Backpacking with Kids – Pack List

The list below is by no means an end all, be all list, but it will definitely help you get started on thinking about what to pack and what you may need to purchase or borrow for your first trip.  Of course, if you are winter camping, this list would likely need to be modified, as this is more geared toward a spring/fall trip.  This is exact list I have sent my friends – even those with no experience – when we are planning our backpacking with kid trips.  When you really stop to think about what you need to survive 2-3 nights in the woods, it’s pretty simple.  You need shelter, appropriate clothing for conditions (which really isn’t much if you have a cabin for shelter), purified water, and food.  Everything else you bring is just extra weight, and you need to decide if it’s worth it to carry.

The Big Things

  • Tent
    • I recommend starting your kid backpacking experiences in a cabin to give you a little more security, shelter, space, etc.  But if you are looking for a tent trip, you will need a backpacking tent.  These are often smaller and lighter weight than a typical camping tent.  I have a Big Agnes 3-person lightweight tent that has worked well for me, my husband, and our dog.  I am not sure I would actually enjoy it with 3 adults in there.  I have not attempted a tent trip with Hannah as right now she cannot carry enough weight to make this work.  Once she can carry her own sleeping bag, I might be able to try it.
My Gregory Deva 70 on left – Hannah’s school Trolls backpack nearby
  • Backpack
    • Since I only want to recommend items I’ve actually used and loved, I can only recommend a pack for women.  I love the Gregory Deva 70 Backpack (paid link) and have been using mine since 2009.  I find it very comfortable, versatile for various weights and amounts I am carrying, and the 70 Liter is a suitable size that can be strapped down when I have less and really expands when I need more. 
    • For both guys and gals, I recommend going to a gear store near you that sells backpacks and try some on.  The store should have “weights” to add that can make it more realistic in store.  They can also teach you how a backpack should fit since it’s not like a school backpack.  Most of your weight will sit on your hips and the shoulder straps should not be putting weight on the top of your shoulder. 
  • Backpack for Kids
    • Depends on how much weight you are planning to give them.  When Hannah was 4 and 5, she used a simple school backpack and I only had her carry her clothes and water bottle.  In total, the two times we used school backpacks, they weighed about 6 lbs.
Hannah’s Vaude daypack with adjustable straps – not tightened to her body yet. Also pictured – her in-camp crocks hanging off her pack and water bottle in hand

  • When she was 6 years old, I upgraded her to a Vaude adult daypack.  This particular pack worked well because it could support more weight (I gave her about 10 lbs) and had the F.L.A.S.H. easy adjustable straps that can change from XS to Large by just pulling a cord and moving the strap.  This means I could easily transition this to MY daypack when we would take day hike excursions from the cabin and she wouldn’t have to carry anything.  (Which was WAY better than when we would day hike while I carried her Trolls school backpack!)  I do not know the exact Liter size of her backpack and I couldn’t find it anywhere on it.  I would guess around 30 Liters.

  • Sleeping Bags
    • The sleeping bag I use is the Big Agnes Roxy Ann 15 Women’s Down Sleeping Bag (paid link). It is lightweight, 650 fill down and has the Big Agnes integrated sleeping pad sleeve.  This mean the bottom of the bag is not filled with down, keeping it more lightweight, and it has a sleeve to put the Big Agnes sleeping pad into.  The sleeping pad will keep you off the ground and warm from below.  I love this bag and it has always kept me warm while sleeping, even in some frigid temps.  I really love the Big Agnes system with the sleeping pad sleeve integrated into the bag.
    • For kids, any lightweight sleeping bag should work that can be packed down pretty small in a stuff sack (more on these later).  I do not have a specific recommendation.
  • Sleeping Pad
    • If you plan on tent camping or the cabin does not have mattresses, you will want to be sure you have a sleeping pad to sleep on.  This will keep you warm from below and be much more comfortable to sleep on.  As I mentioned above, I have the Roxy Ann 15 sleeping bag that has a sleeve to fit the 20” x 72” Big Agnes Sleeping Pads.  The pad I have is the Big Agnes – Q Core SLX, 20×72 Ultralight Sleeping Pad (paid link). You have to fill this with air using your own lungs which can be exhausting after a long hike, but it is well worth it!  It is so comfortable and I can even sleep on my side without a hip touching the floor if I wanted to.  I have also used this sleeping pad as a water raft in the summer on a gorgeous day.  Everyone I was hiking with was pretty envious when I could relax on the water after a long hike while they stood wading in up to their knees.
    • If you are hiking into a cabin with a mattress on the bed, this item is unnecessary as the mattress should provide you with the warmth and comfort needed.

