Taking our kids backpacking is my favorite way to vacation and explore the diverse beautiful areas in our country. For our family, there simply is no way better to fully immerse yourselves in the area we are visiting. To encourage you to take the plunge and head out into the wilderness, here are our top seven reasons of why we think you should take your kids backpacking, and seven of the reasons why we love it so much.
7 Reasons to take your kids backpacking:
1. Adventure– I’m no adventure junkie. You won’t find me sky diving, bungee jumping or swimming with sharks but I can’t get enough of taking my kids backpacking. There is just something about loading up our packs and heading into the wilderness that gets my heart pumping. Even in the most crowded National Parks, once we have hiked off we usually don’t see many other people and no matter how many new places we head out to camp, it remains thrilling to know we are taking the more challenging and less traveled route. When you take your kids backpacking, regular everyday activities such as eating and even going to the bathroom become novel and even going to sleep is part of the adventure since for most of us sleeping out under the stars and away from civilization is a unique experience. Our backpacking trips have allowed our family to experience countless adventures in ways nothing else can replicate, from swimming in the clear cold water of Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Creek to waking up to a heart stopping wind symphony in Capitol Reef where we didn’t see anyone else for days. Since we don’t know what’s coming when we are in the wilderness, every minute out there is an adventure.
2. Wildlife– When you break away from civilization and the large number of people that go along with it, you get the chance to see animals that stay away from crowds. Sometimes this can be scary and I tremble when I think about facing a grizzly or a mountain lion, but I am vigilant about being prepared. We hang our food away from camp and always carry bear spray when in areas that bears inhabit. By being prepared I am able to see the animals I welcome coming upon and we’ve been fortunate to have had wonderful wildlife encounters from Hawks and Marmots in New Mexico, to hearing the howls of wolves and seeing numerous moose, loon and bald eagles in Isle Royale. When you take your kids backpacking and get away from the crowds you just get to see more of what you came to the area to see! In my children, backpacking has encouraged a love for animals and nature that has become a basic part of who they are.
3. Cost– While I won’t argue that taking kids backpacking is cheap if you are just starting out and having to accumulate a substantial amount of camping gear, it is significantly less expensive than countless other vacation standbys. Your main expense will most likely be your camping supplies but even if you had to buy all new gear, I still think you get amazing bang for your buck when taking a backpacking trip. However, I am definitely thrifty and we have been able to economically build up our stock of camping supplies throughout the years without shelling out a ton of cash. For your first foray into the back country I recommend first finding out what you can borrow from friends and family that they have sitting in their garages or basements. Once you have borrowed all that you can, get yourself to a REI store which offers gear rentals. Click here to see if there is one in your area. REI rents out everything from tents, sleeping bags and pads, backpacks and camping stoves to paddling and skiing equipment. This is a great option if you are wanting to dip your toes into backpacking without spending a ton. When you are ready to purchase gear, check out the online REI outlet where I have bought all of our packs, sleeping bags and a tent upgrade at significant savings. I will also say that while quality (read expensive) gear is a good investment if you plan on taking many trips, you don’t need to invest in it right away. We have spent many nights under the stars in 20 dollar tents purchased at Target before we were ready to commit to more expensive backpacking tents. Once you have the gear, back country camping fees are pretty small and in many cases free in many of our State and National Parks.
4. Community– While some destinations will bring you solitude when taking kids backpacking, many hiking trails are more populated and we’ve been able to meet some pretty unique characters on camping trips. We’ve chatted with scout troops and thru hikers on the Appalachian Trail and met other backpacking families in the Grand Canyon and Isle Royale. Each one of these encounters has been special and added depth and meaning to our hikes. While in my regular life I don’t normally have long and meaningful conversations with random strangers, I have definitely done so in the back country. There is just something about experiencing nature together that brings out the friendly and open side of people.
5. Unplugging– We have smart phone loving teenagers (and Dave and I can be pretty addicted too) and I love that the majority of the back country hiking we do takes us out of cell phone range. While technology has its benefits, I feel sad when I see families sitting together but essentially by themselves because they are so immersed in their electronic gadgets. Backpacking forces us, and also allows us, to stow away all work and social distractions which is a welcome reprieve from the daily grind. We play cards, read books, make up games and simply talk to pass the time. In the process, we learn things about each other that regular life keeps us too busy to know. Who can argue with that?
6. Bonding– Our family is never closer and more bonded together as we are when on a backpacking trip. Experiencing the challenge of hard hiking combined with tiny sleeping areas forces us to be close with one another. Since we can only travel as far as our slowest hiker, we also must stay in tune with one another and help each other through the struggles faced. There is no other time that I notice our kids encouraging and taking care of each other as they do when backpacking. For us, there hasn’t yet been a hike taken that didn’t bring us closer together as a family and taking kids backpacking brings out the best in them.
7. Sense of Accomplishment– Hiking can be hard. Add a full pack and it can at times feel like an epic struggle. Doing it anyway is one of the things that makes the experience of taking kids backpacking that much more special. For us, overcoming the struggles and challenges of a hard hike brings a unique sense of accomplishment that nothing else we do as a family allows. Because hiking incorporates all parts of us- mind, body and spirit, we are able to fully appreciate the effort it took to get us to the end of the trail. I will never forget Garrett getting to the top of Bright Angel trail in the Grand Canyon and looking back he said with a voice full of both exhaustion and wonder “I can’t believe I hiked that whole way!” That sense of accomplishment of setting a goal and sticking to it will be with him, and us, throughout our lives.
Summer is almost here and it’s the perfect time to venture out. Over the next few months, I hope you find the time to get outside for a backpacking adventure. You can start by using the National Park Service website to get ideas on where to go and how to prepare for the specific trip you want to take. I promise you, you won’t be sorry.
Click HERE for our entire Family Backpacking 101 Series to get you started on your own adventures!
Had experience taking kids backpacking? How was it? I’d love to hear about it!