband, and our two boys, who will turn two and four this spring. (By summer 2017 they'll be 6 and 8, which is the youngest I can picture them doing a serious trek.) I thought we'd start by doing a lot of day hikes this season, advancing to a few overnights next season, then more overnights and week-long trips the next two, then the big trip. I'm also hoping very much to get my younger brother, mom, and possibly dad in on it. (Younger brother and mom have plenty of backpacking experience already through the Boy Scouts-- he's an Eagle Scout.)

So, help me out! Poke holes in my plans, tell me what I need to do differently. If you've backpacked with kids, what should I know?

Reading through this forum, it doesn't seem that common to go as a family, or is that just because WB.net is more for through-hikers, not weekenders? There's not even a sub-forum for hiking-with-kids concerns, the way there is for hiking-with-dogs!

Oh! I live in Virginia-- the AT runs practically through my backyard-- which is why it's the target of this lifestyle change. The part I'm most interested in is the Smokies, simply because I've never even seen them... Still, will I find more pertinent information on some other forum, since a serious stab at the AT won't be for years yet?

03-18-2013, 21:49
Living so close to the trail you can get out there and start hiking.
For overnighters with the kids in tow , a great place to go with assurance of being near a road as a bail out option is Shenandoah Nat'l Park
There are also waysides available with kid type food and milkshakes after a day on the trail

The Smokies are a different story..,not as easy to hike or get off the trail qickly

03-18-2013, 21:59
I have three kids (5, 3, & 1). We have been out on several hikes so far. I took my three year old on a short backpacking trip last summer. Our longest trip so far has been a 4.5 mile day hike. They do great when we go out.

I try to make it interesting when we are out on the trail. We usually take some food and have a picnic along the way. I'll also take some candy (usually gummy bears) and give them some along the way. It's a great mortal booster for them. We also make up games to play as we walk.

Another thing is to take it slow, especially on the more difficult trails. We stop a good bit so they can rest.

We also hike with another family that has kids the same age. That works out great because the kids entertain each other.

Hiking we with young kids can be a lot of fun. My three year old asks me several times a week to take him hiking. We are planning on doing a three day backpacking trip this summer and I'm confident he can do it.

03-18-2013, 22:47
Agree with Blackbeard30, you have to make it interesting for them, and go at their pace. Mine liked the bugs, newts, butterflies, pretty flowers, etc. We bought pocket guide books and marked off each new creature/flower we saw. A scavanger hunt is fun, too. Draw up a map of your hike. Use those plastic Easter eggs with a prize in it. Mark on the map where they are...in a big tree, next to the river crossing, etc. Gives them a goal to shoot for. When mine were older than yours (5, 7 and 11) the day hikes in the Smokies were on the "popular" trails where the end goal was a waterfall. As they got a little older, my oldest lost interest by my two youngest wanted to go up the "more difficult" summits. In the Smokies their favorite is Chimney Tops. In Shenandoah it's Old Rag. Last year my youngest who was 9 got his first "real" backpack. For over-nighters in Shenandoah there are so many loop options, in the Smokies you are very limited to where you can camp. But that's getting ahead of you! With your goal of doing a long distance hike with the kids in the future, since you do not have backpacking experience, I would also consider you and your husband doing hikes yourself without the kids to work out what works for you before you bring them along, too.

03-18-2013, 22:49
I ment for over-nighters before bringing them along, that is.

Rocket Jones
03-19-2013, 09:18
My 4yo granddaughter asks to go see grandpa to go 'walking in the woods'. We started her very young, and made a game of each hike. Lately, we'll pick a type of tree and learn as much about it as we can - what the leaves look like, what the bark looks like, how many we can see as we hike, do any have blazes on them, etc. Usually, by the end of the hike she has a pretty good handle on whatever tree we're concentrating on.

Last year for Christmas I made my granddaughter her own hiking staff. A three-foot dowel from the hardware store with some bright orange cord wrapped around it for a handle, it was a real hit and she insisted on going for a hike in the snow that afternoon. She was disappointed that there were no spider webs across the trail for her to clear away.

I also have a firm rule that hiking means walking, so I don't carry her. We'll stop as often as she wants to rest, but I'm not picking her up. She grumbled at first, but soon enough got the idea and now the only time I pick her up is to show her close up something too tall for her to see easily.

Especially for kids, it's not the destination, it's the journey. And the snacks, always the snacks. :)

03-19-2013, 09:51
I thoroughly agree that Shenandoah is a great place for your family to get started. The Smokies have loads of trails that you could enjoy as well, however, if you're thinking of doing AT miles in the Smokies, keep in mind that logistics could get difficult if your group grows (4 + brother + parents). Cross that bridge when you get to it, but in the meantime, you've got all of Virginia to work on. Be sure you get down to SW Virginia and hike in Grayson Highlands. Your boys will love the wild ponies!

