You’re heading out for a family walk in the woods, not packing for Armageddon. It’s good to be prepared, but isn’t there a limit to how much you can comfortably carry? When I’m out for a family day hike, I hate carrying a heavy backpack. And, if you’re like me, you hate it even more when your back gets all sticky and sweaty and your shoulders start to ache.
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On the trails we frequently come across families with oversized packs, walking sticks, bear bells, fancy fanny packs… you know, those families gettin’ their hiking bling on. And, if you’re into that, and it helps get your family out into nature, then great… but I’m not into carrying all the extra stuff. Sure it’s important to have what you need when little Johnny gets hungry, when little Suzie skins her knee, and when you have to pee and there’s no outhouse around (realizing, perhaps, you shouldn’t have had those extra cups of coffee). So, what the balance between what you really need and when you’re just packing way too much?
Day hiking: what do you bring, and what do you leave behind?
Well, there isn’t a straightforward answer. You’ll need to take a few different things into consideration: age of your kiddos, duration and difficulty of the walk, the weather, and the time of day.
What’s in mama’s daypack for an average hike in the woods?
Here’s a short ‘packing your daypack packpack’ video clip where I’m packing our bag for just myself and my daughter. We were preparing for a 4 hour hike and ate lunch along the way. At the farthest point, we would be only 2 km away from the very busy trailhead and would have cell phone reception at all times. I make note of this, because if you are going further into the wilderness, you should be bringing along a few more emergency extras.
7 Tips to packing your daypack:
Your backpack: Think about the bag you’re using. Make sure it is comfortable with adjustable straps and is lightweight. I’m always surprised when I pick up empty packs and find them already heavy. Remember, all those extra zippers, pockets, and gizmos add weight.
Coats for everybody: Lightweight and waterproof are the handiest as they’ll protect against rain and keep kids warm if the wind picks up. If you are hiking in cool weather, you might also want to throw in toques and mittens.
Water: Bring lots.
Food and snacks: Easy-to-eat and light-to-carry are best for hikes with kids. Some go-to snacks are sandwiches, crackers, muffins, dried fruit or dried fruit bars (fruit to go), granola bars, easy to peel oranges, carrot sticks, and apple slices. I like to pack a few extra granola bars or Clif Bars as the ‘just-in-case’ extra or emergency snacks.
Phone and wallet: these days people don’t seem to go far without their phone. They’re a lightweight alternative to a heavy camera and getting those cute memories of family hikes and adventures are important. The cell phone also provides a means of communication in case of emergencies (assuming you have cell reception). Leaving your wallet behind in the car or at home means a little less weight to carry.
The must haves: small selection of first aid supplies. I always carry a small tin with band aids, tweezers for slivers, antihistamines, and water purification tablets. I’ll admit, I’ve never used the tablets, but I feel that because they’re so small I’ll just keep carrying them, just in case. Also, pack Kleenex for runny noses or peeing in the woods and a small bag for your used tissues and garbage. Because we live in bear country, there is always bear spray in our packs as well.
The extras: here’s where your pack can get a little heavy. Sometimes it’s fun to bring trail guides, binoculars, cameras, special yummies or motivational candies, and activities for the trail (like scavenger hunts and such). Also, you may need to bring along family particulars such as diapers, special sippy cups, epi-pens, inhalers, sunglasses, extra sunscreen, bug spray, and warmer clothing.
A few last tips:
Packing it all in: Does your pack have a hard back? If so, the placement of items inside might not matter so much, as long as you don’t squish your food. I prefer to place flat, hard-sided items to rest against my back as well as hard, squared items to sit on the bottom of the pack. These placements will help shape the back comfortably to your body.
Keep your priorities in mind and your expectations reasonable. It should be more important that everyone have a great time than counting the miles hiked or the mountains climbed. Making sure everyone has a great time means being well-prepared without being over-burdened. Having a properly packed daypack is the first step to your fantastic family adventure. So, go pack your bag and take your kids on an adventure!
P.S. To make packing your daypack especially easy, I’ve put together a daypack checklist for you to print out and have on hand every time you need to pack up to hit the trail. Go ahead and get it below.
Once you’ve mastered the day hike with kids, you may want to start venturing a little farther into the wilderness. Learning how to prepare yourself and your kids for backcountry hiking and camping can take time and you’ll be most successful with practice. This article will break your needed preparations down into simple points of consideration.