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montcalm 02-15-2021 06:58 PM

Backpacking with young kids
Looking for some feedback here.

How old do you start kids with backpack and canoe trips?

Where might you start, and how might you make it interesting for them?

I've done plenty of camping, hiking and canoeing with kids (my own and family members'), but I've never tried to integrate these activities.

From the little I know about scouts, they tend to start this quite late, like 2nd/3rd? grade and they only do a short trips where they hike into a cabin or lean to. This is the little I know of the area I live in, but other areas may do things different?

DSettahr 02-15-2021 07:22 PM

A close friend of mine started with her son when he was about 1. She carried him in a backpack carrier- and front-loaded her overnight pack. She also had a few other folks to help carry gear as well, so she wasn't carrying everything for the two of them herself.

Needless to say, that worked for a short while only... it didn't take long before he'd grown enough that the backpack carrier was no longer an option. On one trip she used a more rugged baby carriage- one with bicycle tire type wheels. Once he was older still, she'd put him on a child's push bike to both make travel easier and keep him more entertained (as per the High Peaks Wilderness Manager at the DEC, children's push bikes are legal to use in Wilderness Areas in the ADKs, as without pedals and gears they don't fit the technical definition of a "bicycle").

Obviously, the hiking range for any of these trips was pretty limited. It was also necessary to pick destinations that were accessible via flat and gentle trails. But they've been able to make it work for a trip or tow a year, at least.

montcalm 02-15-2021 07:44 PM

That sounds great.

My boys are 4. I have 3 of them, but I don't think I'd do a backpack trip with all 3, I'd probably try one at a time with just me. They can listen pretty well and can hike 2-3 miles without much complaint in one go.

They also have push bikes, which I hadn't thought of trying with a backpack trip. They can ride about as far as they can hike and can ride most easy mountain bike trails well. They'll probably graduate to pedals this year, and maybe it's stupid to try to integrate both.

I could easily do a short paddle trip with one as well - but I'm worried they might be more bored riding in the boat. And more of a hassle to deal with around the water when I'm trying to load/unload things. But at the same time I kind of have had success with other kids (not mine) with canoeing and just just short jaunts and stopping on beaches so they could swim and play. This was not overnight and perhaps sleeping near the water would be a nightmare if they were constantly wanting to go near.

Justin 02-15-2021 07:54 PM

I was six months old when I was taken on my first canoe camping trip. I donít remember much but they tell me I was fine as long as I had something to drink. ;)

montcalm 02-15-2021 07:59 PM

Man Justin, you had good taste even as a baby!

All my parents let me drink back then was Genny!

Justin 02-15-2021 08:03 PM


Originally Posted by montcalm (Post 284729)
Man Justin, you had good taste even as a baby!

All my parents let me drink back then was Genny!

Hahaha... yes, I remember being occasionally allowed to have sips of Genny Cream Ale as a young lad also. :thumbs: :rolling:

TCD 02-15-2021 10:25 PM

Even though it's not really specific to backpacking, there is probably some good info in here:

backwoodsman 02-16-2021 10:32 AM

Justin , it was nice of them to let you rest , that's a lot for a little guy to drag.
When is a kid ready to go backpacking ?
That's simple , when he can carry all his own gear ...and the tent and the food.

richard1726 02-16-2021 12:25 PM

In the late 1950s into the 60s my Dad had my younger brother carry his age in pounds till he was 10 then he upped his pack to slow him down to his pace. We hiked long distances 15+ miles in a day, day after day. My brother is 46er #611 i think and was 11 years old at the time. When I look back at the log book of our hikes i see that we were walking almost every weekend in late Aug through Nov. Summers were spent hiking in many Nat and State parks. I remember walking one Sunday on a long walk along a rough dirt road in the Southern Daks. A Jeep pulled up to us stopped. The driver leaned out his window and told us that Oswald, Lee Harvey, had been shot and killed. My brother was Six at the time and we were walking from sun up to sun set. Starting at age 12 i was the pack animal. My Dad brought a small spring fishing scale i would weigh my pack at the beginning of the hike. He had me carrying 45# most of the time and would often exclaim "is important to keep your load less than 50#. I now know it was all total BS and is was his way of saying "you are still faster than me so proportionately you are carrying less than me".
My first "hike" was Snowy Mountain, Indian Lake in 1951 when I was 4 weeks old. We, in the 1980s, carried our kids in Minimalist child carriers all over. When our daughter was 8 months old we went to Europe. I carried her in our child carrier and because she was on my back i hardly remember her being with us. She has been to every nook and cranny, very high and very low of Notre-Dame Cathedral. My wife remembers her but i don't. When our daughter was 5 She and I walked down to Roaring Springs from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. She got tired feet so I knotted a large light weight beach towel and carried her up an out. Well only her feet were tired not her voice. She sang various WD animated theme songs echoing off the canyon walls much to the delight of other bikers and me. She is a famous, in the opera world, singer today.
In summary, we always have some backup plan if they just can't walk any more. Once our kids were 5 to 9 yrs we did many out and back hikes and would decide when the kids were 1/2 done for the day and turn around. We would also hike to a destination and hang out for several hours to allow ample rest time for the kids.

JimVroman 02-16-2021 03:38 PM

I carried my two youngest (ages 3 and 5) in my old pack basket for short hikes.
They still talk about it 50 years later.

Justin 02-16-2021 05:08 PM


Originally Posted by backwoodsman (Post 284735)
Justin , it was nice of them to let you rest , that's a lot for a little guy to drag.