03-19-2013, 09:57
Weaslymum it sounds like you've got a good strategy for getting started. With the AT so close you have plenty of options for getting out there on short day hikes or even doing a simple overnighter or two.

I am a cub scout den leader and the father of 4 hikers, though only 3 of those have done serious mileage on the AT. When my wife and I first started hiking with my kids we did it to see how capable they were and how they felt about it. As part of that we did (and continue to do) what others have suggested: make it fun! In the beginning, consider hiking with a destination in mind. That destination can be a cool lookout spot, a geologic feature, an ice cream store, whatever will interest them when you get there. Keep it just long enough to keep the excitement of anticipation and still short enough so that backside isn't so long that they lose interest before the car/house. This works great as well for the kids in my scout den. Distance is not typically a problem. They have way more energy than their parents. But keeping their interest is the real challenge.

We use a system of trail treats as well. This is a big morale booster and also helps with attitudes. We like Mike and Ikes, Starbursts, anything that won't melt in the summer sun or make a mess. These get doled out as we see good behavior or when we feel their energy dipping low.

In the beginning special gear is not necessary. You have most of what you need around the house probably. My youngest daughter is 5. She went on her first hike of about 10 miles and her first weekend overnighter when she was 4. Her "equipment" consisted of a kitten graphic backpack with a stuffed animal inside and a small bottle of water. We carried her clothes and snacks with us as well as other gear on the overnighter. She was thrilled with her pack :) For day hikes a simple school style backpack can easily suffice for grown ups and kids alike. In fact, you could probably pack all of it in one or two packs for the adults and let the kids go packless (though I'll bet they plead for one so they can be a big boy/girl too).

03-19-2013, 12:20
Thanks so much, everybody! JohnnyBGood &illabelle, Shenandoah is exactly where I'd planned to start; we're 40 minutes from most of the Skyline Drive and I've already picked out some hikes to do once it warms up here.

Destinations for day hikes are a good idea, thank you-- it should help with the husband, too. (He doesn't like to just walk in a big circle, needs some kind of payout. I'm hoping that changes a bit with time.)

Miloandotis-- Hiking/ overnighting without the kids sounds great, but impossible, sadly. We just don't have the childcare or resources to do it.

Farmerchef-- thanks for the tips about gear. It's one of the areas I'm most confused about: what they need, when. I've read that kids can hike in their sneakers and don't need boots, but why wouldn't they need the same protection as an adult? I mean, we don't wear boots just because we like the extra weight on our feet, after all. I know eventually (like before the week-long trips I have in mind) they'll need their own packs, but I don't want to be constantly buying equipment that they'll outgrow... At least with two boys two years apart, we should be able to get some hand-me-down use from everything. We don't have much $$$, so every decision has to be cost-effective. I do like the idea of letting him wear a backpack and carry some of his own things in it from the very beginning; at 4 it's such a matter of pride!

03-19-2013, 12:36
I started taking my daughter out for over-nights at local park when she was about 5 doing the car-camping thing. It was a good way to introduce the idea of tent, fire, camp fire, cook stove, day hikes, fishing. She loves it. This summer I'll be taking her out to the VA mountains (Apple Orchard Falls/Cornelius Creek) as a day high with an overnight stay. It's got climbs, rock scrambles (sorta), waterfalls, and the omnipresent creek to see/cross. I imagine we'll do a few out and back over night hikes this summer out on the AT or nearby blue blazes. Lots of great hikes in the George Washington and Jefferson national forests, and SNP.

Snacks are indeed key. I usually have a wide assortment of snacks including a few "dad snacks" that aren't always "healthy mom-approved". She definitely wants to have her own pack. For the day hikes she has a hydration vest. The bite valve on the tube is a fun novelty and keeps her hydrated. We stop and take a break when she wants to. This was the hardest thing for me to adapt to. Left my own devices I move fast and almost never take breaks. The slower pace and frequent stops was an adaption I had to make.

My daughter usually wears sneakers or more recently a "trail runner". That's all I ever wear too. The rest of her wardrobe pretty much matches mine. She's got non-cotton socks (wool or poly), an icebreaker shirt (wool), a poly/wicking t-shirt, a fleece pull over, and some non-cotton long pants and shorts. For this past winter we found a down puffy at some crazy clearance price that's "just like dad's". All that stuff was picked up here and there as things went on sale. I tend to buy a little big so we get at least 2 years out of it. It'll end up being passed down to cousins I imagine.

Feral Bill
03-19-2013, 12:39
For you and your husband, keep an eye out for a used monster expedition pack (for most of the families gear), and a good child carrier (for the youngest), that has room for some gear. The 4 YO can carry a token pack. If you use lightweight gear otherwise you should be okay. As mentioned above, the trips will be all about the kids at first. By the time the're 6 and 8, you can start getting more ambitious. My kids started early, and, at 20 ans 22, still hike.

