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Backpacking with kids: 215 miles with our 9 and 11 year old

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Backpacking with kids: 215 miles with our 9 and 11 year old

Postby Hikingfamily » Mon Nov 19, 2012 6:31 pm

12 sierras climb.jpg
We want to encourage families to bring your kids when you head out on a trail. We have been backpacking with our kids since they were babies. When our daughter was just out of 1st grade, she clocked a 120 miles summer in the Sierras.

This last summer, she had finished 3rd grade and our son had finished 5th grade and we backpacked 215 miles in the Sierras - about 100 of it on the JMT.
12 sierras kiersarge.jpg

My husband has worked as a wilderness guide and counselor at a camp housed in the Golden Trout Wilderness that takes boys from LA/Bakersfield/Orange County on backpacking trips for over 10 years. His experiences with youth and our joy to be outdoors, has kept us all coming back for more.

The key: go at kids paces, build your miles over the years at their pace.


Anyway, we are working on a book that captures our last summer in a memoir style book. I have some of it on my blog if you'd like a sneak peek!

(link deleted by Admin)

If you are interested in bringing your kids with you but have questions...or if you have success stories....add to this thread so we can, as a community, encourage our youth to join their parents on the trail!

All summer people stopped us, took pictures of us, and asked us, "How do you do this with your kids?" Our book is in response to this question. As teachers, we know the power of unplugged kids who can play in and connect to nature.

Looking forward to meeting you through this forum!

Julie and Cory
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Re: Backpacking with kids: 215 miles with our 9 and 11 year old

Postby riverwalker » Mon Nov 19, 2012 8:14 pm

I look forward to reading your blog. 215 miles is impressive. We are building up to that. Here is a TR from one of our summer outings.
This was our twins first backpacking trip. They all have been camping and hiking since birth. We also spend quite a bit of time rock climbing as a family. Experiencing the outdoors with my children is amazing.
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Re: Backpacking with kids: 215 miles with our 9 and 11 year old

Postby tim » Mon Nov 19, 2012 9:37 pm

That looks great. I'll check out your blog.
I first took my twins when they were 7, and we've been every year since. Unfortunately I've never been able to take a whole month to hike with them. We've agreed to maybe do the JMT before they head off to college.


We also didn't see anyone else with kids on our Onion Valley to Whitney trip this summer, with the sole exception of an 8 year old with his family on Kearsage Pass.


We're gradually introducing our friends and their kids to backpacking (this is my youngest son, age 6 at the time, over Memorial Day weekend with his best friend, age 8).

DSC01300 (1024x680).jpg

Quite a few of our friends (and their kids) would love to try it, but I think if parents have never tried backpacking then there is a huge barrier to entry (not just buying the gear, but knowing *what* to buy in the first place, how to get a permit and where to go). Even if they did it 20 years ago, it can be hard to figure out how to adjust things for the kids, find a suitable tent etc. However, if you can find the right place to go with 2 families (sufficient permit space is often a big issue) then a 3 day weekend can be great way to spend time together.
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Re: Backpacking with kids: 215 miles with our 9 and 11 year old

Postby Hikingfamily » Mon Nov 19, 2012 9:46 pm

Hi Tim

Yeah - I agree. If you backpacked 20 years ago and now have elementary kids, the barrier to entry is high.

It's so much easier if you just include kids from the time they are infants and add gear as they get year at a time. They build their confidence, the family builds their gear supplies, and the train is moving!

We just pick a few key things to purchase each year and didn't insist on having all the best stuff the very first years. We just traded things out as we could. Doing this on a teacher's salary means that most people can pull it off.

But you are so right - if you haven't been doing it, the entry into this great sport is :eek:

Happy trails!

Re: Backpacking with kids: 215 miles with our 9 and 11 year old

Postby Cross Country » Mon Nov 19, 2012 10:59 pm

I was a public school teacher. I like to be around kids. This thread encourages people to write about backpacking success stories with their kids. Not too many want to write about their failures. I feel certain there are plenty of failures to no fault of the parents.
I was 11 years old when I knew I wanted to backpack. My parents had almost nothing to do with it, nor did any adult really. It came from within me. The same was true for my 2 sons, Mike and Jim. Mike (the younger of the 2) loved backpacking from the first experience. Jim never did like it. It came from within them. It probably had very little to do with me.
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Re: Backpacking with kids: 215 miles with our 9 and 11 year old

Postby Hikingfamily » Tue Nov 20, 2012 1:05 pm

Hi Cross Country (didn't catch your name!)

Here's a snippet from my summer journal: we picked up our three buckets of food at MTR, I met Rick, a PCT hiker. Assuming I worked for the ranch, he approached me asking if I had pliers to fix his broken hiking pole with.

“Oh, no. I am just another hiker like you. I don’t work here” I explained. Over the next ten minutes I would hear of his trail trials that included a broken water pump, then a broken stove, and finally two boughts of Giardia, all within the miles between Mexico and where he stood that day. A few more questions from me spurred him to continue on, revealing his reasons for hiking the Mexico to California section of the PCT. He needed to refocus and find himself after recently losing his mom to a swift acting stomach cancer. His plan was to take as long as it took to get to the Oregon southern border, he had time and by the sounds of it, he needed it for his heart to heal as he walked the trail.

Clearly the question of “how” do we get our kids out in the backcountry is deeply imbedded in the bigger question: “why?” Rick had already battled (with antibiotics) two episodes of giardia, a broken stove, a broken water purification pump, and was now attempting to fix his hiking stick. The “how” was falling apart for Rick but the “why” compelled him to press on.

John and Rick, the eager dads of reluctant kids to join them on the trail, reminded me of Jim’s Sacramento math students – some were amazing students, learning and chewing up everything he taught them, but some (his low scoring students) were simply, as he endearingly described them, “reluctant learners”.