The Smaller Things – Drinking Water Related

  • Water Filter or Water Treatment Drops
    • I do recommend to check with the park service near where you are hiking to make sure filtering is an acceptable form of purification for that area.  Some areas will suggest using water treatment drops instead.   When this was recommended, Jim and I would use the Aquamira Water Treatment Drops (paid link).  Also, when only backpacking with 2 people, the drops are very lightweight.  They purify 1L of water (one Nalgene) at a time and this works pretty well.  The downside is the time it takes to purify the water.  Typically you mix a number of Part A drops with Part B drops and wait 5 minutes.  Then you add this to 1L of water, and wait another 15 minutes before drinking.  See packaging for exact instructions.
  • Water bottle (Nalgene if using water treatment drops works well) or hydration bladder (such as a Camelbak)
    • Most backpacks have a water sleeve inside for a hydration bladder.  I prefer using a Camelbak bladder.  There is typically a small insert in the backpack that you can feed the hose into so that the mouthpiece is near your shoulder while hiking.  I find having the water so accessible while hiking makes me drink more often.  However, with shorter hikes with kids, I often end up just bringing a Nalgene since I am not as concerned about dehydrating on a 3 mile hike.
  • Water bottle for kids
    • This can be any water bottle that they use.  Be sure they are only drinking purified water!

The Smaller Things – Fire Related

My work gloves
  • Lighter/Matches
    • I prefer to play it safe and bring both.
  • Fire Starter (optional)
    • I’ve found it to be worthwhile to have some fire starter in the event it is rainy and all you have to work with is wet wood.  This is especially helpful when your food requires a fire to cook!
  • Work Gloves (1 pair for the group)
    • I like to have some thicker “work gloves” along for handling the firewood, etc.

The Other Smaller Things

  • Camp Pillow
    • If I have enough room left after packing everything in my backpack, I like to include the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow (paid link).  When I don’t have room, I just use a stuff sack from my sleeping bag filled with some of my clothes as a pillow.
  • Compression/Stuff Sacks
    • Stuff Sacks are AMAZING.  Period.  They can take all of these big items and make them teeny tiny for packing in your backpack.  The best ones I have used are from Granite Gear (a Minnesota-based company).  I prefer the ones with the larger straps rather than strings, but both will work. 
    • Things I use stuff sacks for:
      • Tent (except poles)
      • Sleeping bag
      • Clothes
  • Headlamps for each person
  • Lantern (optional)
    • It’s nice to have a lantern with, especially if the sun sets early and you want something to give some light in the cabin or tent at night.
Using my bandana to clean off Hannah’s dirty face
  • Bandana
    • I like to bring a bandana along that can be used for a variety of reasons – wash dishes, dry dishes, clean face, keep bugs off of head, sweat band, first aid, rough “first filter” if drinking water has disgusting floaters in it before you would actually filter the water – the list goes on and on.  I never regret bringing a bandana and typically bring one for myself and Hannah!
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Camera
  • Toothbrush/paste
  • Toilet paper
    • If there are not toilets/latrines where you will be staying, you will also want to bring a small shovel to dig a hole for your #2 business.
  • 2 Garbage bags
    • You will need to pack out all garbage and if you end up having wet/dirty clothes shoes, the second garbage bag could come in handy and is relatively small and lightweight for all of the potential uses – makeshift raingear, etc.
  • First aid kit
    • A basic first aid kit is always good to have with, especially with kids!
  • Clothesline (optional)
    • Most of the cabins we hike into have clotheslines already up, but I do have a small one that I bring with when tent camping.  If you do get wet, it’s nice to have a line to put up between trees and hang your things out to dry.
  • Rain cover (optional)
    • There are rain covers for your pack that will help keep it dry in a downpour.  I typically watch the weather and if it doesn’t look like a complete downpour, I skip this item, as the pack can handle a little rain without getting everything soaked.

