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Backpacking Kids: Learn how to Backpack & Get My Kid into Backpacking | High Sierra Backpacker

Backpacking Kids: Learn how to Backpack & Teach My Kid How to Backpack

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 18 May 2017

Backpacking Kids:
Learn how to Backpack
Teach My Kid How to Backpack


How to Get Yourself and Your Kids Into Backpacking


A Recipe for Creating Backpacking Kids
A fine introduction to getting the kids ready for backpacking from Whiteblaze, the most excellent AT-PCT-CT East Coast Long Distance Backpacker website:


How to Get Kids Involved in Your Hiking Adventures,
Whiteblaze, March 12, 2017.




Classic High Sierra 

Ted and his 13 yo nephew hike 74 "hardest High Sierra" miles from Kennedy Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows, Fall of 2017, Ted's Trip Report, September 17, 2017.


Family Life on the Trail

Mom, dad and 1-year-old daughter complete Tahoe Rim Trail in 17 days,
Tahoe Daily Tribune,September 6, 2017.



Take a Long View
Below are my observations about the best ways for new & young parents who insist on maintaining natural engagement to maintain natural engagement into parenthood.
This plan can also be applied to individual, by bringing yourself, rather than your kid, through this same evolution of engagements and experiences. Individual rookie backpackers will likely feel the same restrictions felt by young parents.

The time, money, & career obligations of life and parenthood may pull you away from Nature, change the nature of your relationship with Nature, or even make excape impossible for a time. But that's OK. Nature is worth waiting for, as is establishing an evolution of introducing your & kid to the joys of deepening contact and engagement with Nature. The ability to operate comfortably deep in the wilderness will be one of the most valuable and joyful gifts you can give to yourself and pass on to your heirs & contacts.
Natural engagement ties together the many elements of the external physical world into your internal physical, psychological, and perceptive assets to not only make them active, but bring out the true potential in you and your and your kid's personalities.

Nature is the Crucible of Character, and those without its influences and inputs find themselves lacking many of their own best assets, which can only be brought out and properly developed through Natural engagement.

Let's start easy, and have fun along each step evolving the physical and mental skills opening the doors of high altitude wilderness backpacking for you and yours.

Car Camping "Base" Camp

Family car camping the with kids is one of those "classic" family experiences you can only get by doing it. And our car campting has a plan behind it, being a critical ingredient in our recipe to cook up a backpacking kid. It's the base camp and comfortable initiation zone from which our subsequent experiences grow out of.

We should get the kid out for some nice High Sierra overnight or weekend car camping trips as soon as the seasons and health permit. Medicial science now encourages, "recovery through engagement," with reasonable rest, recovery and restrictions. And, "they" say getting the kids outside strengthens and arms their immune systems. 

I take the long view. The long view shows that in the end, you get what did. That means our regular practices over time deliver predictable results.

Health and Fitness
The Key

Any abrupt change in reality, say putting a backpack on an otherwise urban-suburban raised seven-year old-to- teenager, and then hiking them up a Sierra flank is going to produce multiple points of friction and pain, both for the kid-hiker and their parental units. It happens. Depend on it.

One Very Unhappy Backpacking Kid

Dropping-off unexperienced folks of any age at a Sierra trailhead is a recipe for disaster.  There are a series of practices and preparations we can use to harden soft feet, to ready ourselves for the weight of the pack, to understand what we need to keep ourselves warm.  

These observations and practices are the ageless individual elements and concepts of common sense, of anticipation, these are the field notes of survivors. These skills are built gradually, and cannot be accquired at the trailhead.

Thus I take the long view, believing getting out for car camping very early in a kid's life, and taking them on lengthening hikes, are important. These "dippings" into a natural environment through early and continuing car camping and increasing contact with the Sierra provides an expanding arena for engaging kids mentally and physically with these Natural elements of common sense as they grow.
Our goal is to work both aspects, the mental and physical, up to being sufficient for the challenges of our first backpacking trip for our kids or ourselves.

On the other side of the coin of natural engagement, just getting out for some isolated National Forest car camping should provide as much, if not more physical and psychological relief to the parental units as developmental and immune stimulus to the kid. 

