Whether you are a novice backpacker or have been exploring the woods for years, there are always a number of questions to ask when planning an overnight hiking trip. Where should I go? What do I eat? Do I need a permit? These are but a few of the many things that are sure to cross your mind before you set out on your fun-filled expedition. And, if you’re backpacking with kids, your questions will likely double — along with your anxiety!

But traveling with kids doesn’t necessarily have to be difficult. While the whole proposition may sound boisterous and daunting at first, with a bit of practice and a lot of research, you will learn to love backpacking with the entire family. So what’s the secret? Read on!

Tall, green trees that might be seen while backpacking
Photo by Matt Artz

Choose a time and place for your adventure

The key to a great family backpacking trip is to pick a place that is not just exciting, but that also matches the skill set of the entire family. If the hike is too hard or too long, it can make for a disappointing and miserable experience. On the other hand, if it’s too easy or uninspiring, your family may grow bored.

National parks make a great place to backpack with the entire family, as they offer something for everyone. The well-marked trails give you a sense of safety when traveling with kids, and many parks even offer different activities — like horseback riding, train journeys, and junior ranger programs — that will create interesting experiences for every member of your family.

Also, be sure to keep track of the weather, as it could dilute the fun of your journey. It almost goes without saying, but sunny days will allow you to explore and make the most of your excursion. And, if you’re traveling to a new place where you have never backpacked before, do your research well in advance and carry a couple of maps to guide you along the way.

Two full packs used during a backpacking trip
Photo by Blaise Vonlanthen

Pack the essentials

Whether backpacking with kids or not, one of the key pieces of advice is to pack wisely. It’s important to keep in mind that you probably won’t have easy access to clothes or shops once you’re out in the wilderness.

The temperature can dip drastically after sunset, so be sure to bring a warm jacket, a pair of gloves, a beanie, and thick socks for the entire family. To top it off, throw in a wide-brimmed hat and a pair of sunglasses to keep cool during the day. If you have some extra space in your travel bag, pack a pair of lightweight hut booties as well — your feet will thank you when you slip into a pair of clean, cozy slippers after a long day in hiking boots!

Remember to carry packaged food, even if you’ll have access to a restaurant or kitchen. After all, kids get hungry at odd hours, and a bag of chips can come in handy when you least expect it. Gummies, oatmeal cookies, and granola bars are a few other trail treats that will keep your tummy happy on a backpacking trip, and just a couple of basic utensils and ingredients can help you make a quick meal after a long day of hiking.

A group of people hikes on a trail during a backpacking trip.
Photo by Ashim Silva

Plan ahead for food, sightseeing, and accommodation

It’s important to pick the right accommodation when you backpack with the family, especially if you have young kids. You can choose from a wide variety of campsites, guest houses, hotels, B&Bs, and hostels. Guest houses are often an inexpensive, fairly comfortable option that can be researched on websites like Airbnb.

If you regularly frequent the same trails, be sure to earmark any hotels or guest houses that you liked so that you can use them again later. Not only will this be more convenient, but you may also be able to work out a deal with the owner.

Of course, every family’s needs vary, so it’s important to weigh all your options before making a choice. A guest house or lodging with outdoor space is ideal if you have young, energetic kids, for instance. Or, if you’re traveling in a larger group, you could pick a room that has cupboards to stash toys and other belongings. If you think you will need Wi-Fi and/or a television, be sure to ask if the property has those amenities before booking, and a room with a TV can always be a boon if you have young kids. Also, remember that you should always inspect the room for trip hazards, sharp edges, and dodgy wiring before you let your kids loose!

Chart an itinerary of the places you will cover on your trip. Consider the age of your kids and whether or not they can be a part of the activities you intend to try while you plan your travel itinerary. You may check if the guest house or hotel you plan to stay at offers child care, if you need to dash in and out for a few hours.

Two tents overlook a lake during a backpacking trip.
Photo by Dino Reichmuth

Backpacking is a rewarding experience that you will treasure all your life. It allows you to bond with your family away from the hustle and bustle of city life, all while sipping on some cola and fishing at sunset. So what are you waiting for? Pack those backpacks and grab your camera, some cooking essentials, and your water bottles — it’s time to set out on an unforgettable camping trip with your loved ones.

Where would you like to backpack with kids? Share a few ideas in the comments below.

Header image by Kevin Schmid