Backpacking With Children
Sunday, June 20, 2004; Page P07
Ready to lead your own kids into the backcountry? The most basic rules for camping with kids are the same as with any family vacation: Don't push them too hard, build in lots of breaks, involve them in the planning and decision-making, and never got caught with your snacks down. We asked Jonathan Dorn, executive editor of Backpacker magazine -- and a frequent camper with his own two daughters, ages 8 and 6 -- to suggest some backpacking tips you might not have thought of.
• Everybody carries something. Almost as soon as they can walk, give a young hiker a small piece of the load in a small pack, even if it's just their own journal or teddy bear. By age 6 or 7, they can carry most of their own clothes or some water, but keep the load to 20 or 25 percent of the child's total body weight.
• These boots were made for . . . grownups. Until they get to age 12 or 13 and really start carrying significant weight, little feet do better in tennis shoes than boots, which, being heavier, can add to leg fatigue and knee strain. And pack an extra pair of shoes. "They're going to wind up in water in some point," says Dorn.
• Splurge on the rain gear. Nothing will make your kid swear off the outdoors like getting soaked "while Mommy and Daddy stay dry in their Gore-Tex," he warns. You don't need a $200 parka for each tyke, but at least spring for the seam-sealed variety that won't leak. The $10 plastic kind is not going to cut it on a backpacking trip.
• Gadgets no, headlamp yes. Most kids could care less about down sleeping bags and internal frame packs, nor do they need them. What they want, says Dorn, are their own headlamps. "It gives them a sense of freedom to be able to walk around camp on their own after dark."
• Never underestimate the power of sizzling bacon. "It's good for them to be reminded first thing how much fun it is to be outdoors, so we always start with a big, elaborate breakfast," says Dorn, whose morning repertoire includes baked cinnamon rolls, pancakes with chocolate chips and fresh quiche, "avoiding at all cost boring instant oatmeal." Later, since hiking children burn a lot of energy but can't take in a great volume of food, he recommends several small meals throughout the day (which also helps pace the hiking).
• Mind the ticks. When it comes to wildlife concerns, Dorn is much more worried about ticks than bears, given the prevalence of Lyme disease. "It's really wise to give them at least one tick check a day, if not two," he says. Wear light clothes so you can see the ticks, tuck pants into socks, wear hats and keep tweezers in your first aid kit.
-- Steve Hendrix
© 2004 The Washington Post Company