It's a win-win situation.


 Dip 'em in Nature Early 

 Car Camping Eden
My advice is to start car camping with the tykes early, even before they have any real walking strength or distance. Just keep a close, close eye on them. Don't let. "a dingo run off with my baby."

Get them a little, practical pack. By practical, I mean a pack that will suit the gear they are going to carry in it. Have them wear their pack in the same situations you wear yours. Put their pack on them when you put yours on, for your, "day hikes," even though you'll be carrying the kid more that walking, for the first years. 

By age three the kid will know and look forward to your seasonal car camping trips, and each trip will offer a new arena of wonder for their expanding world view and physical range.

New adult backpackers learning how to backpack should follow the same program, just, "scaled-up" a bit. We'll figure out what gear works for us, and how to use it car camping, while breaking in some boots day-hiking, and we'll start increasing pack load and distances of our day hikes from our car camp as we become more comfortable with all aspects of dealing with backpacking High Sierra.


The Arena
As they grow so too will our day hikes from our car camps. But only after we've made "hiking" with our packs a regular part of our schedule at home. Not with our regular backpacking packs, but with our day packs, and we'll get our little hiker a pack similiar to our day packs, but the "kid version." Nothing fancy, but a pack. Our and our kid's packs will be holding our jackets, water, a snack.

The Utility of Your Pack
We are going to show them the utility of their pack at a very early age. We will carefully observe as their pack capacity, utility, ability, and understanding the relationship between these factors grow in and with the kid. Our hikes will lengthen as these factors grow stronger. 

We are going to put a regular "kid day" into our training schedule with the kid at home. Or we are going to create two, one for each parental unit. "Kid day" is composed of hiking and formal walks with bits of jogging and trotting, into the trails and hills around your home. Our "home hiking" supports and expands the kid's day hiking skills and capacity during our weekender car camping trips. 

Every car camping trip will feature family day hikes with properly fitted-out day packs.

I'm sure you will figure out a training system that works best for training and deploying your family hiking team. This system also establishes a "schedule" supporting long term fitness and health.

These practices show the kid, "The more you do, the more you can do,"


Slow Evolution
Yet capacity grows slowly. We'll gradually "bump up" the sophistication of the kid's car camping trips matching their rates of physical and psychological growth. We'll begin helping them figure-out individual gear use, setting up their own little tent, & eventually sleeping out in it, then sleeping out under the stars as they grow.
Camp tech and Natural Identification will be complimented by our expanding day hikes with that little pack we got them so long ago. But now, with just a little time, it'll be holding more and more of your little hiker's little gear bits, as they grow, and they will be carrying their, "lightly-loaded" kid pack on our day hikes, who's weight will grow with their growth.
It gets even better! As your child's rising attention and increasing "focus," leads them to greater participation. Kids want to help at the level they are capable. No problem. We always have something to keep 'em busy, but now we have just the thing: Packing their Backpack.


The Learning Curve
Now, as their attention grows and reaches some degree of focus, you'll show them how to pack their backpack. Since they've been watching you pack your and their packs for years now, and have finally grown to the age when they demand to pack their own pack, or at least, "help."
You'll respond by encouraging them to think about exactly how to fold, where to put, and finally, just how they are going to manage carrying all the crap they want to put in the pack, versus what they need. Mental and motor skills required.
The little devils will learn the cost of their luxuries (and stupidity) after you let them carry worthless weight up to the top of the ridge behind our car campsite...haha. Those are lessons well-learned.

"I told you there were rocks up there, that you didn't have to bring any with you."

And, we will all have so much fun doing it everyone will wear themselves out while having a blast, and the kid will be wanting to rest, just so they can continue to beat themselves running around in Nature again the next day.


Mission Accomplished! But we've only just begun.


In the meantime, it will kill them when they watch you parental units pack up your backpacks, and hike out of the car camp for an over-nighter, or a nice two-night backpacking trip.

