Kids Backpacks for Camping
The great outdoors awaits. Getting outside with the kids is one of parenting’s great pleasures. Showing the kids your favourite trails, discovering new paths and parts of the world unknown. Getting away from the daily grind, seeing the natural world and bonding as a family is simply one of the best things a family can experience.
To do it safely, plan plan and plan some more. keep skills in mind when packing and don’t push too hard. Proper equipment is the key to a successful hike. A good rule is to plan on getting lost and having to spend a night on the trail. By having enough supplies in each person’s pack to allow for that, a family of hikers will come out with a great story instead of a tragedy.
When choosing equipment, go for the brightly coloured items. Dropping a dark coloured tool on the forest floor in fading light usually means that tool is gone until morning (if it’s ever found again). Wrap EVERYTHING in duct tape and paracord. Both duct tape and paracord are indispensable tools when getting stuck for the night.
A day pack needs to be properly sized to every child. Take them shopping and try on all the packs. The biggest mistake parents make is getting a pack too large for their child’s body. A large pack tends to accumulate extra ‘stuff’ and become heavier than you would otherwise want. Adjustable straps, padded waist belt and chest harness keep the pack properly adjusted and help distribute the weight. Here is one that has all the right features including outside pockets, external compression straps and ventilation. The more reflective material on the kids backpack the better.
An extra hat for the sun, sunscreen, rain gear are all essential. Check the forecast before setting out and plan for the worst case. Each pack should have a bag large enough to cover it to keep contents dry. Commercially made pack covers like this one keep the contents dry. Get the right size for the pack. An orange garbage bag with slots cut in it for the straps, installed with the sealed end facing up will do the same job. In cold weather, add an extra pair of everything.
A day pack should plan for an emergency overnight wherever you get stopped. The basic needs for spending a night in the woods can be found here, but shelter, fire, water and food are important things. Kids under 8 likely won’t know about lighting a fire. That’s the parents responsibility. Teaching kids to stay still, blow their whistle in groups of three and keep warm is far more likely to stick.
Foil blankets (mylar sheets) are the pinnacle of outdoor warmth. Like these ones here, a foil blanket will keep anyone dry (keep the top open to allow for evaporation), insulated from the ground and waterproof. Their reflective surface makes finding a lost hiker easier. Lightweight, taking up almost no space, two or three of these should be in every pack (as well as your vehicle emergency kit).
For fall/spring hiking, consider adding a warm toque and a pair of mittens to the pack if overnight temperatures fall below 40ºF. Dry socks are a must regardless of the season.
Hand Warmers are great for keeping fingers and toes from becoming frostbitten. They stay warm for about 6 hours, so overnight requires two for each extremity.
A water bottle that holds 20oz or so is a good size. While hydration packs are handy, they don’t allow the cleaning of contaminated water. A stainless steel water bottle can be suspended over a fire to boil water for drinking. A wide mouth bottle, such as this one will allow ice and snow to be added as well.
Pro tip: ice produces more water for less heat than snow and never ever underestimate the amount of water you should bring when you go for a hike or a wander off into the woods. You can do without many things for a period of time but water (clean drinking water) is essential and you must be prepared for the worst.
Granola bars, nuts, jerky, dried fruits are all good to have on the trail. Plan for snacks, and one full meal more than the intended hike duration. Dehydrated meals such as these from Mountain House provide a warm, nutritious meal without much preparation.
They do, however, require boiling water. Not a bad idea to keep one on hand in case of an unexpected overnight. As always be prepared and make sure you have the essential with you at all times – no matter where you go. You never know when things could take a turn for the worse.
It is no harm to stick a few of these into your pack before you head out anyway. They weigh little or nothing but could be vital in times of crisis to give you a much needed energy boost.
A small first aid kit makes the hike more pleasurable. Blisters can be prevented with a little duct tape over the hot-spot to stop the friction. Bandages (bandaids) of various sizes, alcohol swabs and a couple of triangular bandages will address the common injuries. 5 years old is a good time to start talking about first aid measures.
When hiking with kids, most families won’t go into uncharted territory. Know your area. In most cases, a lost hiker will be stumbled upon by other hikers accidentally. To increase the odds of that happening, have a plan. It is generally accepted that groups of three signals mean ‘help’. Three whistle blasts, three fires, three shots from a firearm (mostly pertaining to hunters) mean that someone needs help. A whistle is absolutely essential safety equipment, no matter where the trail takes you. The Fox 40 Classic classic is the gold-standard of emergency whistles. Its piercing tone can be heard for miles, over just about any other sounds and with no moving parts it’s unlikely to fail. Anyone can use the Fox 40 without over-blowing it.
Light sticks are another great way to be seen at night. A couple of these strung from a tree or hiking stick make a lost hiker easily visible.
The most important thing to do when lost is to stop. Stay still and get help. Teaching this to kids, and teaching them to use the equipment in their packs is the most important. Test all the gear in the backyard, run through the what-if scenarios.
Tailor each child’s pack to them. An avid hiker that knows how to use a map and compass should have both in their kits. a diabetic should have extra insulin and the right kinds of food. Winter hiking should have more food planned as the travel is harder through snow.