Family Backpacking Success, Finally

A few weekends ago, my little family of four finally completed a much-anticipated backpacking trip.  We’ve attempted this trip multiple times, but we finally made it.  How exactly does one plan for a family backpacking trip?  What happens when things don’t go as planned?  And what makes a family backpacking trip successful?

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Past Tales of Misadventure

Two years ago, I had talked my dear husband into a short backpacking trip with our two kids and dog.  We purchased a new tent and child sized backpacks for our two children, who were 6 and 5 at the time.  I printed directions and we headed toward a trailhead we had never been to.  And, well, let’s just say that things did NOT work out.  The entire journey was a bit comical, but certainly not ideal (to read the whole story – click here).  A storm was on the way and it took us two days to find the correct trailhead.  Needless to say, we never did end up backpacking that year.

Last year, we tried backpacking again.  If we were headed to the same location, then we could actually make it up to those alpine lakes, or so we thought.  We finalized our gear and made sure everything fit in our packs late on a Friday night.  We loaded up the truck and drove toward the trailhead early Saturday.  Unfortunately, a lot of forests in Idaho were on fire last year.  In the midst of all the packing, we had forgotten to check the latest fire report before our trip.  As we neared the forest, the mountain we were going to hike was on fire!  No joke, it was on fire.  Again, the backpacking trip was quickly cancelled (to read this story – click here).

This year, we had checked the fire report, knew where the trailhead was, and had a fabulous weather forecast.  Clearly, our first family backpacking trip was going to happen.  Yea!

Sitting on a small dock at an alpine lake.
Sitting on a small dock at an alpine lake.

What We Packed

If you have ever planned a camping trip, then packing for a backpacking trip is quite similar.  A basic list includes clothing, tent, sleeping gear, cooking gear, food, campfire items, and toiletries.  For a complete list of what we pack, check out Packing for a Backpacking Trip with a Family of Four.  A few days before a trip, I set out all of the items I think we’ll want to take on our trip.  By laying all our gear out, I can see what is missing and what can be removed.  Remember, you and your crew will carry all of the gear!

Looking for butterflies in the wildflowers and bear grass.
Looking for butterflies in the wildflowers and bear grass.

Did Anything Go Wrong?

This quick weekend trip would be the third attempt at a short family backpacking trip.  However, this would also be the first time we actually hiked with backpacks filled to the brim with gear.  The first time our family of four and the dog carried all of their gear from the truck to a camping spot a few miles away.  Since this was our first actual trip up the mountain, we learned a few things.  Yes, despite attempting the same trip each year, we still made mistakes.

    • Dog Pack – A few years ago, we bought a small pack for our dog.  With two kids, the adults were already carrying more than enough items so we had planned on the dog carrying his items.  We had fit the pack to the dog, but didn’t realize that the pack could easily snap off.  Despite carrying his own food and collapsible bowls, the pup bounded through brush, wildflower meadows, and the woods.  At mile 1.5 of 4, his bright orange pack with all of his goods were gone.  After 30 minutes of looking, we never found his pack or his food.  Next time, we’ll get a dog pack that does not come apart.
    • First Aid Kit – We carry a first aid kit with us everywhere!  The Band-Aids are useful for nearly every trip, but we’ve also used allergy meds, pain killers, gauze, athletic tape, and rubbing alcohol during other outdoor trips.  And this time, we forgot to pack it at all.  Thank goodness we didn’t actually need anything in a first aid kit on this trip.  However, what if we did?  Next time, the first aid kit will make it into a backpack.
    • Double Check the Pack List – This summer the hubs and I have become a little relaxed about packing.  We spent about 1.5 hrs packing for this specific backpacking trip.  We had set out all of the gear we thought we would need then quickly put the items into our packs.  However, at the trailhead, we both wondered if we had our water filtration system.  Neither one of us remembered putting the water filter in our bag.  So we grabbed all the extra water (2 large Nalgenes) and ice  (1.5 gallons of ice) we had and hauled it up the mountain.  It turns out, we did have the water filter.  Although it would have been a lot less stressful if we had simply reviewed what we packed and shared the information with each other.

Best Parts of the Trip

My kids like hiking, but let’s be honest here, hiking 4 miles up a mountain with a heavy backpack was going to be rough.  Hiking was slow and there was some attitude, but we made it to the lakes in a few hours and without snack bribes.  Once the kids were able to take their packs off, it was like their bodies were naturally refueled.  They bounded off of rocks and jumped all around the lake as if they just woke up from a long night’s sleep.

That night, we had asked the kids what the best part of their day was.  The oldest told up about spending time at the lake, the youngest told us about seeing the all of the flowers and butterflies.  For me, I loved finally spending quality time with the whole family.  It was a day without electronics and distractions.  We walked through fields of wildflowers, explored all four alpine lakes, caught a fish, and jumped from boulder to boulder trying to find the trail.  Before we even started cooking dinner, the youngest said, “Next time we go backpacking….”  Yes, there will be a next time.

I've never found time spent amongst nature to be a waste of time.