I have located very nice free National Forest car campsites at Carson Pass, Ebbetts Pass, and Sonora Pass accessing the segments of the PCT & TYT running between these passes. We can find free National Forest car camping running from just South of the Tahoe Basin down to the boundary of Emigrant wrapping around North Yosemite.

Bring the in-laws to stay in the car camp and hang out with the kids as the parents backpack, until two days later, when they pack it all up and drive to the next Sierra Mountain Pass to the South (or North) of our car campsite, where they will pick up the parental units after they hiked their "section."

The kid will really, really want to go. They will look forward to growing enough to participate.

High Sierra Car Camping


Trails Accessible from High Sierra Car Camps
Below I've linked to a list of the "sections" of the Pacific Crest Trail and Tahoe to Yosemite Trails from Lake Tahoe to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite.

This list breaks both trails down into easy to understand and use, "sections," between each trans-Sierra highway's pass through the Sierra Crestline. Starting with the run from Meeks Bay to Highway 50 through Echo Summit, it continues tracking the unified PCT-TYT trails South to Carson Pass, where the trails split into different routes. The list cites both trails South to Ebbetts Pass, and on down to Sonora Pass. The PCT & TYT reunify in N Yosemite for their final run down to Tuolumne Meadows.

Each section of trail is described and pictured on trail guide pages, has links to the custom topo backpacking maps covering it, with detailed mileage and trail landmark information.

PCT & TYT "Trail Sections" from Tahoe to Yosemite


Stay Well Within Kid's Physical-Psychological Limits
Make sure you, "ramp them up," gradually within their growing capacities. Monitor them for fatigue, make sure everyone's always hydrated, and Don't Break you Kid, for christ's sake! Lead well, because the kid does not just follow your footsteps, but mimics your practices, at least as well as they listen to your words.

How to Cook Frogs


In the meantime, we've sparked-up the interlinked processes of observation, thinking, and decision-making in a multi-varible situation (Nature!) with real feedback for good and bad observations about temps, food, water, clothing, and all of life's little necessaries.

These practices serve to bring out and hone our kid's observational skills, their analysis of observations, and it all adds to their "library of valuable experiences," being composed of "how Nature works," which is the basis of "common sense."

The goal of all this is evolving our kid's ability to ascertain the nature of reality around them, and to make sensible decisions suited for that situation.

Costs, benefits, and risks are analysed in a natural context of some serious energy expenditure, and work, with the parental units.

Get 'em First
Get 'em started in Nature while they're young, and you can get some high-quality personal practices tied together before they are brainwashed by a consumer, "ethic" of endless gratification requiring absolutely no personal, intellectual, or physical engagement. Those are "dead end" gratifications.
Our objective is to impart the ability to experience pleasure through the basic operation of our, "Tools of Life," our engaged senses, thoughts, and feelings. A set of healthy tools of engagement that can be navigated to many places.

Places and experiences you will have equipped your children with the tools to properly navigate, by training up their outdoor senses as well as their "indoor," or their "social" senses.

Many parents have failed at both sides of the coin, producing kids that apparently can't operate well in Nature or society. Don't be that Loser.


Your Kid's First Backpacking Trip
Finally, the kid will be judged to be big enough, strong enough, and sensible enough for our first overnight trip, launched from one of your family's favorite, familiar car camping spots to our first backpacking camp.
You can set this one up as a goal for a couple of years, before pulling it off! I had the pleasure of crossing paths with a father-son team doing the kid's "first mountain," and watch them climb the shortcut route up Leavitt Peaks NW ridge arm. They were excited.

First Peak

After doing your kid's first overnighter, the little hiker and their pack, its contents, and our menu of possible future trips will all grow with your kid over the subsequent seasons, until your kid's pack, its load, and their hiking potential have finally grown bigger than you and yours. 

Nature is set up like that.


Your Last Backpacking Trips
Hopefully, this chain of events will lead your kid to the position where they will be carrying the heavy stuff for your very last backpacking trips as age eventually trims away your strength and endurance.
The kid would be paying back the same love you had for both them and Nature those early days, addressed above, when it was yours carrying the gear and directing the kid as they grew into theirs.

And the cycle completes itself again as the circle closes...

 Happy Trails!


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