What to Pack in Your Backpack for Kids

We have been camping our way across the United States, staying at National Parks, spending most of our time in the Western parts of the country. It is the Centennial Anniversary of the National Park service and we have met many families and couples, giving us many people to play with!

Robbie is asked repeatedly, “what is your favorite National Park?” He pauses, thinks, and always says, “Well…it’s the one I am in.”

Having the “right things” and the “right attitude” makes all the difference in making the outdoors a rewarding and enjoyable experience for everyone. Every moment outside sets the foundation for health, well-being and happiness in our children. I hope the list here will help you.

We have hiked for the most part in sun, but there have been days with subfreezing rain, snow, hail and high winds. The weather can change on a dime in the high country of the Rockies, the Cascades and High Sierra Nevadas. This list has helped me in the Shenandoah’s and the higher Applachian mountains as well.

We follow this rule when camping and hiking, in order of importance: “Shelter, Water, Fire, Food”.
So I use this for packing my backpack as well.

The list:
* Rain jacket and pants
* Reflective shelter or trash bag
* Sunscreen and sunglasses
* Hat – depending on the weather
* Half quart or 1 liter each (at least) of water. Using a camelbak is nice for kids as the weight is distributed more evenly.
* Flashlight
* Waterproof matches
* Snacks – high fat, high protein such as nuts and protein bars

Other essentials:
* Map of trail and/or area
* Compass
* First aid kit
* Whistle
* Bear spray (Get a spray made specifically made for bears. The smaller pepper sprays used in the city do not work for bears. Make noise is probably your most effective deterrent bears…sing and talk. Bells have been found to attract bears in the Tetons so the Rangers don’t recommend them.)

Most importably, bring a great attitude, kids are AWESOME to hike with. They are closer to the ground and see, hear and feel more. Young children, especially those under 4, need to go in their version of a straight line: up a rock, jumping up and down on a log, stopping to look at bugs, flowers and birds. Remember to sing songs. Sticks make great staffs, bows and arrows.

For Robbie, helping me with packing the pack, has been a good lesson in preparedness on what to bring and have. He can carry his own water, I have a small backpack for him. But I feel that it is more important for him to explore for now so I carry everything. If you have multiple chlldren, it helps if you have another adult share the load, but I have carried enough things for 5 kids, I just carried a larger pack. Since hiking we don’t hike more than 5 miles and there will be plenty of rests, I was able to do this. But in general, the list below works for 2-3 kids and one adult, with the kids carrying their water.

Hope this helps!