Planning a backpacking trip for a weekend or longer can seem challenging your first time, especially when you add kids to the mix.
But with a little preparation, it can be a rewarding experience.
Dont expect to carry all your kids gear, or to use them as pack mules, either. But they can comfortably carry their own if properly equipped.
Every piece of gear will be on your backs. So what is suitable gear to carry?
If you are experienced in the outdoors, you may have most of what you need. Still, there may be specialty items that you may need.
Lets look at the largest ones that take up the most room and weight. These will make or break your trip for kids, because they are critical for comfort.
Sleeping bags weigh on average about 4 pounds depending on several factors, such as filling, temperature rating and price. (More expensive bags are almost always lighter.)
Summer bags are light and compact but arent as warm as others. You need to balance the weight and size of the bag with its temperature rating.
Remember that even during summer, its often cool at night in Idahos mountains, so a bag rated at 40-degrees may not be warm enough. A good rule of thumb is 20- to 30-degree bags for summer camping in Idaho.
Make sure you have a sleeping pad. Dense foam pads are lightweight and inexpensive.
The sleeping bag also should fit neatly inside the backpack and still leave room for other gear.
Speaking of backpacks, a school backpack will not do for the kids. Buy a quality pack, and if it cannot be handed down to a younger sibling, you can always sell it once the kids outgrow them.
Backpacks are measured by torso length (how tall they are) and how much volume (cubic inches) they hold.
Make sure you buy a backpack that fits your kid and is comfortable.
There are two schools of thought about the volume of a backpack. One is to buy a larger size because you dont necessarily have to fill it, but you have that space if you need it.
Another school of thought is you tend to always fill a backpack, so buy a smaller one so you wont overpack.
Another key item is the tent, because its usually the heaviest single thing you have to carry.
But with that said, there are kids tents specifically designed for backpacking. No, they are not hotel-sized, but they are cozy and roomy for one or two children.
Trekker makes a tent that only weighs 3 1/2 pounds and costs about $40 and is big enough for two teens. Or there is Eagles Camp, Crystal Canyon Backpacker, a 35-square-foot dome tent weighing a smidge over 5 pounds and costing $90.
You can do your cooking over campfires (assuming there are no restrictions because of fire danger) or use a backpacking stove, which weigh less than a pound with stove and fuel. If youre cooking for a family, you may want two stoves.
Instant meals such as Mountain House freeze-dried foods feed two adults quite well and are extremely easy to make. You just add boiling water. They also allow kids to have a different meal than their parents. Let the kids cook their own meals.
Ultimately, the challenge of backpacking is bringing enough food and gear to be comfortable without it all weighing a ton.
One fun way to prepare for your first outing is a backyard campout. Load your packs and live out of them for a night. No fair going indoors (except for the bathroom).
Another option is car camping with your backpacking gear to ensure you have everything you need. What you dont use, leave behind next time unless its emergency gear, such as a first-aid kit.
When you take the leap, make it a short backpacking trip. Maybe a mile or two, or even half a mile from your vehicle so if something goes wrong, its a short trip back.
Theres plenty of time for longer, more strenuous trips.
Make sure the first one is fun and kids are the focal point of the trip. They wont forget it. And as always, dont forget the camera.