Haha I’m sure I did my best to help gather firewood. ;)
I honestly don’t remember my first overnight “backpacking trip”, but I’m sure I was pretty young and had a blast. Most likely Oxshoe Pond, Pharaoh Lake, or Bennett, Middle, or Murphy Lake. I remember visiting those places a lot as a young kid. Good times!

montcalm 02-16-2021 05:27 PM


Originally Posted by Justin (Post 284730)
Hahaha... yes, I remember being occasionally allowed to have sips of Genny Cream Ale as a young lad also. :thumbs: :rolling:

Child abuse. :gripe:


Originally Posted by Justin (Post 284742)
I remember visiting those places a lot as a young kid. Good times!

I'm surprised you can remember anything with all those All Day IPAs :boozing:

montcalm 02-16-2021 05:36 PM

We would have carried our kids places more if we didn't have 3 at once! The numbers between me and my wife simply didn't work out.

Once they could walk well enough on their own they were into hiking though. We'd bribe them along with various scenes or snack/drink breaks. And of course sometimes ice cream afterwards. We haven't done any hikes with any kind of danger to them yet i.e. cliffs, mainly because of numbers.

Justin 02-16-2021 06:22 PM


Originally Posted by montcalm (Post 284743)
Child abuse... I'm surprised you can remember anything with all those All Day IPAs :boozing:

Hahaha! :rolling::thumbs:

Justin 02-16-2021 07:45 PM

Crane Pond circa 1984 & 7 years old...

montcalm 02-16-2021 08:04 PM

Cool photo, Justin. Thanks for sharing. I liked the original though before you cropped out the case of All Day sitting behind you.

I hate to say it, but I HATED canoeing and fishing when I was 7. I thought it was the most boring thing in the world. But some of it might have been where we went. I still don't like it on the big motor boat lakes that my Dad took me out on.

I hope I didn't make a mistake by buying a 17' touring canoe specifically for my kids...

tenderfoot 02-17-2021 01:31 PM

I started getting my son and daughter out with Scouts. Older than yours. Have been weekend backpacking with my daughter since she was 12 and she yearns for it now that she is 18. Great times.

A few random thoughts.

I thought swimming as a destination would be great but you are right, water's edge camping may not be a great idea. But I would definitely incorporate a swim in there.

If you slice up the trip into different adventures (swimming, campfire building, smores, Genny Cream Ale sippin', climbing, stargazing) so they have something to look forward to Soon it might help).

Bring food they like, even if it is a backup. Sure - fire roasted trout is great but maybe not if you got to know the fish prior to skillet.

Not my game but wee ones like singing. While they hike a bit or around the fire.

So I canoe. I actually have a sail/oar boat too that I occasionally drag over a beaver dam. Love the quiet solitude. With that said a simple rowboat with an outboard adds a bit of thrill to the ride and there are island campsites in some places that are accessible.

A small stuffed animal friend goes a long way.

I swear I do not have a stake in it but if I knew about ADK Loj when my kids were your kids' age I would have taken them there: lake to swim/boat in, "wilderness" experience, trails to waterfalls, Mt Jo to climb, Flushies, snack bar, no RV's, use as base camp then trek out to Lean-to, noonmark diner close by.

Yes, one on three might be tricky but do you have friends or relatives that would join you with a similarly aged kid?

Kids are resilient. You can go farther if you stop more frequently. especially of stops have something of interest. Something as simple as a favorite book read on a log with a view.

You may wish to put together the packing list. I think with you and one other you could stuff something fluffy in their pack, like a sleeping bag, and have no worries but a lot of that weight may come back to you.

montcalm 02-17-2021 01:55 PM

Thanks for the thoughts, tenderfoot!

I would certainly not do 3:1. No freakin' way. Not until they are a lot older, and even then I don't know...

We didn't have a lot of options when they were younger. We couldn't just leave one or two behind, and just 1:1 camping with a baby or toddler is probably more than one can handle. We did some car camping when they were small babies but once they became toddlers that was out of the picture. Just too much downtime and not enough resource.

We're attempting our first car camp this year as a family. And even that will be challenging. One of our sons has Autism, so we are actually going to be able to get some special help with him, which will be a big help as we'll have 1:1 adult/kid ratio.

Anyway, for a backpacking trip I was thinking it'd just be me and one at a time. Two of them are at the age where they can follow me around and listen, and if I have an itinerary and explain it in advance, they can do a pretty good job of adapting to changing activities.

I'm not sure I'm ready to try this yet though... I don't really want to push them and then they have a bad experience, so I'm kind of feeling it out and we'll see how car camping goes - although with the brothers around, that's a whole different game.

stripperguy 02-17-2021 10:13 PM

Daughter was wilderness canoe tripping with MDB and I when she was 18 months old.
Son was with us at Lake Lila when he was 6 months old. We typically did easy trips until each was 5 or 6 years old, then it was multiple carries and longer days...
Also brought nieces and nephews once they could carry their own duffle, it was a right of passage for them.
Later on, when the kids were tweens and teens, B-I-L and I would do rougher trips without the moms along...all of the kids (no longer kids, oldest id 40 this year) have very fond memories of those trips.

Mallard1100 02-18-2021 04:52 PM

Interesting thread. I also have a 5 year old daughter I would like to start taking on some trips. What have you guys done to mitigate the bug issue? I see my daughter having a hard time during peak season. I would assume planning trips around times when the black flies etc subside?

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