family-friendly backpacking

The Ultimate Guide For Family-Friendly Backpacking

One night under the stars, it sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

Family-friendly backpacking is a true outdoor adventure that blends hiking with backcountry camping. It is a step beyond day hiking and car camping. It is hiking out from a trailhead or campsite, into the wilderness, with everything you need on your back.

What is Backpacking?

Backpacking is an immersive experience. It takes a lot of planning, specialized gear, and specific knowledge to do it safely.

In this article, I’ll give you tips and details for all things related to planning and executing a backpacking trip safely for your family.

If it’s your first trip

If you’re new to backpacking, experts recommend one overnight trip close to home.

Train for carrying a pack, and simulate camping at home

Since backpacking is a step beyond day hiking, you’ll want to make sure your kids and your whole family are in pretty good shape and used to hiking with some elevation changes.

Prior to your first backpacking trip, train in 2-hour intervals of day hiking at a time. Practice with backpacks and let your child carry his own pack with lightweight items. (snacks, water, etc.)

When you’re ready for the real trip, experts recommend limiting the weight children carry to 10-20% of their body weight.

I mentioned backpacking requires specialized gear. I’ll get into the specifics of that later, but a fun way to prepare for a backpacking trip is to simulate camping at home.

Pitch a tent in the backyard (or inside) and let kids hang out and spend the night, what could be more fun on a summer night?

backpacking backpack

First things first, you may need a pass or permit

Before venturing out, The Forest Service recommends calling, visiting, or checking the website for current information on alerts, advisories, notices and closures. You will need to know current conditions, fees, permit information, restrictions, and of course— the closest water source. I’ll cover that later in this article.

As we know, fire danger is extremely high. Since backpacking requires a lot of planning, one thing to keep in mind is you will likely need a recreation pass or permit, campfire permit, and/or wilderness permit.

Chat with a backpacking expert before your trip

Did you know you can book a 1-on-1 virtual appointment thru REI to chat with an expert before your trip?

Take a class and learn insider tips from Tahoe Rim Trail Association

Tahoe Rim Trail Association is an amazing resource if you want to learn before you go. They have many outdoor programs and education courses, such as Backpacking 101 and Wilderness First Aid and CPR. In addition, you can attend a free talk (held monthly) focusing on a different topic related to Tahoe and the hiking local trails.

For kids, TRTA offers Youth Backcountry Camps. I will go into more detail on this later in the article.

You can also book a Virtual Outfitting session with an REI expert. Check out REI’s website for comprehensive resource articles, gear, clothing, accessories, and even food!

Gear you’ll need for a backpacking trip

It might go without saying, but planning to trek in the wilderness, even a short one— with kids no less— requires quite a bit of gear.

REI is one of the best resources for a comprehensive list related to all things backpacking. See this link.

Here is my basic list to start from:

  • Backpack (expect each adult to carry up to 30 lbs) with a Hydration pack
  • A tent that fits your family (3-season tent is sufficient)
  • Sleeping Bag for each person (go with synthetic if you’re new at backpacking)
  • Sleeping pad for each bag (self-inflating pad is a good choice)
  • Coleman Stove single-burner camp stove (should weigh less than 1 lb)
  • Meals: just-add-water meals and tons of snacks
  • Water Filter bottle for each family member; or Potable Aqua Iodine and Taste-Neutralizer Tablets to purify creek or lake water
  • Cooking supplies: small pot, plates, utensils, small sponge, biodegradable soap
  • Hiking footwear
  • Clothing layers: next-to-skin base layers, athletic tees and pants, sun shirt, sun hat, puffy vest, warm hat, waterproof light jacket, jacket
  • Toileting supplies. Yes, you’re going to have to “pack it out.” That means literally buying a human waste disposal system and following a sequence of directions and hygienic practices; leaving no trace. Most wilderness areas for backpacking that are highly traveled mandate you to bring soiled supplies and waste back with you. Don’t panic. Consult REI for details here. There is a way to do it!
  • Bug spray

NV Moms tip: Don’t forget the bug spray

Better yet: Rent the gear if it’s your first trip!

Did you know that Tahoe Mountain Sports offers complete backpacking kits for your family with high quality items at reasonable prices? If you are new to trekking, this can ease a lot of the stress of packing!

Safety supplies you’ll need for a backpacking trip

  • Navigation (map, compass, altimeter, GPS device)
  • Flashlight, headlamp (plus extra batteries)
  • Chemical snap light sticks for the kids
  • Sunscreen and Bug spray
  • First aid kit
  • Knife
  • Matches
  • Emergency space blankets
  • Extra food, water (make sure you’re near a water source and have water filter)
  • Extra clothing
  • Bear canister (to safely store your food or anything scented that would draw bears)

NV Moms tip: Always have your child carry a whistle

family friendly backpacking tips

The Rule of 200 feet

It’s easy to remember. Pitch your tent, store your food, do any dishwashing, and use your “camp toilet” at least 200’ from a water source. This reduces your environmental impact and keeps water sources free of contamination.

The importance of camping near a water source

Camping near a reliable water source minimizes the heaviest items you have to pack: water.

Make sure there’s creek or lake water near camp so you can purify water for drinking and cooking!

Leave No Trace

I’ve mentioned the 7 principles of Leave No Trace in a previous article for Nevada Moms, but it’s a good opportunity when backpacking to teach your kids, firsthand, the importance of “pack it in, pack it out” a basic tenet of backcountry travel.

Should you bring your dog on a backpacking trip?

There are pros and cons to bringing your dog, especially if you are new to backpacking. This article from REI gives a lot of good advice on what to consider when thinking of bringing your dog on a trek.

Enjoy the outdoors!

If you are planning to backpack in Tahoe or surrounding areas with kids this summer, I hope these tips have been helpful for you to consider your options safely for your family!

Have you backpacked these trails? Do you have recommendations or advice to share? We welcome hearing your trekking stories!

Maureen Lowe
Maureen Lowe

Maureen Lowe is a Bay Area native that relocated to the high desert mountains of Southwest Reno with her family in 2017. Mama to her active pup and toddler boy, Maureen is a textile designer and graduate of CCA San Francisco. With a lifelong love of nature and the arts, Maureen has made it a mission to explore Reno’s scenic trails and cultural offerings to find kid and dog-friendly outings that work in all seasons.