7 to 11 years
Once your kids hit this age range, you’re out of the woods, figuratively speaking. They can (pretty much) keep up with you on the trail, help with chores, and entertain themselves for hours on end, skipping rocks or picking blueberries.
Strategy Think action! Pick a fun destination–a lake, waterfall, or a big, slabby rock formation–no more than 2 to 4 miles from your basecamp. Plan to reach it before lunch and spend a couple of hours exploring, relaxing, eating, climbing, or swimming.
Single biggest challenge Keeping them motivated and positive. At this age, kids actually enjoy doing chores (camp chores, that is). By helping with tasks like gathering firewood, filtering water, setting up the tent or laying out the sleeping gear, preteens can earn a sense of involvement, ownership, and accomplishment.
Pack this Tent games: a deck of cards for playing Crazy Eights and Hearts, or the perennial BACKPACKER favorite, Pass the Pigs (amazon.com).
Gear to get them stoked Trekking poles are always a huge hit with this age group. (Got boys? Quickly establish a no-swordfighting rule.) Leki’s Pathfinder Jr. two-section aluminum poles adjust from 80 to 110 cm and have kid-sized grips with adjustable straps. 14 oz.; leki.com.
Time for some real boots Up until this age, kids can safely hike in sneakers. (Though there are some excellent options if you want to invest earlier.) As your offspring hit the preteen years and start to carry some weight, though, their feet need protection and support. Look for boots that are neither too stiff (uncomfortable) or too soft (unsupportive). Good hiking boots should feel different than sneakers–a bit more rigid underfoot, and often higher in the ankle. Make sure your kid logs plenty of break-in time before the trip; you don’t want to deal with pinched toes 5 miles from the car.