Not So Far Back, Backcountry Adventures with Kids

Not So Far Back, Backcountry Adventures with Kids

Author: Tina Eckerlin

If you are an adventurer, but have had children you know that there are two options to getting out into the wild; going without them or taking them with you.

Getting out for a solo backpacking, canoeing or camping adventure is great if you can. But let's face it, it can be difficult to get someone to watch your children, or you feel a huge guilt about leaving your terrible toddlers with your partner for a prolonged period of time with no respite or relief.

If you choose to make it a family adventure, you will need to remember a few things. If you are backpacking you will not be able to cover the mileage you normally do, so don't plan on 35 km days. You will also likely need to carry them or a large portion of their gear. You will need to have lots of extra small activities, because let's be honest, kids have the attention span of a cucumber.

Thought I would share some throwback pictures of some adventures even though they are low quality!

I have found that by getting children out into the wild young, it establishes a life-time love of the outdoors. You may not be to far back in the backcountry, but it is a start.

Our family started with a few annual summer camping trips from a very young age just to acquaint our children with the idea of camping. You can even do this in your backyard. We even used to set up a tent in our basement for overnight fun.

We like to set up camp, build shelters and do some bushcraft activities to keep everyone busy - while learning some skills. Most kids love to build forts, so might as well teach them some shelter building skills while you are at it.

We even went as far as learning how to properly lash and use knots to build bushcraft furniture at a our regular spot.

Every trip when they were really young, I had some small crafts, books and a couple of downloaded movies. One trip  I gifted each of my kids their first sling-shots. It was quite a hit!

Simple Winter Camping

I started taking my two children winter camping when they were about 6 years old. We would snowshoe in with a cargo sled and backpacks a short distance from our home, for a few nights every winter. 

I chose this location because if the weather got colder than predicted, we could easily hike home in the middle of the night. We started with only one night, and moved up to two and three nights. We made sure to go when the night temperature forecasts were -25° C or warmer.

We packed lots of fun foods to cook on a campfire, built forts and throne chairs out of snow. I took them shopping for the snacks and meals we planned together. I always had lots of activities and hot chocolate to keep everyone entertained and warm.

Each time the kids helped pack and and plan. We talked about different types of clothing and fabric, and how to stay warm and safe. 

We made some great memories. During the day as they got older they pretty well entertained themselves, and our evening tent UNO™ championship battles were epic under the dark skies falling snow!

Backpacking Trip

When my son had just turned 13 and graduated grade 6, I decided to take him on his first backpacking trip. I wanted celebrate and spend special time with him before he started high school. 

I had him plan and help with the reservations. We made our dehydrated meals together and chose our treats. We planned our driving playlist and our road snacks.

I made sure that he had all his own gear. He had his own tent, food and bear bag, stove, map and water filter.

I had him set his gear up in the yard a few times and practice hanging a bear bag. We day-hiked a lot to make sure he was comfortable in his hiking clothes and trail runners, but even more importantly that he was comfortable with things like basic map and trail marker reading, filtering water, and using his stove. 

I am the kind of hiker who believes that each hiker should be autonomous and have everything they need. Sometimes things happen, people get separated or injured. I wanted to make sure he was prepared with the skills he needed. We reviewed the route over and over. We discussed the bail out points on the trail, and what he should do if we got separated.

We camped 3 nights along a short loop in Algonquin Park. The trail can be hiked in a day, so I felt that breaking it up into small sections each day with low mileage would give us a lot of time to explore and enjoy our campsites. Plus it gave the added safety net that incase we needed to get out, we could hike out quickly.

Our trip was amazing! It was a filled with lots of laughs and memories. It was a special time I got to spend one-on-one with him.

We have done other trips and adventures, but this first backpacking trip will always have a special place in my heart.

Needless to say, getting out into the wild with young children takes a lot more planning and effort. But it was worth every second and extra pound.

10 Tips for Overnight Adventures with Children

  1. Choose a place close to home or the trailhead, that way if it is miserable you can bail at the drop of a hat.
  2. Pack some fun foods! Make cooking fun with themes and treats. Try to have them participate in the menu planning. Look for fun ways to cook and don't worry about being ultralight! The internet is full of fun food ideas.
  3. Bring games, books and downloaded movies to play inside your shelter if the weather turns foul.
  4. Have children carry some of their own gear. If they can walk, they can carry a small pack with toys, clothing and snacks. Kids also like the independence of having their own water, snacks and headlamp.
  5. Depending on the age, choose appropriate length trails. Remember that children have a shorter stride and will be slower. Be prepared to adjust your pace. Provided they are not infants, make sure you set guidelines and clear boundaries that it is a hike and not a carry. 
  6. Plan lots of breaks and set small attainable goals.  Get ready to stop a lot. Be ready to stop and look at bugs and leaves and rocks. 
  7. Set clear campsite boundaries, but try to let them have some freedom to explore safely.
  8. Play games on the trail like Eye-Spy, or 20 Questions to keep everyone engaged. 
  9. Make sure everyone has good fitting shoes and enough layers to be comfortable.
  10. Be prepared to adapt and change your plans. Listen to your kids and take the lead. They don't have the endurance or the attention span we do. Watch for the meltdown queues, and try to get ahead of them. Try to anticipate when they are tired, hungry or bored, it will save you some stress.


What kind of adventures have you taken your kids on? Share your experiences and tips in the comments below!

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