Jim was a hiker we met at Vermillion Ranch a few days earlier, who made us chuckle, but also struck a familiar chord when he didn’t insult or poke fun of his low students. He simply described them as reluctant to learn. They, like John and Rick’s kids, don’t seem to get the why – to learn math or to hike with dad.

These young reluctant hikers have not figured out that the excitement on a backpacking trip comes quietly in the whispers of the trees and the warmth of the sunrise, in the comfort as dreams unfold during long talks to pass the trail miles away, in the smiles around another delicious camp dinner that end caps a day full of successful effort. They are moving too fast to stand in awe of the Creation.

That which cannot be Googled is not worthy of their time. They haven’t grasped the why.

As parents we can help our children grasp the why by letting them experience nature, from a young age. We haven’t missed a summer, since our kids were born, of backpacking with them. It would have been much easier to leave them at home then to tackle the monumental task of figuring out how to bring them. But early on we chose to include them which forced us to figure out how to do it and gave them the chance to figure out on their own, the why. They have no way of doing that sitting at home.

They have to be out, to figure it out.
Last edited by Hikingfamily on Sat Nov 24, 2012 10:28 am, edited 1 time in total.

Re: Backpacking with kids: 215 miles with our 9 and 11 year old

Postby Jim F » Tue Nov 20, 2012 9:51 pm


Thanks for the post and link to your blog.

At age 7, I experienced my first overnight adventure in the High Sierras, as my Dad took me on a hike of the Rae Lakes loop. By age 9 (1959) I built up to a hike of the entire High Sierra Trail with Dad (as well as my younger brother) in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Smithsonian shelter on the summit of Mt Whitney. Etc,etc...My brother and I are forever indebted to Dad for his real love and dedication to his family and to the preservation of our country's great wilderness areas and parks.

Several years ago my youngest daughter (now 20) and I were camped at the heliport in Le Conte Canyon. The backcountry ranger stopped by and we chatted about young backpackers in the High Sierras. Of course, he thought it was great for their health and overall well being. But also very importantly, he observed that in the decades ahead it will be our kids that society will be relying upon to be the guardians of our national wilderness treasures. Providing them an opportunity to appreciate the splendors and mysteries of the Range of Light should be very beneficial going forward.

Jim F

Let the mountains bring you their good tidings......John Muir
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Re: Backpacking with kids: 215 miles with our 9 and 11 year old

Postby norak » Tue Nov 20, 2012 10:33 pm

We took our daughter backpacking for the first time when she was eight after a nine year hiatus and have done it almost every year since then - she is now 18. I think what made the "reentry" into backpacking a success is that the first trip was extremely easy. We hiked 5 miles into a lake in the emigrant wilderness and spent three nights in the same spot and did day hikes from there. Our daughter already had a sleeping bag for car camping and used one of our day packs as a backpack. Our old tent was big enough (just) for the three of us. We didn't buy any new gear for that first trip. Since it was such a painless hike and the places we went to so delightful she was hooked! After that we gradually upgraded and added gear as we could afford. It is the best thing we've done together as a family. I especially appreciated those trips when she became a teenager and got so hooked into the cyber world and social networking - it was the one week out of the year when we were free of all that and had long leisurely conversations under the stars. The experience of backpaking is really one of the most precious gifts we can give our kids.


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Re: Backpacking with kids: 215 miles with our 9 and 11 year old

Postby slowhiker » Wed Nov 21, 2012 12:07 am

Your time with your kids on trail is inspiring! I know you will find that your kids will have been molded in positive ways as a result of your efforts.

In the winter of 1982 sitting in a dentist office with our 3 kids (a blended family 2 boys were mine, one was hers) my wife and I read an article in Sunset magazine about hiking in the Sierras with burros. That summer we rented 3 burros and took our boys ( ages 7, 7 and 5) from Fred Ross and took off out of Florence Lake and ended up in Goddard Canyon. We did that type of trip 3 more times and about 5 trips in the Wind Rivers Range in Wyoming with llamas. By then we had added a fourth kid (another boy) to the mix. It took us until about 1999 to get around to just backpacking and not taking animals.

Now days it is just my wife and I that go backpacking. Yet, as it turns out one of the boys enjoys going out into the desert, another one moved to Ohio and enjoys tent camping and another one has done several adventures in central and south america with his wife. The youngest has not yet figured out his relationship with the outdoors.

Yet, when we all get together, they always talk about those trips we took as a family. Most people seem to not understand why we did it the way we did, yet the six of us all do, and I am happy for what nature and the outdoors has done for us.

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Re: Backpacking with kids: 215 miles with our 9 and 11 year old

Postby giantbrookie » Wed Nov 21, 2012 8:45 pm

Thanks for an inspiring post. My wife and I take our two little ones (now 7 and 10.5) to the mountains, although not for extended periods of time. The first trip for the oldest one was when he was 1 or 2 and the first backpack with them was when the oldest was 7 and the youngest 3.5.

My wife, Judy, was not really exposed to backpacking as a kid except for a junior high school experience that was rather miserable (school-related, not family trip). In contrast I was introduced the mountains by my dad, climbing my first High Sierra trip when I was 6 or so and doing my first backpack after turning 8. After I met Judy, we started doing more and more trips together until we were taking 10+ trips to the Sierra each summer from the late 80's through the 90's. We have started the kids off slowly, but we will probably be getting up there more and more. 2012 was a horrible backcountry year for us and the backcountry owing to various work and elder care issues. We called it the "summer that never was" (other than the endless days of 100+ Fresno heat). Our poor kids kept asking us to go the high country this year and we didn't deliver. We owe them a double high country summer next year.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: ... ayshi.html
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