Clothes and Shoes

  • Clothes – Some of this is weather forecast dependent – use your judgment
    • Rain coat
    • Layers for 2 outfits – a good hiking outfit and a separate “in camp” outfit
      • Long underwear, hiking pants or yoga pants, sports bras, underwear, tank top, t-shirt, long sleeve, fleece
      • As long as you have layers and a separate outfit for hiking and in camp, you should be fine.  You really do not need as much clothes as you think.  When you are hiking/backpacking, everyone stinks
    • Winter hat and gloves – weather dependent of course, but a hat can go a long way if you are cold.
    • Good thick socks for hiking
  • Shoes
    • Hiking Boots – You will want hiking boots if you are putting on some miles and/or want additional ankle support.  I recommend giving yourself time to break them in before the actual trip.  I use Keens but there are several good options out there.  Keens seem to have a shorter break in period than some others, but you will want to try some on to see what feels best for you.
    • Tennis Shoes – these will work fine if not putting on a lot of miles and not too treacherous of terrain.
    • Kids Tennis Shoes – If you are doing less than 4 miles in a day, and they aren’t carrying too heavy of weight, I do not think it’s necessary to buy them actual hiking boots.  Of course, as they get older and you are bringing them on bigger trips, this is definitely a worthwhile investment and can save you from a sprained ankle some day.
    • In-Camp Shoes – After a long day of hiking, it will feel amazing to take your hiking boots off.  I like to bring crocks along for when we are in camp.  (Thankfully I am not concerned one bit about fashion when I am camping!)  Crocks are a great choice for several reasons.  They are lightweight, can be worn with or without socks for various temperatures, and they have an optional strap that can help keep them on if walking in moving water.  (I often wade into the water to get good clean water for purifying or for washing dishes.)

Cooking

  • Cooking items – here is my go-to cooking supplies for dinners, coffee, and anything else I need to make.
    • Lightweight backpacking pot/handle
  • MSR PocketRocket 2 Ultralight Backpacking, Camping, and Travel Stove (paid link) – this item screws onto the fuel and you place the pot on top of the expanded PocketRocket.  It can boil water within minutes and is pretty small and lightweight.
    • MSR ISOPRO Fuel (paid link) This is what actually provides the fuel to heat the water in the pot.  These can be picked up locally as well, but this will give you an idea of what to look for.  Typically a 3 day, 2 night trip, I bring two of these, but only use one.  This is used to heat up water at least 4-5 times for coffee and dinners.
    • Jetboil Flash Camping Stove Cooking System (paid link) – I do not own one of these, and have never carried one (so unsure of how heavy it is), but my friends do and we have used this to make coffee in the morning or soup in the evening.  It seems to work very well, especially for coffee, but is not large enough for the dinners I typically make for larger groups.
    • Tin foil – I typically bring extra folded up small in my pack.  This comes in handy for many occasions.
Using tinfoil to make steak and veggies over the fire
  • Backpacking/Lightweight plates, silverware for each person
    • Don’t want to spend extra money on these yet?  Just bring paper plates and plastic silverware.
  • Knife
    • Always good to have a knife along for any needs that come up.  I also like to make sure mine is clean enough before I go to cut food with it. 
  • Cup or mug that you can put coffee, water with flavoring, or adult beverages in for drinking. 
    • Bring an additional one for the kids if you don’t want flavored water in their water bottles