03-19-2013, 14:41
For you and your husband, keep an eye out for a used monster expedition pack (for most of the families gear), and a good child carrier (for the youngest), that has room for some gear. The 4 YO can carry a token pack. If you use lightweight gear otherwise you should be okay. As mentioned above, the trips will be all about the kids at first. By the time the're 6 and 8, you can start getting more ambitious. My kids started early, and, at 20 ans 22, still hike.

Thanks, Feral Bill. Since I was only planning to do day hikes this summer (and not all-day at that), I hadn't planned on getting a child carrier-- was going to just let the little guy run for as long as he could, then carry him on my back w/ our Ergo (it's a non-hiking type soft back carrier) if necessary. With our first overnights being next season, probably, he'll be too big/ old to be carried, right? At 3?

Smooth & Wasabi
03-19-2013, 14:50
We haven't done much backpacking yet with my 1 1/2 year old, but she loves camping and hiking. She made it above tree line at 1 with the help of a carrier and has done a bit of ski touring in a pulk. The most important thing I would add is that I found it hard to have an agenda aside from spending quality time outside with the family. Flexibility and hiking plans that can logistically accommodate a variety of mileages are key. Once I started to keep in mind that it was about being outside together and helping her develop the foundation for a lifelong love of the outdoors and not about making miles, summits, or turns things flowed much better. I can't wait to get her out on her first real backpack trip this spring.

03-19-2013, 14:57
Depending on weight, 3 can definitely get too heavy. If you really load up one adult with all the overnight gear (sleeping bags, tent, bedrolls, clothes, food, water, etc.) then the one carrying the toddler can maybe carry the toddler and a bit extra. But if that toddler is, say 25 pounds and the pack is an external frame style that weighs another 5 pounds you're already at 30. Plus those kiddo carriers don't usually have a lot of "extra" capacity for other items unless you lash it to the pack.

A couple things to start investigating now so you can keep an eye out for sales over the years as Mobius recommends is ultralight backpacking and dirtbagging. Ultralight or UL backpacking is a lightweight, minimalist philosophy. Don't worry about getting to ridiculously low base weights (your pack with everything but food and water). That's expensive and can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. Think of it more like, how do I reduce my weight as much as practical and comfortable without reducing my enjoyment. My wife and I have to do this since we also have to carry most of the food (around 15 to 20 pounds per person) for our crew of 5. Our packs usually weight around 35 pounds at the start of a 7 day hike. Not the worst but certainly not the same as carrying 20 pounds or 70 :eek:

Dirtbagging is all about using found or everyday items that are cheap or free to substitute for more expensive (often much more expensive) hiking gear. For instance, instead of a titanium spork, we hike with Taco Bell sporks. Free with the purchase of any meal. Or use a home depot poly tarp ($10) instead of a tent ($50). If you only hike when it's convenient and comfortable, consider getting sleeping bag liners (flannel - $20) instead of full-blown bags (heavy and cheap or light and $$$). But we don't pack them when we know it's going to be raining and in the 30s either. That's the beauty of choosing when to go. There are plenty of threads on how to do this here at Whiteblaze. Also check out backpackinglight.com.

Red Hat
03-19-2013, 16:46
my grandsons were 2 and 4 when they met me for 1 mile on the AT in VA... along the BlueRidge... it was very easy hiking and they loved it!

04-06-2013, 15:36
Our family hikes with Blackbeard. My 3 and 4 year olds love it and I carry the baby in a child carrier pack. We've taken the older ones on a one night backpacking trip and they loved it. Looking forward to more this summer!

Almost There
04-06-2013, 23:54
I would say there is no way of saying how your kids will do. Each child is different, so what works for one will not necessarily work for the other. I have a 3 and 4 year old. My four year old when he gets tired refuses to walk any further...he isn't ready, that and he is terrified of the dark. My three year old might go farther than two miles, but not with his brother along. I want my boys to like the trail, and the last thing I would suggest is taking your child out there, and then if they get tired, forcing them to continue hiking, you'll guarantee they'll end up hating hiking.

We're all in a hurry to share a love of something with our kids, but the trail will be there. If your kids are ready then go for it, only you really know. Just like hiking with a dog, often we think our kids love doing something such as hiking when what they really love is being out, alone, with mom and/or dad. You need to recognize the difference.

04-07-2013, 08:37
My kids are 5 and 7. My 7yo and I have done an overnight hike together, a figure 8 with the camp in the middle (where the car is just in case). Both days were about 4 miles, and she had a small pack from REI with some food water and a sweater. We left the heavy stuff in the car :) She did great, and we're planning another with the entire fam for a few nights when the weather warms up.

We have been camping with the kids since they were 3mo. It has been great, and as long as you hike their hike, everything will be rainbows and unicorns!