Food

  • Food – There are a lot of websites dedicated to good backpacking meals.  Here are just a few ideas that are some of our favorites.
    • Breakfast ideas
      • Coffee – Starbucks Via (paid link) is a great choice for instant coffee
      • Creamer – most grocery stores also sell individually wrapped dried coffee creamer that works well for those of you who like a little coffee with their creamer in the morning 😉
      • Clif bars
      • Cereal – individual serving amount in bag with Horizon Milk that does not need to be refrigerated
        • Normally I would not carry in milk when backpacking as that is a lot of weight, but we did one trip that was only a mile in and my daughter loves cereal, so this was a special treat for her in the mornings
      • Eggs – can pack eggs in using an egg case, or purchase egg whites in a carton – making it easy to make eggs in the morning
      • Bagels – toasted over the fire using tin foil
      • Sausage – toasted over the fire using tin foil
Hannah with headlamp on, making PB&Js for a hike
  • Lunch
    • PB&J are a kid favorite – we also typically pack sandwich bags to make it easy to pack these to go on hiking days.
    • Snacks
      • Granola
      • Trail mix
      • Candy bars
      • Gummy worms/bears
      • Beef jerky
      • Gold fish
      • S’mores
      • Popcorn over the fire
Dinner – Night 1
  • Dinners
  • Steak and potato packets – a great idea for the first night in.  We typically bring No Name Steaks that are individually packaged and frozen.  By the time we hike in, they are thawed out and ready for the fire.  We use tin foil to cook them over the fire.  We also prepack a vegetable packet wrapped in tinfoil that cooks over the fire.  Some vegetables we use include potatoes, carrots, zucchini, and beets.
  • Hot dogs are a kid favorite
  • Tortellini – my favorite go-to backpacking meal
    • Cheese tortellini that doesn’t need to be refrigerated (look in your pasta aisle)
      • Sundried tomatoes
      • Onions (Either pre-sliced or I bring a small plastic backpacking cutting board and knife to cut these.  If pre-slicing them, be sure to double bag them as they will smell up your backpack!)
      • Spinach – I typically buy fresh spinach and repackage it from the container into a small zip lock bag
      • Boil water in the pot using the Pocket Rocket and fuel – add tortellini and onions first.  Add in sundried tomatoes and spinach near the end.  The spinach will cook down.  It is okay if it turns out a little “soupy”.   It’s absolutely delicious.  Even the kids like this one!
  • Water Flavoring – such as Mio or Dasani
    • If you are concerned you or the kids will not like the taste of the filtered water, you may want to consider packing water flavoring to help keep them drinking water.
  • Alcohol
    • If you would like to bring some adult beverages along, be sure to consider the weight of what you are bringing.  For the shorter hikes with kids, I sometimes don’t mind carrying in the extra weight of small plastic wine bottles (those small individually sized ones work great!)  But if I am going on a longer hike, I typically skip the alcohol or bring a small amount of hard liquor (bourbon) and just mix it with filtered water. 
  • Refrigeration
    • There is no electricity, so obviously we don’t have a fridge there.  You will want to consider this when planning, buying, and packaging food for your trip.  When we go, the cabin often has a big pot and we fill it with Lake Superior water, which is pretty cold.  We leave it on the floor of the cabin (where it’s colder) and throw anything in it we would want kept somewhat cold, such as spinach, jelly, white wine, eggs, etc. 

Dishes

  • Doing dishes in the backcountry is a little more challenging than at home.  There are a lot of websites that you can visit to give you the full run down of expectations on doing dishes in the backcountry.  I am not going to get into that here, since this is just a pack list.  However, it’s important to educate yourself on environmental and wildlife safety and considerations regarding this.
    • I like to use a foldable/collapsible water basin to load all of the dishes into and bring them to the water source. 
    • Scour/Scrubbing Pad (paid link) – I typically cut the pads in half and just bring half the pad on each trip, and by the end of the trip, I throw it away when we get home as it is pretty gross by then.
    • Towel for drying – I use a microfiber towel, but really any towel will work.  You will want one that dries quickly. 
Hannah helping me with dishes as we watch the sun set over Lake Superior

I hope you find this list comprehensive and that it helps you get started on planning your backpacking trip!   

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